The Kiss by Edvard Munch

The Flowering of a Marriage

"The more I tried to hold on to him, the more he wanted to leave. When I stopped holding on, he was unable to leave.” Today, Ylaine tells her story with great freedom.....
Luca Fiore

"The more I tried to hold on to him, the more he wanted to leave. When I stopped holding on, he was unable to leave.” Today, Ylaine tells her story with great freedom, but those were months of true suffering. Stefano looks at her and listens. For him, what happened, happened, because– as he knows today–it was not just their marriage that needed to be saved, but he himself needed to be reborn. She is 32, from a small town near Rotterdam, Holland, and he, 36, is from Bologna, Italy. They met in 2000 in Italy, got married, and then, for his work, moved to England, then Prague, and back to London. He directs the legal services of an English firm, and she, who studied to be a Physical Education teacher, followed him. By the end of 2011, they had two children, Sophie (age 3) and Thomas (age 2).

In the last months of their stay in Prague, things began to go awry between them. “I always sought a purpose in my life,” recounts Ylaine, “and I thought that loving Stefano and making him happy was a good objective. I had never thought that he might leave.” Stefano said he did not love her anymore, and came up with reasons that Ylaine did not understand. “I am Dutch, but when I get angry, I’m like an Italian. I began to press him, ask for explanations, tell him it made no sense to leave us.” Claudia, their Mexican neighbor, understood the gravity of the situation, while Ylaine continued not to see it. With discretion, she tried to comfort and strengthen Ylaine. She gave her a booklet of prayers dedicated to couples in crisis. “I was not Catholic. My father was, but he didn’t have me baptized. I went to Mass a few times to keep Stefano company, but I had never prayed. I picked a prayer and recited it every day: ‘Lord, help me to be a good wife….’ One day, I happened to be in the car and, in order not to be overwhelmed by my worries, I asked God’s help to carry on.”

IN THE MIRROR. When they moved to London to a neighborhood where she knew no one, the first thing she did was to go to the nearest Catholic parish. “I had two small children and a husband who ignored me. I needed someone to be with. I entered the church and found a flyer that said, ‘Do you want to learn about Catholicism?’ I went to one of the meetings, and met Chris, who invited me to School of Community.” Ylaine had always felt uncomfortable with chit-chat, mere talk to pass the time of day. “Usually people spend time trying to distract themselves from the important things in life. The people I met at School of Community, instead, amazed me because of the serious way they looked at their lives. My marriage was on the rocks, but every week I felt the desire to return to meet them. With them, I was able to talk about what was happening with Stefano.” Gigi, whom she met at School of Community, invited her to the Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity and she went alone, on her motorcycle. “I drove, crying in the helmet. When I arrived in this place in the middle of nowhere, I didn’t know anyone. I said to myself, ‘What am I doing here?’ But then Fr. Carrón started talking, and what he said spoke directly to my heart. He said that if the ‘I’ is grounded in faith, in the relationship with Jesus, it does not fall apart if circumstances become difficult. That’s what I needed, not to fall apart. I returned to my room and looked at myself in the mirror: ‘Yes, there’s truly Someone who wants my good, and who loves me as I am.’ It was a discovery for me, because all my life I had tried to be perfect so I would be loved.”

Ylaine returned full of enthusiasm, and told her friends at School of Community. For Gigi, “the person who is the last to arrive is the one from whom we learn the most.” But at home, too, the ferocious fights with Stefano changed. She was surprised to discover that in her pain, she was serene. She began to listen to her husband, and open herself, telling him things that she had never told him before. She discovered that he truly wanted to leave. “If you want to go, then go. You are making a mistake, but if you want to do it, you have to do it. If you change your mind, I’ll be here waiting for you.” Stefano said he was going to leave, and found another apartment. But for several weeks he put off moving. Then one day he decided, “I have to leave for Spain for work. But I won’t return home.” Yet Stefano still could not find the courage to depart. He entered a church and stopped to pray. As he left, he sent Ylaine a message: “I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life.” She remembers the exact day: May 5, 2012. “At a certain point, I felt the need to follow her,” recounts Stefano. “Up to then, she was the one following me. I defended my way of seeing things and went forward. I still don’t understand what happened, but I think what struck me was her calm in the midst of the tragedy we were going through. I had never seen her with this tranquillity. The friendship with the folks of the School of Community in London certainly had something to do with it. So when she invited me to School of Community, I went.”

Stefano knew about CL; in his parish in Bologna it wasn’t well spoken of. And in high school, politically, he was far from the CL stance. But he had never read even a line of Fr. Giussani. “In the beginning, I went to follow Ylaine. Then I understood that it was important for my life. I discovered a completely different way of living Christianity. I had always been Catholic, I went to Mass, but what interested me was the intellectual aspect. I read and studied a lot. But at School of Community, for the first time, I was asked, 'Where is Jesus in your life? Where do you put Him? What place does He have? Where do you see Him?'"

Months went by, and they rebuilt their marriage from the foundations, “with the help of God and a good psychologist.” Ylaine received Baptism. Little Matthias arrived, after a very “strange” labor. “When the labor pains began, I asked Jesus: ‘Take Your time, but be with me.’ It was truly strange, because the obstetric nurse had never seen anyone stay so calm to the very end. When I took him in my arms, I thought he was an immense grace for our life. With the other two children, I didn’t feel that way.” “For Ylaine, it is easier, it’s more natural, to entrust herself to experience,” says Stefano. “I still have difficulty seeing how the Mystery works in daily life. For me, it’s simpler to realize it in more striking things like the reflowering of our marriage or the experience of the birth of Matthias.”

FREER. “Today, I see what a difference it makes when I put myself in God’s hands,” she explains. “In my housework, in disappointments at work… At times, I find myself mulling over what happened. I get angry again and I want to make myself small in a corner of the house. But now I have Someone to whom I can entrust these things and I’ve realized that what I went through improved our marriage.” And you, Stefano? “Now I feel freer. Putting Christ in the center of my life frees me from the pressure of work. Before, everything was about competition, results, success. Today, I’m no longer tied up in knots about getting recognition from others. When you feel loved by God and your family, the rest becomes secondary.” Is everything more beautiful now? “There’s no comparison.”