Marriage Challenges - FAQ
- Concerns and questions related to WICCA
- Related to Human Sexuality
- Chronic Gambling, Personality Disorder and Divorce
- Resources for Conflicted Couples
- Ordination and Marriage
- Domestic Violence
- Non-Orthodox Clergy and the Sacrament of Marriage
- Dual Marriage Services
- Enhancing Marital Satisfaction
Question: "I wanted to ask your advice about a particular situation which arose while reviewing some of my husbands new book acquisitions with him. He recently purchased several books from the library. The librarian gave him one extra book for free. It was written by a witch and teaches self-revelation by her magic, rituals, and observations of nature. (I read the front and back covers and perused the books for a few minutes.)
I asked him to get rid of the book. He refused and called me "closed-minded." I am actually open minded about comparative religions and have books from school about them. I do draw the line at anything that teaches magic or wikkan ritual. There is no place for that in a Christian home and it is not productive to the souls of the family. Even if the book is not read, there is a presence against my beliefs in my house. My children will one day have access to it. I tried to throw it out last night.
I removed it from the house this morning.
Please advise. I have this type of thing on my list of "deal-breakers." I never expected this from my husband. I know I need to stand my ground on this one. But I don't want to break greater things for lesser issues. (I have in my dating history a situation where I walked away from a good relationship because of a disagreement on the importance of religion and the existence of the Holy Spirit.)
I want to look at this as an opportunity for spiritual growth for both of us. Perhaps it will push us to a values clarification that we have yet to truly engage in.
Since I don't trust my crusader nature to help this situation get better; I thought I should ask for advice before I make matters worse.
Thank you in advance.
Answer: I respect and understand your point regarding "deal breakers." I also understand your apprehension in having this book in your home. Nevertheless, I am pleased you've decided to take a step back from this issue in order to find some additional perspective and perhaps a more balanced response.
Any strategy to resolve this issue that is reactive in nature, and is filled with ultimatums and inflexible boundaries, will only create distance, undermine oneness, and compromise trust and understanding. Rather than reacting in an attack mode (crusaders do this), pray until you find yourself in an approach mode. As you observed in your E-mail, the challenge you've described is indeed an "opportunity" for the two of you to draw closer to one another. Moreover, with God's help, He will assist you in drawing the line you want to draw in love.
Don't permit this issue to grow into something bigger than it is. The Evil One would delight in such an outcome. Embrace it in an effort to draw closer to our loving Father and each other.
Write me back if you desire more feedback or have additional questions.
You remain in my humble prayers,
Question: “Please forgive me for asking this question: In the Orthodox Faith, is oral sex a sin between a married couple?”
Answer: I suspect the answer to your question depends on who you ask. Since you've asked me, what follows are my observations and opinions.
I am glad you referred to this behavior as "oral sex." Unlike many in our society, I would label this behavior with the descriptor "sex."
There is no need to apologize for your question. It is a legitimate, honest question.
You should also know that when it comes to questions of intimacy. I take the position that clergy should stay out of a married couple's bedroom unless they are asking for counsel on specific sexual issues. I will also state, that a resolution to questions like the one you’ve inquired about should ultimately be based on a couple's prayer life and Christian conscience.
I believe that as long as the behavior you have inquired about - oral sex - does not make either partner uncomfortable, and so long as it enhances a couple's love making in a way that facilitates "oneness," I do not believe oral sex contradicts God's will nor does it debase a couple's marriage bed. However, when such behavior is not consensual and creates discomfort and couple conflict, I would advise such couples to refrain from including oral sex in their love life until they reach a more prayerful, mutually satisfying understanding.
I hope this helps.
Question: “I cannot thank you enough for the work you have done for the Archdiocese in regards to marriage guidance. I really enjoyed the new teaching guide “Journey of Marriage in the Orthodox Church” I found it very helpful – wish I had it 15 years ago. Unfortunately, both my husband and I have failed at our marriage. Looking back, we were both ignorant about what it takes to make a marriage work thinking it would just happen automatically. It also does not help that communication is a weakness for both of us. That said, our marriage problems go deeper than that. My husband has a gambling problem and a narcissistic personality, which I do not know how to deal with. I am a typical woman who just wanted to be loved and respected and cannot continue living like this. Is there any hope here? Your advice would be greatly appreciated.”
