We continue the 52-week plan to grow in Catholic Manhood by becoming a better Catholic Son and Catholic Father.

Last week, we continued reflecting upon the eighth major habit: Major Habit 8 – Build Unity with your bride and reviewed Habit 27 – Lovingly Give and Accept Correction.

We turn our attention to Habit 28.

Habit 28 – Practice Perpetual Courtship

Practice Perpetual Courtship, reminding your bride of your romantic love for her beauty and in the offering of conjugal love, open and joyful for the gift of children.

Why does God call men and women to the Sacrament of Matrimony?

In beginning the discussion about perpetual courtship, it is helpful to return to the objective of courtship, which is marriage.

In the Sacrament of Matrimony, God offers His graces through Jesus Christ (CCC 1642) to help men and women be bound together in a permanent  unbreakable and exclusive unity and to help each other attain holiness through their married life (CCC 1641).

The conjugal (meaning, “a yoking together in marriage”) love between a husband and wife offers each the great blessings of deep unity, faithfulness, mutual self-giving, emotional and sexual intimacy (CCC 2390), absolute fidelity, and mutual reliability through all the ups and downs of life (CCC 1643-1647).

Is sexual intimacy in marriage a blessing?

Within the bonds of Matrimony, God blesses (CCC 2360) a husband and wife’s intimate sexual acts to be both procreative and unitive (CCC 2363, 2369):

God blesses married husbands and wives with sexual intimacy – God creates man and woman in His image (Gen 1:27; CCC 356). God’s very first commandment to men and women is to “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28), a call to sexual intimacy and to be open to the fruit of children, an imitation of God’s great generosity and fruitfulness (CCC 2335).

As both men and women experience, sexual intimacy is not only a mysterious spiritual blessing through which husband and wife are invited to become co-creators with God through the bearing of children, but it is also a great physical and emotional blessing of exquisite pleasure and joy, one of the most pleasurable in human experience.

The sexual acts within marriage are “noble and honorable” which foster “self-giving…and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude. Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure…” God Himself has given men and women the blessing of sexual intimacy to “experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit.” (CCC 2362).

Sexual intimacy blesses a husband and wife through the procreation of children – The blessing to cooperate with God’s act of creation of life through the sexual union of a husband and wife is a great blessing (CCC 2367). It is through the mutual love of a husband and wife a child is born and every sexual act in marriage should remain ordered towards the creation of life (CCC 2366).

Sexual intimacy strengthens the unity of  husband and wife – Sexual intimacy between a husband and wife within marriage is greater than a physical act and becomes a “sign and pledge of spiritual communion” (CCC 2360) and an integral part of love which each gives each other totally until death (CCC 2361).

The reality that a man and woman united through marriage become one flesh (Gen 2:24; Mt 19:4-6) is actually true: sexual intimacy between a husband and wife unifies their physical bodies (“one flesh”) between them to become “one flesh” in their child who shares their DNA (“the two become one”).  The sexual act in marriage is a profound expression of the intimate love between a husband and wife which mirrors the self-giving love of Jesus for His Holy Catholic Church (Eph 5:25-32).

In stark contrast, various types of sexual sins which spouses can commit including lust, pornography, contraception, adultery, and other types of sexual sins (CCC 2351-2356, 2380-2381) divide a husband and wife from each other and from God and undermine the unitive blessing of sexual intimacy within their marriage.

How does sexual intimacy bless a husband and wife?

The sexual union of a husband and wife is for “the good of the spouses” (CCC 2363) which draws the husband and wife together in unity and blesses them:

Helps husband and wife grow in holiness – Marital intimacy is a means of sanctification, helping couples grow in virtue and holiness as they learn to love each other selflessly and sacrificially.

Strengthens the marital bond – Research suggests sexual intimacy fosters a unique bond that strengthens the relationship between husband and wife, creating a deeper sense of unity, attachment, emotional bond, trust, relationship satisfaction, and commitment to mutual support.

