I thought I wanted to marry her — but a catfish dinner left me in shock

I grew up in the Deep South and in my family, there was an expectation that women should always be “ladylike.” That meant, in part, that a woman should never burp in front of others (seriously, I’ve never heard my mom do it).

Another thing about the South is that the secret ingredient to 93 percent of entrees is grease, so if you’re someone who avoids fried foods, that requires building up a certain intestinal fortitude to digest the lard that permeates the Southern diet.

I didn’t really appreciate this reality until I took my then-fiancée, Raquel, to my family reunion in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

In a grand finale to our family festivities, we met at a catfish restaurant where a spread of Southern comfort food simmered under the hot lamps. There were the sprawling sides of creamed corn, green beans, and candied yams, but it was the catfish we really came for.

Unfortunately, Raquel wasn’t as enthusiastic as the rest of us about eating what appeared to be refried batter, but she figured, “When in Arkansas, do as the Arkansans do.” She came to bitterly regret that decision.

As Raquel and I drove away from the catfish restaurant and headed to the Memphis airport, all of a sudden, I heard a loud gurgling sound come from her stomach.

“I don’t feel well,” Raquel said. “I think it was the catfish.”

Raquel’s stomach started gurgling again, except it only got louder and more unladylike by the minute. This made me uneasy. I wanted her to channel her inner Scarlett O’Hara and suppress the sounds of indigestion churning around inside. The catfish would not allow it.

Suddenly, there erupted from the passenger’s seat a growling belch that sounded like a monster catfish that was about to eat the dashboard. It was the belch that took our relationship to a whole new level. Things got a little more real.

In the coming months and years after we married, our relationship grew in transparency — sometimes it was welcome, oftentimes it wasn’t. In particular, I didn’t appreciate the way marriage revealed my once-hidden character flaws (at least I thought they were hidden).

While Raquel was affectionate and loving toward me, she wasn’t afraid to make me face the fact that, for example, I could be lazy, boastful and inconsiderate. I didn’t want to deal with those weaknesses, but there was nowhere to run. I was emotionally belching my way through life and assuming no one could hear me.

I wasn’t the only one who had some growing to do. Raquel, who wrote the last chapter of my new book, “Confessions of a Happily Married Man,” shares some of her own weaknesses and offers this insight:

Whether my issues are related to my husband or not, I cannot hide from them. I can try. But I’ve discovered that hiding anything becomes exhausting over time and drives a wedge into our relationship. Outside of my home, I can pretend that I’m all put together. But Joshua knows the real me.”

And to that, I would add, I love the real Raquel more and more every day.

In my single years, I thought a married couple’s positive, affectionate feelings were what made a marriage successful. That is, being “in love” was the goal.

Now I realize that the first goal of marriage isn’t being in love, it’s being known. And in the passage of time (and gas, perhaps), we discover the incomparable joy of being loved for who we really are.

Check out my new book, “Confessions of a Happily Married Man,” which you can pre-order here. And if you’d like to receive a bi-monthly, spam free email about finding God in the ordinary of your everyday life, you can sign up here