Ok you’ve got me, I’m a huge Princess Bride fan. I loved it as a kid and love it even more now. Inconceivable, I know.
Let me start by confessing that I am not one of those girls that dreamt about marriage. I knew I would probably want to get married one day and I believe I even drafted at one point, a list of attributes I wanted in a spouse. You know, masculine, confident, sensitive, strong, giving, loyal, adventurous, hard-working, strong in their faith, altruistic, great sense of humour etc…etc..Oh I dreamt about the wedding don’t get me wrong! But that was as far as it went for me. I never, ever thought about what it would actually look like to spend my days, my life with another person.
The first thing I learned about marriage was that it wasn’t easy. Newsflash! But really, I hadn’t ever really thought about it and then confronted with the reality of having to live with this other person, to agree on where to put the couch and to share Christmas with two families was shocking! I remember sitting in the airport ready to embark on my honeymoon and staring at my new husband and wondering where my mom and dad were. I mean, could I really just get on an airplane with this stranger and go on a holiday?! Holidays were for family…and I wanted my family!
The first few years were sprinkled with good times and bad. Epic fights and wonderful firsts, heartaches and memories created. We rented our first apartment, got a dog, went to work and tried to figure out how to live our lives as a part of each other. We failed at that…a lot. We still thought independently of our marriage relationship; still wanted and did the things that WE wanted. I believe that was our first test of marriage – to learn to blend; to see the world and our decisions and our wants through the lens of togetherness.
It’s just now, nearly 10 years in that I am starting to contemplate marriage. Now….I actually want to be good at it instead of just surviving it. Maybe it’s because we have four sets of little eyes and little ears that watch our every move. Maybe it’s because at this time in my life I have seen enough friends go through the ringer trying to figure it all out. Or maybe it’s because in my new country, everywhere I turn, I have people telling me how difficult & broken marriage is and how very, very few ever stay completely intact.
Last week I sat across from a friend who admitted to me that she no longer wanted to be in her marriage and that if it wasn’t for her child, she would have left already. I felt really helpless. I mean, I knew what I was supposed to say at this point but I realized, I needed more. I needed to understand more. To know not only the right words but the real truths behind why it was better to stay and work at it than to throw in the towel.
The world says that a person cannot stay in an unhappy or loveless marriage. And the truth is, you can’t. It is unhealthy emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Unhappiness makes people do crazy things. One of the cries I have heard as I’ve read of people struggling is “why would God want me to be unhappy forever”. You can nearly hear the desperation in their virtual voices. The problem is that the world doesn’t believe that that loveless marriage can be restored. And really, who can blame them? On our own terms, it would be impossible to make it back from that place where so much pain and frustration and rejection has pushed a spouse.
It tried my faith to sit across from my friend as she poured out her heart. As I listened, I thought, it’s impossible! How can this be fixed!? It can’t be done! And then, like a proverbial lightning bolt, it hit me that I was underestimating the Doer of the Impossible! God CAN do the impossible! Does it happen in one prayer? No. Is it easy? Certainly not. But as we draw nearer to Him, we find clarity and we find strength.
Perhaps the hardest lesson that marriage has to offer is that the only person we can change in a marriage is ourselves. You hear things like “Well, my spouse did….” or “He just doesn’t understand…” or “She always does….”. As long as we are focused on what the other person is or is not doing we will never be able to move forward. Everybody loses in the blame game. The truth is that in a marriage breakdown, very rarely is one person completely in the right and another completely in the wrong. When we can accept and own the fact that there are areas that we need to improve in and areas that we need to grow in, I believe then and only then can we begin to make any headway in working through our marriage difficulties.
Lastly, I wanted to talk about grace. It’s something I have slowly learned to apply over the years not only in my marriage but in life in general. Most people are not just plain mean (though you might be tempted to believe this when he repeatedly throws his dirty socks inside out in the laundry). Often people act and react in less than admirable ways because of their own hurts and their own insecurities. Once you begin to view people, your spouse, in this light; you might be a little less quick to put on your boxing gloves and it might be just a tad easier to answer in gentleness.
So, there you have it. I’m not a marriage junkie. I read about four pages of ‘The 5 Love Languages’ (I might have even skipped straight to mine) and up until about 6 months ago, it had never really occurred to me that this area of our lives might be something that God would use to help others. After all, my marriage certainly isn’t and hasn’t been perfect. But as my friend confessed to me that she was so glad that she now had someone to talk to and assured me that she would try and incorporate some of the things I had gently suggested I realized that God can use even the simplest things, imperfect as they are.