Although they sought holiness, Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, were not immune to conflicts within their relationship. Zélie’s letters recount some episodes of friction or argument, without complaining or expressing bitterness.
For example, Zélie fears Louis’s reaction when she writes that she is about to tidy up his watchmaker’s bench, while he’s away in Paris: “When you receive this letter, I will be busy fixing your bench; you must not be angry, I will not lose anything. If Zélie says this, it is because she has already experienced that her husband does not appreciate this type of tidying up …”
It also seems that Louis tends to think that his wife is a bit of a spendthrift. But Zélie defends herself: “No matter how much I explain to him that I can’t do otherwise, he finds it hard to believe me. But he trusts me, he knows that I will not ruin him. I am writing this to make you laugh.”
Another subject of conflict in May 1871: Zélie mentions a trip to Lisieux with her daughters, including the baby, Céline. Louis thinks this is madness. Finally, Zélie concludes, “Louis is right, I could repent.”
“Beware, we are going to be a bad household!”
One day tensions rose between Louis and Zélie and their daughter Pauline — very young at the time — came right up next to her mother and asked, “Mom, is this making a bad household?” Zélie burst out laughing and replied, “Don’t be afraid, I love your father very much.” She then repeats this good word to her husband who laughs in turn.
This became a family joke that later had the advantage of cutting short conflicts. Indeed, as soon as Louis and Zélie began to argue, one of them would always reminds the other: “Be careful, we’re going to be a bad household!”
The tone is ironic, but it is not meant to make fun of any “bad household” at all. It is ironic because the sentence alludes to little Pauline’s fear. It was enough to play down the conflict and refocus on what was essential for them: to draw from God, through prayer and the Eucharist, the source of their love.