ANNE MARIE WILLIAMS
The priest who assisted my husband James and I with our marriage preparation shared two memorable pieces of advice with us. First, he told us to pray together every single day. Second, he encouraged us to observe a "cocoon period" for six months after our wedding.
Essentially, a cocoon period is a time to soak in married life with your new spouse, working to minimize overcommitments and develop habits of a shared life. As close as dating and engagement can draw you together, making decisions and plans as a married couple doesn't come automatically and takes time to get used to!
This is what our cocoon period looked like: we didn't sleep over at anyone else's houses during those first six months, but always came home together and slept in our own bed. We spent the majority of our time together, rather than me going out with my girlfriends or him going out with the guys as frequently as we had at times in the past. As part of the commitment, too, our priest suggested the rule that neither of us was allowed to go running to Mom (or anyone else) with problems or complaints. He told us that during this time in the cocoon, our marriage would be strengthened in order to then enter the world around us as a united force.
We took this advice seriously, and truly found our first year of marriage was not so challenging as we had expected or heard from others. Spending a lot of time together led us to a lot of Lighthouse Catholic Media CD-listening, and we developed a habit of asking each other about something we'd learned each day. It also led us to a baby!
Honestly, though, for me that cocoon period was so key. James had been a high school football coach in the past, and I knew what the time commitment was. I was very afraid that if he coached during our first year of marriage, I would never see him. James's loyalty to the cocoon--and subsequent decision to take the year off from coaching--was huge in showing his love for me and commitment to our relationship as spouses. Having all of that time just spent in each other's presence, talking about anything and nothing and then spending some of the times just in silence, really has made me feel known by him. He knows so well the things that bother me or bring me great joy (M&M blizzards from Dairy Queen, for example). During that time, too, I like to say that my husband "loved me into" several changes, as opposed to arguing with or scolding me.
Another thing I learned during our cocoon period is that differences in temperament or habits aren't signs of incompatibility, but a call to greater knowledge of the other.
James doesn't share my urgency in resolving issues immediately. When I get upset with him, I tend to feel we have to talk about it right away, even if I'm not ready to speak reasonably at the time. Additionally, if I am really upset about an interaction with a coworker or acquaintance, my husband just listens and doesn't tell me to calm down or get over it. I feel so respected by his quiet, steady confidence that I'll come to the right conclusion over time, whatever it may be in a particular situation. It really makes me feel loved unconditionally; his affection and courtesy are not contingent on my behavior.
I'd like to share with you one tradition we incorporated into our wedding Mass, one that paved the way for our settling into marriage during the cocoon period. The marriage crucifix tradition comes from a town called Siroki-Brijeg in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has no recorded divorces amongst Catholic inhabitants. In keeping with the tradition, a crucifix was carried in our wedding procession alongside the rings and bouquet for Our Lady. When we said our vows, we both held the crucifix.
The celebrant wrapped our hands together with his stole and said, "You have found your Cross! It is a Cross to love, a Cross to carry with you, a Cross that is not to be thrown off but rather cherished."
As our first kiss, we then both kissed the cross. That crucifix is displayed prominently in our home, as a constant reminder that if we abandon each other, we lose Jesus in the process.
Those sacrifices in our first six months as a married couple were big, like James's willingness to step back from coaching, and small, like my husband's willingness to vacuum the house or sweep the floors before I get home from work, knowing that I feel more relaxed in a clean house. In turn, I live out my love for him by drinking 2% milk instead of the skim that I grew up with and have given up certain foods I love as a fast, in petition for James's healing from a health problem. It's beautiful knowing our sacrifices for the good of the other are meant to mirror, albeit imperfectly, the sacrifice of Christ for his own bride, the Church.
Anne Marie Williams is an ICU nurse from Springfield, IL. She met her husband James on Catholic Match in 2012, dated long-distance for two years, and were married in spring of 2015. A year and a half into the biggest adventure of their lives to date, they now have one son.