Sunday, October 27, 2013

If You Drink My Blood, You Will Live Forever: Vampire Edition

Ever wonder why vampires enjoy such eternal popularity? Let's see. They are immortal. They have supernatural powers. And if you drink their blood, you will live forever. Sound like anybody else you know? The legend of vampires seems like an incredibly twisted version of Jesus and the Eucharist. But it hooks into people's deep longing for immortality. No folk tale, fairy tale, or great work of literature can punch us in the collective gut and grab our attention for centuries unless it bears at least some resemblance to the greatest story ever told. The legend of vampires does this with a vengeance.

The dark difference is that drinking a vampire's blood will only give its victim eternal physical life, whereas partaking of the Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist will give your soul eternal life in heaven. And drinking a vampire's blood puts you on the fast track to damnation. A vampire is like an anti-Christ.

Bram Stoker played on this gruesome parallel in the 19th century novel Dracula, which launched the modern fascination with vampires. Dr. van Helsing, the Catholic hero of Dracula, placed crushed consecrated hosts around the doorjambs of houses to keep the vampires from entering, and the vampires could not pass. In this literary allegory, Christ in the Eucharist vanquishes the anti-Christ.

The author also put Biblical words on the lips of his anti-hero, similar to Satan quoting the Bible to Christ during Jesus' temptation in the desert (Mt 4:1-11):
Dracula, Bram Stoker’s creation, told Mina when he forced her to drink his blood in the pivotal scene in his novel, “And you, my best beloved one, are now to me flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood, kin of my kin; my bountiful wine press for a while; and shall be later on my companion and my helper” (Dr. Seward’s Diary ch XX1).
Dracula's words are an eerie echo of the Book of Genesis, where God makes woman as a helpmate for man and Adam responds, "This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh" (Gen. 2:23).

For centuries throughout the world, vampires were recognized as the worst of monsters. The folk legend of Lilith, supposedly Adam's wife before Eve, depicted Lilith as the blood-sucking Queen of Demons. In ancient times, even Satan was regarded as a quasi-vampire.

So how did vampires' image change from the most hideous of paranormal serial killers to the ultimate hotties? In the popular modern-day Twilight series, it's hard to tell who wants to drink the other's blood more -- Edward the vampire or Bella the human. From almost the beginning of this bizarre romance, Bella begs to drink Edward's blood. Her desire is met when Edward must bite her to save her from dying while birthing his baby. The potential for parody is vast.

We live in an age when grey is the ruling color. Evil has lost the capacity to shock us, and the conversion of evil to good has become trite. It seems as if a good person now has to embrace evil in order to be loved. This is the worst kind of despair. Because outside of the pages of a novel exists the real world, where a bargain with evil can't lead to everlasting love.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

When Sex is Too Much Bother: Japan's Troubling Celibacy Syndrome

"45% of Japanese women aged 16-24 are 'not interested in or despise sexual contact'. More than a quarter of men feel the same way," reports a recent article in The Guardian. In addition, 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 are not in any kind of romantic relationship, and a third of people under 30 have never dated at all. The Japanese government has labeled this phenomenon the celibacy syndrome. Combined with an already-falling birthrate and a rising number of elderly, the celibacy syndrome adds further fuel to the fire of Japan's oncoming demographic collapse.

Why does this celibacy syndrome exist in Japan? The number one reason given by the Japanese singles interviewed for the Guardian article was mendokusai, which translates roughly to "too troublesome" or "I can't be bothered." Such a negative attitude towards sex is almost incomprehensible to us here in the United States, where we readily believe the false rumor that men think about sex every 7 seconds. (It's actually more like once an hour).

Permissiveness and Porn

What makes the celibacy syndrome even harder to understand is that Japan doesn't exactly give off the vibe of a sexless nation. Porn in Japan is a $20 billion industry, producing $6 billion more in annual revenues than the U.S. porn industry despite the country having less than half the population of the U.S.. Pornographic comic books in anime style are widely available, and businesses exist to cater to just about every kink imaginable.

Perhaps Japan's very permissiveness is what has led to a rebound of sexlessness. One commentator has asserted:
Pornography in Japan has been legal for centuries. Yes, I said centuries.  Back in the days of woodblock prints, the Japanese were making 'floating world' prints often depicting sexual activity along with other dramatized depictions of hedonistic conduct. ... Children are now openly featured in Japan's pornography industry as it struggles to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for more over-the-top materials as viewers gradually become 'tolerant' of the 'old-fashioned' straight, heterosexual porn.  ...What is happening in Japan is that excess has led to the opposite extreme of repression. Normal sexual desires for another person have been replaced by porn, and in turn this allows people to avoid normal sexual relationships.

