Welcome to our first installment of RELATABLE: LOVE, ACTUALLY. In this series, guest authors* share about all the challenging realities of marriage.
Marriage today is rarely presented realistically or positively. Hollywood and the media promote Disney fairytales where couples “live happily ever after.” Or marriage is demonized as an unnecessary complication when hooking up and cohabitation will do just as well.
But what about the Catholic who still believes in the sanctity of marriage, including its permanence? Is it even possible for couples to remain connected to one another through all of life’s struggles and suffering? YES. In RELATABLE: LOVE, ACTUALLY, we will feature authentic, honest, and hopeful stories by real Catholic women about the journey of marriage. There is no such thing as a perfect marriage, after all, and we want to give a voice to those couples struggling with infertility, infidelity, miscarriage, mental illness, addiction, and financial stress. We want to give hope by sharing stories of those who have weathered those crosses and come out stronger for them. These stories will reassure strugglings wives that you are not alone. And that with God’s help, there is a way forward, even if you just take baby steps, one day at a time.
*While some authors may post anonymously for privacy reasons, we assure you that each story is authentic and reflects the journey of a real person.
I didn’t want the day to come when something happened and I would look back with severe regret. Regret that words were said that should have been tempered. Regret that words that should have been said weren’t.
I couldn’t stop this steamroller of emotions that told me that while, yes, your feelings of anger toward your husband may be valid, no, they are not worth the level of pain and frustration you are feeling and projecting.
I was transported to scenarios of what ifs and it consumed me. I didn’t want to be without my husband, but I wasn’t sure how to break out of the level of anger that had enveloped me. I begged God to show me the love He had for my husband.
And so began the transformation from anger, bitterness, numbness, and hopelessness. This marriage, otherwise seemingly fine on the surface, slowly morphed into one in which self-awareness became inescapable. I wanted to feel all of it. I needed to know how my husband felt when I was angry, said angry things, did angry things. And I needed to put myself in his shoes to the best of my ability in order to put an end to those destructive behaviors.
When I separated out any justification for being angry with the manner in which I was angry, it became easy to see 1) yes, I was justified in being angry in certain instances, but 2) the way in which that was carried out was damaging the relationship.
I had hit rock bottom. Two years before, I had found myself completely out of love with the man whom I had made a solemn vow before God to love, honor, and cherish on the altar. I was struggling to find my way back to him, but like a captain without a compass, I was unable to find the right course. I had enough self awareness to know that something needed to be changed, but the only way to get from the awareness to actual change was my pleading with God. God would be the Agent of change. He would protect and guard our marriage. And all I had to do was surrender and make the change – one small step at a time.
True Healing Begins
I’d love to tell you the process has been pretty and, just like the movies depict, unfolded beautifully and seamlessly. But life doesn’t always resolve itself in pretty ways and that’s ok. With hard work and determination, it can make forward progress. And that’s how it was for us.
Each day brought a sliver of promise. Each day there wasn’t an argument, was an opportunity to grow, to heal, and to re-learn the dignity of the other. We began to respect that we were on the same team and needed each other’s support.
I read somewhere that you can’t change someone else, only yourself. And that is true to an extent. In marriage, in order for the vocation to bloom and be nourished properly, both parties have to go back to the beginning and remember why they came together in the first place. In our case, we talked about our dating days, the proposal, the wedding day, and what we wish we would have done differently.
How had we gotten to where we were? Why did two people so in love fall so far apart? And the love we once had for each other was rediscovered. It was like Faith the size of a mustard seed. We hadn’t planted it in rich soil, but the rocky soil where it couldn’t sustain itself for long. No wonder love couldn’t bloom. Talking about past hurts and expectations, each of us expecting something from the other and resentments building from that…it was all good. Hard conversations to have, but we knew that we wanted to work things through. We were worth it. Our children were unknowingly counting on us to make this work and without any real impediments to the marriage or serious issues to work through as some couples face (like pornography, infidelity, drug use, etc.), we knew we were going to have to dig deep and work hard. We knew deep down we still loved each other. And that was what we held onto.
The coming days and weeks were filled with fruitful conversations, each of us wanting to hear the other out in a new and different way – a healthier way. For myself, I needed to share my own insights as God revealed them to me. Much of what I shared were my own shortcomings. I wanted him to know that how I felt wasn’t about him, but about me. I needed to say those things time and again. For a time, I would sound like a broken record:
I need you to know I love you. I can’t imagine my life without you. I’m sorry that the words I’ve said over the years have hurt you. You are a good man and I have not supported you in the way that you needed or even deserved. I am trying. Please forgive me. I love you. I no longer accept the way things have been and I am resolute in changing how I’ve been. Please be patient with me. You deserve a better wife than I’ve been to you. I’m not perfect. I will mess up. You will mess up, too. We can do this and we need to be better for each other because our marriage is worth every messy step along the way. I am so proud to be your wife. I love you. I need you to know how much I love you. I love that I now see the love in your eyes for me. Let’s build a better future together. We can do this.
