The Rohan family
The Rohan family

What makes for a healthy, successful marriage through good times and bad? What spiritual tools are needed to take a couple from infatuation to covenant?

We asked several married couples from parishes around the Diocese to reflect on some of the building blocks that help their marriages thrive amid all the stresses and pressures of day-to-day life, particularly in light of their Catholic partnership.

Joseph & Kaitlyn Rohan: Joy and Gratitude

After nearly a decade-long relationship – about four years of that as a married couple – Joseph and Kaitlyn Rohan are settling into family life with their almost three-year-old son and plans to enroll in St. Dominic Parish, Brick. Having met in Gaming, Austria, during their study abroad semester, Joe has served in the Marine Corp six years and Kaitlyn is a registered nurse and certified Natural Family Planning instructor.

We asked Kaitlyn and Joseph about joy and gratitude. Here is what they said:

“Joy and gratitude have had a tremendous role in our marriage. Joy is something we strive for: to enjoy each other, make joyful memories, and share in each other’s [happiness]. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and comes from being rooted in Christ. Our marriage is a commitment to love one another as Christ loved us and to help one another achieve Heaven. If we are living out our marriage the way we promised to on the day of our wedding, our marriage should be a witness to [that] joy.

“On a day-to-day level … we both agree that we are most grateful for having each other to lean on. A loving spouse who has the same life goals and the desire to carry your crosses with you is truly a blessing … [and] gratitude goes hand in hand with joy…. To appreciate your spouse and all the gifts we have been given is important to a joyful relationship.

“Joy and gratitude … can be emotional experiences – but also are choices to be made on a daily and, at times, even hourly basis. Our advice to couples is to take a step back and look at the big picture. So often, little annoyances or frustrations sap our joy and gratitude without us even noticing.  There will be times of sorrow and disappointment in life, but there is always something for which to be thankful.

“It is important to remember that joy and gratitude are … interior dispositions we embody … The world’s stereotype [is] the ‘ball and chain’ response to his or her spouse. This clearly is an image of someone who has lost joy and gratitude. But if you keep the spirit of joy and gratitude burning in both of your hearts, you will experience life with your spouse not as a drudgery but as an adventure.”

Denny & Joan Slavin: Strength and Resilience

Retired couple Deacon Denny and Joan Slavin, married nearly 52 years, started out on a blind date that ended in a marriage proposal (spoiler alert – Joan said “yes”). Members of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, Joan worked for 30 years in Trenton’s Anchor House, Inc., while Denny was simultaneously Fiscal Officer for the State of N.J. (28 years); National Guard Officer in the 50th Armored Division in N.J. (20 years); and permanent deacon for the Diocesan Office of Family Life and at their home parish (30 years).

Joan and Denny wanted other couples to know this about strength and resilience: 

“We needed strength and resilience from the very beginning as we dealt with family resistance to our sudden engagement.

“Strength and resilience served us well also over the course of our marriage, contributing to [its] longevity, and helped us through two miscarriages following the birth of our son, Jimmy; two times Denny lost his employment; deaths of friends and family members; small spats and bitter arguments, and our darkest hours following Jimmy’s death at age 19 in a car accident.

“Strength and resilience are God-given, but … we need to be proactive by developing and sustaining them. Here’s what worked for us:

“Volunteer to teach others about relationships … That kept us ever mindful of our responsibility to each other.

“Resist the urge to point out shortcomings or show each other the “right way” to do things. Our relationship is more important than my being right. Thank each other for things you do for each other. (‘Thanks for the clean clothes, Joanie!’) Make it a point to say ‘I love you’ at the end of the day. (‘Night, Pretty, I love you!’) Greet each other verbally at the start of the day. Then we don’t have to wonder what the mood is!

“Resist the urge to take words said in anger personally. We’ve said some pretty mean things over the years, but we didn’t really mean ‘em!

“Be open to asking for help. After Jimmy’s death, we sought professional counselling that not only helped us grieve but also opened paths to personal and relationship growth. (Even a single remark from a very dear priest friend was huge -”Don’t be afraid to yell at God; He can take it.” What a source of strength!)

These steps, begun as requirements, became second nature. The habits add flexibility to our resilience and links to our chain of strength. Would that we had started developing them much earlier!”

