There I was, cruising down the highway on a gorgeous July afternoon a few weeks ago. I was heading home from running a few errands and had the rare luxury of an empty van. I enjoy the silence when I drive, but on my way back on this sunny day, I decided to crank up the ol’ radio.
So, I fired it up to our local Catholic station. The host and his guest were discussing marriage. How boring. I’ve been married close to 15 years now… I’m basically a professional.
The two were talking about the stages of marriage. We learned this stuff back in our marriage course while we were engaged. They talked about the first stage which is infatuation. Yawn. Been there, done that.
Stage 2 is disillusionment. Yeah, I kind of remember that one. I think it’s where your spouse starts to annoy you and you shockingly discover that they aren’t absolutely 100% perfect like you had previously thought. Next, please.
Then comes stage 3. Guess what stage 3 is called? Misery. Misery? What? I DO NOT remember this one from my marriage course! Ok, radio dude, I’m fully invested. You have piqued my interest!
According to Retrouvaille, a popular and successful marriage program specializing in troubled marriages, misery happens after a slow descent from the disillusioned state. This can be a gradual growing apart of the spouses, or constant fighting between the two. Many times, there are outside influences such as drug or alcohol abuse, or infidelity with another person, or through pornography or online influences.
Basically, this is when a couple feels that they have hit rock bottom and the only way out is through a divorce or separation. I was so struck by this because the guest on the radio said that so many people bail out of the relationship at this stage because they just don’t see any hope left in their broken marriage. Unfortunately, many of them will enter new relationships and once again experience the same high of infatuation, and the cooling off of the disillusionment, only to become paralyzed in the misery stage and peace right on out of that relationship and on to the next one.
Misery is met with varying degrees, depending upon the couple and circumstances of course, but oftentimes, seeking outside help from a trusted priest or professional counselor is the only way to save a marriage.
Guess what? The worry and “misery” are worth the pain, because once the couple journeys beyond it and heals, the 4th stage, awakening to joy, emerges and it is well worth the wait or struggle. This is where a marriage thrives under open and honest communication with respect and love creating a joyful life while realizing that neither spouse is perfect and grace must be given.
Re-discovering these stages was eye-opening for me. I spoke in jest at the beginning of the post, saying I’m a professional with 15 years of marriage experience. I will spend a lifetime learning about myself, my husband, and the vocation of marriage and still have trials.
Because I’m halfway through my 30s now, Adam and I have been invited to several second marriages, having also been invited to the first. I wonder how many of these couples have also forgotten or were simply never taught that misery is a part of married life.
This sure sounds depressing, doesn’t it? Who in their right mind signs up for misery?! Not me!! I’ve got a beautiful life I’m too busy enjoying.
Adam and I were cultural rebels, marrying at 19 and 20. Yes, I robbed the cradle and married a teenager… starting out so young, and having a honeymoon baby to boot made the infatuation stage evaporate pretty darn quickly!
We wrestled with expectations as farm life was unbelievably demanding, and I was a naïve and very jealous young bride.
We struggled to make ends meet each month and argued about buying even the most essential items.
For us, the misery came on pretty hot and heavy very early on. If it weren’t for my allegiance to my Catholic faith, I very well may have walked right on out of that marriage. But we firmly decided that divorce was never an option, which left us only one option- to figure it out.
We both have growth mindsets, however, so I have shelves of self-help, marriage, parenting, etc. books and Adam spends his long commute listening to podcasts along the same lines.
In doing so, and learning more about ourselves and each other over the years, we have learned to love and to honor each other in such a beautiful way. We experience so much joy and always find ways to laugh together.
There is so much comfort and peace in long-term relationships that far outweigh the excitement and butterflies of infatuation.
Oh, by the way, the stages seem to repeat over and over throughout the years, so the butterflies may still make their appearance, but don’t be surprised if misery shows up soon afterward.
Fortunately, armed with the knowledge of self and spouse, as well as boundaries and skills to keep us in check, a rough patch can and will be easily smoothed out.
Stay tuned as we continue this series on marriage! In two weeks, I will be sharing some of the tools, tips, and tricks that my husband and I use in our own marriage.
St. Joseph, spouse of Our Lady, pray for us!
St. Raphael, patron saint of marriage, pray for us!
St. Valentine, patron of happy marriages, pray for us!
St. Priscilla, patron of good marriages, pray for us!
St. Thomas More, patron of difficult marriages, pray for us!
Until next time, your sister in Christ,