My husband of two weeks sat beside me on the floor, bowls of black beans and rice before us and backs against our first Ikea couch. We ate, surrounded by an enamel Dutch oven, new and velvety towels, down pillows, gilded picture frames. The stuff of a wedding registry checked off. But without chairs to sit on for dinner.
Married at 23, with one of us in graduate school and the other commencing a job search in a new town, my husband and I began our wedded life absorbing the paradox of having just experienced the most elegant, special occasion of our lives--and all the generous gifts and photogenic dazzle it entailed--followed by a season of surprisingly unglamorous trials: extreme simplicity and a tight budget, arguments over whether dishes should be washed before bed or the following morning, equivocating over daily habits and routines, struggling to comprehend an NFP chart.
Before the wedding, we’d spent hours of our long-distance engagement on the phone, dreamily anticipating when we’d be together daily and no longer have to say goodbye for weeks at a time. We eagerly devoured spiritual literature on marriage, knowing even when emotion abandoned us from time to time, pure willpower and sacramental grace would sustain our love. It seems naive now, yet I still imagined we’d sail painlessly into marriage, our newlywed bliss drowning any minor frustrations.
Minor frustrations, however, often felt major, compounded by our financial situation and search for community four hours away from friends and family. Even in the genuine euphoria of finally being husband and wife, we bickered. I felt guilty, knowing material concerns and disagreements over trivial matters like whether to roll up the toothpaste tube were nothing; that the foundation of our love felt truly solid and that even with certain deprivations we still had much compared to some. I wish I could go back and tell myself it’s alright to have felt this way.
It wasn’t until a few months in, when my pride was mercifully stripped away that I could see these growing pains as a gift. Offerings from the Father to burn away our faults and, like iron in a fire, sharpen one another in virtue. The irritations of adjusting to a shared life didn’t immediately disappear. But suddenly, what seemed like obstacles in the way of love became opportunities to love.
My husband and I discussed expressly thanking God for any frustrations we felt with our situation or one another, knowing when we accept his invitation, all things are transformed and love disinterested in the self is all the more possible. “This is the very perfection of a man,” wrote Augustine, “to find out his own imperfections.”
Whatever your crosses as a newly married couple, consider this permission to struggle, and even to find the struggle discouraging. Welcome it all the same. There were times, in those early weeks of my marriage, a lie crept in that the grace of the sacrament just wasn’t working for us. I know now that difficulty doesn’t mean grace isn’t at work. It means that it is, and is ours to embrace.
The first steps of any journey can be the hardest, not least of which the steps on this pilgrimage to heaven. You aren’t alone, though. In flesh and in spirit, united to you entirely, is a second person--and a third.