To love, honour and reasonably obey

Traditional marriages include vows that are both sacred and meaningful. Often with direct reference to biblical texts, Christian sacramental marriages seek the blessings of God through a formal liturgical service performed by a cleric, priest, or pastor. Some couples struggle with the inclusion of the concept “to obey” in these vows. As a couple’s counsellor, the reality is that most problems begin and grow when individuals behave in ways that run contrary to the wishes of their partners, and reasonable obeying might offset unnecessary trouble down the road.

Most couples today live together before or if marrying formally. Traditionally, people would live separately either independently or with their own parents while engaged to be married. Periods of engagement used to last anywhere from a period of months to several years, especially where distance, education, or financial obstacles delayed moving forward together formally. Living together does provide couples with opportunities to learn about partner-habits in very intimate ways. It is also a period to discover some potential problems that might intensify over years together.

Of course, the notion of “blind obedience” is troublesome, especially in marriages with serious issues of domestic violence or significant addictions. Reasonable obedience is an altogether different concept. It suggests that individuals respect and love the wishes of their partners. When a person promises to reasonably obey their partner, there is an accountability to self built into the promise. In this way, a person marries with promises, sacred promises that reflect the spiritual promises that God has made to people. The promise to obey is no longer about a loss of self-control or agency, and instead becomes a way to show that what is important to your partner is important enough for you to obey too. Reasonable post-marriage partying with buddies for example is an area that many people adjust for the sake of healthy relationship building with a new spouse. Most couples feel resentment and frustration when one person parties in excess. The same is true regarding issues of fidelity, sexual exclusivity, and casual relationships with friends. Disregarding the views of your partner when you choose to associate with your own friends is often a significant sign of incongruous values.

Couples who choose to obey usually do so without much difficulty. In fact, this lack of struggle to align one’s conduct with the wishes of a partner is often a tell-tale sign of compatibility. There is no real sacrifice for me to do what you expect of me, as in truth, I expect the same. Using your period of engagement whether living together or not as a time to assess aspects of your relationship that may in fact be problematical is excellent. Several couple’s decide to secure the services of a Couple’s Counsellor before getting married, even where there is little to no fighting or arguing. These proactive services can help couples to honestly review those areas of life that may become sources of problems over time. Learning to identify personal feelings elicited by one’s partner before marriage and how or whether you attend to and soothe normative separation distress in these early days will prove helpful long-term.

Are you able to regulate your own emotional upset independently, or do you need a partner who co-regulates your emotional distress in order to calm down, decompress, or de-activate? What are some of the ways that you currently help your partner to gain a sense of composure when life is stressful? Do you feel needed by your partner when things are tough? or Does your partner appear to cope independently enough without your emotional support, such that you wonder if you are needed at all in the relationship? Can you ask for support from your partner when you identify that you need some emotional help?

More fully understanding your own emotional style will help you in your relationship as a couple. People react differently emotionally, and your feelings are your guide to these differences. You may feel that you are marrying a person who is very even emotionally, or alternately, whose moods change in ways that are hard for you to understand. Even a few sessions with a seasoned clinical social worker will help you to deepen your own ability to cope, and the compatibility of your emotional-coping style with that of your chosen partner.

Marriage is truly a beautiful journey when it works well. The years go by too quickly, even as the relationship deepens with age. This seems to be a time when bad news is celebrated more than good news. The same seems to be true with good news marriages! There are many couples who simply get it right! They intuitively find a mate who is compatible, and love this person for years without much difficulty – even when challenging situations arise. Young couples are encouraged to spend more time with married people who seem to have gotten it right! There is much to celebrate in long-term marriages, and perhaps much to learn in an era where divorce rates soar.

Cheers to those of you celebrating a wedding anniversary this summer!

Lisa Romano-Dwyer, BSC, MSW, PhD, RSW Registered Social Worker, Psychotherapist (OCSWSSW)

All Hail to Early Risers

The early morning vibe is such a cool thing in Toronto. For those of us whose circadian rhythms are such that each day begins around 6 am, the time before the morning rush is an almost sacred experience. There are walkers, wheelchair riders, and bike riders alike some dressed in exercise gear while others seem prepared for work in an office. Early risers are on the streets before major shops open, and they even begin before the hammering sounds of local construction projects.

When I opted for early semi-retirement, I entered a commercial lease arrangement in a clinical office space closer to home. Well, actually, the space was not yet a clinical space, but minor renovations and retrofits soon converted it into comfortable therapeutic offices. After more than two decades driving in excess of thirty kilometers one way per day, it just made better sense to have the option to “walk to work” on the days that I decided to hang my shingle on the door. I had for a short period also entered into a month by month rental unit in Etobicoke that served me well while I transitioned from part-time employment to semi-retirement with part-time clinical hours in my private practice.

