Marriage is demanding. It is not just a label for a relationship, but a lifelong vocation. It is the cultivation of a family and the establishment of an intimate domestic church, filled with the souls of your closest loved ones. And when you factor in everyday life, human imperfection, and human wounds, marriage can be more than demanding. Marriage can be hard.
There have been times in my married life when relations between my husband and I didn’t reflect the beaming joy of our wedding photos. When for days, we got increasingly on each other’s nerves, spoke out of anger, and I watched the mutual hurt and misery pile on top of each other.
In those times, I often thought to myself, “Marriage is making me miserable.” And the age-old question would bounce around in my mind, taunting me: “How is it possible to have a happy marriage, anyway?”
The more I prayed desperately to the Lord, giving him my marriage and all its imperfections, he helped me to realize two things. Growing a happy marriage had everything to do with that recurring thought I had in times of distress: marriage is making me miserable. And the second revelation? My way of thinking was totally backwards.
Beautiful, newlywed wife, marriage isn’t making you miserable. Human selfishness is.
The Catechism tells us in paragraph 1601 that marriage is “by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses." This means that by its very nature, marriage is designed by God to form you into a saint and lead you, hand-in-hand with your spouse, on a path to Heaven.
The sacrament of marriage is always good, always beautiful, always full of grace, and always sacred. What is good, beautiful, graceful, and sacred does not breed misery. And one night in our tiny one bedroom, one bathroom apartment, after another tiring day of not getting along, this truth came to rest on my weary, wounded heart. It didn’t make the problems disappear, but a profound, relieving sense of peace took over.
I realized that marriage was not the thing tearing us apart. In fact, it was the only sacred, indissoluble bond still holding my husband and I together when we fell apart. Our “one flesh” union is not just poetic Scripture, it is a sacramental reality that persists even when emotions and human imperfections make us feel distant and broken.
The Church already knows this. Marriage “has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation“ (CCC 1606). But this “discord,” as I had to learn, does not come from marriage itself. “The disorder we notice so painfully does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin” (CCC 1607). But how is it healed? “Man and woman need the help of the grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them. Without his help man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them "in the beginning." (CCC 1608).
And so, instead of continuing to look at marriage and all its demands as the enemy, I began to see it and its divine Designer as my source of hope. There is an ocean of grace in this sacrament. Graces specially reserved by God for you and your beloved on the day you enter into the married state. I reflected on how often I had neglected these graces, when I could have begged God in his mercy to rain them down upon us in times of crisis.
I also reflected on my own sin and selfishness that had helped sow the seeds of discord between my husband and I. It turns out a “happy” marriage can begin to grow when spouses stop counting the cost of loving each other. When instead of brooding in the disappointment of failed expectations, you let go of your own desires. When instead of waiting to be shown love by your beloved, you die to yourself and do something considerate for them, and delight in the act.
If all that seems too difficult to achieve; if daily death to self seems too high a calling, remember again the grace and the purpose of the sacrament: “Marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one's own pleasure, and to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving” (CCC 1609).
I am far from reaching these ideals, from total freedom from my self-absorption, and there are still many times when I cling to my own expectations of what my marriage “should be.” In short, I will spend my lifetime learning to grow in marital virtue. But I also remember God’s mercy. And I praise him for a husband who shows me more often than not what it means to forgive all hurt and choose joy for the good of his wife. He is like Christ, who is the source of all marital grace.
“Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another's burdens, to "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ," and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb” (CCC 1642).
Here at Spoken Bride, we desire to make it clear: marriages that suffer addictions, abuse, or other grave forms of brokenness need prayer and the intervention of counseling, community support, and other resources. Affected spouses in these situations do not suffer because of selfishness, but from profound emotional and mental distress. They deserve our aid, compassion, and understanding.