The seed for Creative Marriages was planted when I had the opportunity to meet Pope John Paul II. I was quite surprised to learn of his great interest in marriage.
As a young priest, John Paul II was for over 30 years a professor of philosophy in Poland. An avid outdoorsman — a skier, hiker, kayaker — he developed deep friendships with his students over the course of hundreds of outings with them.
When it came time to get married, these students would turn to the young Pope to ask for his advice and blessing. They kept in touch, and later in their marriages when they encountered difficulties, they sought out his counsel.
Seeing the need to better prepare couples for marriage, the young John Paul II founded Pre-Cana in the Archdiocese of Krakow. As a philosopher, theologian, playwright, and poet, he would go on to write more than one thousand pages on marriage.
I met the Pope at a time when I was having serious questions about marriage myself. My closest brother had just gone through a bitter divorce. And, while not married, I had recently suffered a heartbreak of my own.
Looking for answers, I found myself “so desperate to learn about love, I was even willing to read a book by a Pope about it.”
My life has never been the same.
John Paul II’s writings on life and love have truly inspired me, and I can honestly say every day of my life — and every day of my subsequent marriage — has been better thanks to his inspired words.
Creative Marriages was founded so I could pass along John Paul II’s inspiration to other couples. I am gratified that, years later, I hear from many couples who tell me their lives are also better every day.
Three key insights from the writing of John Paul II inspire the work of Creative Marriages:
Love is Creative
John Paul II argued that “love is by its very nature creative.” This is the central theme that runs throughout all of his philosophical, theological, and literary writings on love & marriage. We’ve been so inspired by this insight we named our not-for-profit Creative Marriages after it.
What does it mean to be creative in love? John Paul II’s answer, if you love someone, you build them up. The “great achievement” is to find hidden potential in another, and bring that out.
This is no small point. According to the research on marriage, petty bickering is the leading cause of divorce for couples married less than seven years. No wants to say, and no one wants to hear, day after day, year after year, “how many times do I have to tell you to take the trash out?”
For couples married longer than seven years, boredom is the leading cause of divorce. I prefer to say “the failure to be creative” is the leading cause of divorce for these couples.
Through our program, I teach couples how to be creative in their marriages: how to build each other up every day in small ways, and how to take a step back from time to time to assess if they are embracing growth — in bigger ways — as individuals and as a couple.
Marriage as an Icon of the Holy Trinity
I grew up attending Catholic schools, and heard many times we are made in the image and likeness of God, but it took John Paul II for me to seriously reflect on just what this means for my life.
According to John Paul II, we are most ourselves — we are healthiest and happiest — when we are most like God. But, what does it mean to model one’s life on God?
For one, God is our Creator, and just as He is creative in our lives, we need to be creative in the lives of those entrusted to us. “Love is by its very nature creative.”
But John Paul II surprised me when he emphasized that God is not a lonely individual. He is a Holy Trinity, three persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — so intimate, so united, they become one. The implications of this for marriage are absolutely profound.
God is the perfect marriage and family. The Holy Trinity sets the standard for marriage and family life. For me, this thought was truly shocking: “My wife would like me to find the hamper, and I can’t do that. How are we ever going to base our marriage on the example of the Holy Trinity?”
Frankly, I walked around for days thinking this was the craziest idea I had ever heard — base our marriage on the example of the Holy Trinity? — but on the fifth day, I realized just what a beautiful idea it was. I also realized just how far from this standard my wife & I were living.
We had settled into a lukewarm marriage. There were many days we were so busy with work we barely spoke to each other. If we were to make the Holy Trinity the standard for our marriage, our frequent state of disconnection was no longer acceptable.
God – the Holy Trinity — is the consistent perfection of connection, from morning to night, busy or not, day in and day out. If this is the standard in marriage we are to embrace, my wife & I needed to put much more energy into our marriage. I like to say the Holy Trinity gave us a “giant kick in the pants,” and we needed it.
Inspired by the Holy Trinity, “Let’s strive to be a perfect team” has become the daily rallying cry in our marriage. I am motivated to share more with my wife. I show more interest in her life. And, I am committed to doing so on a daily basis. Every day of our marriage has been better.
