There is a journey God wants to take you on in marriage. He uses your vocation, more than almost anything else, to form you, shape you, mold you, sanctify you. Jesus doesn’t just want to meet you in the chapel, in the sacraments, or in your daily prayer time. One of the most important places Jesus wants to meet you is in your vocation—in your spouse and children. It is the main instrument Jesus uses to draw your attention to your imperfections, work on your weaknesses and sins, and invite you to grow in virtue. It’s the key setting in which he calls you to be healed of your wounds and makes you whole. Most of all, it’s the number one place he sanctifies you, calling you to love like he loves.

Edward: When I was single, I heard the idea that Christian marriage is all about getting your spouse to heaven. So, when Beth and I got engaged, that noble ideal inspired me. I wanted to take my role as a Christian husband very seriously: I envisioned living my married days praying for Beth, praying with Beth, making little sacrifices for her, and making sure that she prayed every day and had time for faith formation in her women’s group and frequented the sacraments. I would be an amazing Catholic husband, leading my family in prayer, in catechesis, and most of all by my example. I was going to be a spiritual leader in our home. “That’s my mission, after all—to help Beth get to heaven!”

Over time, however, I realized that the main way I help Beth get to heaven has little to do with my high ideals of being a great Catholic husband and spiritual leader in the home. The main way I actually help Beth get to heaven is this: every day of her life, Beth has to deal with me!

Every day, she has to deal with my many imperfections, faults, and sins. My forgetfulness. My impatience. My selfishness. My pride. My quirks and idiosyncrasies. She has to deal with me hurting her or letting her down—when I say something with that tone of voice. When I forget to say thank you. When I’m overwhelmed and dump my stress on her. When I don’t think things through as carefully as I should. Given the many weaknesses she has to encounter in me every day, I’m sure Beth gets many centuries off of purgatory!

I say this in a somewhat joking way, but there is a profound truth to this. In marriage, God brings two fallen human beings together for this intense, lifelong union. In that union, all our imperfections come out. We often misunderstand each other. We hurt each other. We let each other down. In marriage and family life, we have countless opportunities to love as Jesus loves us. To love freely, completely like he did—even when he got nothing back in return. Think about how Jesus felt on Good Friday, which is when he modeled love for us the most. He felt forgotten, unappreciated, misunderstood, misrepresented, uncared for, unloved, controlled, hurt, ridiculed, rejected, abandoned. Many of those same feelings and trials are experienced in marriage. We need to view these not merely as frustrating situations but as encounter moments—opportunities to encounter Jesus and love him in our spouse.

This article is based on Edward and Beth Sri’s book, The Good, the Messy and the Beautiful: The Joys and Struggles of Real Married Life (Ascension Press).