Perfectly imperfect marriages
Yesterday, as we were preparing to run a training session later that day, we had ‘one’. An argument of sorts. It was more like a ‘splat’ – two angry statements from each of us expressing our frustration and it was over. Honestly, we were too exhausted to pursue it after that.
It left us a bit on edge but we, fortunately, had the opportunity to attend Mass at the beginning of the training which helped to thaw the tension between us. Afterwards, we took a few minutes to privately reconnect. And then it was back to business.
We hate going into a presentation when we’re off base with each other because we know it’s a tarnished image.
It’s not about being perfect or even being seen to be so; it’s about our responsibility to accurately witness to the love of God. Our marriage is not just a private affair, it’s a ‘public good’. How we are with each other impacts those around us – for better or for worse. God calls us to rise above our differences, to be an effective sacramental sign – a living example of the unity God embodies in the Trinity.
It would be easy to become smug about our marriage, given our work – we are privileged to receive a lot of public affirmation and positive feedback. But our relationship struggles just like every other marriage.
But in some ways, the struggle IS the witness; the struggle to love, to overcome our personal limitations and faults, to conquer selfishness and be more like Christ. And it’s a life-long endeavour. It’s the universal human journey and the call of every living Christian from Pope Francis through to the most innocent of babes at the baptismal font.
Marriage and family life is one way to travel that journey. In the push and shove, bump and bruise, caress and hug of these familial relationships, we are refined in holiness. And the harder, more testing it is, the greater the capacity for progress in this project of personal growth.
Psychologists have long noted that we tend to be attracted to a mate who in some way resembles our parent of the other sex, often the most frustrating part of their character. Our unresolved childhood frustrations lead us to subconsciously seek a spouse who will enable us to resolve them.
This attraction sets us up for all sorts of future strife with our spouse as they trigger our hot buttons and bring those frustrations to the surface. For they cannot be resolved in the darkness of our subconscious but must be brought into the light. And our growth in holiness cannot be fulfilled without dealing with them. This is one of the crazy but amazing paradoxes of marriage.
So, when our spouse is driving us crazy, we do well to remember that this is why we married them! When they press those hot buttons, get under our skin and up our nose, they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do; helping us grow to be more whole, more complete.
When this happens to us, our natural reaction is to fume and inwardly blame the other for being so unreasonable, so darn faulty. Eventually, we remember that it is not about them. It is about ourselves. It is always about our growth and what the Lord wants us to learn, to become, through this micro-purgatory.
This is not to say that we have a license to be as annoying and frustrating to our spouse as possible! That would be to regress on the journey ourselves. Our first responsibility is our own holiness and only secondarily our spouse’s holiness.
The point really is to remember that when those frustrations rise to the surface, rather than looking outward and directing blame at our spouse, or anyone else in our life, we need to redirect our attention to ourselves and what the situation might be saying about us.
If we stay in the blame state, we remain blocked to growth and the opportunity is wasted. We stagnate. The childhood frustrations are not resolved and in fact are more likely to be intensified. We quickly become even more prickly and more easily triggered.
Rather, when we find ourselves in these moments, we need to train ourselves to step back and gently hold that fragile part of ourselves up to the light. Turning our gaze away from the one who triggered the feelings and towards what is being revealed about ourselves.
None of this is easy. It’s hard. Really hard. But that is the case for anyone, married, single, celibate. Holiness does indeed have a price, but it is so worth it!