You better believe it! What else is man made for, but to die for a noble cause…? The good of your wife (and your family)? Well, there aren’t a whole lot of better causes out there, are there?
Man up, because Costanza Miriano is back in Marry Her and Die for Her. Guys, if you thought you were off the hook after Costanza’s first book Marry Him and Be Submissive, you’ve got another thing coming. Now, she’s here to challenge you and give it to you straight about the many ways in which you must die for the woman you love. (But don’t worry…she has plenty of reminders for the women as well.) Inside, Miriano provides insight into what women want from men, and how husbands can “die” for them and their families every day, including:
• Remember how much your wife liked flowers, compliments, chocolates and romantic dates when she was your girlfriend? Guess what? She still does.
• Remember how much she wanted to impress your mother when you were dating? She does not care as much about that now…
or at least she shouldn’t, and neither should you.
• The old saying goes: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Never mind that…just lead! The other two are not options. Democracies are fine for countries—some of them—for families, not so much.
• You know how tired you feel sometimes (all the time)? Get some rest. You need it! (We thought you would like that one.)
• Be there. Turns out the old saying is true…showing up IS half the battle. • Oh, and lest we forget…if you haven’t done so already, Marry Her!
Miriano doesn’t just dole out advice; she comes bearing gifts as well. Chief among them are the gifts of sword and shield—the shield to defend your wife, children, even your free time once in a while; and the sword to cut away all that is unhealthy and destructive in your most important human relationship. And, oh yes, she encourages men to return to, or start anew, a life of prayer. A man who knows Christ knows true sacrifice and so will be better able to truly “marry her and die for her.”
Get Married and Be Submissive? Author Q&A with Costanza Miriano
Sean Salai, S.J.
Costanza Miriano is an Italian Catholic wife, mother of four children, and journalist for Rai (Italian public television) who writes on education and relationships and has worked with the Pontifical Council for the Laity. She authors a viral blog and has written four bestselling books — including “Marry Her and Die for Her” — which have been translated into Spanish, French, Portuguese, Polish, Slovenian, and English.
In September, TAN Books published an English edition of Ms. Miriano’s runaway 2013 bestseller Casate y se sumisa (Get Married and Be Submissive) under the title “Marry Him and Be Submissive.” Taking its title from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Ms. Miriano’s book offers a contemporary take on traditional Christian teachings on marriage, addressing the struggles that Catholic women today face in dating, marriage, and motherhood. Written as a series of frank and humorous letters to her closest friends, the book has earned an endorsement from L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s daily newspaper.
On Aug. 28, during her book tour of the United States, I interviewed Ms. Miriano by email about her new book.
Why did you write this book?
Actually, I didn’t think I had nothing to teach about marriage and couple life! I just wanted to write letters to my real friends (I just changed their names and some details) to convince them that it is possible to learn to be happy everyday, in our marriage. Finally, I wanted to talk about God, who is the source of love, even in a couple. But I never thought, never, that so many people were going to read it. For the first printing, they just printed some hundreds of copies. I was sure that just my mother, my sister and my old aunts were going to buy it. I never thought it could become a so big thing!
Who is your audience?
When I write, I think I am talking to a western emancipated woman, a woman who has passed through feminism and its achievements. A woman who is grateful because she had the chance to choose, in her life. A woman who has everything but still she is is unhappy, because she has lost the sense of her mission in this world: being a cradle for life. When I write I think about my typical colleagues: very good in their job, able to go anywhere in the world reporting about wars and financial matters; or even to engineers, lawyers, college teachers – my classmates; or, finally, to the mothers of my children mates: also secretaries, hairdressers. Normal women who grew up thinking they had to establish their selves, and just after that, thinking about others. But a woman can be fulfilled only when she gives herself.
What is the message of this book?