Economic Pressures on Women

The author of the Guardian article places the blame instead on the economics of marriage and childbirth. Japanese corporations no longer offer men permanent job security, and the tough economic climate has made children seem unaffordable unless both spouses work. The catch-22 is that married women are frowned upon in the workplace, as explained by one of the women being interviewed:
Tomita says a woman's chances of promotion in Japan stop dead as soon as she marries. "The bosses assume you will get pregnant." Once a woman does have a child, she adds, the long, inflexible hours become unmanageable. "You have to resign. You end up being a housewife with no independent income. It's not an option for women like me."
Around 70% of Japanese women leave their jobs after their first child. The World Economic Forum consistently ranks Japan as one of the world's worst nations for gender equality at work. 
This description of a nearly impossible work-life balance for women in Japan matches my personal experience. I worked as an in-house lawyer for Mitsubishi Electric's Tokyo headquarters in the late 1990s. Only two women in the department were married. None of the female lawyers I knew who worked outside the big corporations were married, and they didn't seem unhappy about it, at least not on the surface. The position of bengoshi, or lawyer, in Japan commands so much respect that marriage and family might not hold much of a candle to it.

In America, the same types of economic and professional pressures on women have instead led to widespread contraceptive use. Educated women are getting married later or not at all, and the number of childless marriages is on the rise. But our nation hasn't succumbed to a widespread distaste for sex. Japan may rely less on contracepted sex because it was historically less available. The birth control pill, in particular, was not legalized there until 1999. But more than ten years later, the Japanese culture does not seem to be going the way of the American one.

Buddhist Views on Sex

Japanese traditional religious beliefs about the value of sex and marriage may point the way towards an explanation of the celibacy syndrome. Birth records identify the vast majority of Japanese people as adhering to Shintoism, Buddhism, or both, even though 70%-85% of Japanese people regularly claim in polls to have no religion at all. Only 1% profess to be Christian. (See more here.)

Despite the secularization of Japanese culture, Buddhism still exerts a pervasive influence. In Buddhism, sexual desire seems to be somewhere between a neutral force and an active deterrent from reaching Enlightenment. One Western Buddhist writer, M. O'C. Walshe, explained that "Sex is a powerful force in us all. In itself it is neither good nor bad." But attachment to sexual pleasure is problematic, since it represents an inner craving. And "as long as there remains even a latent craving (including that for sex), according to the Buddhist teaching rebirth will inevitably continue to take place." These cravings for sex would then keep the individual from reaching Nirvana. Buddha's First Sermon calls the pursuit of sensual desire "low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble and unbeneficial." It will likely lead to "suffering, vexation, despair and fever, and it is the wrong way." In this context, for a Japanese person to express no craving for sex would in fact make them appear further along the path to Enlightenment.

Marriage also holds no special place in Buddhist thought. Marriage is seen as a secular rather than religious act. According to Walshe,
In Buddhism, marriage is not a "sacrament," as such a concept does not exist. And it is not any part of the functions of Buddhist monks to join lay people together in holy wedlock (or deadlock). If it is occasionally done today in Japan, this is just a modern idea in conformity with a general tendency among Japanese Buddhists to imitate (often perhaps unwisely) Christian institutions. 
Procreation similarly lacks a strong religious component. "Buddhism has no analogy to the biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply." Therefore, while most lay Buddhists do get married and have families, renunciation is still seen as the ideal. Japan's current celibacy syndrome seems to fall right into line with Buddhist thought, particularly if sex, marriage, and procreation are seen to cause economic hardship or suffering.

This Buddhist perspective is of course completely different from Catholic thought, which imbues sex, marriage, and procreation with deep religious meaning. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church --

Sex: "The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable .... Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure." (no. 2362)
Marriage:  "Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: 'It is not good that the man should be alone.' The woman, 'flesh of his flesh,' his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a 'helpmate'; she thus represents God from whom comes our help. Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." (no. 1605)
Procreation: "Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator's eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: 'And God blessed them, and God said to them: Be fruitful and multiply.'" (no. 1604) 
Or, as popular Catholic theologian Chris West puts it in his recent book Fill These Hearts, we should aim our desire (for sex) according to God's design (for marriage and procreation) to reach our destiny (heaven). If these principles caught on in Japan, perhaps the current celibacy syndrome would become a thing of the past.

