Why Jesse James, Mark Souder, Tiger Woods, et. al Cheat

We Catholics used to be known for the importance we attached to marriage. But in my 13 years as a professional journalist, I rarely read Catholics discuss in detail why marriages succeed or fail. We talk about gay marriage, cohabitation, divorce and adultery, and out-of-wedlock childbearing. But never do we discuss a greater threat to the sacrament and institution:  couples don’t spend enough time together.  Marital counselor Dr. Willard Harley, for example, insists that couples must devote 15 hours minimum (no kids, no TV or movies) each week to meet each other’s emotional needs.

And if couples don’t … well, I’m not saying that your marriage will end up like Jesse James’, Mark Souder’s, and Tiger Woods’, but you get the picture. Over at my blog at True Slant, I make the case that marital quantity begets marital quality. Follow the link.

Mark Stricherz


Mark Stricherz is the author of Why the Democrats Are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People's Party.

  • Todd M. Aglialoro

    I’ll bet cash money that Dr. Harley is no Catholic. Much easier to get your 15 hours a week when contraception keeps the family size down to one or two kids.

  • Kathy

    I read this post earlier this morning and I wanted to post a comment on the lines of what Todd said. I kept starting and then closing the window because honestly I find that when I get involved in one of these “com-box” discussions it keeps me distracted and running back to the computer for updates in the conversation all day. But I feel I need to get this off my chest so here goes:

    Some will agree with me, some will disagree with me, but how in the world does one spend 15 hours a week alone with one’s spouse during the baby and toddler years? I guess that totally debunks attachment parenting philosphy where Mom doesn’t leave a child with someone else before the age of three, and is nursing the baby into the preschool years in the marital bed at night.

    I’m tired and emotional this morning as my husband has been travelling for work (also not good for marriage, apparently. I guess he should try to find a new job, easier said than done in this economy where you’re lucky if your husband is earning enough money to support his family so Mom can stay home with the kids, even if it does mean he’s never home) and between me and the kids someone has had a fever every day for the past 16 days in our house, probably another reason I shouldn’t be posting. It’s just that when people tell me “you need to spend more time alone with your husband, but oh, you need to be open to life and having more babies for the next 10 years, too (I’m 35 and my three children now are 7 , almost 5, and almost 2) I just want to throw my hands up, crawl under the covers and bawl like one of my kids. It just adds to my stress, anxiety, and constant self-doubt as to my abilities as a wife and stay-at-home mother. Add to this that we live far away from parents who are not too keen on babysitting their grandchildren even for two hours so we can go to dinner alone, never mind so we can go away together alone for a weekend, and people telling me “you need to get away alone with your husband” just stresses me out even more. Are you going to watch our kids for us for a weekend? Will Dr. Harley? The only way we’ll ever get away alone together is if we hire a nanny to stay with the kids, and then the cost of doing so becomes prohibitive.

    I think the conclusion I’ve reached is that I really need to stop reading any and all blogs, even ones that are occasionally edifying. I will now proceed to feel upset and agitated and worried that I’m not working hard enough on stengthening my marriage for the rest of the day. Thank you.

  • Sarah L

    You’ve already covered some of the things I would’ve said. Can’t afford a babysitter right now, and the only alone time I get with my husband is when he gets home around midnight or 1 a.m.–after I bolt out of bed, the instant I hear his key in the lock (I’m a light sleeper) to turn off the house alarm so it won’t wake up the kids. He’s working as much overtime as he can get lately, and he’s been tired when he gets home (understandably), so long talks are rare. But we do things for each other–things each one knows is important to the other.

    Fifteen hours a week??? Right. As soon as I invent stasis pods for the kids, I’ll get right on it. We’ve got number four on the way, and our other kids are 8, 6 and 3. The two younger ones are girls, and they generally like to go and stay wherever Mommy goes or stays. Our oldest–and the one on the way–are boys, and the elder son likes to be where Daddy is, most of the time (whenever he gets the chance).

    Time alone is a rare and precious commodity. We get nowhere near 15 hours a week (not even half that, really), and, with baby #4 coming in October, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. As for going away somewhere with just the husband . . . I can’t even process that idea right now. It might as well be in a foreign language–from a different planet. Nice idea (for la-la land); not remotely do-able right now, though (if ever). I’ll get to work on those stasis pods–right after I take care of the stuff that goes with being a homeschooling wife and mom.

