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 popular blog and has written four bestselling booksincluding
Marry Her and Die for Herwhich have
been translated into Spanish, French, Portuguese, Polish, Slovenian, and English.
Last month, 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 this 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 carries an endorsement
from L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s
In September, during her book tour of the United States, I
interviewed Ms. Miriano by email about the book.
CWR: Why did you
write this book?
Actually, I didn’t think I had anything to teach about marriage! I just wanted
to write letters to my real friends (I changed their names and some details) to
convince them that it is possible to learn to be happy every day in our
marriages. 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 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 would become such a big thing!
CWR: Who is your
Miriano: 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 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 colleaguesvery
good in their jobs, able to go anywhere in the world reporting about wars and
financial matters; or even about engineers, lawyers, college teachers; or,
finally, about the mothers of my children’s playmates, also secretaries,
hairdressers. Normal women, who grew up thinking they had to establish themselves,
and after that, think about others. But a woman can be fulfilled only when she
gives of herself.
CWR: What is the
message of this book?
discoveringbecause 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 means 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 nighta working mother of four can write in the night,
and then sleep at press conferencesI often woke up my husband because I was
laughing out loud (I shouldn’t say it, maybe, but I laugh at my own jokes).
CWR: 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?
Miriano: 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 [mold] 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 perfection (we as women are often sick
of perfectionism). I try to bite my tongue. On the other hand, he 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.
CWR: 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?
we both work 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 in
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 feel safe and protected, and self-confident. When he says
something, they are sure about it. They know they can trust him.
mentioned that 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?
Miriano: I think
they like to look at the details of life: we Catholics 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 ways to live the faith in day-to-day
life. We Catholic women like bags and shoes, just like other women. We struggle
to learn to live in the world, not belonging to it. We make diets, trying not
to be slaves to 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 government minister without knowing his face because, in the time
she had to prepare herself, she had to look for a purple Barbie shoe under a
CWR: What are
some graces you’ve received from the sacrament of matrimony in your life?
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 receive 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 wives and husbands the way they need, we
can just ask for the grace to love them the way Jesus does. We slowly learn
that true love has the shape of the cross.
CWR: What are
some challenges you’ve faced in marriage and how have you faced them?
husband and I are very different: we areI don’t know if it’s the right wordopposites.
He likes cold, I like heat. He likes still water, I like it very sparkling. I
hate to lose time, so when I have nothing to doI mean nothing very urgentI go
out and run 10 kilometers; 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 MassI
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 meI invite friends, I
want to know about their lives, how do they feel, and so on. He’s a bear, as we
used to say: he would love to live in a cave, just with me and the puppies. We
are learning to work together.
CWR: 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?
of all, if you don’t like a book, you can easily avoid reading it. I think it’s
a bit worrying, this regime of political correctness. Second, there is a judge
in Spain who had to read my book (because health minister Ana Mato wanted it
banned); they couldn’t find anything in my words saying that a woman has to
accept violence. When a woman comes to me saying that she received a slap (it’s
happened twice, but I’ve met thousands of women going around Italy), I remind
her that even the Church recommends to leave home, [to] work for the restoration
of the marriage [while] not living together, because it’s too dangerous. Being
a cradle for life doesn’t mean we let someone take advantage of us. Ours is the
highest role a human being can play. When God created the world, going from
chaos to perfection, the woman was the last creature. I think only priests are
more noble then women, because they allow us to access God.
CWR: 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 will not lead to a happy life. In your
experience, what common reasons keep women from getting married today and what
Miriano: We tend
to think that marriage is the end of a course; that it is graduation from life.
Instead, when you get married, you begin going to the school of love. You begin
your lifelong way to conversion, because the purpose of life is to know and
love God. Obviously, because I try to talk also to non-Christian women (many
readers are atheists, but they agree on many issues), I try to highlight human
reasons (we know the human and the spiritual are never conflicting). So I tell
my friends their expectations are too high. They have to dive, and then they
will learn to swim. You don’t need the perfect party, the perfect dress, the
perfect house, and the perfect job to decide to get married. You just need 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 feel no hurry to get married: because they have sex outside
marriage, and it complicates things. But that’s another issue.
CWR: You also
address the 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
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 has 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: 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 listen,
and I do the same for them. Men and women use language in a very different way.
We use it to spit out feelings, emotions, worries, thoughts. On the other hand
men use language to say “things.” A man always says 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 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 me a battery charger, I answer “I love you, too,” because that’s
the way he expresses his love for me.
CWR: On the topic
of pregnancy, you write there’s no way to “maintain your life” after giving
birth, but you also say life after pregnancy gets “so much better.” How did
pregnancy change your own life and how is it better now?
Miriano: I can’t even imagine my life without
children, now. I love them like 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
as a mother I have learned to do so many things. When I was childless, I found it
exhausting changing the water for a goldfish. Now nothing impresses meI had
twins. You learn things by doing them, and you lose nothing being a mother. Nothing
apart from 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
CWR: 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 them perfectly,
you write in the book that “wine helps.” What do you mean by that?
Miriano: It was
a joke, I actually don’t drink (I’m just so Diet Coke-addicted, I can guess its
expiration date with my eyes closed). But I meant that we, as mothers, all feel
like this, every now and then. The trick is to laugh about it, hoping not to
have lice in your hair when you go to the hairdresser.
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?
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 began when my
children were already grown up enough. Anyway, I think women can give very good
things to society, can contribute to making the world better. But it’s useful
to remember that not even the Sistine Chapel is a work of art as important and
precious as the 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 in our lives, and learn to be defined just by that.
So it won’t be so important if we are successful or not, according to the
CWR: How does
Catholicism influence your approach to being a wife and mother?
Miriano: As I
said, I try to love my husband the way I want to love God. If I forgive his not
listening by saying nothing, it’s because Jesus asked me to do it. The same for
him: He forgives me when I’m late, which is always, just because of God. And I
try to educate my children by teaching them not to be successful, but to earn
CWR: Who are
your role models in the faith, either living or dead?
Miriano: I love
the Blessed Mother! And my sisters are Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Thérèse
of Lisieux, Claire of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Madeleine Delbrel, and Chiara
Corbella Petrillo, a young mother of three who died when she was 28.
CWR: How has
your faith changed or evolved over the years?
Miriano: I hope
I deeply understand that God is a true and real person, who wants to have a true
relationship with me. I’m no longer a baby full of fear in front of God. I want
to be more and 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.
CWR: How do you
Miriano: I make
very challenging prayer plans, but I never completely follow them. What I’m
able to do is to go to Mass, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and a Rosary while
driving or working. One hour a week I go to Eucharistic adoration, and one more
hour I pray the Gospel, doing Lectio Divina.
I would love to pray all four sets of mysteries of the Rosary every day, but I never
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?
Miriano: 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 meet thousands of families. I learn that people
are happy when they 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
is 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, but the path to sanctuary. Jesus heals us, and the wound is the
CWR: What do you
hope people will take away from your life and work?
Miriano: 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.”
CWR: Any final
Miriano: Do you
really want to know what I’m truly thinking now? I’m thinking: I have to go 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 realize it. So I’m
going to iron.