I’m discovering – because it’s a slow process, we call it conversion! – that when I give life I’m at my best. Giving life doesn’t mean just giving birth, literally. It also mean generating, holding, making space. It’s the best of our vocation. God gives custody of humanity to women. We have the assignment to help humanity to look up, to the Truth, the Beauty, to God. When I speak like this it seems a very serious question, but in the book I try to say it in a funny way. During the night – a working mother of four can just write in the night, and then sleep at press conferences – I often woke up my husband because I was laughing out loud (I shouldn’t say it, maybe, but I laugh at my own jokes).
Your title, rendered in English as “Marry Him and Be Submissive,” is a provocative callback to St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where the apostle exhorts wives to “be submissive” to their husbands, who must sacrifice themselves in love for their wives. As a wife and mother, how are you “submissive” to your husband, and how does he sacrifice himself for you?
I don’t know if I’m always able to be as submissive as I want. Sometimes my husband goes to our bookcase, he takes my own book and says: “there’s a good book you should read”. Anyway, in spite of my daily inconsistency, I try to quit the temptation to control my husband, to model him, or worse, to manipulate him. I try to accept what he gives me, which is a lot, without always checking if it’s done the way I wanted. I try to thank him for what he makes for me, and I try to avoid highlighting what’s missing to the perfection (we as women are often sick of perfectionism). I try to bite my tongue. On the other hand, I gives his life to me doing silently the hard duty. All the bothers of our family life. All the broken things. Furthermore he protects me, he makes me stable: without him I think I would be a bit unreliable, he keeps my feet on the ground.
Your book promotes the complementarity approach of St. John Paul II to marital relations, seeing husbands and wives fulfilling equal yet distinct roles. How does this approach play out in your own marriage?
Because we both work also outside the house, we don’t respect traditional roles, in the sense that he often cooks, he sometimes does our laundry (I’m not very happy about that: our sheets are grey, but once they were white), he puts dishes on the dishwasher when necessary (but I think I’m more able to find room for the big frying pan). The roles are something deeper than the question “who cleans the house?”, and more spiritual. I think I’m the fire of our home, I keep everybody warm. I’m the wind: I blow to keep everybody going. But he’s the stone, he makes our children feeling safe and protected, and self confident. When he says something, they are sure about it. They know they can trust him.
This book unfolds as a series of candid letters from you to your closest women friends, not as a catechetical instruction or theological document. What do readers find appealing about this style?
I think they like to look at the details of life: we catholic maybe know about general principles. We know catechism, we know the lives of the saints, we know the Bible. Sometimes it’s useful to think about the way to live the faith in a day by day life. We, catholic women, like bags and shoes, exactly like the other women. We struggle to learn to live in the world, not belonging to it. We make diets, trying not to be slaves of shape. And I tell about my family: the funny things little babies say, and the funny life of a mother who is always late, who goes to interview a minister without knowing its face because, in the time she had to prepare herself, she had to look for a purple Barbie shoe under a bed.
What are some graces you’ve received from the sacrament of matrimony in your life?
Everything in marriage is a grace. Living 20 years together with a creature so different from ourselves it’s a miracle. Four children are an enormous grace. Having a house and food and the possibility to do many things is a grace. But the most important grace we received is to understand that no human love can fill up our heart. The spouse is Jesus Christ. He’s the only one who loves us the way we want to be loved. We can’t love our wife or husband the way he needs, we can just ask for the grace to love him the way Jesus does. We slowly learn that true love has the shape of the cross.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in marriage and how have you faced them?
Me and my husband are very different: we are, I don’t know if it’s the right word, opposites. He likes cold, I like heat. He likes still water, I like it very sparkling. I hate to loose time, so when I have nothing – I mean, nothing very very urgent – to do I go out and run 10 km; instead, when he has nothing to do, he does nothing! (it sounds reasonable, thinking about it), he says that in emptiness you can have good ideas. I can think only when I run, or pray, or both (when I run to a mass: I try to go everyday, but I’m always late). The most important difference between the two of us is maybe that I always need people around me: I invite friends, I want to know about their life, how do they feel and so on. He’s a bear, as we use to say. He would love to live in a cave, just with me and the puppies. We are learning to work together.
