What Lies Beneath

My husband and I are madly in love.

I feel the need to announce this publicly because, on the surface, it can be hard to tell sometimes.

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Some days, the most romantic thing Dan and I do is grunt at one another about the funny noise the dishwasher is making again before going to bed, falling asleep, and getting up to face another round of meeting our eight children’s daily requirements for food, clothing, shelter, education, entertainment, discipline, and transportation.

Besides the challenges of daily drudgery, we have some particularly less than grace-filled moments as well. We sometimes engage in shouting matches about my driving skills, or lack thereof. And his social graces, or lack thereof. We occasionally give one another the cold shoulder for scandalous lengths of time over the tone one of us used when making that comment about that thing that happened the other day. Or we play a rousing game of “Who Has It Worse,” in which we exchange complaints in whining tones, in an effort to secure the grand prize of Most Underappreciated Spouse In the Whole World Ever.

You know, serious stuff. At least it feels that way at the time.

It sometimes takes reading tragic news stories about unforeseen accidents that have happened to other couples who are also madly in love to make me pause and look beneath the surface of daily distractions and petty disagreements.

I once heard a Hollywood actor assert that if you go into marriage thinking that divorce is even a possibility, you are going to get divorced. I found that to be an astute observation. I do believe that if you go into marriage with the idea that you can quit this lifelong commitment thing when it’s not fun anymore, you are going to quit this lifelong commitment thing. Even the best of marriages between two perfect human beings stop being fun sometimes.

I’m not just talking about the “richer and poorer, in sickness and in health” kinds of challenges, either. In our 17 years together, I’ve often thought that the vows we took on our wedding day should have been more specific. “Even when she’s hormonal and you’re quite certain aliens have taken over her personality” would come in handy. And, “Even if he refuses to stay up all night talking about the ways in which he could improve his communication skills” would have been a nice heads up, as well.

Darn that catch-all “for better or for worse” clause. But we can’t say they didn’t warn us.

The encouraging thing about the vocation of marriage, however, is that when we fall short of our ideals, we usually get another chance. Marriage is a calling we can get a little bit better at answering, one misunderstanding or petty annoyance at a time. Did you mess up that challenge? No worries. Another one is surely on its way.

This past summer, Dan and I got in the habit of spending time together on his boat. He gets all the credit for planning and executing these romantic outings. I had previously considered his fishing boat a “man cave” of sorts, where he and the boys caught quantities of smelly bass. On afternoons when Dan and I headed out on the lake, though, he tidied up the boat and stocked the livewell not with fish but snacks and wine.

We have a favorite spot in a quiet corner of the lake where Dan would stop the boat so we could enjoy the solitude. We soaked up the sun, watched blue herons, and listened to loons. We talked about important things and unimportant things, big things and small things, serious things and silly things, without interruption.

On our last lake outing of the season this year, before we left our favorite spot, Dan was inspired. He wrote a note — a secret love note to me — on a scrap of paper, rolled it up tightly, and inserted it in an empty wine bottle. He corked the bottle and then reached below the water’s surface to plant it deep in the mud at the bottom of the lake.

As we sped across the lake toward home that day, an autumn-nipped wind whipped through my hair. Evergreen trees lining the shores stood at attention. The surface of the lake sparkled and danced in the late-day sun. It looked like laughing. I smiled, too, as I thought of how those dark waters will soon freeze. There will be ice and snow. There will be storms with temperatures dipping below zero.

I smiled at my tan-skinned husband, and he smiled back. God gives us grace to see through murky waters. We know what lies beneath.



  • Danielle Bean

    Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Her blog is a source of inspiration, encouragement, and support for Catholic women of all ages and life stages.

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