A couple struggling with the challenge of diversity
Chiara and Francesco Donà
When you least expect it, at the most beautiful moment—like that of the birth of a child—things seem to escape any logic of understanding and dialogue: the daily grind, the routine and work put a strain on the couple's life. Francesco and Chiara found themselves in this situation, even after a happy engagement and a happy first period of their marriage—a wall was keeping them apart. How did they get over it? What pulled them out of the tunnel in which they found themselves?
Francesco: To talk about the challenges of our married life is not a trivial matter, but I think it’s important to do so because it’s to witness to the love of God and to our poverty.
We've been married for over 20 years with two children already grown-up and two at the threshold of adolescence. We both come from families in which we received a good up-bringing, perhaps too good, a bit in a "cocoon", in an environment rich in material goods.
As for me, I always had a heart-felt desire to form a nice family; I wanted to get married and have many children! A home filled with warmth, vitality, and harmony; a family which, having known the Ideal of unity, was open to building beautiful things around us.
Chiara: I, however, never imagined I would get married and find myself surrounded by children. I was a "free spirit" who loved to travel, explore the world, always on-the-go and totally devoid of maternal and homely instincts.
Francesco: Unexpectedly, one day, I met Chiara. I got to know her on a trip to a world youth meeting in Rome.
Chiara: I have a clear memory of that trip. The guy, who was collecting the bus fares, when he came to me and read my name on the list, remarked: "But, you are the sister of Antonello, well then!" (Implying: therefore I know you). That guy was Francesco, and I would have liked him to "disintegrate" instantly. Who did he think he was? I had never met him!
Or that other time when, due to a mix up, I found myself spending an entire day alone with him. I had no desire to get involved again in a relationship with a guy, but, in reality I was looking for someone to love. Of course, I would not have thought to find him in a person so different from me.
Francesco with his sweetness and patience and with his deep respect succeeded, after almost two years, to make me take the plunge.
Growth steps and obstacles
Francesco: Meanwhile during our engagement we tried to grow, to mature both as individuals and as a couple, to achieve our goals workwise and on a personal level. To this end we were greatly assisted by the sharing, closeness, and example of other young people who just like us, had made the same life choice.
Chiara: When, as happens to so many, after a long and disappointing search, we were able to find a tiny rental that fitted our needs, in just three months, we completed the preparations for the wedding. A month earlier, however, when the invitations had already been sent, the landlady informed us that we could only stay there for three months because she was selling the place.
Francesco: To find a home in four months was not easy but Providence hadn’t abandoned us, and it arrived just in time. During the wedding homily, the celebrant, inspired the Gospel passage, reminded us that, despite this housing problem, we had trusted in God in his Providence.
From the beginning of our marriage it was evident how different our characters and our approach to the facts of family life were, and just as evident was our lack of life experience as a couple.
Chiara: We had very different views on everything: the furniture, the budget, cleaning, shopping, etc. Everything was a source of discussion and disagreement that, at the beginning of our family life, were patched over with mutual understanding and humour, but in the long run revealed less beautiful sides of our opposite characters.
Beautiful outside but in crisis inside
Francesco: We were both working and we continued to pursue our personal commitments outside of family life. In addition, I attended college in another city until graduation four years later, by which time we already had a son.
Already several years on, our relationship had not been the greatest; it had its ups and downs. In fact, if truth be told, as time went by, the "lean" periods became more frequent. Even more so after the birth of our last two daughters. The little ones required a lot of attention and energy. We slept little and poorly and there was no time during the day to catch our breath. Between us we talked and argued about the children and about house chores, carrying on the ordinary things of family life but without the "vital" relationship needed to support a couple.
Chiara: Years of quarrels and misunderstandings went by, always resolved fortunately by love and by the will to begin again to love, as Chiara Lubich's spirituality continued to teach us. The workload and commitment became increasingly burdensome and almost everything rested on my shoulders. Francesco continued to have many commitments especially outside the home and I was trying to combine work as a nurse with the busy home life with four children. For both it was very painful, and day after day we had entered into a vortex of misunderstanding and resentment that had raised a wall between us.
Three years ago grandma's health took a turn for the worse. Consequently, we lived for two years as if we had a fifth child who lived across town. We had become two strangers who only spoke of practical subjects and daily chores.
Throughout this period, some families who were picking up our pain tried to give us a hand. But when you're falling down you cannot see the rope that is handed out to you. It seemed absurd to me that one who lives the ideal of love, unity, had to admit defeat in one's own family. But one day I realized the importance of always being myself, without wanting to show others just the best part of me, and of being able to make clear to others what my needs were.
“Why so much pain?”
Francesco: The result of that period was a desire on both our parts to make a change. I cut with almost all the commitments that I had on the outside, committing myself instead to our home. I had only one desire in my heart, regarding Chiara: "I want to be faithful and love you for life at any cost and to remain faithful to that plan that God certainly has for us." Something was screaming inside me, louder and louder: "Where are you God? Why so much pain? ".
Two years ago in July, we were invited to Loppiano for a 6-day meeting for families in difficulty. I felt strongly that this was a week that offered us an opportunity we could not miss because it would allow us to make a new start together.
Chiara: I won’t deny that I had no desire to participate in it because I knew that it meant being willing to start over. But it was a wonderful experience in its simplicity of everyday life. We were five couples, surrounded and accompanied by other families and a priest who spent all their time with us and for us unsparingly, even though for them it was holiday time.
Initially it was not easy to allow others to get to know us deep down, to listen to others... but with each passing day we truly became one family. The thing that I carry within me is to have lived with authentic people who did not judge us but who, like me, had overcome very difficult times without having given up and who still go through these dark periods.
Francesco: It was an unforgettable week, a week, I don’t know how to explain it, but ... it has changed me inside. We felt loved by God, welcomed in an atmosphere of deep listening without judgment, and little by little we started to talk to each other again. I felt that God had miraculously taken us into his hands, sweeping away all pain in order to give us back the freedom and happiness of loving one another and rediscovering a hundred times over the beauty of the sacrament of marriage.
We started journeying with new intensity and the more this communion between us grew the more we felt the urge to live and be a gift for others; not to keep this joy for ourselves, but to communicate it.
Chiara: Now, two years later, we feel we can say that our relationship has grown and improved. There are still moments of incomprehension but we feel that talking to each other sincerely, listening without pretense, taking time for rare and precious moments as a couple and especially living as one with other families helps us to start afresh always and grow.
From “New Families”