Photo Credit: pjan vandaele via Compfight cc

Thursday, October 24, 2013

My Annual Mani-Pedi and a Trip Through Outer Space

The pedicurist recoiled in horror when she beheld the extent of my callouses. "Callous cream," she sternly recommended, and then proceeded to chatter excitedly in Korean to the pedicurist next to her, presumably describing my icky feet in gory detail. After rubbing the magic callous removal cream into my feet and scraping, scraping, scraping, the pedicurist triumphantly raised the scraper with the incontrovertible evidence of my appallingly negligent foot care. She must have thought I had been herding yak barefoot over the Russian steppes all last summer.

But, with six kids, I don't have time for weekly or even monthly visits to the nail salon. And I made a bargain with myself not to get that annual mani-pedi until my husband and I revised the proposal on our marriage advice book and sent it off to the publisher. As soon as I pressed the send button on the proposal, I hustled down to the local NAILS NAILS NAILS! for their Monday through Wednesday $19 mani-pedi special. Score! Then I made my kids take lots of pictures to preserve this mani-pedi for posterity in case the next yak-herding season destroys my feet again before I can make it to the salon.

Since my adrenaline was soaring pretty high after I sent that book proposal, I also motored through about ten science fiction/fantasy books in the space of a week -- my time-honored method of stress release since high school. Most of them were free on Kindle, and all of them were pretty good. If you're interested in checking them out, here they are:

1. Divergent, by Veronica Roth. About to be made into a movie, this has been called the next Hunger Games. Great coming-of-age teen story. The author's accompanying free e-book, The World of Divergent: The Path to Allegiant, says that many readers ask if she made up words like abnegation, candor, dauntless, and erudite. The author cheerily responds that she likes these unusual, older words because their definitions are more precise. Unusual?! Older?! It's English, people. Aaaaaargh.

2. Insurgent, by Veronica Roth. The next book in the Divergent series, it wasn't nearly as good as the first. *SPOILER ALERT*: The end included a typical, they've been fooling you all along, you're only a social experiment plot twist. Here's hoping that soon-to-be-released book number 3 in the series, called Allegiant, will be better than book number 2.

3. Forbidden Forest (The Legends of Regia), by Tenaya Jayne. A paranormal romance between a shape-shifter and a vampire. Mild exploration of sexual abuse and recovery. Uplifting.

4. Forest Fire, by Tenaya Jayne. The sequel to Forbidden Forest. Some nice ruminating about the meaning of marriage in contrast to what the vampires call a life-bond, which has a hard-wired physical and mystical component.

5. The Book of Deacon, by Joseph Lallo. The main character Myranda tries to stop a war that two countries are perpetuating for their own nefarious interests regardless of the good of the common people. She teams up with a warrior who is half-fox and has been abused and despised by humans since birth. The half-fox is chosen to save the human world, but he doesn't think it's worth saving.

6. Guardians, Inc.: The Cypher, by Julian Rosado-Machain. Similar to Percy Jackson and the Olympians. A teenage boy gets a job in a library with connections to other worlds. The boy's special inborn ability to translate ancient other-worldly languages leads him to a quest to, you guessed it, save the world.

7. The Descent Series, Books 1-3, by SM Reine. A demon hunter and her witch protector try to prevent the take-over of earth by a death goddess. Strong female lead and great action scenes. But the third book in the series strayed into heretical territory, painting the demon-hunter as a Mary/Eve figure who was imprisoned by an abusive God in the Garden of Even. This "God" is obsessed with getting her back, and her fate is to kill him. Ick.

8. The Last Praetorian, by Mike Smith. Handsome soldier saves sexy princess, who becomes president of the new democracy after her father's interstellar empire collapses. Good Star Wars-style romp.

9. The Mind Readers Series, by Lori Brighton. A teenage girl who can read minds discovers that there are many others like her. Allegiances shift quickly and dramatically as she encounters different groups of people who use their extraordinary talents for radically different purposes, all claiming to have right and justice on their side. Very entertaining.

10. Origins (Spinward Fringe), by Randolph Lalonde. A group of armchair heroes hack into flight training simulations and beat the most skilled pilots in the fleet. When they're caught, they're drafted into the fleet and sent across the universe on missions only they can accomplish. Themes of loyalty, leadership, and sacrifice take center stage as the new captain pits himself against the profit-driven space-faring corporations.

