Your Family Matters - An examination of conscience for married people

Photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz Photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz

Confessing the ways you’ve fallen short can strengthen your marriage

It’s a quiet Saturday afternoon at my parish, and I’m sitting soberly in the line of chairs in the back of the church outside the confessional. Sinner that I am, I am no stranger to this great sacrament of mercy, where I have found such amazing forgiveness, healing and grace. But this time, my examination of conscience takes a different direction. Father is going to hear a lot about the big and little ways I have failed to fully love my husband. How in my thoughts, words and actions I’ve hurt him and weakened our love, or missed the opportunity to think, say or do the loving things I should have done.

A good sacramental reconciliation is excellent preparation for Easter. Many parishes offer special penance services during Lent, and our priests generously make themselves available for more opportunities for confession. But how often do we examine our conscience for the ways we have missed the mark in loving our husband or wife? This Lent, instead of giving up chocolate or lattés, consider dedicating the season to working on your marriage. A good marriage-focused confession would be the perfect start!

We may overlook this aspect of our lives when examining our conscience, but really, we need to consider how we are growing in love and holiness — or not — in our primary vocation. For most Catholics, this is marriage. My friend Alice, who attends North American Martyrs Parish in Seattle with her husband of 14 years, Perry, commented in an email, “I’ve noticed that as a woman called to the married state, the most likely area where I have fallen and need to confess is in my relationship to my husband.” The same holds true for married men.

Couples find that preparing for penance with their spouse in mind takes their marriage — and their spiritual life — to the next level. Paul and Joyce Crocker attend St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Everett. Paul pointed out that, while we usually know when we have gone seriously wrong, “it’s easy to overlook ‘little’ acts of selfishness in our marriage.” Over time, even the petty little things are corrosive to a marriage, Paul said. “Reaching a level of ‘good enough’ is not nearly the same as aiming for the kingdom of God. How many of the lives of the saints feature acceptance of mediocrity?” We can always grow in love and holiness.

What might an examination of conscience for marriage look like? It should help uncover both the big sins and the little ones. An excellent article on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “The Two Shall Become One: The Sacrament of Reconciliation and Marriage,” offers a fairly comprehensive list of questions. I offer the questions at right for your Lenten reflection, adapting both from that list and one submitted by my wise friend Alice. Just remember — the goal here is to think about our own shortcomings, not those of our spouse!

Be warned: Surprising things may happen in your spiritual life once you sensitize your conscience to your spouse. You may notice similar patterns in your relationship with God. Taking your husband for granted may correlate with a tendency to do the same with God. Do you allow yourself to keep too busy to connect with your wife each day? You may find you are also short-changing your prayer life. The good news is that healing and strengthening grace is only a confession away.

An examination of conscience for your marriage

Have I been a good listener to my husband or wife’s cares and burdens and given him or her moral support with challenges at work and home?

Have I helped to ease his or her burdens when possible?

Have I been emotionally and physically available when my husband or wife needs me?

Have I spoken in a demeaning or negative way, sharply or sarcastically? Taunted or negatively teased?

Have I called him or her harsh names or used language that is not respectful?

Have I physically abused my husband or wife?

Have I lied or been deceitful to my husband or wife?

Have I been resentful or bitter? Moody or sullen?

Have I manipulated my husband or wife, subtly or overtly? Have I been controlling? Irresponsible?

Have I misused sexuality? Been demanding or withholding? Respectful and affectionate?

Have I used artificial birth control or pornography?

Have I supported my husband or wife’s parental authority and worked to create unity in our parenting?

Have I overspent, or been careless with our finances?

Northwest Catholic - March 2015

Sarah Bartel

Sarah Bartel, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Sumner, holds a doctorate in moral theology and ethics from The Catholic University of America, where she specialized in marriage, family, sexual ethics and bioethics. Her website is