In the beginning, he didn’t believe me. That was when I focused on changing my own behavior. I hadn’t earned the right to be believed and I knew that. As much as it tore at my heart, I knew I just needed to focus on what could be changed – me. Here God had given me this amazing man to walk in life with as husband and wife – and if things had any chance of getting better, it had to start with me. I’d just have to worry about my husband’s reaction (or lack thereof) down the road. My focus was to continue to share with him my own insecurities and vulnerabilities in an effort to break down the wall of numbness I’d put up around myself. I thanked him for listening.
Only the lack of affection began to affect me in a new way. Before, it just seemed normal to not be affectionate. Oddly enough, I actually preferred the lack of affection and did not connect it to a lack of closeness. But when I asked God to show me my husband through His eyes…it started to hit me in a new way. I was putting myself out there in uncharted waters and he was not responding physically in any kind of way. We weren’t just on different pages – we were in separate books.
And then the real pain set in. I tallied up all the hurts that I had inflicted on him that came from my own hurts. He wasn’t without fault, though. It’s not that either one of us was 100% the victim. But the realization of my own contribution to the state of our marriage being where it was became unbearable. And that’s when I began to think about my life without my husband.
Not divorce, though. Tragedy. What if something happened? What change needs to happen that I can effect that would impact my marriage in a positive way? And that was where it began. I couldn’t see my husband through the eyes of a newlywed. The love that was growing was much deeper. The newness mirrored feelings of the newlywed days, but it had a better anchor, foundation, if you will. It was deeper and carried with it all the years of good times and bad. I wanted the strength of that love to wash over me in a way that made me take note that each day with him was a gift not to be wasted.
It was normal for him to get home from work and neither of us say anything to each other. Not because we were mad but that’s just how it was. The kids had their say first, and neither of us made time to talk to each other privately…the busyness of life took over. Affection became an expectation or obligation rather than something to be looked forward to, such as a morning hug, kiss goodbye, or a sweet kiss on the forehead while holding hands and watching a show.
Like a light switching on, the prayer I took to the foot of the Cross to show me my husband in the way God loved him, I suddenly found myself deeply in love with my husband all over again. But he wasn’t in love with me. The ripple effect of years of damaging conversations and actions had taken a toll on him. And he rightly doubted my motivation for loving him. The effects of all those years of mismanaging our relationship had come to a head.
It wasn’t until one Sunday when I was putting on my shoes across the room when he got up all of a sudden and walked directly toward me. Surrender, I told myself. Being the stoic man that he is, he held me in a deep embrace, said I looked nice, then we looked at each other and I gave him a kiss.
I then left to run an errand and cried in the car. In my soul, I knew something had changed, but it would be some time before he would share with me. When he did, I could tell everything had changed for him. He knew my efforts to work on our marriage and myself in particular were valid and true. He saw that. He now knew I wasn’t saying and doing things for the wrong reasons. And he knew that there would be plenty of days when I would mess up (him, too) and we’d have to figure out how to move forward. But it was a beginning. And it was something we could work with.
And that was enough for now.
Let’s dig deeper. Did this witness resonate with you? If so, we invite you to continue on below and consider starting a journal to jot down your answers. PRINT several copies of these questions to start your own journal based on different posts.
- What was my spiritual life like before the experience?
- How did the experience negatively impact my relationship with God?
- How did the experience negatively impact my relationships with my spouse, my children, my coworkers, my relatives, my friends?
- Was there anything that helped to alleviate the suffering I was going through? (e.g., counsel from others, professional help, medication/supplements, devotions, lifestyle changes)
- How did this experience positively impact my relationships, either during or afterward?
- How did this experience positively impact my spiritual life, either during or afterward?
- If I could go back and change how I responded to this experience, what would I do differently?
- What would I say to someone else in this situation to give him/her hope?
SPIRITUAL RESOURCES AND HEALING
WHERE TO START?
Retrouvaille – A Lifeline for Married Couples
The Alexander House – Offering Hope & Healing for Marriage, Family & Relationships
BELOVED: Finding Happiness in Marriage – offered through FORMED.ORG (ask your parish for the code to access this program for free)
- Extensive list of websites and books aimed at working on marriage skills, devotionals, sex and intimacy, forgiveness to healing from infidelity, pornography addiction, workaholism, substance abuse, and depression through Retrouvaille.
- The Four Keys to Everlasting Love
In the privacy of your own home, you can begin to heal your marriage. CLICK HERE to start the process.