“Like small children who start learning, we too learned to understand ourselves first, understand feelings, recognize them, understand each other, and learn that thinking differently doesn’t always have to end up in conflict. We understood that the couples around us enrich our relationships, and that we need to
avoid isolating ourselves.”
Melita and Slavko have been married for close to 20 years and are parents. They live in Croatia. They tell their experience as a couple candidly, without glossing anything over, or omitting those trying moments that made their path a challenge.
Their marriage was a “house” to build every day, often without knowing what tools to use. It wasn’t a straight highway to drive with a powerful car, but a dirt road to be covered by bike with only one’s legs, lungs and heart as the engine, with tiring climbs and then descents to recover on.
Theirs is a story that perhaps resembles many couples, yet it offers a key to understanding family that should not be overlooked. It came to light when they participated in the Percorsi di luce (“paths of light”) project in Italy, which the Focolare Movement has created for couples, especially those who are going through moments of division.
In one of the darkest moments of their relationship, they explain, it was thanks to meetings like these that they found the tools to “use each day so that our family can be happy and our relationship can grow. The tools facilitate the climb that awaits us all in life as a couple, to realize God’s plans for our family.”
Through their words, it becomes clear that the image of the “perfect” couple is a painful illusion. The expectation of a linear and sunny path, nourished by the enthusiasm that follows meeting the “right” person, clashes with the reality of a “game” that everyone must play. In this game the outcome is unknown, your teammate sometimes turns into your opponent and you win only if you both win. It is a game with no written rules, but one that has to be played with a clear goal, or at least, if it fades away, rediscovering that goal. It is a game where everyone is called to contribute and face adversity, without shortcuts.
“Seen from today’s perspective,” they say, “we can testify that marriage is not a fixed and static thing, and that a course like this is not a magic wand that solves all our problems forever.” Rather, here “we have learned that our first child — our marriage — needs the greatest care and priority, because only when we are in peace and harmony can we be able to give love to the children and people around us. Only in this way can we become fulfilled as people.”
In fact, their relationship went from feeling already fulfilled straight to the “starting blocks”. Melita tells about their beginnings: “It was a very beautiful time. I finally fulfilled my dream of having a man who could listen to me, console me, understand me. A person with whom to share similar views on life, faith, love. We soon realized that we wanted to crown our love with marriage.”
Soon, however, the first test emerged: the loss of a pregnancy forced Melita and Slavko to review their plans and focus on the practical organization of life, work and home. It was a productive time, where they experienced a growing unity between them and with their respective families. They shared everything, says Slavko, finding “the strength, the will and the desire for common things”.
“We idealized our lives,” Melita explains, “by completing the tiles in our mosaic and waiting for the family to expand.” After three years came the joy of their first child, but with it also the need to find a less demanding and more rewarding job. Employment for Slavko came, but the new situation produced tensions, misunderstandings, deep wounds in the couple.
“The security we had built up and the trust in each other disappeared,” says Melita. “A period of dissatisfaction in our relationship began, with blame for the mistakes made. Slavko was not aware how dissatisfied I was, and I didn’t know how to make him understand the things that were bothering me.”
“I was content with life, thinking, ‘What more do you want?’” he says. “We love each other, we are married, life goes straight ahead. Why do I continually need to show my fidelity and affection? She’s the one who doesn’t understand that I love her and stand by her.
“I was deaf to her cries and I thought that she was the one who had to change and accept the new circumstances. In us there was a growing feeling of powerlessness and despair. We fell into an abyss from which we did not see a way out.”
The thought of separating went through their minds. They had reached the bottom.
But in that desert, life gradually began to flourish again. “At that moment the Lord sent our godparents and friends on our path, who, like others we had once erased from our lives, sent us directions to follow through them,” Slavko remembers.
By comparing their situation with other couples participating in the project, they finally managed to glimpse a way out. “Facing each other, and before God, we began to understand and know each other again. We learned that having a different opinion does not mean that my partner does not love me; on the contrary, we have learned once again how diversity enriches us – it completes us as a couple.”
Learning, discovering, growing and coming together as a person and as a couple: perhaps this is the unexpected result of an authentic and courageous journey, one that is unpredictable and full of tests, but also satisfying goals.
Melita and Slavko have discovered that God’s plans for them as a couple and their family are not at all predictable, but it requires a determination to love each other. And they have learned that it is through this commitment that they each fulfil themselves as people.