Why did it take me nearly 20 years to view my marriage as sacred partnership with not two persons but three? Since I have acknowledged that Jesus Christ is the vital third person in our marriage, the road still gets bumpy, but I know we’re not alone. We went through many rough spots in our marriage before we realized the spiritual help that was always with us.

My husband, Kevin, and I were married during a beautiful Mass on a hot summer day in the same Catholic Church where I was baptized and confirmed. (My family was living in another city at the time I received First Holy Communion.) Somewhere between preparing for the marriage sacrament and saying “I do” on the altar, I recall hearing something about a “third person.” Young and in love, not to mention understandably naïve about the hard work marriage requires, I didn’t make the connection that Jesus Christ was the third person in our marriage.

It wasn’t until we attended Marriage Encounter in our seventh year, a challenging time for us when the newness of young love had waned and our first baby naturally created a shift in our relationship, when we learned further about inviting Jesus in to our marriage. He would help us live more harmoniously as a couple and new parents.

The Marriage Encounter logo expresses the significance of the third person: two rings (the husband and the wife) which intertwine with each other and with the symbol of Christ, a “P” with a cross bar. A marriage draws its strength and positive effects from God’s faithfulness to the partnership. For this we can pray and feel grateful about every day together.

Now fast forward to a dozen years later to our family, which now includes two daughters – and a dog. Somewhere during those crazy busy times I focused on my children and took my marriage, not to mention the third person, for granted. I’ve learned through trial and error that the best prescription for our marriage is prayer. I call on Jesus Christ, the third person, to strengthen our marriage partnership. I pray about my roles as a wife and a mother, and I pray for my husband and his fatherhood. I thank Him for the many blessings He has graciously given us as a couple and parents.

Through movies and books, our culture tells us lies about married love. We’re told it’s natural to fall out of love as the relationship wears on and that it’s okay to move on to another partner when we no longer feel in love. But, love is a choice, not a feeling.

From many other real life examples, including our own parents who happily celebrate decades of marriage, we know that married couples can thrive throughout all seasons and difficulties of life. We want to be one those couples and we’re learning along the way. Along with acknowledging Jesus as the third person, we’re learning about complimenting one another more.

One of the simplest but most powerful skills that couples can practice is the art of affirmation, offering sincere positive comments to your partner, says Ron Feher, co-director of the Pastoral and Matrimonial Renewal Center (PMRC), which provides resources for engaged and married couples.

Even when it’s not easy, consciously compliment and affirm one every day. This practice will help to eliminate the regular negative remarks that can occur between partners. Criticism destroys self –esteem – and marriages.

Feher and his wife, Kathy, have been married over 40 years and have 10 children. “When you’re in love, everything is easier,” Kathy says. “Marriage is no longer ‘work’; it is fun and it is a joy.”

Couples can take affirmations a step further by understanding their own unique gifts of masculinity and femininity that each brings to the marriage. Couples can then affirm each other as a man and a woman in the marriage partnership by expressing gratitude for these attributes, Kathy says.

As a basic example, I thank Kevin for working hard full-time and providing income support for his family. In turn, he thanks me for working out of our home, where I can be available for our daughters and keep the house in order.

Recent studies indicate that couples who share faith and belong to the same church have the lowest incidence of divorce, according to the PMRC (www.livinginlove.org). Attend Mass together as a family every week. Outside of church, it’s important for couples to share prayers and spiritual experiences.

Together we’re grateful we’ve more fully realized the strong spiritual bond between us as a couple and Jesus. He can guide us in our personal choices and our marriage. He’s been our missing link to help ensure a long lasting, happy and healthy marriage.

Copyright 2012 Kim Seidel