Interview With Father Michael Ryan, Philosophy Dean
ROME, APRIL 16, 2006 (Zenit.org).-
Within a happy marriage the positive comments should outnumber the
negative about 5 to 1, says an experienced marriage counselor.
Legionary Father Michael Ryan, who is also dean of philosophy at
the Regina Apostolorum university in Rome, spells out other points of
advice in his book, "The Last Straw: Ways to Overcome the Stumbling
Blocks in Communication Towards a Stronger and Happier Marriage"
In this interview with ZENIT, Father Ryan touched on some of the advice he gives married couples.
Q: In your book you say that many marriages break up because of
misunderstandings and comparatively small things which could have been
avoided. What are these things and what should be done in order to
resolve them in time?
Father Ryan: Marriages break up when there is hurting going on in
the relationship. It is very difficult to persevere in the company of
somebody who is sour and unpleasant.
In a nutshell I would say that we must avoid in every way possible
hurting others with words or actions. Second, we must foster the
atmosphere in which one can express to the other what is hurting. And,
finally, we must accept the fact that we can hurt others even when we
don't intend to do so.
As a general rule we must monitor frequently our relationship in
order to cure as soon as possible any problem that may arise, even in
spite of our good will. Each person is different and the sensitivity of
each person is different.
Therefore, there is no set list of things that can cause problems
to a marriage. Each man and women must become aware of what hurts a
The dangerous aspect of all this consists in the fact that we can
hurt others without us realizing that we are doing so. This leads to
the accumulation of pain which then can easily spill over.
Q: How can married persons cultivate a form of dialogue necessary
for addressing problems or disagreements in an open but delicate way?
When is the right time to speak about difficulties? How can you say the
truth without hurting another?
Father Ryan: First, we should not be "complaining" all the time
about everything. It is important to reserve our complaints for really
important issues or for issues that have hurt us in a special way.
Remember that the proportion between positive and negative moments
in marriage must be always about 5 to 1. For each negative moment, for
each criticism I allow myself to issue, there should be another five
positive inputs. Our toleration for negativity is very short.
Then, when I must address a negative subject I should always begin
stating my love for the other person. This is like stretching a safety
net below us before we begin our delicate act of complaining, opening a
With this I am saying that however we may get engaged in a
discussion, there must be no doubt about our love for each other. That
will not be touched.
Third, we should treat one subject at a time. Sometimes when we get
angry we spit out many issues and this only confuses the whole
relationship. One critical issue at a time!
Finally, try not to get personal in the sense of accusations. Try
to use what is called the "I messages." Instead of saying that "you are
a horrible person," say, "I feel that you are a horrible person."
The difference might seem small, but the second way is much better
because you are stating what you feel and not hammering the other on
the head directly.
Q: Love and pain go together. The more one loves, the more one gets
hurt if the loved one doesn't seem to react in the expected way. How
can love prevail over pain? How can each other's understanding become
more sensitive? How can one stop being selfish and egoistic?
Father Ryan: This is certainly the greatest challenge for love. I
don't think it is always a question of being selfish or egoistic.
It is a fact that we can love others when we feel that we too are
loved. Even with God this is the way and this is what St. John says to
us in his Letter: It is God that loves us first.
Q: But how do we get beyond this vicious circle, when love in the other is lacking?
Father Ryan: If we were only instinct, then there would be no way
out. But we are also intellect and we can understand what the good of
the other person means and we can love that good for him or for her.
But we will be able to overcome our own pain more fully if we get
inspiration for love from above, from the source of love. This reminds
us of what John Paul II says in his "Letter to Families": If we want to
love, we must be united to the source of Love, with the big "L."
Q: How can the deep feelings for each other felt in the beginnings
keep growing instead of dying down? How can they transform into true
Father Ryan: The couple must become aware of the phenomena of
change and growth. It is very important to get off to a good start.
This means that the first years of marriage must be intense and
full of loving commitment. Then they should renew their commitment
often, every year or at least every time that life is going to change
in an important way.