Strengthens communication – Research suggests couples who are sexually intimate often communicate better, promoting more open discussions about desires, preferences, feelings, emotions and affection.

Helps support physical, mental and emotional wellness – Research suggests regular sexual intimacy reduces stress, improves immune and cardiovascular health, increases happiness, and reduces anxiety and depression.

Reduces and helps resolve conflicts – Research shows intimacy helps reduce conflicts and helps couples reconcile after disagreements occur.

Supports children’s happiness and helps children to desire to be married in the future – Research suggests sexual intimacy leads a father and mother to have a stronger marital bond which creates a loving and supportive home for their children, helps children witness and build strong relationships and increases a child’s desire to marry in the future.

Protects against disunity and the breakdown of marriage – Research shows the lack of healthy sexual intimacy contributes to spousal frustration, disconnectedness, tension, arguments, infidelity, dissatisfaction in marriage, mental illness and a lack of commitment; the lack of sexual intimacy is a significant factor in divorce.

What is courtship?

Courtship describes the steps, attitudes and behaviors on the traditional path to marriage:

Courtship is the path to marriage – The process of courtship has rich traditions which include multiple formal and informal steps on the path to entering into marriage through the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Men pursue and women are pursued in courtship – Across time, due to both human nature and cultural reasons, men have generally been the active initiator and pursuer in steps of courtship and women have generally been the pursued; for example, a man typically makes the marriage proposal (e.g. request marriage and offer ring) and the woman accepts (or not). While some in the modern world attempt to argue against traditional courtship as old-fashioned and oppressive to women (or men), the essence of courtship in marriage remains the norm for those who marry.

What is romantic love in courtship?

The growth of romantic love between a man and woman is a central part of courtship. Within the broad category of love (selfless sacrifice for another), romantic love is the emotional, mental and sexual attraction between a man and a woman which grows on the path to marriage and is ultimately consummated within marriage in the sexual act. While the strength of romantic love can vary between couples, research shows that strictly platonic (e.g. lacking romance, sexless) marriages are rare and often end in divorce.

The term “romantic” comes from “romance” stories which originated in Rome (thus, “ROMance”) in the middle ages and exalted the attitudes and behaviors of men’s pursuit of women in courtship as they grew in romantic love. Romantic stories about a man’s romantic pursuit of a woman included examples of striving to encounter the beloved,  engaging in playful and romantic conversations, honoring the chastity of the woman, performing acts of chivalry, dueling or fighting, offering gifts and tokens of affection, demonstrating attention, reliability and commitment, extolling a woman’s captivating beauty and a man’s desire for her, offering himself “forever” in marriage, and other romantic acts.

What are the benefits of romantic love in courtship?

Both men and women are blessed in romantic love for it leads to sexual intimacy in marriage which strengthens the spiritual, mental, physical and emotional bonds between a husband and wife:

Women are blessed by romantic love – A woman is attracted to a man’s pursuit of romantic love for it demonstrates his willingness to listen to her desires, makes her feel valued and special, builds emotional bonds, deepens her understanding of the man’s virtues, builds trust, encourages conversation, confirms expressions of his love, builds reliability and trust, creates enjoyable and memorable romantic experiences together and builds her conviction of a man’s long term intentions and commitment both as a husband and father of their future children.

Men are blessed by romantic love – A man is motivated by the offering of romantic love because it gives him the joy and excitement of the pursuit of a woman, allows him to be creative, gives the pleasure of receiving a woman’s appreciation, helps him systematically understand the woman, experience the satisfaction of expressing masculinity through chivalry, receive a woman’s gratitude for the gifts he gives her, enjoy shared memorable romantic experiences, feel the excitement of her romantic responses, strengthens his commitment, and provides him greater certainty that she will be a good wife and mother of their future children.

How does perpetual courtship bless a marriage?

