Faith remains primary factor in every stage
Marriage is a process, and all healthy marriages experience change and transition, according to an initiative from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops titled "For Your Marriage."
While each marriage is unique, chronological stages can help couples recognize certain cycles of growth. Broadly including romance, disillusionment and mature love, stages suggested by the bishops are newly married (0 to 5 years), middle years (6 to 25 years) and mature love (26 or more years).
The Catholic Voice talked with three couples, one in each of those stages of marriage. Brett and Amanda Klabunde, members of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish in Omaha, have been married about eight months; Joe and Valerie Niemeyer, members of St. Bernard Parish, also in Omaha, married nearly 13 years; and Leonard and Helen Kluthe, members of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Howells, married nearly 54 years.
Brett and Amanda Klabunde
Married last August, the Klabundes are in what the bishops call the "exhilarating" early stage of marriage, when the joy of being in each other’s company is still fresh. It’s a time when couples celebrate many firsts together such as Christmas, but they also face challenges with finances, household management and compromising on how to spend free time.
With Brett joining the church at last year’s Easter Vigil, sharing the faith has been a grace, the couple said.
A lifelong Catholic, Amanda served as Brett’s sponsor during Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes. She said she found his enthusiasm for the faith inspiring, while Brett said he appreciated Amanda’s willingness to answer his questions.
The couple said a strong marriage prep program at St. Stephen the Martyr helped them avoid challenges some newlyweds face, such as misunderstandings over finances and chores.
And when faced with a larger challenge – Amanda was hospitalized for several days with an illness – she said she was grateful Brett encouraged them to pray together.
"It was pretty special," she said.
Expecting their first child in September, the couple knows life is about to change.
But by praying, attending Mass and retreats together, faith will remain their focus, helping the couple continue growing together in their relationship with God, appreciating each other and practicing forgiveness, they said.
Joe and Valerie Niemeyer
With a foundation built on "faith and friendship," the Niemeyers met while volunteering with a youth group at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Omaha, Valerie said.
That foundation continues today, as they raise five children.
Called the "active parenting stage," marriage and personal needs may be pushed aside as time is devoted to raising children, the bishops said.
To avoid problems that can develop, the Niemeyers said they pray together daily and stay up after the children are asleep so they have time to talk about their day.
And through Teams of Our Lady, an international Catholic marriage movement, the couple has monthly "sit downs" together to take stock of their life, and gatherings with other couples to encourage each other.
Early in their marriage, the couple drifted from the faith as they struggled with divvying up household chores, finding time for each other between work and Valerie attending graduate school, and the birth of their first child, Joe said.
The spiritual practices of the movement helped the couple re-establish discipline in their faith life, he said. The joy of children make these years a happy time, the couple said. But there are challenges in making parenting decisions and providing financially that require trust in God, Valerie said.
"The faith and the hope help us to persevere," she said.
Leonard and Helen Kluthe
The Kluthes have been through many of the joys and trials of the third stage of marriage, including children leaving home and dealing with declining health and income. And they are enjoying what some might call an ongoing "second honeymoon."
But listening to Leonard, 75, and Helen, 77, it sounds as though they are still on their first honeymoon.
Leonard claims the couple have yet to have a fight, and Helen points to a magnet on their refrigerator which reads, "I’m married to my best friend."
Communication has been a key, she said, with the couple making time nightly to talk about their day.
Helen converted to Catholicism shortly before they married, and they have been active in the church ever since.
The couple sings in the choir for some Masses, and Helen sings while Leonard plays guitar during other Masses.
Praying, participating in adoration of the Eucharist and volunteering for various projects in the church together enriches their marriage, Helen said.
And it’s a way to give thanks for their blessings, including five children, 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, Leonard said.
Graces now include having more time together for vacations and gardening, while a challenge is not having as much energy as they once did, the couple said.
But no matter the challenge or grace, a firm trust in the Lord has guided them, Leonard said.
"If you don’t have your faith, you just don’t have anything," he said.