Is there a gap between what you desire for your marriage and reality?
Are you and your spouse locked into an ongoing battle of wills?
Are there recurring unresolved conflicts in your marriage?
Do you want greater intimacy and connection with your spouse?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you need Be Devoted: Restoring Friendship, Passion, and Communion in Your Marriage, by Bob Schuchts. This book is a tremendous resource for all married couples and those contemplating marriage.
Be devoted to one another in love. Romans 12:10
Schuchts explains that “to be devoted is to know true and lasting love.” He gives both synonyms and antonyms to help understand what it means to be devoted.
Synonyms: faithful, affectionate, passionate, committed, true, devout
Antonyms: unfaithful, detached, unfeeling, heartless, fickle, unloving
Which of group of words describes your marriage?
“We are all born with an unquenchable desire for communion,” says Schuchts. Marriage is designed by God to “be a participation in his own intimate communion of love: ‘God’s very being is love…God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church 221).” Schuchts adds that anyone “who has been married for any length of time realizes that neither person in the relationship is capable, apart from God, to love as God loves.” Christopher West of the Theology of the Body Institute “refers to this gap between our desires and their fulfillment as the universal ache we all experience.”
In Be Devoted, Schuchts lays out eight vital practices for having a healthy and happy marriage. The first five practices build unity in marriage.
- Spiritual unity
- Emotional intimacy
- Daily companionship
- Cooperative teamwork
- Sexual fulfillment
The remaining three practices repair devotion in marriage:
- Understanding conflict
- Healing wounds
- Restoring trust
We will briefly describe each of these practices.
Spiritual unity is the core and foundation of a healthy and happy marriage. Research shows, says Schuchts, that “married couples who regularly pray and worship with each other are generally happier that those who don’t.” He explains that “Worship heals us by wakening our hearts to the passionate love and generosity of God,” and “frees us from self-centeredness.” Through worshipping together, we are transformed into being more Christ-like in our relationship, loving as He loves.
When we are emotionally connected to our spouse, everything in “life looks brighter and feels lighter.” Schuchts says that when you are emotionally connected to your spouse, you are more likely to nurture you partner, feel more secure, express needs with openness and vulnerability, share intimate thoughts, feelings, and desires, and communicate on a deeper level.
Unfortunately, according to family therapist Dr. Gregory Popcek, only “7 percent of married couples” experience this level of intimacy most of the time.
Schuchts says that “unhealed emotional wounds and resentments (from past and present hurts) create barriers that make it difficult to trust and be vulnerable with each other.” “Intimacy requires,” says Schuchts, “that we let our spouse know what is going on inside us.” Think of intimacy as “in-to-me-see,” which literally means “into fear.” This requires vulnerability and trust in the relationship. “Emotional intimacy is associated with physical, psychological, and spiritual health.”
Every couple must decide the proper balance between togetherness and solitude that is best for their marriage. This balance is unique for every couple. Popcek talks about rituals of connectiveness that “have the ability to release spiritual power to create community and intimacy.” These rituals are vital for marital health. Spending time together working on a project or recreational activities builds bonds of togetherness. In the busyness of daily life, it is important that we prioritize time together. The best way to ensure this is to put it on your calendar.
Cooperative Team Work
Teamwork is essential for a healthy marriage. We are competitive individuals but we must realize that we are on the same team. It is really about becoming one in mind and in heart. Scripture tells us that we are to “be subordinate [submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). We must give up control and seek to submit our wills to the will of God for our marriage and family. Schuchts says we both need to “mature in our capacity to love and cooperate.” Continuing, he says “self-centeredness fosters self-reliance and greatly hinders our ability to achieve our common goals and priorities.” When making decisions, in all areas of family life, the goal is for couples to achieve “enthusiastic agreement” (win/win) and not compromise (win/lose).
Sexual fulfillment flows from the other areas of unity. “God created male and female in such a way,” says Schuchts, “that the sexual union is meant to be a source of intense pleasure, nourishing intimacy, and abundant fruitfulness.” But this is only “possible to the extent that we engage in it according to God’s design…[it] is meant to bring us into deeper communion with God and each other by imaging Christ’s self-giving covenant love, offered freely, fully, faithfully, and fruitfully.” Schuchts emphasizes that the “key point to remember in loving fully is that sexual fulfillment is an expression of all five areas of marital unity.”
The remaining three practices focus on healing and reconciliation in a marriage.