The word “perpetual” comes from a Latin word which means to be “uninterrupted” or “permanent.” Perpetual courtship seeks to “keep romance alive” by continuing romantic practices after a husband and wife become married. Perpetual courtship can bless a husband and wife because it:

Builds upon the excitement of pre-marriage courtship – The initial process of falling in love is one of the great joys of life and by the perpetual acts of romantic love, both a husband and wife can remember, cherish and draw strength from their mutual excitement of their courting days and their longing and anticipation of becoming married.

Continually strengthens the bonds of marriage – Just as the bonds of love are strengthened in the courtship process through romantic love, the bonds of marriage are strengthened through romantic love.

Supports sexual intimacy in marriage – The growth of romantic love builds towards the consummation of physical love after the commitment of marriage. The lifelong pursuit of romantic love after marriage also encourages and sustain sexual intimacy which provides the many blessings listed above.

The pursuit of romantic love through romantic acts helps increase both a wife’s and husband’s sexual response. For a wife, romantic words and deeds build a positive emotional state (connection, emotional bonding, satisfaction) and sexual receptiveness while reducing key detriments to sexual desire (stress, anxiety and depression, distraction, etc.). For a husband, romantic words and deeds increases the attractiveness of his wife, makes him feel effective and attractive, and increases the frequency and enjoyment of their sexual intimacy.

How can a man and woman Practice Perpetual Courtship?

While the romantic lives of different married couples can vary, here are some principles and examples to consider in the Practice of Perpetual Courtship:

Battle against sexual sin – In addition to being sinful, a man’s sexual sins (e.g. viewing pornography, masturbation, lustfully looking at women he is not married to, adultery) reduces a man’s sexual desire for his wife, leads to a lower interest and pursuit of romantic love with his wife, and often ruins sexual intimacy. Eliminate all sinful sexual behavior, rigorously practice custody of the eyes, frequently receive the Sacrament of Penance and fight to preserve sexual desire exclusively for your wife.

Practice non-romantic love – Over their married life, both husband and wife perform countless acts of selfless love which include listening, speaking with kindness, connecting emotionally, comforting, performing little acts of love, etc. All of these types of non-romantic “everyday love” reduce stress and increase the marital bond, which in turn, increases sexual intimacy; non-romantic love is actually romantic! Practice many non-romantic small acts of kindness for your wife every day.

Practice many small acts of kindness around the house – While doing small favors around the house may seem unrelated to romance, many wives have a strong emotional attachment to the home and desire for their husbands to take an active part in household chores; husbands who do chores around the house reduce their bride’s stress and resentment and increase their romantic attractiveness to their wives. Anticipate and do chores your wife wants done around the house.

Be a romantic initiator – Traditionally and generally, men like to romantically pursue women and women like to be romantically pursued by men; often, but not always, romance can falter if a husband doesn’t take romantic initiative and regularly take specific romantic acts in a marriage. Accept responsibility and take the initiative to be a leader in your romantic life with your bride.

Say romantic words many times a day – Just as during courting, a wife desire to hear the words “I love you” and to hear she is attractive because it builds her feelings of connection to her husband and her self-esteem, both elements which increase sexual intimacy; saying romantic words also help a man remember to be romantic and heightens his wife’s romantic attractiveness in his mind.

Say “I love you” to your wife many times a day: when first rising, when parting and reuniting, before falling asleep. Tell your wife how you appreciate her beauty and how she makes herself attractive to you. Use heart-felt romantic titles for your wife many times a day (e.g. “My love”, “My bride”, “Beloved”, and other pet names).

Perform many small acts of chivalry – Chivalry is a medieval code of conduct associated with knighthood, which emphasizes acts of bravery, honor, courtesy, protection, romantic devotion and respect for women.

While some think  acts of chivalry are old-fashioned and insulting to women, the concepts of chivalry have stood the test of time and many wives are deeply moved by small acts of chivalry by their husbands which increase their emotional and romantic attraction to their chivalrous husbands; these women see the sacrificing acts of chivalry by their husbands as beautiful acts of romantic love.