In 2013, the original Italian-language publication of your book earned criticism from feminist groups who staged protests from Italy to Spain, ripping up copies in the streets and demanding a ban on the book. What is your response to their claim that your book promotes violence against women?
First of all, if you don’t like a book, you can easily avoid to read it. I think it’s a bit worrying this regime af political correctness. There cannot be a psychopolice who tells us what is good to be thought! Second, there is a judge in Spain who had to read my book (because health minister Ana Mato denounced me to Fiscalia, at least as I read in the papers): they couldn’t find nothing in my words saying that a woman has to accept violence. When a woman comes to me saying that she received just one slap (it’s happened two times, but I met thousands of woman going around Italy) I remind her that even the Church recommends to leave home, and work for the restoration of the marriage not living together, because it’s too dangerous. Being a cradle for life doesn’t mean that someone takes advantage from us. Ours is’s the highest role a human being can play. When God created world, going from the chaos to the perfection, the woman was the last creature. I think just priests are more noble then women, because they allow us to access God.
In the book, you advise women to stop worrying about “first world problems” and quit waiting to get married, arguing that nobody is ever “100 percent ready” for marriage and that acting out of anxiety is no way to lead a happy life. In your experience, what common reasons keep women from getting married today and what outweighs them?
We tend to think that marriage is the end of a course, that it is the aim to tend to. Instead, when you get married, you begin going at the school of love. You begin your lifelong way to conversion, because the sense of life is to know and love God. Obviously, because I try to talk also to not Christian women (many readers are atheists, but they agree on many issues), I try to highlight human reasons (we know that the human and the spiritual are never conflicting). So I tell my friends they have too high expectations, they have to dive, and then they will learn to swim. You don’t even need the perfect party, the perfect dress, the perfect house and the perfect job to decide to get married. You need just a man, and God (and the priest who makes it possible). If you also have some friends to hug it will feel better. We should also talk about the real reason why young people have no hurry to get married. Because they have sex outside marriage, and it complicates things. But it’s another issue.
You also address the common complaint of many wives that their husbands “don’t listen” to them. When your husband doesn’t seem to be listening to you, what is your own response?
The question is not that it seems he isn’t listening. He truly doesn’t listen to me! He says I talk too much, so he had to put a filter in his ears. I know it, and if I just need comprehension, when I want to complain and I don’t need a solution, I call a friend of mine. A female friend, who doesn’t have filters in her ears. When I seriously need him to listen to me, I ask it. Please, stop doing everything you’re doing, sit down and watch my lips. When it’s necessary, he’s always there. When I just need to express myself, I have friends who are trained (and I do the same for them). Men and women use language in a very different way. We use it to spit out – is it correct? – feelings, emotions, worries, thoughts. On the other hand men use language to say things. A man always say exactly what he wants to say. When my husband asks me: “do you need me to come and take you home from the station?”, I always answer “it doesn’t matter…” but I actually mean: “if you won’t come, it means that you don’t love me anymore, and now what are we gonna do about our four children?”. We have to learn to translate each other. When my husband buys for me a battery charger, I answer “I love you too”, because that’s the way he expresses his love for me.
On the topic of pregnancy, you write that there’s no way to “maintain your life” after giving birth, but you also argue that life after pregnancy gets “so much better.” How did pregnancy change your own life and how is it better now?
I can’t even imagine my life without children, now. I love them crazy, sometimes they ask me to stop saying it all day long. I wake up and tell them how beautiful they are. I somehow know they are normal, but they look extraordinary to me. My life has changed because being a mother I learned to do many things more. When I was childless, I found exhausting changing the water to a red fish. Now nothing impresses me (I had twins). You learn things by doing them, and you lose nothing being a mother. Nothing a part perfect nails, and time for shopping, maybe. But what you get is much more than what you lose. You earn hugs and kisses and laughs and smiles. In a word, happiness.
When you have problems with your kids looking sloppy in public, or other issues where you may tend to beat up on yourself as a parent for not raising the kids perfectly, you write in the book that “wine helps.” What do you mean by that?
