Recently a blog reader e-mailed me with a truly fabulous idea for a post: what were my expectations/thoughts/hopes for marriage and motherhood when I was single and how does the reality compare to what I thought when I was single? The more I've thought about it and tried to plot out such a post, the more I realized it would simply have to be two separate posts. Today I'll tackle my thoughts/hopes/expectations for wife-hood and how they compare to reality, and next week I'll discuss the same of motherhood. Thoughts. Hopes. Expectations. I wanted to marry someone who would challenge me and help me to grow in holiness. I thought that would look like an occasional difficult conversation, but that I'd learn quickly and grow quickly. I thought marriage would be like coming home every day and getting to hang out with your best friend (with the, uh, added perks of married life ;-) ). I thought marriage would be this great balance of work and fun - paying the bills, earning a living, but also relaxing and unwinding with the one you love. Chores would be divided and shared among spouses (which, in my mind, also meant that I'd never dust again because I HATE DUSTING). I knew that fights would come, but I also thought that when you spent your every single day with your spouse, that you'd quickly learn the most effective ways to communicate, thus eliminating or greatly shortening any and all fights. I thought that when you got married, all those Sacramental graces would kick into high gear and that you'd discern everything (house, work, children, parenting, what to wear to work (haha), etc.) together and always come up with the same answer because GRACE. I knew that when you married someone, you would marry their family too, and vice verse. I figured that might be a bit awkward at first, but eventually - quickly - you'd all live in this world where you could talk and discuss and rarely - if ever - misunderstand each other. I was sure all of those bits on sitcoms about the dreaded in-laws were clearly grossly exaggerated. Reality. Y'all. I'm just going to go ahead and shoot this (and the next post) as straight as I possibly can in the name of authenticity and there just ain't no point in sugar coating it (also, I took a trip to the south recently and my accent apparently returns in my writing as well as in my speaking. Mea culpa). I married someone who challenges me and does his best to make me a holier person. He challenges me. A lot. Someone once told me that marriage is like a mirror that shows you all of the worst parts of yourself. That, my dear friends, is true. In my marriage I see some of the worst parts of me - how stubborn I really am (I've always known I was stubborn, but boy oh boy, does marriage bring that out in me), how impatient I can be, etc. So, yes, he challenges me, but I push back. I thought the challenges would be this great opportunity to grow and that I'd take each one of those challenges with joy. The reality is that they are great opportunities to grow, but I
don't always rarely seem to meet them with joy. It is a constant struggle to be holier and to do so joyfully (especially, I might add, when it is another human being, who himself is not perfect , is pointing out your flaws).
Fights - we've got 'em. In a lot of ways, we have grown in how we argue. We fight better (it is a thing, trust me on that) than we did when we were dating and engaged, but we still fight. At times, the fights feel nastier, but I think a large part of that is because of what it is that we fight over. When we were dating we argued about how much time we spent together or who should figure out what we'd do on our next date. Those things seem trivial now when you've got bills to pay, money to manage and a child to raise. Being responsible for another person's soul (your spouse's first) is far weightier than designing a date, so even if the communication is better, the matter at hand matters more.
That brings me to discernment. Sacramental grace is real and it is beautiful. I love, cherish, forgive, laugh with and honor my husband in ways that I would be hard pressed to do for anyone else aside from our children. While Sacramental grace is real, it doesn't remove all the gunk from our lives and make us perfect understanders of God's will. My husband and I pray together and individually about things and come up with different answers. Then what? Back to the drawing board. Back to our knees. Back to our spiritual directors. More prayer, more discussion, more novenas, etc.
Then there's the marrying the family bit. This, of course, is different for just about everyone. The Big Obvious Glaring Difference I see in our lives is this: my family lives within an hour of us, while my husband's family is a few states a way. On a practical level, this means that my husband had the opportunity to spend much more time with my family when we were dating/engaged than I was able to spend with his. Let me be clear to anyone (including my in-laws) reading this: I mean absolutely no disrespect by this, but time spent together makes a HUGE difference in my book. The more time I spend with someone (actually WITH them as opposed to phone or e-mail conversations), the better I get to know them, understand them, and learn their quirks. When that time isn't there, sometimes you misunderstand things and have disagreements. Even the disagreements are interesting when you don't know or understand how the other person handles such things. Besides all of that: if two fallen, sinner human beings get married and spend their days together and still argue, why do you think that linking two families of equally fallen sinner human beings would mean anything different?
Its not all bad in marriage. In fact, most of it is absolutely beautiful. It is, as my spiritual director says, a sanctifying vocation. Sanctity don't come easy, folks. It is hard work. My thoughts and expectations of marriage when I was single were...through rose-colored glasses. You don't know what marriage is like until you are in it, no matter how much you read about it or talk to married people. The hard things - the challenges, the fighting, the in-laws, the discernment - they all make me a better person in the end, and that, right there, is the beauty of marriage, a beauty I wouldn't trade for anything.
p.s. No one dusts in my house. We both hate it and we don't care so there's dust that randomly gets wiped up when one of us just can't stand it anymore. So what? It works for us. (Sorry, Mom.)
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