When asked whether she had ever contemplated divorce, Ruth Graham, late wife of famed preacher Billy Graham, once quipped, “Divorce? No. Murder? Yes.”
So I figure it’s okay to admit: Sometimes, I get really angry with my husband. No really. Not just a little annoyed — really, really angry. So angry I can’t see straight. And, conversely, of course, there are times when I am the cause of his own version of rage-induced blindness.
Can we talk candidly about married life? Pope Francis can. On April 2, in a talk about marriage, he said:
“It is true that married life has many difficulties: work, there isn’t enough money, there are problems with the children … and often the husband and wife become irritable and argue amongst themselves. There are always arguments in marriages, and at times even plates are thrown.”
Wait a minute. Plates are thrown? I love this man.
Because the truth is, that even good marriages — perhaps especially good marriages — are familiar with that level of emotional intensity.
My husband brings out the best in me; he also brings out the worst in me. And I do the same for him. The endless capacity of Dan’s love for me and my love for him render us capable of taking on overwhelming challenges and triumphing over otherwise insurmountable obstacles. But conversely, Dan’s familiarity with me, and my familiarity with him, render us capable of doing unspeakably thoughtless, petty, and selfish things. Plates may or may not be thrown, but the harshest of words sometimes are, and these can hurt more than shattered dishware.
Have you ever been so distracted by a goal you have in mind, such as a stressful dinner you are preparing for guests, that you scarcely notice you cut your finger as you sliced the potatoes?
Sometimes, Dan is like my finger. Distracted by other things, I wound him unthinkingly, and I leave him to bleed. I think it’s okay, though, because the two have become one. Because my husband is always there, I am part of him, he is part of me, and we can take this … can’t we? Perhaps not.
Thanks be to God for a pope who can recognize and verbalize the fact that married life can get ugly. “This is the human condition,” he explains. But then he doesn’t leave us there to wallow in the mud of human weakness. He lifts us up with a secret. “The secret,” he says, “is that love is stronger than the moments in which we argue, and I therefore always advise married couples never to let the day draw to an end without making peace.”
Only Dan knows, in terrifying detail, my glaring weaknesses and glorious strengths. Only Dan can see the worst of my flaws and choose to love me anyway. Only Dan, in spite of my weakness, can focus on the woman God wants me to be, call on me to be that woman, and turn my eyes toward our common goal of heaven.
Only Dan can feel so betrayed by me he feels worthless and discouraged, and yet choose to trust anyway. Only Dan can see me as I really am, know me as I really am, and then love me, despite the knowing. It’s here that I see and feel the truth of what Pope Francis says: “Married life is beautiful and must be protected.”
Married life is beautiful. It’s a gift worth protecting. Especially during the hard times, it’s a gift we can protect in small ways, with small gestures. Broken plates or not, the Pope tells us:
“There is no need to call in the United Nations peacekeepers. A little gesture is enough: a caress, see you tomorrow, and tomorrow we start afresh. This is life, and we must face it in this way, with the courage of living it together.”
I love a pope who calls on us to do the small, meaningful things, which are often the hardest things to do. Say you’re sorry. Offer forgiveness. Hold your tongue. Smile when you don’t want to. Touch his hand, nudge her shoulder, do the thing that’s so unfair you should not — DO YOU HEAR ME SHOULD NOT — have to do it.
Your married life is beautiful and must be protected. Do the small thing. Do the hard thing. Begin anew.