    So, thanks but no thanks, Dr. Harley. Telling us that, no matter what else we do for each other, if we’re not spending at least 15 hours together (alone) each week, we’re in danger of divorce is really no help. Maybe you can afford a nanny to watch your kids when you want alone time with your wife. You’re not the first one I’ve heard suggest this. Well meaning in-laws, before they had kids and figured out the whole reality thing, used to suggest things like that. They got better, though. Kids do that for you.

  • Zoe

    I can see why Dr. Harley’s advice might make many spouses bristle. It sounds too pie-in-the-sky for most busy families with young children — 15 hrs all alone? That’s hard to get even when you don’t have kids!

    His main point, though, should be taken. Research shows that time together is a big factor in marital happiness and longevity. Obviously, there will be seasons in life – perhaps long seasons – when you simply can’t have much time alone together, without at least one small person in the room. Nevertheless, year after year with very little regular time together does take a toll on marriages. I do know some big families where the spouses find regular time for each other — it’s not easy, but they get creative. Granted, most of them either have family nearby or kids old enough to babysit for short stints. When a spouse is traveling for work or working 6-7 long days a week, that’s certainly much, much harder, maybe impossible. But many survive it just fine (including a number of marriages I know.) All kinds of marriages survive and thrive in different conditions – it depends on the people involved.

    Most spouses could stand to give their relationship greater priority in terms of time and attention. It gets buried by the immediate, “urgent” needs of kids and work, sleep and basics. What really needs to change as far as I’m concerned is more community support for families so couples aren’t doing everything solo and so there are more resources to draw from to nurture their marriage. Healthy, happy marriages and families do not happen in a vacuum. When there are friends, family, Church ministries, and reasonably priced childcare and assistance options, spouses have an easier time prioritizing time together. Sadly, this kind of support is lacking in many peoples’ lives.

  • Dylan

    This is BS. A marriage will work when both the husband and the wife make the act of the will to make it work at any cost, even the loss of self.

  • Jason Negri

    This is BS. A marriage will work when both the husband and the wife make the act of the will to make it work at any cost, even the loss of self.

    I must disagree, Dylan. You’re partially right, but relying solely on the will to “make it work” does not a marriage make. Dr. Harley’s main premise is correct, as Zoe points out, even if his suggestion / ideal of 15 hours per week is unrealistic.

    It’s a very sensitive topic to bring up in this forum, but if one agrees with Dr. Harley’s premise, and if parents of young children can’t find any time together such that they’re frantic, growing emotionally distant from one another, endangering their health, their marriage, their children’s well-being and their family’s sense of stability, maybe it’s time to avoid pregnancy? We are to be “open to life”, but it’s up to each couple to decide how to make that work, and it seems obvious that continuing to have kids at the expense of the very goods that lay the foundation for the family is not a good thing.

  • Jesse

    I’m not married so I’m not sure what you people are rambling about. However, in this old Catholic Dossier article I use when discussing marriage with my Jr High CCD class, Prof. Christopher Kaczor points out the intertwined aspects of the works of mercy and sacramental grace in marriage:

    Hence, in both an active and a passive way, marriage is a sacrament, a sign of God

  • Todd M. Aglialoro

    His main point, though, should be taken. Research shows that time together is a big factor in marital happiness and longevity.

    If that were all he was saying, no one would bristle. (If that were all he was saying, I’d wonder where he got his Ph.D. “Spend time together” is not exactly rocket-science advice.)

    Apart from the specific prescription of 15 hours, which I’m sure he came up with very deliberately, so it can’t just be ignored in favor of his “main point,” is this idea of separating the marital relationship from the parental.

    Now, I have six kids and I cherish whatever away time I can get — for me personally or alone with my wife. One requires respites of personal space and order. But that’s not the same as making a systematic effort to compartmentalize different ways of relating to my spouse. That’s what contraception, by allowing many years of marriage to go by without children, and producing marriages with very small numbers of children, has done to the Protestant family life mentality.

    I offer that the Catholic way is, in contrast, holistic and integrated. My wife as friend and lover and mother of my children is always the same person, each of those identities enriching the other.

    Obviously it’s possible for the balance to get out of whack on either end — but the corrective is to strive for integration, not to apply extreme counterbalances.

