Partners for Life

Sept. 2-8, 2004
VOL 123 NO. 30
Partners for Life
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, I will love you and honor you all the days of my life until death do us part.

— Rite of Marriage

In 2003, there were 2,187,000 marriages performed in the U. S., according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Additionally, with only 48 states reporting, it is estimated that more than one million divorces took place last year. These statistics reveal that marriage for many, is a temporary commitment. However, for three couples in the Syracuse Diocese, marriage may be many things, but temporary is not one of them.

Cammy and Paul, parishioners of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, have been married for 10 years and have four children. During their fourth year of marriage, the couple realized how hard it had become to balance career, marriage and children while finding time to cultivate their relationship in their hectic, fast-paced life. “Being married is hard work,” said Cammy. “I was thinking that marriage shouldn’t be this hard and wondered why it wasn’t easier.” The couple took their marriage vows very seriously and looked at the sacrament of marriage as a life-long commitment. “While our faith is the cornerstone of our marriage, we needed a little help,” said Cammy. The couple found that help when they enrolled in the Third Option Program offered by the Family Life Office of the diocese.

Third Option helps couples develop new skills and understanding. It teaches them how to break down the barriers and ineffective habits that prevent marriage from being all that it can and should be. Third Option is not a counseling group; it is an educational program where couples learn, encourage and support each other. The program, which meets twice a month, is open to all faiths. After attending Third Option, Paul said that he and Cammy found it easier to deal with the everyday stuff that life throws at them –– family, pressures from work and the children. “Cammy and I went through a transformation after God gave us the practical tools of Third Option,” said Paul. “He also gave us the spiritual grace to seek out Third Option and bring those tools home.”

Cammy said that while it was difficult to go through, she believes that she and Paul wouldn’t have gained the blessings they now have without it. Those blessings are their four children. “For me it was a sense of God calling us to holiness through learning patience and understanding,” said Paul. “We grew in our faith and the graces that come from God through the sacrament of marriage. We have to call on that grace each and every day.” Through the tools the couple learned in Third Option –– how to communicate, reflective listening and listening to understand –– they no longer spend days in angry silence. “Now I listen and make sure I heard what Paul said,” explained Cammy. “I listen for content and understanding. It is something you have to practice over and over.”

Both Paul and Cammy said that Christ is in the middle of their marriage. “Without Christ in it, I think we as a couple would have more difficulties working things out,” said Paul. “Without God in the middle, I don’t know how it would be possible to live out your vocation of marriage.” With their marriage now stronger than ever, the couple renewed their vows recently to celebrate their 10th anniversary.

Father John Phillips, director of Family Life Education for the diocese, said that the bond of marriage only becomes stronger when God is included. “Faith is so important in marriage because marriage is a combination of joys, disappointments, hopes and sadness, successes and setbacks,” said Father Phillips. “Faith helps a couple hold steady through the difficult times that are normal and should be expected.” Bob and Deb Crandall are parishioners at Immaculate Conception Parish in Fulton. They have been married for 30 years and also have four children. They said that their faith and their relationship go hand in hand. “If you can’t communicate with each other, you can’t communicate effectively with God,” said Bob. “As I strengthen my faith, I strengthen my relationship with Deb. Marriage has a whole different flavor to it when you have a relationship with God as a couple,” he said.

Jen and Sean Clive of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Chadwicks, have been married for nine years and have two children with another on the way. They also said that faith is the most important role in their relationship. “Without our faith, I don’t know how we would have been able to do what we have done,” said Sean. “What is the point if you don’t have the faith to share with each other –– every hope, dream, success, failure and struggle is seen through the eyes of faith. It keeps things in focus and helps you see the blessing of each,” he said. The couple’s strong faith has helped them through the difficulties in life, including the death of Sean’s mother. “Experiencing the illness and death of Sean’s mother and my grandparents, changing jobs, having children, Sean’s music ministry –– these events have shaken our perceptions of who we are as individuals as well as who we are as a couple,” said Jen. “But our faith and our love are constant throughout all of that changing.”

Both the Clives and the Crandall’s credit the longevity and strength of their marriages to their involvement with Worldwide Marriage Encounter –– a program that offers the techniques of communicating, sharing feelings, expanding and deepening one’s relationship, and enriching one’s marriage during weekend retreats. The Crandalls have been involved with Marriage Encounter for 25 years. “Marriage Encounter is the major part of why we are together,” said Deb. “It gives you the tools to communicate better and keep on track.” Marriage Encounter weekends are presented by three Catholic couples, facilitated by a priest, and based on Catholic theology. However, it is open to all denominations. Pat Ennis, founder of the Third Option program, said that faith motivates couples to learn and grow in their marriage and, in many instances, saves it. “Sometimes it’s only our strong faith that gives us the energy to try something new –– to reach out to the other even when we are very discouraged,” said Ennis. “Faith is also crucial because people of faith know instinctively that they need to work on themselves and know that they make mistakes. Our faith helps us look at each other honestly and take responsibility for our actions.”

Ennis said that both partners have to accept the fact that neither is perfect and that they are each a work in progress. When people of faith work on the skills learned at Third Option, there is grace, explained Ennis. “That takes them to a whole different level. The Lord takes their efforts and blesses them,” she said. “We receive grace to overcome resentments, fears and feelings of helplessness.” The Crandalls said it’s the little things in a marriage that really make it work, including making conscious decisions to do something about the issues that are causing hurts in a relationship. Bob, who works at the nuclear plant in Oswego, has to leave for work at 5 a.m. each day. “I would like Deb to get up with me in the morning, but I understand she can’t always do that,” he said. As a compromise, when Deb hears the garage door open, she gets up and goes to the window to wave goodbye. That compromise satisfies both of them. “If I hold back the hurts and weaknesses with Deb, then our marriage goes down,” said Bob.

The couple makes sure that they always take the time to talk to one another, regardless of how busy they are. “If it’s not a good time at that moment, you should agree on a time that is,” said Bob. “Marriage is extremely harder and much more work than I ever thought,” said Bob. “But it’s also infinitely more joyful than I ever thought. I am thrilled to be married to Deb. “It bothers me that couples go into marriage thinking that it’s not a lifetime commitment,” said Deb. “While there are many hard times, you need to work through them because it’s worth it in the end. You need to go back to what brought you together in the first place.” For more information about Third Option, contact Pat Ennis at the Family Life Education Office at (315) 472-6728. Information on CNY Marriage Encounter weekends may be obtained on the website www.dreamscape.com/wwme-syracuse or by calling Jeff and Shannon Lewis at (888) 804-8463 or (315) 449-1830.

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