This transition was not the easiest to make. Being one with another person requires patience, learning and grace. Marriage is sacrifice that will ultimately lead you closer to God. And sacrifice is not supposed to be easy.
Our first year of marriage was a rollercoaster. I had left a job to start graduate school. While in school, and between the two of us, there were four deaths…within my first month of school. Needless to say, I left grad school to be able to spend more time with family. While I started a new job, so did my husband. On top of all of this, we spent six months looking for a house, which we eventually found and moved into before our first anniversary. While the move was difficult, because we decided to move in the middle of a blizzard, all our family and friends plans had to be cancelled due to the weather and they were able to help us move. Silver linings.
But those situations were not difficult to handle as a married couple. The true difficulty was found in trying to communicate about these situations.
I firmly believe you should not be living with someone until you are married (barring any extreme extenuating circumstances). You should be able to know everything you need to know about a person without living with them. If you can’t, then communication is already lacking. However, I knew how my husband lived. He could cook, clean, and had his life in order. And I know that I am the same way.
But, we are married now. Two people who have become one flesh. And overcoming the communication barrier can be difficult.
While looking for houses, we did not come to each other when we had disagreeing viewpoints; aiming for amicability, but garnering dysfunction. When I wanted leave grad school, I did not disclose the true reason why I wanted to call it quits. He believed I simply needed more support, and would offer to leave me alone so I could study. It was too late to get a refund on my tuition by the time I told him the real reason. So not only did we have to pay for the rest of the semester, but I also did not allow myself or my husband to explore our grief properly.
Again, this is touched on in Building an Orthodox Marriage (again, highly recommend!). They refer to Deborah Tannen, a sociolinguistics professor at Georgetown University. She breaks down male and female communication styles. Women participate in “rapport-talk”, which is meant to promote socialization and emotional connection. Men participate in “report-talk” which imparts information without as much emotion.
When my husband and I come together after a long days work, I look forward to connecting with him, and sharing the successes and trials of the day. While we didn’t always do this, we now ask the other if they want advice or just consolation regarding certain events. My husband has recently started a more stressful position. Some days, he just wants to come home and vent. Other’s, he plainly states that he needs time to decompress. He’ll even go so far as to tell me that he needs to shoulder whatever burden so that it may allow him to grow. I try to do similar things. I will tell him if I need space, or comfort, or rest. Just yesterday, I called my husband as he was coming home from work, and told him I just needed to bury my head in his chest and cry. In doing this, we try to take the guess work out of everything.
The same goes for regular daily tasks. If a flickering light bothers me, I simply ask my husband to fix it. And he does. If my husband wants a particular dish for dinner, he asks me to make it. And I do. Granted, we do not jump right up and take care of the immediately. But we keep them in mind, and take care of each others needs as we can. And when we can’t we offer each other grace. Carry out for dinner is always an option, and flickering lights can be turned off.
Not only do we do things for each other, but we try to notice the efforts of the other. My husband has been very patient with me, as I embark on a new path for myself. He notices that I am working hard to make certain endeavors a reality for myself, and he appreciates it, as he now bears the brunt of earning responsibility for our household, which I appreciate. I also appreciate his work ethic, not only when it comes to his job, but when it comes to being a better man. Being tired after long days at work, he has not been as present (mentally) at home this past fall. When I commented on it, he acknowledged he needed to find better way to de-stress and be more present with me at home. This means he might not talk to me as long on his lunch hour or his drive home. It also means he might spend a little more time working out in the evenings to drive off some of the stress. And I accommodate this, knowing that these short sacrifices in quantity of time will lead to an improved quality of time.
In making these sacrifices, humbling ourselves before one another and serving each other, we are able to grow closer to God and theosis.
Timothy Ware states: “Marriage is not only a state of nature but a state of grace. Married life, no less than the life of a monk, is a special vocation, requiring a particular gift or charisma from the Holy Spirit; and this gift is conferred in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.” I find it odd that we think of the ascetic life and marriage as two divergent paths, contrary to one another. Rather, they are parallel roads that lead whosoever follows them towards eternal life. Monks, nuns, and married people are all called to make sacrifices. Whether these sacrifices concern the duties of a monastic or the challenges faced by spouses and parents, they all serve the same purpose. To frame marriage as being similar to monasticism in this way has been helpful to me.
In doing this, I am better able to focus on the purpose of being married. While my love for my husband is great, it is not our sole reason to be married. There are plenty of people whom we love who we do not marry. To be married is to form a church of your own. A husband, at its head, acts as Christ would. This means, he lays himself down for his family; making sacrifices so that his children may be saved. A wife, acting as the Church herself, abides by her husband and cares for their parish (their children). Together, they create a holy space in which they might raise up a right-believing family. All of this is easier said than done. A husband is not as sinless as Christ, nor is a wife as obedient as the Church. But using this imagery, it is easier to recall how we are supposed to act towards one another.
As I finish this, the longest blog post thus far, I cannot help but thank the Lord for the man sitting across from me, playing a zombie apocalypse, shoot-em-up video game. He has opened my eyes and heart to the light of God, and I will forever be grateful to him for that. On December 22nd of this year, we will have been together (dating, engaged, married) for five years. Come this February, we will have been married three years. In such a short span of time, I have grown so much as a person and in Christ, as a wife. And I truly cannot wait to see what eternity has in store for us.