Marriage and relationships are hard. They carry potential for rich blessings and deep hurts. If love, surrender, and openness define our relationships, they will be sources of strength. Otherwise they will become burdens.
My heart has been heavy recently as I watch friends struggle in their marriages. Bobby and I have only been married 4 years, but we have packed in 7 surgeries, 2 babies, 4 moves, countless ER trips and hospital stays, and lots more chaos. We have experienced things that many couples won’t until many years into marriage or perhaps ever. We too struggle in our marriage but we have learned a few things, many the hard way, that I would like to share.
Bobby and I have much more to learn and many years ahead to grow as individuals and as a couple. We don’t have it all figured out. We fight a lot. We know how to push each other’s buttons and do so too often. We hurt each other unintentionally and at times intentionally. What I want to share is not some secret to a perfect marriage but something that has helped us learn to love, forgive, and trust in the midst of our faults and pain. My heart is to encourage, equip, and speak hope into others relationships.
Our first year of marriage was challenging, as it is for most. I felt this pressure to deal with and figure out all of our current and future issues (I’m not type A at all hah). Bobby is a great communicator and listener. We met almost weekly for a year with an incredible couple that mentored us. We acknowledged that we loved each other. Yet we still were so frustrated and defeated much of the time early on in our marriage.
For instance, Bobby would lovingly give me a card and flowers for our anniversary. Sweet, right? My inner turmoil would be as follows. “Well, that’s nice but I really want him to be creative and do something unique to show that he cares. If I tell him thank you and that I loved it he will never try to do something more than that.” I proceed to give him a weak, insincere thank you and he would obviously recognize something is wrong. I would either deny it and continue being conflicted and him confused, or I would tell him and he would be frustrated and defeated and I would feel terrible.
This sounds kind of ridiculous, and is in fact, but this type of communication continued to happen again and again. Eventually I felt I couldn’t be honest and that we would never understand each other. Bobby felt like no matter how hard he tried he would end up failing. These feelings and attitudes then affected bigger issues. For instance, when we led a bible study together that first year, I felt that instead of encouraging Bobby in the many areas he led well, I needed to criticize the few areas that I thought he could do differently. He often responded poorly out of frustration that I focused primarily on the negative and I would get hurt.
We continued through so much of that first year defending our own needs and blaming each other when they were not being met. This left us both frustrated, insecure, and at times distant. When my back and nerve pain became unbearable and I needed a second spine surgery, Bobby pulled away because the stress and his fears about the future were overwhelming. He recognized that if something didn’t change, he would continue pulling away. We both went to counseling for a period of time. Because of my insecurities I hadn’t acknowledged his strength as a husband and leader nor his patience and love in pursing me. Often I wasn’t willing to forgive sincerely when he did let me down because I felt that meant he would never change.
Our second anniversary we had a fun weekend away together and on the way back got into a terrible fight. I don’t remember what the fight was even about but what resulted was one of the most influential conversations of our marriage.
Bobby pointed out that we both had become so consumed with ensuring that our own needs were being met. Our focus was ourselves not each other. That day we committed to change. We decided that we were no longer going to focus on our own needs but each other’s. This may sound simple but it radically changed our marriage.
This was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. We both chose to lay aside our needs and make the other person’s our focus. Letting go of our needs meant they may not get met. We had to trust each other and be willing to forgive when we failed.
My focus was no longer on watching my back but his.
I stopped asking myself do I feel loved and started asking does he.
Our marriage slowly became so much more fun and freeing. We (mostly me) started to let go of my expectations. Instead of expecting Bobby to love me exactly how I thought he should, I just let him love me.
We have to revisit this again and again. For instance, when Bobby started seminary and had long days on campus, I began assuming he was not using his time wisely. I started to get bitter that I was stuck at home with the kids and he was doing whatever he wanted. Bobby began feeling deflated as he was trying his hardest to balance his intense workload and family life well and I was making him feel as if he were failing. After multiple fights, I realized that it is much more encouraging and motivating to tell Bobby I trust him with his time then to nag him and try to micromanage. Bobby didn’t need added pressure from me, he needed my support.
None of us are responsible for perfectly meeting each other’s needs. We will fail. God’s love alone is going to fulfill us and perfectly meet our needs. Because of this, Bobby and I don’t need to demand love from each other but can freely give it. We will continue to let each other down in big and small ways. We can deeply love, but we can’t perfectly love.
Marriage is about commitment not perfection. We have to accept that we will fail but are committed to forgiving and growing together.
Marriage is supposed to be a reflection of Jesus’ heart for His people. He doesn’t want us to follow all the rules and learn how to perfectly live. He doesn’t want us to love Him with strings attached. Jesus doesn’t love to get, He loves in order to give.
My advice to myself and others is this.
Surrender to God and acknowledge that His love is perfect and all consuming. You can trust Him fully because He alone will fully love you no matter what.
Surrender to your spouse and choose to seek their needs and forsake your own. Trust that they will love you instead of trying to manipulate them into loving you.
Love God above all else. Anything or anyone you love more then Him will become a vice that rules you.
Love your spouse not to gain something for yourself. Love is a gift that should be given selflessly not demanded selfishly.
Be open to God and your spouse about your fears and struggles.
Be open to those around you. Keeping our struggles hidden gives them power over us. We feel stuck and alone when we isolate ourselves. Marriage is a battle that if not fought for will be lost. We need to acknowledge within community that relationships are hard. Instead of hiding or putting up a facade, we need to be real. We need to pray, talk, and encourage each other instead of judging, gossiping, and making assumptions.
I have seen marriages fail that at one point seemed so strong and loving. I have seen marriages that were hanging on by a thread flourish and cold hearts softened when couples are willing to humble themselves before God and each other.
Bobby and I commit to not be that couple that pretends to have it all together. We want to be real with each other and those around us. We want to fight for our relationship and pray that you will join us.
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
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