Colleagues who had ventured into private work many years before me had advised that it takes close to five years to grow a healthy practice. I thank those colleagues for this sage advice, and affirm that practices, like gardens take time to grow and flourish. My clients include a wonderful mix of individuals and couples seeking mental health counselling and wellness services. My daily walk to and from my office allows me to integrate my own commitment to a walking-wellness strategy in a sustainable way. Society has been talking about ways for people to manage the hustle and bustle of the “concrete jungle” for years. Walking was always a viable option for people who happen to live closer to the urban core. Yet, for most, it is an impractical solution due to the rising cost of housing and types of dwelling units available in downtown neighbourhoods.

I am really enjoying my new lifestyle, even though this transition has not always been easy for me. I am relearning that productive work is possible without the constant chaos or catastrophizing associated with public sector social work where caseloads are high and the pace is hectic. In private practice, the numbers of clients seen per shift and the pace at which sessions are conducted are both really in my own control. It is lonelier by nature, but in general, private clinical work is far saner and more conducive to living a healthier lifestyle. Of course, unexpected cancellations can be problematical, but clients understand late cancellation policies and really appreciate when cancellation fees are waived.

A segment of skilled and experienced clinical social workers have always offered private options after years of services in the community. I found this option to be an excellent way to transition to retirement, as my own clinical repertoire remains relevant and helpful to many seeking quality mental health care on a private basis. Enjoying the environment perks, such as walking to work with like-minded early risers is definitely a plus and highly recommended to those individuals seeking sustainable wellness strategies at the start of each day as well. The mild weather in Toronto is really so short-lived, and as such making the most of lovely mornings is a really simple idea that yields so many health benefits.

I salute my fellow early risers by saying, “top of the morning to y’a” and have a great day!

Lisa Romano-Dwyer PhD, RSW

A Modern Ode to Mature Marriages of Choice

Second marriages are often very happy ones. Typically involving two people who have had some life experiences, and a first marriage, second marriages are usually mature marriages of choice. Of course, Canadians are free to marry people of their choosing even the first time around. King Charles recently made a very significant decision to drop the term “consort” when referring to his current wife Camilla. She will be referred formally as Queen Camilla, and not the Queen Consort rumored to be her new formal title.

As Marriage Counselor, I view this decision as a loving act towards the King’s chosen bride. Divorce rates in England have sored in recent decades similar to rates in the United States of America and Canada. This is an interesting trend for England and the United Kingdom, which pride themselves on tradition. The air of change has certainly arrived at the doors of the royal family. Princess Catherine, or Kate witnessed another very important change to the royal line when the sex of her new baby would not have changed the child’s future status as King or Queen. Prince George of Wales was born a male, which means that following Queen Elizabeth’s lengthy reign as monarch, the United Kingdom will have three reigning Kings.

Some of us are old enough to remember the pressure on the then, Prince Charles when he had to marry. Already smitten with his best-friend Camilla, he truly did not seem to have the choice to formally marry the woman of his heart. At the time, the media referred to the requirement of the future queen to be a virgin. Princess Diana’s beauty was iconic, and the world is likely never to forget her charism, charm, and dedication to people in need. However, it was pretty clear from the very beginning that Charles’ first wife had been chosen for him. After so many years together with Camilla, perhaps the world is finally able to soften the harsh views they have held for so long over the mystery of this relationship.

Love between two people when you are lucky is exactly that, a mystery – one that it is not always completely understood by onlookers. This move to dignify his wife with a proper title of Queen has softened my view of the King. He has restored honour to the sacrament of marriage by underscoring the importance of choice between two adults who choose to marry traditionally and in the church. There ought be no shame in remarrying as the circumstances leading up to divorce are personal. For traditional Catholics, Pope Francis also modernized processes of annulment, which expedites the dissolving of marriages more quickly than in previous centuries where people required proof and years of living apart before being granted the permission to remarry in the church.

Traditional institutions change over centuries. I feel very fortunate to live during modern times where the winds of change are slowly catching up to the practices of the people. I look forward to the Coronation of King Charles with his chosen bride Queen Camilla by his side. The royal family, like so many modern families have had their shares of difficult times. I hope that as this special mature couple start their new adventures together, that their adult sons and grandchildren will enjoy some much needed peace and happiness as well.

In Family Systems Therapy, the patriarch and matriarch of families do set the tone for everyone else. Perhaps, the strong love of Charles and Camilla will be good-enough to hold this important global family together for the next several decades.

If your own marriage is faltering, reach out for help. Families are worth fighting-for, and there are many marriage counsellors who can help smooth out the rough spots, or help you to make the mature decision to separate or divorce.

by Lisa Romano-Dwyer, BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW