John and I are quickly approaching the seventeenth anniversary of our marriage vows. In so many ways, those years have passed so quickly. But in reality, they have been painstakingly slow at times also.
John and I have neither been good at hiding our emotions as we have gone through lifes ups and downs. Those of you who have known us over the seventeen years of our marriage and for the (almost) two years we dated prior to marriage undoubtedly could read in our faces how things were going. I am sure you had no doubt whether it was the good, the bad, or the ugly you were seeing reflected in our expressions.
I'd like to share what has kept us trying at our marriage despite living together very unhappily for the first nine of those seventeen years.
First, we sought counseling. We knew we had some serious obstacles to overcome. We both had been married before and had ended those marriages in divorce. We both brought the pain of those experiences with us. I also brought my seven year old son and my eight year old daughter. I like to (half) joke that even though I had been their mother for those 7 and 8 years, John (having never had children) and being a Yankee (Indiana) knew exactly what they needed and how to parent them better than I did. (Yes, sarcasm is one of my abrasive attributes that John has to deal with on a regular basis.)
We tried many different options for counseling. We discussed our problems with a minister and with elders. We attempted "family counseling," including the children in the process. We also saw that counselor, without the children, for marriage counseling. We each sought individual counseling with separate therapists. We probably drove our closest friends and extended family members almost insane as we "unloaded" our problems on them. None of those options worked!
One day in August, 2002, all those years of bickering and frustration came to a head and we reached a very serious crisis point in our relationship. As far as I was concerned, our marriage was over. In the process of leaving town, I dropped by the church building where we had been attending and spoke with the minister to let him know of the seriousness of our troubles. He suggested we talk with a friend of his who was a Christian counselor and instructor in the Department of Marriage and Family at Johnson Bible College. That counselor turned out to be the one God led us to in order to work on our marriage. Though I left town that day thinking and determined, that our marriage was over, that one act (a minister recommending a Godly counselor) was a turning point in our lives.
The second thing that helped us make our marriage more like what God desired was finding a group of Christian friends who came around us and prayed with us, for us, and supported us in every way.
We had friends prior to that point who had shunned us because of the problems we were going through. Now granted, we had huge problems. I know we wore every one around us out with our problems. But at just the right time, God blessed us with servants of His who blessed us while modeling His love to us. This wasn't a one time experience. These couples came around us and prayed for us regularly and held us accountable for our actions and reactions as we slowly built a marriage that was pleasing to God. One nugget of wisdom I learned came from one of the women in this group of couples. She told me that God had put John and I together for a very specific purpose. In spite of how much we regularly annoyed each other, and still do at times, God was and is using us in each other's lives to make us more like Him, into His image. Wow! That was and is a sobering thought.
We have talked many times about what it was that our counselor, Bob, taught us. What exactly were the tricks he pulled out of his magic hat that helped us heal those many years of hurt and anger. We had a hard time putting our finger on what it was that we gained in our sessions with Bob. And then, while contemplating the matter, I realized that what Bob stressed over and over was love, God's love, unconditional love. He stressed to us that it was as simple and as difficult as waking up every day and showing each other unconditional love. We had to love each other even when we were sarcastic, or hateful-acting, or sad, or silly, or whatever. Love was the answer! Keep in mind that it wasn't the passionate love that is so easily relied on in the early days of marriage. It involved the friendship love but went even deeper than that. It was God's love. I had to remember that John is God's child and I have to treat him as the son of the King. And he has to treat me as the daughter of the King.
Do we still mess up? You better believe it! But the lesson Bob taught us took root in our lives. We still have bad days, but we have more good days; and we try to always remember to truly love one another.
So if you spend more time complaining about your spouse than you do singing his/her praises, then I would suggest three things:
1. Begin your day by vowing to God that you will wear His love for your spouse that day and then do it. Live out I Corinthians 13 4-8 each and every day in your marriage. And pray for God's help each day in wearing and modeling His love.
2. Find Godly friends who will hold you accountable and will pray for you and encourage you to be the best husband and wife you can be.
3. If you are truly in crisis, get professional help, preferably Christian professional help. If your first attempt at counseling isn't successful, don't give up. It doesn't mean your marriage is hopeless, it means you haven't found the right counselor. Keep looking. Keep trying.
God ordained marriage from the beginning. Genesis 1: 31 tells us that after He joined Adam and Eve in marriage, "God saw all that He had made, and it was very good." Is it easy? No. We are fallen creations. But it is still God's will for it to be very good. So work at it every day and let God richly bless your marriage.