So, how did my husband take my sudden obsession with nail polish and spaceships? First, he promised to take me to the opening weekend of the blockbuster sci-fi movie Ender's Game, based on the book by Orson Scott Card -- a book I've adored since childhood. Then, he attempted to make acceptable comments about my toenails. "The color is unusual. Unexpected. Very noticeable!" I informed him archly that the color was gunmetal grey, an undeniably fashionable and attractive nail color. "You have no idea how sexy my nails are," I said.

"Your sexiness isn't in your nails, it's in you!" he replied. Awwww..... Best. Hubby. Ever.

Photo Credits: Lelia & Miguel Santos

This post is part of the Small Success Thursdays link-up on My small successes were (1) sending the revised book proposal, (2) getting those gorgeous nails, and (3) reading a digital mountain of books. Go check out the other links!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Don't Turn a Blind Eye to Marital Abandonment

What should we do when people in our social circle abandon their marriages? When they're openly, even scandalously, unfaithful? Kristin Gomez has encountered this situation one too many times, and now she's speaking out about it. A graduate of the University of Virginia and former Spanish teacher, Kristin is now a homeschooling mother of 6 in Manassas, Virginia. She's part of a core team of couples at All Saints Catholic Church who are using the Alexander House resource, Covenant of Love, to help create "a marriage minded community." Best of all, she's married to a Colombian and living la vida loca, Catholic style!

Abandonment is when one spouse leaves the other despite the other's pleas for counseling and healing of the marriage in the hopes to restore love and stability to their family. (I'm not talking about the legal definition of abandonment here, just the common-sense meaning of the word.) Check the stats, but surprisingly this is MANY, if not MOST of "divorces" one hears about. Divorce is more of a mutual decision to legally get un-married. The kids still suffer (as do the spouses), but it is by and large a mutual decision. This is less common than flat-out abandonment.

I totally understand having to legally live apart when there is severe abuse or addiction. This is not about that. This is about one or both spouses feeling unhappy or unfulfilled in the marriage. I have never met an honest married couple that did not go through this once or many times and is still happily married.

So when I tell my friend that Joe has abandoned Jane for another woman and Jane and the kids are in agony and we must help in some way - please do not tell me "these things are complicated/there are always two sides/I do not think it our place to get involved/this is a private matter."

It takes two to make a marriage unhappy and two to heal it. I absolutely agree with that. However, it only takes ONE person to abandon the marriage and destroy the family. ONE.

In case it is still unclear: if I were to say to you, "Hey, Joe is beating the crap out of Jane and the kids - have you seen her? She has a broken nose, two swollen eyes and bruises all over the place. The kids are just as bad - tufts of hair missing, swollen lips, black heart is breaking - we have to help in some way - we need to reach out to them ALL.....And we need to be there for the hurting ones in the meantime."

My guess is you would agree. You would not tell me it is complicated or private or takes two to fight or yadda yadda.

Well, when a father (and it could easily be a mother) abandons their spouse and family - the abandoner causes EXACTLY this much pain - but it is emotional...EMOTIONAL!! If you could SEE the pain of an abandoned spouse and the children - THIS IS WHAT IT WOULD LOOK LIKE - make NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT. Brutal, agonizing, constantly aching.

Emotional pain caused by spousal abandonment is worse than physical pain in some ways, because physical pain you can see and you can measure and it can evoke the proper response of urgency and assistance from family and friends and even the community. Emotional pain is considered too private. Too hard to gauge. Too easy to avoid involvement because you can pretend it isn't there. But deep down, you know it is. And we will be judged accordingly when the time comes.

So don't treat the abandoner as if life were going on as usual while he takes his paramour out for a night on the town and leaves his weeping wife and children huddled in a collective ball on the floor. He is committing emotional abuse and it deserves to be called that. We are called to love the abuser as much as any other human being. But Christian love of an abandoner or abuser comes in the form of consistent, gentle yet clear naming of his actions for what they are, and calling him to stop and ask forgiveness, and love again.

We need to stop ignoring the plight of these families, pretending that everything is okay in Catholicland, when it isn't. The worst pain is truly as Mother Teresa said - to be unloved.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Switching it Up: Changing Kids' Wardrobes from Fall to Winter

While kids are merrily jumping in piles of fall leaves, moms of many are getting buried in piles of last season's clothing. Denim shorts and fluttery sundresses get ever so gently yanked out of clutching hands to be stored away for younger siblings. Executives of Rubbermaid and other containerizing companies must grin ear-to-ear at this change of season. Because, really, is it possible to have too many plastic storage tubs? Not in my house.