John & Christina Armellino: Patience and Forgiveness

Newlyweds as of Sept. 18, 2021, John and Christina Armellino met in Brick Township High School. Although they went their separate ways, 20 years later God’s plan reconnected them even as they lived in separate states. Despite the distance and long weekend commutes from Maryland to New Jersey to reunite, the couple fostered their courtship.

Christina and John had this to say about the part patience and forgiveness played:

“Patience and forgiveness were part of our journey from the beginning. We both decided, early on, that we would wait to live together until we were married.  Once married, patience played a very important role while we both adjusted to married life and living with one another for the first time.  Being patient with your spouse allows them to grow and gives them the opportunity to discover who they are as your spouse as well as who God wants them to be. 

“We allowed God to write our love story, which wasn’t always easy because that meant we had to change our mindset from what ‘we want’ to what God wants for us. We keep God at the center of our relationship, and as a couple we really enjoy growing in faith together. Our favorite day is Sunday, and we enjoy going to Mass together.

“The best part of our married life is beginning and ending our days together, knowing that we are never alone, and we can depend on each other no matter what. 

“Neither of us is perfect. When one of our weaknesses show, the other’s strength kicks in. When we are faced with adversity, we come together and talk it through. Forgiveness, both big and small, is not always easy, but it is always worth it. Mistakes are inevitable; showing patience and giving forgiveness provide the building blocks for growth. 

“When entering married life, we’d like to encourage couples to invite God into your relationship, allow him to write your love story and ask him to intercede when needed. Remember, 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 … Love never fails!”

Joe & Laura Sarubbi: Your Faith Life

Having met and become friends at work in 1995, Joe and Laura Sarubbi made the relationship lifelong in 1999, followed by welcoming triplet daugthers in 2002 – Kate, Anna and Teresa – who since graduated from St. Paul School, Princeton, in 2016 and Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, in 2020.

Laura and Joe told us how their faith life has made their marriage successful:

“God does not put you on a straight and narrow path of life. We wonder how people who do not have a strong faith get through the tough times. Just when everything seems perfect, a turn or obstacle gets thrown into your path. God then changes our plans, and we wonder why this happened. Inevitably, God’s plan becomes clear, and it is always a better plan than our own.

“Our faith guides us in everything we do. We were both married before and received Church annulments.  Our faith was always a part of our lives and being married in the Church was very important to us.

“As an engaged couple, we attended “To Trust Again,” the program for those who obtained annulments. It helped us define what we wanted our marriage to be. This program was life-changing because it made us focus on understanding the choices we may have made in our first marriages. 

“Being involved in our faith, and especially in our parish, raising children, and sending them to Catholic school K-12 (and two in Catholic universities), has strengthened our marriage. Now that we are empty nesters, we have a strong appreciation for each other and the role that God plays in our life.

“We are members of the St. Paul Pre-Cana team and help engaged couples through marriage preparation. It is one of the greatest gifts to our marriage. Having real conversations with them about what married life is like only makes us appreciate our faith and each other more.

“We don’t know how we could get through life without knowing that God was at the heart of it all.  He has a plan; we have to trust in that and get out of His way.”

Emilio Ortíz & Abril Chico: Trust and Commitment

Newly married Nov. 20, 2021, Abril Chico and Emilio Ortíz dated for five years before their covenant was sealed. Abril ministered as a catechist for more than five years; Emilio joined her in the ministry for the past two years.

Here is what the couple believes has made their relationship work:

“Our marriage is not perfect, but with the help of God, we trust that he will always help us.

“Everyone dreams of finding love and being loved, but not everyone is open to really committing themselves to someone. It takes work. Since Emilio and I met, we knew we wanted to get married someday. Since the moment when we decided to begin a life together, we have built on our mutual trust day by day.

“For sure, it is not always easy and there will be days with sadness, but, as the priest said in our wedding Mass, ‘Never go to bed angry. Talk to each other.’

“For us, the most important key is keeping God in the middle of our marriage. Those who are thinking about getting married should try to remember that we should always say yes to God’s call. The Sacrament of Marriage brings great blessings with it.

“May God bless your path. Trust in him and he will act (Psalms 37:5).”