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Darryl and Dana Washington enjoy a quiet moment together April 8 on the deck of their home. Photo by Mike May/Staff.

Respecting individuality helps keep couples close

When a couple marries, "… they are no longer two but one flesh." (Mark 10:8)

Yet they do not cease being individuals with unique gifts from God. Sharing and appreciating those gifts is one of the joys of marriage.

Three couples from the archdiocese share how they cherish those gifts, accommodate each other’s needs and respect one another’s space, time and interests:



Five years married

Don and Maria Muhr, members of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Omaha, share a busy life, raising two young children, juggling work and other responsibilities.

But they are generous about allowing each other the personal time they need – from Don’s enjoyment of reading to Maria’s love of spending time with friends.

Don, a train dispatcher with Union Pacific Railroad, and Maria, a stay-at-home mom, have been married five years.

"Even if it’s chaotic around here, it’s better if he can go have a cup of coffee somewhere and read for an hour and come back refreshed," she said. "It just takes some balancing and planning."

Despite Don’s stressful job, he is patient, good with the couple’s children, and good at multi-tasking, Maria said. He is committed to their faith and is planning for Catholic education for their children, she said.

Don makes certain the family prays before meals, and Maria makes sure the family gets to church.

And when Don works nights, it’s Maria who prays with their children. "She’s the rock when it comes to those things," Don said.

"Something Don brings to the marriage is that he is just fun, even when doing things like cleaning the house," Maria said. "He keeps me laughing, and that’s a gift because it’s an enjoyable marriage then."

And Don cherishes Maria’s thoughtfulness. "She’s a very loving and kind person, a great mother, great wife. She’s also able to put herself in other people’s shoes and sacrifice her own wants and desires – she puts herself second," he said.

"She’s also one of the few people I know who is still really good friends with her childhood friends," he said. "She’s interested in making sure those connections stay fresh and really makes time in her busy life to be able to spend time with her friends."

"With young kids, getting away from the house to get some personal time puts a lot of responsibility on the other person," Don said. "It takes a lot of work to do that, but it’s something we both try to make time for."

The Muhrs find their relationship to be very easy and natural and that’s a gift, Maria said.

"Sometimes I hear of people who are struggling, but it never seemed like we had to work so hard at it. We’ve always been pretty happy."


17 years married

Over their 17 years of marriage, Darryl and Dana Washington, members of St. Benedict the Moor Parish in Omaha, have grown in appreciating each other’s unique gifts and complementary personalities.

"Darryl is very calm, measured and steady and I’m very passionate about things," Dana said, "so I need him to slow me down sometimes. He also has the ability to be more in the moment while my mind might be going elsewhere, so that’s a gift I appreciate."

"Dana is a very caring person," Darryl said, "and is very motivated and likes to do a lot of things." She enjoys reading and also mentors young women, both informally and through Big Brothers. Big Sisters of the Midlands.

"Sometimes I think, maybe that’s time we ought to be doing something together," he said, "but I appreciate and respect that. I know that she’s putting her time to good use and doing God’s work."

"Early in our relationship, I thought that Darryl ought to be just like me and like the things that I liked," Dana said. "I had to learn through the years to recognize that Darryl is a different person and has different ideas and thoughts."

"And when I’ve seen the fruit of the way he approaches things, I’ve really come to appreciate that, through how well our children are doing, how they adore and respect their father and the values that he’s passed on to them," she said.

Darryl, an Omaha firefighter and Dana, an attorney with Mutual of Omaha, have three children.

Their occupations result in a unique family schedule, with Darryl working five 24-hour shifts over 10 days, then six days off, and Dana working a more typical five-day work week.

Although they lead busy professional and family lives, they find time for individual pursuits and family prayer.

"As a family, we make sure we get to church on Sundays, and we enjoy each other’s company when we’re home," Darryl said. "But sometimes we get so busy and our schedules are such that we need to take time to appreciate things, but it’s usually at different times."

Dana prays with their children in the mornings, for example, when Darryl is at work. He takes time at work to reflect, to thank God for Dana and their children and to pray for a full and productive day, he said.

"We’ve also made a point to get together on Saturdays with not only our family, but with the grandparents too, and we pray the rosary together as a family," Dana said.

This tradition was Dana’s idea, and Dana said she appreciates Darryl’s openness to her suggestions – another example of appreciating each other’s unique gifts.


25 years married

Devlin and Kelley Bertrand, members of St. Patrick Parish in Jackson, call themselves homebodies who make the most of their family time together.

"We’re one," Devlin said. "Our lives are molded around each other and to be there for family is what’s important."

And during their 25 years of marriage, faith has played a big part in their life as a family, Kelley said.

When their six children were younger, the family had a Sunday tradition called ‘Ask Dad,’ Devlin said. "They’d write down their questions about faith, religion, the church and the Mass, and I’d answer them," he said. "If I didn’t know the answer, I’d look it up and talk about it the next week."

They now pray a family rosary on Fridays as often as possible, he said, as a form of Friday sacrifice.

The Bertrands also lean on their faith when there are challenges. "We just have to remember to take things to prayer and do what we can do in those situations, and then turn the rest over to God and have faith that his will is being done," Kelley said.

One such challenge was caring for and raising two children with special needs, she said. "We learned early on to turn to each other and to God."

"Devlin is very strong in his faith, he’s the rock of our family," she said, "and a strong role model for our children and keeps us all grounded."

Devlin’s work designing residential, commercial and industrial heating and cooling systems has allowed Kelley to be a stay-at-home mom until just a few weeks ago, when she opened a religious gift and supply store, The Vine.

Although togetherness is important to the Bertrands, they also make time for their favorite pursuits, and include their children in the fun. And their activities evolved as the children grew older.

When first married, Devlin enjoyed fishing, but as the family grew, there was less time for that, Kelley said. "Now that the children are older, he’s been able to pick that back up and take the boys with him," she said.

Devlin and his sons also spend time growing grapes and making wine.

For Kelley and their daughters, shopping for clothes and gifts is a shared activity, Devlin said. "She likes to peruse and shop for deals. She puts a lot of thought into the gifts she buys for others."

Even those simple activities with their children promote "bonding and forming a nice, close-knit family," Kelley said.

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