So last season.

In the picture above, you can see three of my daughters sitting in a sea of last season's clothes. (That's actually more like a week's worth of laundry, but you didn't think I would dump it all out, did you?) How do you turn that into this:

Pretty in pink.

and this?

One wall of our attic storage facility.

The answer to your clothing nightmares is plastic tubs, giant Ziploc bags, labelers, clipboards and lots of elbow grease. First, organize the clothes by size and gender. Boys' size 8, for example, or girls' size 4T. Then, pack the clothes away in giant Ziploc bags -- one for summer, one for winter, and one for the transitional seasons. Mark the bags with a Sharpie, and toss them in the properly labeled tub. Use clear shoeboxes with sizes labeled on the side to collect gently worn shoes.

If you don't have time to switch all the kids' wardrobes at once (and who does?), it's important to write down what you have done already on a legal pad or list attached to a clipboard. That way, two months later, if someone claims not to have any long-sleeved shirts, you can easily see if that kid's wardrobe never made it out of the attic. Otherwise, you could waste a lot of money in unnecessary emergency shopping.

It sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But good household management takes time and effort. There's no way to avoid it. Ultimately, keeping your house in order is like keeping your soul in order. The work is never done. If you neglect it, it will just keep building up until it starts causing real problems. So, as you get your kids' wardrobes in order, why not get your interior self in order as well? Examine your conscience to see where you've been lax, where you can improve, and go tell your sins to a priest in confession. Air your dirty laundry, so to speak. I promise you'll heave a sigh of relief knowing you're prepared to face what the next season has in store.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Following the Rules Won't Get You to Heaven

I like rules. They make me feel safe, give me a proven roadmap for success, and instill me with purpose. So when Pope Francis takes potshots at little rules and by extension those who follow them, he unsettles me. Another direct hit to the center of my comfort zone. Here's exactly what the Pope said in the now famous America magazine interview:
The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. ...
The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost.The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. ...
The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. 

In other words, sanctity does not consist in following the rules, and successful evangelization doesn't depend on convincing others to do likewise.

The Pope's comments angered a lot of people. But they don't stray far from Biblical precedent. Jesus constantly battled against Pharisaical rules. For example, in Jesus' time, the command to keep the Sabbath holy had been interpreted to forbid thirty-nine distinct types of work on the Sabbath. But Jesus ignored these prohibitions and healed a man on the Sabbath anyway, saying "It is lawful to do good on the sabbath" (Mt 12:12).

St. Paul stresses over and over again that Christianity is superior to the law, by which he means the old Jewish laws. He proclaims to the new Church, "now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the written code but in the new life of the Spirit" (Rom 7:6). But being free from the law doesn't mean being free to do evil or to do whatever we want without constraints. It means being freed to do good, a greater good than before. Following the law and the commandments isn't bad. On the contrary, it's the bare minimum of decent Christian behavior. Following the rules won't get you to heaven because following the rules just isn't good enough.

This lesson shines forth crystal clear in the story of the rich young man who wanted to follow Jesus, a story so important that it is recounted almost word for word in all three synoptic gospels. "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" the young man asked Our Lord. "Keep the commandments," Jesus responded. The young man eagerly affirmed that he had followed the commandments since his youth. But then Jesus asked for one more thing. "Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, ... and come, follow me." And the young man walked away sad, for he had many possessions (Mt 19:16-22; Mk 10:17-22; Lk 18:18-23). He went away sad, when he thought he would go away justified. Jesus is not satisfied when we dot the i's and cross the t's. Our God, our jealous God, wants all that we have to give.  He wants more than obedient slaves or rule-following automatons. He wants adoring, grateful heirs to his glorious Kingdom.

To all those who cherish the rules, I understand your shock at Pope Francis' comments. I feel it, too. But as Scripture says, to whom much is given, much is expected (Lk 12:48). We have been given our faith, our docility to the rules. Is this more than a lot of self-identified Catholics or ex-Catholics have? You bet. So, much more is expected of us. More charity, more mercy, more understanding. Go, descend into the dark night without being lost, fascinate people, attract people, set their hearts on fire for Jesus. Don't be the one to walk away sad.

Photo Credit: Vicki & Chuck Rogers via Compfight cc

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Is Your Marriage Exceptional, Conventional, Shipwrecked, or Deadly?