    I think Dylan is right, too, that a spirit of self-sacrifice (not getting one’s “emotional needs” met) is the key to lasting marriage. And that can come whether you’re spending “spouse time” alone together at the movies or bowling alley, or surrounded by kids at a school concert or hiking trip.

  • Sarah L

    I like Todd’s idea of a holistic approach to building and sustaining the marital relationship. There are tons of ways to strengthen the bond between my husband and myself even if our moments together alone are rare. We love spending time with our kids, and sometimes just watching him do things for them does more for our relationship than just chatting for an hour together alone when the kids are asleep.

    Whether I’m putting myself at my husband’s disposal when he goes on a cleaning rampage (and, brother, you should see this man clean!) or whether he’s sitting outside the bathroom keeping our youngest company while she uses her potty, the sacrifices we make of ourselves–whether we’re alone or surrounded by kids (most often)–do more to strengthen our marriage than having weekly date nights or two hours per day of supposedly necessary “alone time”–which, as others have pointed out, isn’t realistic for most of us with more than 1.2 kids and no money for nannies or stasis pods. Sometimes those stasis pods sound awfully nice. Especially if they’re air-conditioned (our AC gave up the other day–on a humid 90+ degree day) and sound-proof.

    Anyway, thanks for letting me vent.

  • Zoe

    I offer that the Catholic way is, in contrast, holistic and integrated. My wife as friend and lover and mother of my children is always the same person, each of those identities enriching the other. Obviously it’s possible for the balance to get out of whack on either end — but the corrective is to strive for integration, not to apply extreme counterbalances.

    I agree, but would anyone disagree? Apart from the silly 15 hr thing, isn’t Dr. Harley’s point that marriages benefit from spouses spending some time together one-on-one? And would anyone disagree with this? Harley’s mistake, as I think you’re pointing to, is assuming that it’s only one-on-one time that builds a marriage. Which is not the case at all.

    I think Dylan is right, too, that a spirit of self-sacrifice (not getting one’s “emotional needs” met) is the key to lasting marriage…

    I think this needs qualification… A lasting, happy marriage requires a spirit of self-sacrifice, but there are real emotional needs spouses have, and they’re called needs for a reason, and should be distinguished from wants and preferences. If real needs aren’t met, there are consequences. Plenty of sacramental Catholic marriages have fallen apart or produced bitter spouses because of the false notion that it’s somehow unGodly to expect emotional needs to be met. (I know a number of these cases personally.)

    Spouses have different degrees of need and every marriage is different. But marriage is the bedrock of family life — the love and well-being of the married couple is what sets the tone and creates an environment for children. I think it’s a mistake to forget the proper order of things. On the flip side, I’m not sure every married couple wants to spend more time together. Perhaps for some people staying together is only possible because there are other distractions and “team projects” like child-rearing. And although I find that a bit sad, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  • RK

    The primary cause of marriage failure is no fault divorce.

  • georgie-ann

    under the kind auspices of our church, i offered a little “music class/club,” which was easy-going and loosely structured, but very on-going (8+ years or so, until they started renovations on the building we used, which remain “unfinished” even until today–they’re being easy-going too!),…

    we provided (free!) actual instrumental lessons–piano and guitar–in a group setting, which meant that there were always some kids with “free time,” waiting for, or having finished, their particular one-on-one time,…for these kids we had soccer balls, snacks, and various other options to happily pass the time together,…which they did with gusto!,…we even allowed younger brothers and sisters to “tag along,”…

    this happy and productive pandemonium was an immersion experience in perpetual motion that kept me fully occupied for the 2 hours once-a-week that the class was offered,…but, i’m writing this to “say” this: every once in awhile, i would just happen to notice the “happy knowing look” in the parents’ eyes, as they drove off, declining the open invitation to stay & join us,…

    those were “good days” for all of us,…i loved the kids & the music,…apparently the parents appreciated getting a break,…and we actually now have some of the children participating in providing music for the church, which was why i started the class in the first place,…

    if we as a “church community” freely give to one another, in some measure as we are able, it is SO much better for ALL of us!,…creativity, intelligent self-limiting, time-wise, generosity,…forget TV!,…breaking out of the over-scheduled, overly-structured life patterns that restrict us,…finding some fun and relaxation,…this is good for all of us,…!