“Habits for a Healthy Marriage: A Handbook for Catholic Couples” by Richard P. Fitzgibbons, M.D. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 2019). 280 pp, $17.95.
It is commonly understood that approximately half of marriages in the United States end in divorce. The rate of divorce is higher for second and third marriages. Thus, it is understandable why the Catholic Church has made it a priority to prepare couples for healthy, permanent marriages through thorough, well-developed diocesan programs.
However, even the most highly regarded pre-marriage instruments and intense one-on-one meetings with engaged couples will not guarantee permanency in marriage. Among the variables are the behaviors, influences and environmental backgrounds each future spouse is bringing to that marriage.
This is where “Habits for a Healthy Marriage” becomes an excellent resource for couples planning to be engaged or already engaged, and for those responsible for preparing them for marriage. Individual chapters with their focus on topics such as forgiveness, trust, responsibility, gratitude, respect and generosity can be integrated into preparation as discussion starters.
The chapter on communication is an example of the book’s consistency in the quality of material, the way it is presented and its applicability. As with every chapter, it begins with a clearly stated goal: “to assist couples with loving and respectful communication, which is necessary for a happy and healthy marriage.”
Fitzgibbons, the director of the Institute for Marital Healing in Philadelphia, introduces Chloe and Chad, who, in the wife’s view, are not communicating well: “When I try to talk to him, he doesn’t even seem to hear me.” He uses the dialogue they have with him in counseling to present possible causes for the problem, e.g., needing to control, lacking gratitude for one’s spouse, being emotionally distant.
Throughout the book, Fitzgibbons will ask about how the couple’s parents handled the topic being addressed, e.g., communication. The couple’s identifying and speaking about what they learned — or didn’t learn — from their parents is an important element in resolving the problem.
He references what others have written on the topic being addressed and, where relevant, will include frequent quotations from the work of St. John Paul II as well as references from Scripture.
While “Habits for a Healthy Marriage” is fitting for marriage preparation, those who are married also will benefit from Fitzgibbons’ work. The topics he addresses can arise in healthy marriages and the recommendations he offers can be helpful no matter how long one has been married.
For example, in the chapter titled “Generosity conquers selfishness,” he suggests expressing love and affection through words and deeds, setting aside time to talk and praying together.
Anyone concerned about healthy marriages — their own or others’ — will benefit from “Habits for a Healthy Marriage” no matter how much or how little one reads. However, a word of advice to both the engaged and married: Keep a bookmark and highlighter nearby. There is bound to be something you will want your intended or spouse to read, too.
Olszewski is the editor of The Catholic Virginian, newspaper of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.