Make many small acts of chivalry for your wife in everyday life. Examples include holding a door open (car, entering/leaving a building), demonstrating protective vigilance in public places (e.g. a husband placing himself  between potential threats and his wive), offering little unexpected gifts (e.g. flowers, candies, love cards, clothing, etc.) and arranging special experiences/extravagances (e.g. a spa day, etc.); there are many other chivalrous acts a husband can offer his wife.

Offer a romantic gaze – Over their married life, husbands and wives have experienced the special gazes and facial expressions which precede sexual intimacy; looking romantically at your wife with the “look of love” signals romantic love and increases her emotional bond to you.

Make romantic touch a part of daily life – Husbands and wives share romantic touches which are distinctly different than other kinds of human physical contact, including a gentle touch, kisses when you part and reunite, caresses, foot massage, running hands through hair, hugs, a romantic pat, cuddling, dancing, etc.; these types of gestures are special types of romantic touch between a husband and his wife increase intimacy and connection. Consider the types of romantic touch your wife appreciates and give her that gift regularly.

Plan romantic dates – A wife’s emotional attachment for her husband increases when she is “courted” by her husband on dates which replay the romantic dates during courtship before marriage. Plan regular date nights and special plans for key anniversaries (wedding date, first date, Valentine’s Day, etc.).

Be candid about how your wife can be romantic – Romance is reciprocal and builds upon the actions and reactions of both a husband and a wife. Remind your wife of words, gestures and acts that you find romantically attractive.

Plan ahead and make sexual intimacy special – While couples will have sexual intimacy many times during a long marriage, sexual intimacy is a great gift and blessing which should never be taken for granted or become a chore or routine; treat every time of sexual intimacy with the same care and devotion as if it were the last time you and your bride will embrace.

While sexual intimacy can be spontaneous and unexpected, many couples find planning ahead and setting dates ahead of time is helpful: it can reduce ambiguity and stress and increases anticipation and excitement.

Many wives (and husbands) appreciate setting the mood for sexual intimacy with little ritual acts (e.g. times of day, locations, music, lighting, scents, special drinks, dressing romantically, watching a movie on the couch, etc.). Experiment with different mood-setters which heightens’ your wife’s interest, pleasure and romantic engagement.

Be selfless in sexual intimacy – Wives and husbands can have different levels of sexual desire and the ability to enjoy sexual intimacy which varies over time. While husbands and wives are called to offer their bodies to each other in marriage in conjugal love (1 Cor 7:3-4), arguments about sexual intimacy within marriage are common and many husbands and wives can struggle at various times to find common ground.

While it can be challenging to perfectly match up a wife’s and husband’s desires for sexual intimacy, lovingly make your desires known to your wife and, as an act of romantic love, be attentive and defer to your wife’s desires for intimacy; rather than hurting sexual intimacy, deferring to your wife’s desires can lead her to recognize your sacrifice and increase her desire to please you.

This week’s questions

Here are a few questions to meditate upon:

How would you assess the romance in your marriage? How do you think your wife would assess the romance in your marriage?

Which ideas to Practice Perpetual Courtship do you think might help you be more romantic for your wife?

This week’s commitments

Making a habit a reality requires commitment to concrete action. Here are this week’s challenges:

Have your wife read and pray about this article and have a conversation with her about romance in your marriage.

Pick several new ways to Practice Perpetual Courtship (from the list above, other ideas, or suggestions by your wife) in your marriage and begin to try them out.

Don’t forget to pray with the ECM Daily Gospel Devotional each day.

Consider listening to the EveryCatholicMan.com Gospel Devotional Podcast to be better prepared for Sunday Mass.

Daily Prayer

During the week, pray this short prayer, or one like it, to Practice Perpetual Courtship:

Almighty Father, thank You for blessing us with the beautiful gift of sexual intimacy and help guide me to selflessly offer the bride You have given me many acts of romantic love so that we might grow in holiness and happiness. Amen.