It was hard to believe what I was hearing. My friend, who was basically the “Catholic Barbie” of the famous Barbie and Ken dolls, was telling me she no longer liked her husband. There was no specific reason, really. She just couldn’t stand him. She could barely tolerate being in the same room with him, let alone the same bed. I listened wide-eyed and concerned. Almost as if she could read my mind, she blurted out, “I’m not thinking about divorce. I just wish that I liked the guy!”
Later that day, having coffee with my mom, I confided in her about the conversation. I was sure she would be shocked, as I was, and I expected that she would do what she always did when alerted to one of my friend’s struggles: provide the perfect insight and assure me of her prayers for the situation. Instead, she simply shrugged. “Ahhh, that’s just a season of hate. They happen to all of us.”
I wasn’t married at the time, and I was perplexed by my mother’s statement. Looking at this veteran of a 35-year happy marriage, I just couldn’t believe she’d coin such a phrase — “a season of hate” — and less, that she’d claim it as something she’d experienced. I pictured my ever-doting father and found it beyond comprehension that my mom could have ever had a season of hating him.
So yes, hate is a strong word, and she wasn’t using it literally, but my mom had a point. It wasn’t until years later, when trudging through my own marriage, that I finally understood the gift that was given to me that day. The freedom of knowing that my marriage would experience “seasons of hate” has been liberating.
Like it or not, there will be periods in our married life when there is no real conflict or crisis, yet nothing our spouses say or do will satisfy us. There will be times when we aren’t on the same page about anything. Some of us will even experience periods — mere days or possibly weeks — when we can’t stand anything about our betrothed: the way they walk, the way they talk, the way they breathe. Yes, you may even be tempted to gouge your own eyes out rather than hear him or her chew. (And believe me, I’m not so naïve as to think that I don’t also elicit the same feelings in my husband at times.)
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If you experience this, I do too. I admit this freely and hope that my confession causes you some peace in your own marriage. Just because you go through periods of unhappiness in your relationship doesn’t mean the death of your marriage. It doesn’t mean that being free of your spouse would mean a better life. In fact, there is research confirming that couples that have weathered unhappy periods in their marriages do have happy times again. A study conducted by the Institute for American Values found that two-thirds of unhappily married people who stayed together reported that their marriages were happy five years later.
So what do we do when faced with lows in our marriages? And how do we make sure that these times stay a mere season and don’t become the norm for our relationships?
While I would like to blame all my unhappiness in these seasons on the maddening habits and characteristics of my husband, I have found that these times of unrest are actually (way) less about him and more (okay, mostly) about me. The frustration I feel in the day-to-day dealings with my spouse is actually a reflection of a lack of inner peace in my own life. It is the outward consequence of my laziness in prayer and flows directly from my failure to remain focused on Christ. Likewise, I have found the more I participate in a season of hate by complaining about my husband either inwardly or outwardly, the more the irritations fester, the bigger the problems become and the longer it takes to restore balance and peace to my family life.
I have discovered, as St. Francis de Sales promises, that “through devotion, your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.” Yes, like with every tribulation, when faced with periods of unrest in our marriages, we must return to Christ in prayer. Pray for your spouse. Offer up your irritations. Ask God to provide you with consolation. Commit to greater acts of love.
And take heart, knowing that seasons are natural in life and in marriage, and, like with every long winter, spring will come again.