In my work with couples, I teach them how to live this beautiful teaching in practice — how to nurture a deeper sense of intimacy and teamwork in their marriages amidst the busyness of everyday life (an article containing the heart of my practical advice went viral on the internet and has been shared more than 130,000 times around the world).
The Gift of a Joyful Marriage
With his inspiration to model our marriage on the example of the Holy Trinity, John Paul II was not done shocking me with his teaching on marriage. His interpretation of the story of Adam & Eve stunned me with a vision of marriage I never thought possible.
To my amazement, from my reading of modern-day psychological research, the Bible begins with the secret to a happy marriage.
From the beginning of our Pre-Cana teaching efforts, we have striven to not just share a beautiful theory of marriage, but to provide the best practical advice how to live that marriage in real life.
To this end, I have now spent almost two decades studying the research on marriage conducted by the top psychologists in the field (John Gottman, William Doherty, Michele Weiner-Davis, and Susan Johnson, to name just a few).
From all this research, the single best practical advice I can give couples is this: “over time, how you greet each other sets the tone for your marriage and family life.” I teach couples to “greet each other with joy, every single time you meet, whether you feel like it or not, whether you like each other or not.”
The Bible begins with Adam joyfully greeting Eve. God first creates and offers Adam the whole world, but the Bible records no response. God then puts Adam back to sleep, takes a rib from his side to create woman, and wakes Adam up a second time to present him with his wife Eve.
The very first words spoken by man in the Bible were words of joy spoken by Adam to Eve when he first greets her: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” These are not random words, John Paul II writes, they express a profound truth.
And the profound truth behind Adam’s greeting Eve with joy: God intended marriage to be joyful — and not just joyful every now and then — couples should feel joy in their marriage every day (if you are not feeling this joy, it means you are taking the good in your spouse for granted).
Joy is normal in marriage. This thought stunned me. It was as if a lightning bolt had struck me from out of the blue.
At that time in our marriage, my wife & I were beginning to drown in petty bickering. Friends even told me this bickering was normal. “The passion wears off,” one friend said. He advised me to resign myself to a life of constant nagging. I feared he might be right.
Reading John Paul II, I realized in an instant my friend was not right. Bickering is not normal. I realized I had not been right about marriage myself. I had been hoping against hope that peace would be normal in marriage.
John Paul II made me realize we are called to more than that. Much more than that.
If John Paul II is right that joy is the true norm of marriage — and he is right — my wife & I needed to raise our game big time.
I used to think of joy as something I had no control over. Some days were good and some were bad. That’s life. But, in a sentence that would change the way I look at life, John Paul II urged couples not to wait for joy, but to actively cultivate it in their married life.
John Paul II argued that couples should give each other the gift of a joyful marriage, and they should give each other the gift of a joyful marriage every day. I have been on fire ever since.
I strive to give my wife the gift of a joyful morning, a joyful afternoon, and a joyful evening. I have John Paul II to thank for the inspiration.
Teaching couples how to have a joyful marriage has been the central focus of our work from the beginning. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with more than five thousand couples, and there are many success stories which can be shared.
To quote one wife speaking with her husband, “We can do this!”
The Catholic Church proposes a very high standard for marriage: we should strive continually to build up our spouses, we should seek to be a perfect team, and we should cultivate joy every day in our marriage and family lives.
Embracing this standard doesn’t mean always living up to it. It means striving to live up it. It means noticing sooner when you begin to stray too far from it.
It’s the mission of Creative Marriages to teach couples how to aim high in their marriages.
Our wish for the couples we work with is that they have a marriage they want to go home to every day, a marriage they are excited to spend the rest of their life in.
Our wish for couples is that they make this poem by Pope John Paul II their own:
which all of us should strive for,
can be compared
to a distant summit,
a hard and tiring ascent every day.
But do not be discouraged;
resume your daily journey with joy
and a generous spirit;
restore your spiritual strength
through prayer and reception of the Eucharist.
Set your eyes continuously on the summit.
Be confident that you will reach it
with the help of the Lord!
— Pope John Paul II