For years I believed, and even told some people, that I have the best marriage I know of. My husband and I have our problems, but ultimately we forgive and love each other and want to grow closer to Christ.
I haven’t said that in a while. We’re in a rough patch, is what I think, though I’m willing to accept that it’s just me in the rough patch, or that maybe it’s not just a patch.
What I think now is that my marriage at this point is like an out-of-body experience. Sometimes I see my husband and think, you drive me crazy and how did this become my life? (You know that relationship Jerry Seinfeld has with Newman? Every time Jerry sees him he says, with a sneer of contempt and disgust, “Hello, Newman.” In my head I say hello to my husband like that, it makes me laugh at my own self. Try it — but only in your head — it relieves stress!)
And sometimes I look at him and it’s more like, you are so helpless and lost without my overarching generosity and charity and you are so lucky I love you. (I don’t have a pop culture reference for that, it’s more like I am a great saint and he’s not.)
So I can see the problems, but I know the only way to get through them is love.
Notice I say that love will help me get through, not “fix,” the problems. In a marriage, some things just can’t be fixed. I think this is difficult for our generation. We understand the need for therapy, for marriage prep, formation, which some people talk about as if it ensures marital bliss. As if, if we think and analyze and get enough advice from priests, we can make each other perfect, or at least we can be constantly happy with each other’s imperfections. But we’re all broken, because we’re all sinners. And this is the out-of-body part: I see the problems and know they cause unhappiness, but I also know they sometimes can’t be fixed, so I wait through the suffering, watching it all from an emotional distance.
I don’t want to dismiss or diminish anyone else’s suffering. My troubles are not as great as most and some problems can’t be suffered through. But I have non-Catholic friends going through divorce and sometimes when they tell me the reasons that led to their decisions I think, yup, yup, right, been there. I’m sympathetic and supportive, but I think to myself, I could be divorced several times by now. But then, I am saved from that by the out-of-body experience: the separation of my emotion from my soul; my self-focused longing from my reasonable expectation; what I want for myself from what I need to get myself, my husband, and my children to Christ. This is what it’s about: my vocation to help us get to heaven.
I think, why isn’t he being the strong man I could lean on? Or the gentle one who will comfort me? Why is he arguing with my most brilliant decisions? But who can be everything I need at all times, except Christ? So I rely on Him more, and in some patches my vocation is to support and comfort, not because I am stronger, but because that’s what’s needed. Believe me, in a rough patch I could break down on a regular basis, get bitter and resentful. But maybe in a few years or tomorrow, something happens and our marriage changes – again.
The thing about marriage is that it’s dynamic, as in constantly changing. Life is always changing and if you add in the stresses of married life, the constancy of change can overwhelm: jobs, finances, difficult children, abstinence, problems conceiving, everything.
So I embrace this rough patch in a way, maybe I pick up my cross. I wish we were back to the best.marriage.ever stage, but we might not be there for a while. The out-of-body experience gives me peace in a strange way. Actually, I still love him more every day, even the bad days. That love doesn’t come from my gentle heart (I don’t have one of those) or rational thought, it comes from my soul: it’s the gift God gives me for getting through it. I see the flaws (all his, of course) and struggles, but I know the emotional reaction is not something I can build my life on. I can only build my life on my vocation, and when I need what I can’t get, I turn to Christ and realize that, even when it’s rough, this is a good life, a good marriage, and a long path to heaven.