St. Paul tells us that love “does not seek its own interests, it does not brood over injury” (cf. 1 Cor 13:5). Schuchts emphasizes that “your marriage will largely succeed or fail depending on how well you understand and reconcile the unavoidable conflicts that are inherent in your relationship.” He goes on to say that “if handled well, your conflicts will bring you into deeper unity and intimacy with each other.” However, if unresolved conflicts are “ignored long enough, unresolved conflicts…cause one or both of you to withdraw your love.”
John M. Gottman, marital researcher, reports that most conflict is not resolvable but we must get to the point where we respect each other in our differences. Schuchts recommends that couples understand each other’s personality differences, suggesting that couples read Art and Laraine Bennett’s book The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse. We have found this book helpful in our own relationship and have used it with couples in our coaching ministry. There is a free quiz that will help you identify your temperament.
“Unity can only be achieved through self-giving love,” says Schuchts, but “we inevitably run up against our self-centeredness and unhealed emotional wounds.” “These wounds show themselves during intense conflict and “reveal the areas where we have not yet matured in our capacity to love.” Hurting people hurt people is an old adage but the corollary to this is that healed people heal people. That is why it is so important that both spouses take responsibility for their own emotional healing for the good of their relationship.
The greatest block to healing is unforgiveness of the one that has hurt us, both in the past and in our relationship. Fr. Richard McAlear in his book Forgiveness says that “forgiveness is very much a part of healing…If we do not forgive, we cannot be forgiven; we block the movement of grace.” He stresses that “forgiveness opens the door to healing.”
“Forgiveness opens our heart to love again,” says Schuchts, but it does not “restore the trust that has broken the relationship.” He stresses that the key difference between couples who reconciled was their “humility and dependence on God.” Couples, however, that “held on to pride and self-justification remained stuck in their distress.”
Trust must be freely given and it is earned over time. In our experience with couples over the last 20 plus years, it takes up to two years to rebuild trust when one of the spouses has been unfaithful. A humble apology and genuine repentance start the healing process but trust is restored through a noticeable and continuous change in the heart of the offender. Schuchts shares the seven characteristics of a good apology developed by Ken Sande, a Christian attorney and the author of the Peacemaker. This process is used in the Unveiled marriage conferences offered by Schuchts’ John Paul II Healing Center.
Schuchts’ final thoughts in Be Devoted is an exhortation for married couples to leave a “legacy of love” for their descendants. He quotes St. Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love” (Eph 5:1-2). Marriage devotion bears fruit for future generations. “Our marriages exist,” says Schuchts, “first as witnesses to Christ’s love in the Church and the world, then for our mutual benefit, and finally for the benefit of our children and the generations to come.”
We cannot recommend this book more highly. At the end of each chapter are exercises for reflection both individually and together as a couple. It will take some time to work through this book. Be patient with yourself as Dr. Schuchts guides you through this meditation on the properties of a healthy and happy marriage. There is no greater gift that you can give to your family. It is our prayer that God will work in you and through you so that your marriage will be a blessing both now and in the future. You will be glad that you did!
Bob Schuchts is the founder of the John Paul II Healing Center in Tallahassee, Florida and author of the best-selling books Be Healed and Be Transformed. After receiving his doctorate in family relations from Florida State University in 1981, Schuchts was a counselor and college instructor for more than 30 years. He retired as a marriage and family therapist at the end of 2014. The John Paul II Healing Center offers training and ministry that promotes and inspires transformation in the heart of the Church, by healing and equipping God’s people for the New Evangelization.
 Ave Maria Press Professional Development Webinar Series, Be Devoted: 8 Vital Practices for a Healthy and Passionate Marriage with Bob Schuchts, internet: https://youtu.be/9oWpp54b0YM (accessed March 3, 2020).
 Bob Schuchts, Be Devoted: Restoring Friendship, Passion, and Communion in Your Marriage (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2020), 17.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., 38.
 Ibid., 39.
 Ibid., 52.
 Ibid., 53.
 Ibid., 62.
 Ave Maria Press Webinar.
 Schuchts, 69.
 Ibid., 82.
 Ibid., 89.
 Ibid., 92.
 Ibid., 99.
 Ibid., 99-100.
 Ibid., 105.
 Ibid., 117.
 Ibid., 117-118.
 Ibid., 135.
 Ibid., 145.
 Ibid., 146.
 Ibid., 153.
 Ibid., 161.
 Ibid., 171.