Despite chill and rain plus forecasts of possible snow during this year’s diocesan Wedding Anniversary Celebration, couples streamed into the Cathedral that afternoon. Their bright eyes and spring attire contrasted with the gloomy weather. On that day, honoring their twenty-five and fifty years of matrimony, they looked so radiant one would think their marriages were made in heaven and dwelt there ever after.
More than likely these couples had survived lots of damp, dreary days. All marriages have their stormy seasons and years. The blissful days of early marriage succumb at some point to disillusionment. For some couple the honeymoon ends quickly while others do not notice dark clouds for five, ten, or twenty-five years. Life-cycle issues such as the stress of raising children, changes demanded during adolescent years, and the need to develop a mature adult relationship when the children leave home, and other factors can dim romance. Besides making spouses miserable, unmanaged disillusionment can swamp a marriage.
Disillusionment proceeds from the perception that one’s spouse is not the dreamboat that first captured the lover’s heart and that this marriage is not the ecstasy anticipated. Sunshine, smiles, and “sweet nothings” are battered by high winds and icy retorts. As disenchantment deepens husband and wife become filled with negative feelings and prone to distorted thinking.
Given the inevitable bad weather in marriage, how can couples survive disillusionment and create a marriage that is still satisfying on their golden anniversary? Although disillusionment is about an illusory dream (of the self, spouse, and marriage), it can also be a divine gift. Consider that God is revealing that what we thought our marriage would be is not expansive enough. Our illusion is a shadow of God’s dream that our marriage be a deep friendship, an intimacy that mirrors the relationship of the Trinity, a passionate and fruitful love. Disillusionment may be God’s cold water thrown on our complacency.
A couple who shares a sense of their marriage’s purpose allows God’s rain to nurture seeds of deeper commitment. Realizing that marriage is more than one-plus-one and that their love and fidelity form a holy sign for their families and larger community offsets discouragement. Focusing on the significance of the marriage for their children’s well-being (backed by social science data) can help a couple endure some difficult years. Talking about the future and sharing a positive vision for their marriage helps strengthen commitment for the long term.
A spouse suffering disillusionment must take personal responsibility. A look in the mirror can be revealing. Am I blaming this unhappy face on my spouse? What needs and wants do I expect my partner to take care of? How does my behavior affect my spouse? Am I trying to build the spouse I imagined instead of accepting the one I married?
Secondly, listen to your spouse without defending or rebutting. Check whether you have heard accurately. Share your own feelings and hopes honestly. Husbands and wives can take positive steps to counteract disillusionment and reinvigorate their marital friendship.
- Do something nice for your spouse: say thank you, write a love note, prepare a candlelight dinner for two, offer ordinary tasks as a prayer for the other.
- When conflict flares, call “time out” and arrange to talk when you will be calmer and free of distractions.
- Approach problems as a team.
- Spend some time outdoors together every week and make time for fun.
- If you are Catholic, avail yourself of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.
- Do something different together: go on a date, share prayer, plan a day trip or vacation, bake bread, take dancing lessons.
- Go to a communication workshop, marriage enrichment weekend, or couple’s retreat.
- Make your wedding anniversary special without incurring too much cost.
Recent research shows that more than eighty percent of couples who described themselves as “unhappy” indicated five years later that they were happier, most rating their marriages as either “very happy” or “quite happy” (Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage). Simply enduring the difficult years has merit, yet a couple can better handle disillusionment by actively building commitment and rediscovering what their marriage is meant to be – even on rainy days.