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medium_6684057813Before I was married, there was a lot of talk about what to expect in marriage — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I remember specifically a story about how marriage was like a mirror that reflected your worst faults. I don’t remember who told me this, but they said that you will discover the worst of yourself in marriage; you will see where you fall short, where you’re flawed, where you’re absolutely imperfect.

I’ve only been married for a little more than two years, but I can tell you now that this is true.

This doesn’t mean that marriage is bad, that it’s wrong, or that this is how it’s not supposed to be… In fact, when I think about what marriage is truly about — our sanctification — then this quality of marriage actually seems necessary: I can’t be sanctified without overcoming those obstacles within myself.

It’s not that my husband points these flaws out. I see them, myself. Some of them are surprising and new, others are old enemies. But confronting these can lead to overcoming them; and with His grace, I can become free of them.

This is how sanctification works.

This is how our lives work… and yes, that can be incredibly difficult.

That’s one of the things people say most often about marriage — how difficult it is. But as Elizabeth Hanna Pham, over at Degrees in Idealism, writes, “I think… what they really mean to say is that life is difficult. What marriage (or family life in general) does is limit your options of where to turn in the midst of that difficulty.”

She writes, “A single, uncommitted person often has the freedom to turn to all sorts of things in the midst of difficulty. In many circumstances, he or she can travel, search for a new job, find a new community, make new friends— he or she can, to a degree, find ways of escaping the difficulty. (I’m not saying that there is necessarily anything wrong with that— we aren’t meant to deal with absolutely everything right away— but a single person is more able to postpone that dealing-with.)

“A married person, on the other hand, has far fewer means of escape if he wants to keep his marriage strong. Marriage demands dealing with things. It demands facing problems. It demands facing pasts, bad habits, and even health issues. Because you must be totally present and available and open to another person when you are married it means you must deal with the reality of yourself and your life with its problems— and then, of course, with the reality of the other person and their life with its problems. And so, marriage, itself, doesn’t cause problems; it only makes us see them and their urgency more clearly.”

It’s true. Life is difficult — not just marriage, not just being single, not just any other vocation out there. It’s all hard.

Marriage can highlight problems, but it can also give us what we need — direction, clarity, and the strength to transform into the best version of ourselves. It is not an obstacle to our growth in holiness — it is, in many cases, the way to our holiness!

Pope Pius XI wrote in his encyclical Casti Connubii, “Let (the married couple) constantly keep in mind that they have been consecrated and strengthened for the duties and the dignity of their state by a special sacrament, the efficacious power of which, although it does not impress a character, is undying.”

photo credit: johnhope14