Jacques and Raïssa Maritain were a couple whose conjugal life was offered in the pursuit of contemplation on the roads of this world. I don’t have any experience quite like this. My experience in these areas is God just saying no, you can have only me. But in practice, my own experience is hardly enough. I’ve learned a lot from from reading about others’ experiences, particularly the Maritains. For example, Jacques, commenting on Raïssa’s posthumously published journal, writes,
Let us note here that although Christianity recognizes in the chastity of the body [in the sense of abstinence from conjugal acts and sexual pleasure] the mark of a more exclusive consecration to God, and even sees… not, certainly, a necessary link, but a certain particular suitability between it and specifically Christian contemplation, carnal intercourse between spouses is not at all an obstacle to the mystical life or to contemplation, even very high, for the spouse (or for the two spouses) who has (or have) entered into the ways of the spirit.
As an example, he lists Ḥallāj, “the most sublime and the most heroic of [Muslim mystics], tortured and put to death on the gibbet for having taught contemplation through a union of mutual love between God and man, was married and left two sons.” He mentions many holy widows. Today we might mention, for example, Blessed Louis and Blessed Marie-Azélie Martin, parents of Saint Thérèse.
However, he adds a “however”.
There is however… a renunciation, and a much more serious one to tell the truth, to which they are obliged. They are obliged to renounce, if ever they have known it, mad, boundless love for each other. Living under the regime of mad, boundless love for God they cannot live at the same time – at least without a contradiction and a rending which would prevent them from advancing as God wishes, and would block their path – under the regime of mad, boundless love for a created being. In mad, boundless love does not the lover give himself to the beloved as to his Whole, of which he makes himself a part? My Whole is my Unique. Already in the natural order, in human mad, boundless love, the total gift that the lover makes of himself entails and requires an absolute exclusiveness. How much more so is this the case in the supernatural order, in the mad, boundless love whose object is God! Doubtless it remains psychologically possible (because one has to do now with two different and incommensurable orders) that along with this divine mad, boundless love, and at its expense, and in what an irreconcilable conflict with it, there exists in the soul, at least for a time, a mad, boundless love for a creature. But this will be all the more dearly paid for; for it is then the Beloved Himself who, jealous of every other attachment, and all the more of another mad, boundless love in the soul which loves Him, will undertake to destroy in it what is still an obstacle to mad, boundless love for Him.*
In other words, we worship a jealous God. He only wants us to be madly in love with him, not another. And if we stick with him, he’ll get his way. How it can hurt – but how it is worth it.