While researching the marriage advice book I'm writing with my husband, Manuel P. Santos, M.D., I started reading Greg Popcak's For Better...Forever!: A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage. Popcak's book asks where your marriage is on the Relationship Pathway: Exceptional, Conventional, Shipwrecked, or Deadly. My husband and I didn't fit perfectly into any of the categories, but it was interesting to see how we measured up. Why don't you try it?

1.  Exceptional Marriages: At the top of the relationship food chain, these marriages exhibit high longevity and high satisfaction. Exceptional spouses are:

  • Committed to life-long love.  That's an easy one! Manny and I definitely consider life-long love as one of our top goals, and you probably do, too.
  • Equally skilled at communication.  Manny has a slight edge on me here. As a lawyer, I'm a pretty good talker, but as a psychiatrist, he's by far the better listener. Fortunately, a lot of educational and professional training programs stress communication. Transferring these skills to your marriage will provide a big boost in satisfaction.
  • Never doubt the value they bring to the marriage. Here's where my insecurities come roaring to the fore. Intellectually, I know being a stay-at-home mom has great value for our marriage and our kids. But I struggle all the time with feelings of unimportance -- that anyone could do the menial labor which dominates my working hours, and that almost anyone else could do it better. Many Catholic moms are way past me on this one.

2.  Conventional Marriages: These marriages, the most common kind according to Popcak, have moderate longevity and moderate satisfaction. I could definitely see our marriage fitting into this category in some ways, too. Conventional spouses:

  • Have good communication and relationship skills. Their skills are not great, but not that bad either. Their skills are sufficient to give them a "good-enough marriage of a good-enough Christian."
  • Have work that's meaningful to them. The husbands usually can provide for more than their family's basic needs. The wives are mostly happy with the work they do, whether it's at the office, in community volunteering activities, or home with the children.
  • Sometimes value their work more than their family. This is a real temptation today, given how much people identify with "what they do." Materialism can also cause people to place a higher value on time spent earning money than time spent with family. Dissatisfaction may drive these spouses to seek deeper answers. To grow, these couples need to invest more time in the marriage and in helping each other to achieve their highest calling.

3. Shipwrecked Marriages: These marriages are only quasi-healthy, but can recover with help. Spouses have often suffered from deep traumas in their lives prior to getting married. I recognize some of these characteristics in people I know. Maybe you do, too. Shipwrecked spouses:

  • Value economic security and a stable family life more than anything else. Men may be workaholics, and even functional alcoholics. Women are often dutiful and lonely, but may act out their unhappiness in compulsive shopping binges. The couple at best pays lip service to a system of religious beliefs.
  • Don't argue because they don't communicate. These couples will do anything to keep the peace, even sacrifice a chance at growing closer and understanding each other better.
  • May be more attached to their kids than each other. In the past, Popcak says, these couples might stay together because of a societal taboo against divorce and for the sake of the children. Nowadays, many of these marriages will end unless the spouses learn to look past their immediate needs and focus on bettering themselves as individuals and as a couple, often through therapy.

4. Deadly Marriages: According to Popcak, this is the only category of marriages in which divorce may actually be the better course. Sad to say, I've seen this type of marriage also. These spouses:

  • Seriously abuse drugs and alcohol. Domestic abuse and a violent home atmosphere are common.
  • Have little or no work ethic. They can't get a job or hold a job. They don't care about their work and rarely set goals for themselves.
  • Don't expect even the basics of life. With this criteria, Popcak limits these marriages to a lower socioeconomic level. 

Popcak cautions against canonizing yourself and demonizing your spouse -- don't assume you're an exceptional spouse while relegating your spouse to the deadly category. He even asserts that most people in your social circle have marriages in the same category as your own. But, in my experience, the lines are more blurred than Popcak implies. Problems like alcoholism and domestic abuse cut across socioeconomic categories. Mental illness can impact anyone, regardless of how good a communicator they are, how advanced their professional life is, or even how often they pray and visit the sacraments. Severe traumas like sudden job loss, chronic illness, and grief over miscarriages or past abortions can threaten to shipwreck any individual and therefore any relationship. So, in my opinion, Popcak's categories aren't perfect. But they help to identify the bright spots, the danger zones, and the room for improvement in almost any marriage.

Do you recognize any of these characteristics in your own marriage or the marriages of people you know? Do you think Popcak's categories provide a helpful way of evaluating a marriage? Please let us know in the comments!