My husband and I answered 5 questions about marriage for Karee Santos on her blog, Can We Cana? A Community to Support Catholic Marriages. This post was part of a series.
Today we welcome Michael and Melanie Jean Juneau to the series How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some. Michael and Melanie live on a small family farm in Canada, where they raised their nine kids. I know Melanie from her excellent work at the Association of Catholic Women Bloggers and through her prolific writing. Today Michael and Melanie explain how suffering doesn’t have to crush a marriage, instead it can lead to great joy!
1. How many years have you been married and how many kids do you have?
We have been married for 36 years, and we are still in love. Surprisingly, we really have become one, deeply in tune with each other’s spirits. Our tangible joy is inexplicable through secular eyes because from all outward appearances our life together has been a tough journey including poverty, nine kids, overwhelming chores on a small family farm and clinical depression.
One priest gently consoled us by explaining we have lived through “trials by fire.” Another friend, not given to dramatics, once pointed out to my adult children,“You do not realize it, but your parents have suffered deeply.” I have a running joke on the typical marriage vow about for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. I say, “Well, we’ve seen worse, poorer and sickness and we are more than ready for better, richer and health.” Then I dissolve into gales of laughter.
2. Name 3 things that have helped you to stay married this long.
The first key we discovered was found by accessing the power in the Sacrament of Marriage. The grace available in the Sacrament of Marriage is not some esoteric theology — no, it is real and it is powerful. The power available in the sacrament is what kept us together through the rough years. Andwe both understood, beyond a doubt, that God had brought us together. We never questioned this basic call from God, our vocation together, even during the dark years.
My second key is a wicked sense of humor. When we could laugh at our foibles and not take ourselves too seriously, problems suddenly shrank and we gained perspective once again. Over-dramatizing conflict is deadly. This is simply a bit of cognitive therapy, taking a step away from each conflict and looking at the big picture, through the eyes of God.
Surprisingly, my third key to the longevity of out marriage is suffering. Suffering was a gift that unified us because it stripped away false pride and forced us to our knees in prayer. Honest prayer led both of us to self- knowledge, humility and compassion for each other. When I asked a priest what my life would have been like if I had not suffered, if I had married a well-off dentist, had 1.25 kids and lived in an efficient, modern house, he put on a phony, pious face, put his hands together in prayer, and said in a high, mocking voice, ”Oh, you would be a nice Christian lady, praising the Lord.” What he meant by that amusing bit of acting was I would be shallow, without depth and strength. Well, when I see the results of a bit of suffering in our marriage, I say bring it on!
3. What role has your faith played in your marriage?
The only reason we got married and stayed married is our faith. We are a brother and a sister in Christ, fellow children of God who seek His will together. We have always been on the same page, sensing the next level of growth in our spiritual walk and changing at the same pace. This has been a pure gift from God. A growth in maturity, in my faith, healed our marriage. When I quit demanding love from my husband, quit trying to control him, he was set free to love me in freedom and in truth, in the power of the Spirit of God. When I let go and surrendered to God, He blessed me with more than I could ever have asked for in our marriage.
4. What advice would you give people who are dating and considering marriage?
Do you find yourself waiting secretly for your knight in shining armor to whisk you off your feet so you can live happily ever after? Or for a wonderful woman to lift off your depression and sense of aimlessness? Although we laugh at such ridiculous fantasies as the stuff of naïve, lovesick teenagers, we all must face the deep temptation within ourselves to seek out a future partner to fulfill all of our needs. We have been brainwashed by Hollywood’s romantic movies.
If you want to get married, seek the face of God, trust Him and He will drop someone in your path because marriage is just as much a vocation and a calling as Holy Orders. My husband asked God to find him a wife and then forgot all about it as he dedicated a year to Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, Canada. Then he spent another year at his local parish where he lived in the residence with an ill priest. Travelling across Canada, stopping in to see a friend who was a parish worker, he read a note on the door explaining that Steve had taken his youth group on a picnic. Michael came over to my house to wait because I lived with Steve’s fiance. As soon as Michael saw me, he KNEW I was the one. Michael swears by this method for finding a bride.
5. What advice would you give newlyweds?
Society does not prepare people for a Christian marriage. You have to actively seek out help and advice. Read insightful books, go to conferences, retreats, confession, make sure you pray, seek spiritual direction and counselling to help you mature and grow together as one in Christ. As a newlywed, I wish someone had explained to me that in marriage, partners irritate each other by pulling out each other’s darkness, bringing their wounds to the surface. Once I understood this spiritual dynamic, I quit blaming Michael and pointing out his faults. The truth is, counter to what secular society would lead us to believe, only God can meet our core need for love.
Countless marriages end up in divorce because people have embraced the crazy notion that the man or woman of their dreams will completely satisfy and fulfill them. This is a lie. Before I understood this reality, I spent years as a pitiful, innocent victim, crying my eyes out over my plight married to an insensitive man.
Once I focused on myself rather than Michael, the Spirit of God could finally deal with my own sinfulness and need for healing. If I had thrown up my hands and divorced Michael, chances are the second fellow would have turned out exactly the same. My sinfulness triggered my husband’s sinfulness. Period. I had to stop blaming and pointing out Michael’s failings if I wanted a great marriage. Instead of pointing out the grain of sand in his eye, I had to allow God to show me the log of faults in my own eye. God designed us so that only His love will fill the desperate desires of our hearts. Once I understood this truth, I could allow real love, respectful love to grow between Michael and myself without making crushing demands on the poor guy to fulfill the role of God in my life.
6. What advice would you give new parents or couples who are trying to have children?
First and foremost, if you want to get pregnant, relax and trust in God and His timing. Numerous stories are told of anxious couples, desperate for a baby, who finally give up, adopt and then when they are relaxed, they conceive. My problem was the opposite, I could conceive days before ovulation. Yet the answer to both problems is the same — Natural Family Planning teaches people how to understand their fertility cycles in order to conceive or not.
We read a homily by Pope John Paul II whose main premise was that letting go of control and trusting in God was not some abstract principle but a day-to-day practical call that included the surrender of our fertility by not using contraception. Although we could not imagine how large our family would become, his words continued to resonate within both of us. Guilt lifted off and a sense of purpose took its place. Many small experiences kept reinforcing the truth: God calls each of our children into being with our cooperation. We stumbled blindly at times but then a burst of clarity would shine light on our purpose as we lived out our pro-life mission.