We thought we had it figured out. We couldn’t understand why all of our couple friends had such a hard time getting along. We didn’t get how someone could consider divorce if they had simply chosen their spouse wisely. We left get-togethers and dinner parties rolling our eyes knowingly. “Amateurs. If only everyone knew what we knew and did what we did. They wouldn’t ever fight either.” We were happy. We liked each other. We had fun together. And that was enough.
Until it wasn’t.
Donny and I both had stressful, demanding jobs that we absolutely loved. We found our identity in them. We were both doing what we always dreamed we would do. We bought a house that we loved. Even our dog was perfect. He was obedient, well-trained, and easy to control. Life was easy. Why did everyone around us not know how to do this?
After about six years of marriage, we finally decided to bring a baby into our little perfect world we had created out of our own hard work and determination. We welcomed a breath-taking baby girl that was absolutely perfect in every way. She grew to be a an above-average toddler, of course. She was obedient, well-trained, and easy to control. Life was easy. Why didn’t every parent know how to do this?
We were so good at this parenting thing, it was only natural to add another perfect child to the mix to round out our perfect family. But in spite of our hard work, determination, and flawless parenting, we couldn’t control the miscarriage that would take our second child from us or that our third child would be born into this world with autism.
Life became very messy very quickly. Things were no longer going as planned. We were over-stressed, over-worked and over-tired.
We became secluded from others to hide the embarrassment of our son’s public meltdowns. I became obsessed with becoming knowledgeable, being my son’s advocate, and exposing him to every possible theory that might make him better. Donny threw himself into his work. It was all he knew to do. I was going to figure out how to fix it and Donny was going to figure out how to pay for it.
We grew apart. We had no idea it was happening. We never saw it coming. We were just too busy.
Things went from happy to content to discontent to downright terrible before either of us knew what hit us. This left us vulnerable to everything this broken world tells us is the norm. I started bad-mouthing my husband to girlfriends who encouraged me to “just vent”, which accomplished nothing other than adding to my resentment. He spent more time away from home and found more excuses to escape the reality of our difficult situation. We murmured “I love you” frequently, but not with the same meaning as before.
We didn’t talk about it. Talking about it might cause a fight or worse, make it real. We were both peacemakers. Non-confrontational. We’d rather sit in silence watching old Seinfeld episodes than have to actually deal with the truth.
Finally, the worst case scenario struck our marriage and shook me to my absolute core. He filed for divorce and left our once happy home. How had I let this happen? At what point had things gone wrong? It was as if the scales had fallen off and I could finally see what we had both become. His love had become the pursuit of success. My love had become the pursuit of perfection. Neither had anything to do with the other.
I spent several months living life as a single parent. My perfect life had been stripped away from me and I was left wondering why. I spent my days and nights praying, reading scripture, seeking truth and answers. What I found was the will and the need to FIGHT for my imperfect family.
After an excruciating battle, by the grace and mercy of God alone, my husband and I reconciled our marriage and made the intentional decision to make it our priority. During the time we were apart and in the time that followed, I learned so much.
Every single day I intentionally thanked God for my marriage and thought about what I could do to keep it healthy and strong. I read books and sought advice from godly women who were further along in their marriage journey. I prayed and asked for guidance. I actually talked to my husband about our marriage. (What a concept, right?) What if I had done this before I almost lost it all? If I knew then what I know now, could all of the hurt have been avoided? My sincere prayer is that others will learn from our mistakes and take a proactive approach in their marriages. We have to do everything we can to end this damaging, socially acceptable cycle of broken families.
These are the most important things I have learned that I feel led to share. However, let me make a disclaimer and say that if you are in an abusive relationship, these suggestions are not for you. There is no excuse for abuse and you have every right to get out of an abusive situation. Also, if you have been divorced, I am in no way judging you. Lord knows I have no room to judge a soul on this earth. Your situation is unique to you and restoration looks different for everyone. And then there’s grace. Thank God for His grace.
- Set aside time and energy for your husband every day.
Your marriage should come before your children. This might shock you and I never would have said it a few years ago, but every mother I know struggles with this. We think we are bad moms and fear the judgment of others if we get a sitter too often or go on a trip without our kids. I lived this false guilt for years. I said no to invitations to join my husband on business trips and decided it was just easier and cheaper to stay home on a Friday night. Listen to me. The absolute best thing a mother can do for her children is to invest in her relationship with their daddy.
Take time for each other. If you can’t afford a sitter, make a deal with a friend who also has kids and share babysitting duties. (She needs time with her husband too!) Eat a nice meal without a kids’ menu or a highchair. If Taco Bell is all you can afford, then have an adult conversation over a couple of burritos! Talk about the old days and dream about the future. This is what will remind you why you fell in love and ultimately help you not fall out of it. You will go back to your children refreshed and ready to be better parents than you were when you left. Hit that reset button. It’s more than okay. It’s crucial.
Whether you work at home or outside of the home, at the end of the day you feel like you have nothing left to give and your husband is just going to have to understand. There will be days like that, but it can’t become an everyday occurrence. He matters. Your time together matters. Do your best to get your second wind.
- Never assume your husband knows how much you love him.
Say it. Text it. Email it. Tell others. Be proud of each other. I used to think saying “I love you” after a phone conversation or when we kissed goodnight was enough, but it’s really not. Don’t let those words become meaningless. You have to be the one who makes your husband feel wanted and needed and desirable. If you don’t, someone else will. He might not act like he needs you to tell him he’s handsome or good at his job or a great dad, but he does.
We all need to feel loved and appreciated and if we don’t we are setting ourselves up to find it somewhere else, even if we didn’t know we were looking for it. Tell your spouse WHY you love him or her.
Women are the absolute worst at this. It starts with one woman venting because her husband never puts his dirty dishes in the dishwasher. The conversation builds and builds until we are ultimately trying to outdo each other. Before we even realize it, we have reduced all of the men in our lives to total imbeciles who would be completely helpless without our superior supervision. It’s just not okay. Most TV sitcoms might base their comedy on the idea that men are complete buffoons, but this mentality does nothing but damage our marriages. Try building him up rather than tearing him down. When other women start verbally displaying all of their husbands’ weaknesses, change the tone of the conversation by bragging on your husband’s strengths. I guarantee the other women will follow suit. After all, we do hate to be outdone, don’t we?
- Protect your promise.
You promised before God and men to be married forever. Sometimes we forget the “for better or for worse” part of that promise. Our world has become one in which everything is temporary. Nothing is forever. Are we all conditioned to think this way? To give up when things get hard or when one of you makes a mistake? Has unconditional love become socially unacceptable? I can tell you from experience, unfortunately it has. But the good news is that we can be the generation that changes things.
Don’t be afraid to fight for your marriage.
Pray over your marriage and your family. Pray against temptation and distraction. Be on guard and don’t ever be so naive as to think your marriage is safe from attack. Stay in the Word and believe God’s truths because they tend to be very different than what the world wants you to believe.
- Your relationship with Christ comes before your marriage.Above all, the most important thing I have learned through all of this is that God is for marriage, but He doesn’t want us to find our fulfillment in another human being. Human beings are flawed. We are imperfect and make so many mistakes. God wants us to find our fulfillment in him. You can only pour into your spouse when you are filled up by Jesus. Your relationship with him will directly affect your relationship with your spouse. You can only give grace when you receive it from Him. Grace is essential when two people decide to live together forever. God wants you to find joy, companionship, intimacy, and divine love in your marriage. Your spouse’s role is not to be your life, but to enrich a life lived for Jesus.
No matter who you are, how you met, or how much you love each other, marriage is work. But when you do make the decision to become intentional, your marriage can be some of the most beautiful, fulfilling, rewarding work you have ever done. Don’t give up. Protect your promise.
So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. Matthew 19:6