Answer: Thank you for your supportive, kind words related to my work. I was pleased to read you found The Journey of Marriage helpful.
Regarding your question: "Is there any hope here?" The short answer is, yes, there is always hope. That is because we follow Christ. With that stated, and based on what you've written me, if there is hope for your marriage, I believe the following steps must occur.
If you have been enabling his dysfunctional behavior –the gambling - you need to stop. If necessary, seek some professional help. You must inform your husband that you believe he has some serious problems and he must agree to seek some help. If this step intimidates you, find one or two people to provide some moral support when you have this conversation with him.
During this conversation, your husband will be faced with the fact that he has some serious problems that require professional and spiritual help. He must face the fact that both he and you are powerless to resolve on your own. He must then commit to finding some professional help. You can help him find help, but he should do the lion's share of the work. I would suggest you consider Gamblers Anonymous as a start.
Once your husband is receiving treatment for his gambling and personality problems, I would then suggest that you both consider couple's counseling with a marriage friendly therapist. This will help you learn new ways of being with one another.
Concurrently, you should both seek out spiritual counseling. Research indicates that the types of issues you've described are resolved and managed when God's life changing, healing grace is centrally present during the change process.
If your husband is unwilling to assume responsibility for his behavior, and if he is unwilling to admit that he has some serious issues and problems tha are compromising his well-being, your well-being and marital satisfaction, then you should prayerfully consider meeting with your pastor to discuss your options - on option being divorce. At that point, your pastor will be able to provide further assistance. If needed, you can contact me again.
Question: Since we got married, we experienced problems in our relationship - essentially ferocious fighting that escalated beyond control. The sad reality is that we tried to find a priest who would counsel us. We were looking for a church to start going to regularly with an English speaking priest who would also serve as our confessor. We embraced the idea of leaning on God and the Church to help us through our struggles. We also tried a lot of couple's counseling, all for nothing.
I feel like we were incredibly let down. We approached some priests, via email or in person, but they were not very welcoming. A lot of them cited practical concerns (church doesn't have regular confession hours, priest is temporary, etc), and a few were completely aloof and did not care to follow up or to advise us.
I cannot understand how there is such a cry that the younger generation does not attend church, yet we were so unsuccessful in finding a welcoming parish. I also have no idea even at this point what resources exist for couples like us, or how, if they do exist, to access them, to help us. It might actually be too late, but I pray that it is not.
I do know you are the go-to guy for marriage. What resources are available? Is our option only to talk to a priest or are there marriage counselors available?
Answer: Thank you for your E-mail. I am sorry that both you and your husband are having serious marital problems. I will keep you both in my humble prayers.
Here are a few suggestions:
- If you desire, I am available for a phone consultation. Simply E-mail me and we can set up a time that is suitable for both of us.
- Do not be too hard on the priests who failed you. Clergy are not trained to deal with the types of issues and challenges you've described. As such, in some ways it may be a good thing that they didn't respond to your request for help. Chances are they might have done more damage.
- I agree with you. The church has a long way to go with regard to the marital and family issues and problems our faithful are struggling with these days. However, I must also say that we are trying and in some ways succeeding on a shoestring budget. What's needed is more funding of the type that could prepare a generation of marriage and family therapists and family scholars who are specially trained to address these types of problems.
- With regard to resources, please go to the Interfaith Marriage Web site -www.interfaith.goarch.org - especially the articles under the subsection on the sidebar entitled: Attending to Your Marriage. In addition to the material that is available on the Web site, I suggest you consider the resources I've listed below. Both books should prove helpful to you in your efforts to work through your marital problems.
Finally, don't hesitate to contact me again if you feel I can be of further help.
Question: Can one seek ordination to the Diaconate if he is married to a Roman Catholic Spouse? If it matters, the marriage was conducted in the Greek Orthodox Church. I have not found the answer to this, and have heard both opinions. Thank you for your time.
Answer: Clergy are held to higher standards than are lay people. As a result, the Orthodox Church's practice which permits our faithful to intermarry does not apply to clergy. According to Canon 14 from the fourth Ecumenical Council, men who are married to non-Orthodox spouses are prohibited from being ordained (Canon 14 of the 4th Ecumenical Council and its interpretations by Balsamon and Aristenos). This canon, along with others, seeks to preserve the high standards imposed upon those who are ordained and lead the faithful.
I hope this helps.
Comments and Question: I am currently living in a women’s shelter for abused women. I was recently counseled to return to my husband even though he refused to receive treatment for beating me up. He has physically harmed me and on one occasion broken my arm. This last time, he put me in the hospital for three days. I never pressed charges. From the church’s perspective, was this good counsel and should I follow it?
Answer: Domestic violence is against the law and is a punishable offense that carries jail time. It is also against everything that we believe as Orthodox Christians. It does not have a place in how we view relationships. From an Orthodox perspective, physical violence cannot be justified. You should not have been counseled to return to your husband. You should also know that in some abusers do not respond favorably to therapy. These types of men will jump through the hoops that are required only to manipulate, control and terrorize their victim after treatment. As such, you should never have been counseled to return to your husband. He needs help. Based on the information you have shared with me, it is not clear in my mind if he is an incorrigible abuser who will not even with treatment. Should you choose to return to him, please do not do so until he has received treatment and you have sufficient assurances from him and his counselor(s) that he has changed. Finally, should you ever feel at risk again, you should not hesitate to leave immediately. If there are any children involved take them with you. In addition, if he ever becomes physically abusive, I advise you to call the 911 and have him arrested. I also suggest that you consider entering into treatment to help you exit this destructive relationship.
Commentary and Question: I’m a domestic abuse survivor. My husband beat me repeatedly throughout our marriage. This last time he put me in the hospital. He is in jail now. He will serve three years. I’m always very much on edge and I can’t pray. I love God, but can’t seem to concentrate when I pray….I don’t know if I could ever date or marry again. Do you think I’ll ever get past this very painful place and date and remarry one day? Do you have any thoughts and advice? Any thoughts would be appreciated.
Answer: Your message portrays a faithful, strong, intelligent, resilient person who has struggled to find perspective and recover from a traumatic set of circumstances. The particulars you've shared suggest you may still be struggling with some Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If this is correct, this is totally understandable. So, please know that with God's help and the support of other significant persons in your life, you will continue to heal and emerge even stronger and wiser. While you may know this at an intellectual level, it will take time to process what happened at an emotional level. As you continue to process, increased healing and transformation will occur. Throughout this process, continue to permit God to partner with you. In time, you will gain clarity related to many of the questions related to dating, marriage and the other new beginnings you've alluded to. May our Lord continue to richly bless you.
Question: My question is this when we have interfaith marriages should we allow a priest of another faith to say a prayer in our Orthodox Churches and how should we as Orthodox Christians handle it?
Answer: In an effort to address some of the idiosyncratic needs that Orthodox Christians have in our pluralistic society, our hierarchs have determined - with the assistance of a theological concept known as economia - to make it easier for those who marry non-Orthodox Christians to practice their faith. To that end, so long as the following pastoral guidelines are respected, what you have asked about is permitted.
Co-celebrations of the Sacrament of Marriage between Orthodox and non-Orthodox clergy are not permitted. While non-Orthodox clergy are not permitted to co-celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage with the Orthodox priest they may attend and offer a benediction to the couple as well as prayerful words of exhortation.
Inter-Christian couples who wish the presence of a non-Orthodox clergy during the Sacrament of Marriage should make their desire known to the Orthodox pastor. He will then seek the Bishop’s permission. Inter-Christian couples should also be made aware of the following additional procedures.
- The Orthodox priest will extend an invitation to the non-Orthodox clergy. At that time, the Orthodox priest will respectfully state that a co-celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage is not permitted since the Orthodox Church does not permit non-Orthodox clergy to participate in the sacraments.
- The Orthodox priest will also clearly advise the guest clergy on matters of appropriate vesture and seating (which is generally, but not always, located in a prominent place on the Solea(3)). Additionally, he will also clearly indicate that the guest clergy will be properly acknowledged and permitted to give a benediction, and address the couple with some words, good wishes, and an exhortation at the conclusion of the Sacrament of Marriage
- The couple should also be told that wedding invitations and newspaper announcements must clearly distinguish between the Orthodox celebrant and the guest clergy. Terms like “assisted” or “participated” should be avoided. Optional descriptors such as “was present” or “was present and subsequently gave a blessing” should be selected and utilized to clearly describe the non-Orthodox visiting cleric’s role. In addition, Orthodox Priests who are invited to attend non-Orthodox wedding services may only attend as guests.
- Inter-Christian couples are also respectfully informed that non-Orthodox Christians who marry in the Orthodox Church do not subsequently have sacramental privileges in the Orthodox Church. Because of the Orthodox Church’s position on sacramental participation, only those who are in good standing canonically and spiritually have sacramental privileges. Similarly, intermarried couples should also be aware that only Orthodox Christians who are in good standing canonically and spiritually are (a) permitted an Orthodox Funeral Service, (b) and allowed to serve on the Parish Council, (c) permitted to vote in parish elections, and (d) permitted to serve as godparents or sponsors at baptisms and weddings.
Finally, as I mentioned above, these guidelines were prayerfully promulgated in an effort to account for the multi-religious and multicultural diversity that exists in our country. Moreover, since they do not compromise the integrity of our belief system in any way, I am not upset by what you've asked about. And while I cannot tell you how you should feel, perhaps the above information and observations might prove helpful to you in your efforts to prayerfully come to some terms with what you've asked.
Question. If the non-Orthodox partner wants to hold the marriage ceremony in a non-Orthodox church and the Orthodox wants to marry in the Orthodox Church, it sounds like it is not encouraged but tolerated. Are such couples simply bending the rules?
Answer. In some cases, couples must consider dual services. Such couples ultimately make this decision based on their personal preferences or perhaps on extended family pressures. The Orthodox Church does not encourage dual marriages, but it will tolerate them under extraordinary circumstances for the reasons I've briefly cited. Additionally, from my perspective, I would not interpret the Orthodox Church's tolerance in this case as "bending the rules," but rather as pastoral sensitivity and flexibility that will hopefully soften hearts and permit God's healing, life changing grace to take effect.
Finally, statistics are clear about one thing. Fewer people are opting to marry today. Furthermore, there is ample evidence to suggest that fewer young people are opting to marry in the Church. In an effort to address these and other similar trends, when the Church shows some flexibility, without compromising its theological integrity, I support such initiatives.
Commentary and Question. If there are two ceremonies that take place, am I understanding that the non-Orthodox ceremony should take place first and then the Orthodox ceremony should take place to restore the Orthodox partner back into good standing? I believe double weddings should happen on the same day, as the Orthodox party would be unfaithful for a few hours. It may be a busy day, but if this is what they choose, they should accept the consequences of their choices.
Answer. Optimally, the ceremonies should take place on the same day. However, the reality is that many modern weddings are not simple events. As a result, in cases where a couple decides to have dual services, after examining the couple's weddings plans carefully with them, I provide options and defer to them to make the best decision since they are intimately familiar with family dynamics and personal limitations.
Commentary and Question: I’ve been married for 15 years. I often read magazine articles that talk about how couples can put some spark back into their marriage. When I share what I’ve read, my husband isn’t interested. Sometimes I think my husband is just comfortable in how things are between us and he does not see or want something better. I think he understands that all couples have their issues and is just comfortable with ours. The idea of being better than just comfortable does not occur to him as even being possible.
I don't just want to love my husband - I want to be able to look at my husband and be in awe and get butterflies in my stomach- I deserve that and so does he. How do we get there? Is it possible?
Most couples who experience couple dynamics like those you’ve described end up drifting further and further apart. These couples report experiencing emotional distance, isolation, sadness and a palpable tension, all of which seriously undermine friendship, trust, understanding and the love they once shared. So, yes, I’m glad you want more.
Based on what you’ve written me, I suspect you’re both stuck in some patterns and what I sometimes call stinking thinking that have immobilized you and caused your husband to settle and you to feel discouraged, hopeless and helpless. But you don’t have to remain stuck. You can change. Here are a few suggestions that might help.
First, remember that love is a verb and not a feeling. All of which means that you need to stop waiting for your husband to act and start doing something different. By the way, many spouses don’t like to hear this advice because it sounds unfair. If that’s the way you feel, then I suggest you ask God to help you get past the negative feelings and thoughts that are keeping you from assuming a proactive approach and doing something different. Once you’ve done that, here are some other suggestions I’d like to offer you: Consider advocating for a date night once every other week. Hug more. Touch more. Talk more. Laugh more. Pray together. Compliment your husband more. On a daily basis remember to appreciate, improve and protect the relationship you’ve been given. Review and count your blessing together. Review and take satisfaction in your successes. I believe these type of conscious changes will likely bring some zest back into your marriage.