It was a joke, I actually don’t drink (I’m just Diet Coke addicted, I can guess its expiry date with blind eyes). But I meant that we, as mother, all feel like this, every now and then. The trick is to laugh about it. Hoping not to have lices on your head when you go to the hairdresser.
Besides being a wife and mom, you are a familiar media personality in Italy, and many women today find it essential to their psychological health to seek fulfillment in work outside the house. What advice do you give women about balancing their home lives with their professional lives?
It would be a very very long answer. And it would change a lot depending on work conditions. For instance, I’ve been lucky because my public role begun when children were already grown up enough. Anyway, I think women can give very good things to the society, we can contribute to make world better. But it’s useful to remember that not even the Cappella Sistina is a work of art as important and precious as a son of God. I’m sure I’m using the best part of my skills when I’m a mother. I use my brains, creativity, strength. Even if sometimes I feel like I’m invisible, at home. The fact is that a woman is always defined by a look. We need to learn not to seek for the look of the boss, in the office, or the one of other people in general. Not even the look of our husband. We have to seek for the look of God on our lives, and learn being defined just from that. So it won’t be so important if we are successful or not, according to the world.
How does Catholicism influence your approach to being a wife and mother?
As I said, I try to love my husband the way I want to love God. If I forgive a bad answer saying nothing, it’s because Jesus asked me to do it. The same for him. He forgives me when I’m late (always), just because of God. And I try to educate my children teaching them not to be successful, but to earn eternal life.
Who are your role models in the faith, either living or dead?
I love the Holy Lady! And my sisters are Teresa d’Avila, Caterina da Siena, Teresina di Lisieux, Chiara d’Assisi, Mother Teresa (she will be saint in a few days!), Madeleine Delbrel, Chiara Corbella Petrillo, a young mother of three died when she was 28.
How has your faith changed or evolved over the years?
I hope I’m deeply understanding that God is a true and real person, who wants to have a true relationship with me. I’m not anymore a baby full of fear in front of God. I want to be day by day more the spouse of Jesus. And you can be a spouse when you decide not to live for yourself. You will find your beauty just like Michelangelo used to do with marble: you take off the parts you don’t need. The more you subtract yourself, the more you find your hidden beauty.
How do you pray?
I have very challenging praying plans, but I never completely follow them. What I’m able to do is to go to the mass, pray the Ufficio delle letture (how do you call it?), and a driving or working rosary. One hour a week I adore Christ Eucharesty, and one more hour I pray the Gospel, doing Lectio divina. I would love to pray all the four mysteries of rosary every day, but I never, never succeed.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis published an apostolic exhortation on the family called Amoris Laetitia. If you could say one thing to Pope Francis about your experience of Catholic family life today, what would it be?
Amoris Laetitia is about the beauty of the family, and it’s full of good things (the Holy Spirit knows how to do his job). But going around Italy I met thousands of families. I learned that people is happy when listen to someone who says that it is normal to find family life not so beautiful sometimes. There are times when to love your spouse is to love your enemy. It’s not because you are doing wrong, it’s because human nature is wounded. And loving your enemy is what Jesus requests. There are times when you will ask yourself if you have married the wrong person. There are times when you have to embrace the cross. But it’s not because your spouse it’s wrong. It’s because you are wrong: in the sense that there is a bug inside each one of us. We call it original sin. And embracing the cross is not a misfortune, it’s the path to find asylum. Jesus heals us, and the wound is the original sin.
What do you hope people will take away from your life and work?
I hope people listening to me think “she seems to be joyful, and hers is a very simple path: if she can do it, I can do it too”.
Any final thoughts?
Do you really want to know what I’m truly thinking now? I’m thinking: I have to go to iron many clothes, but I can’t avoid reading again very carefully what I answered, because Father Salai is a Jesuit, and if I said something theologically wrong he will immediately realize it. The problem is that I won’t. So I go to iron.
Sean Salai, S.J., is a contributing writer at America.