This weekend, thousands of women around the world will watch a webcast about staying in community, in relationship even when it’s hard. When they do, they’ll hear me talk about how I chose to stay in my marriage last year, even when it was hard. Because you, my readers, are my friends, I didn’t want you to hear about that for the first time in a video. So I sat down last night to tell you all about it. As it turns out, it took me nearly 1,500 words to get to the point, and I’m still not sure it came out right. So if you’re wondering why am I telling you now and why is this post so long…that’s why.
Just a few years after I was married, I heard through the grapevine that a couple we knew disliked us. A lot. In fact, they said we were “miserable” to be around.
At the time I was insulted and infuriated. But in hindsight . . . I have to agree.
Have you heard people joke about their anniversaries? You know, saying, “I’ve been married for 12 years – happily married for 10. Hardee-har-har!”
I’ve always thought that was a tasteless joke, intended to hurt one’s spouse. But, I can honestly say that in little over a month, I’ll have been married for 14 years – happily married for one.
Maybe that’s unfair. We’ve certainly had happy moments since our wedding, and if you add them up I’m sure we could squeeze two years out of it. Still, that’s not a great ratio. Especially when I know just how unhappy those other years were.
I’ve probably mentioned that I got married at 20.
I’ve told you how unrealistic expectations complicate relationships unnecessarily.
I’ve talked about some of the effects of being a married single mom.
And I’ve shared that on last year’s anniversary, we started marriage counseling.
What I haven’t told you is that if we hadn’t gone to counseling, we probably wouldn’t be married today. Last spring I hit my limit – of forgiveness, of patience, of hope. After more than a dozen years of fighting for my marriage and my rights and my way to hang up the towels in the bathroom, I was finished.
And when you’ve hit the wall like that and THEN you’re disappointed or hurt o n e. m o r e. t i m e? Well, I crumbled.
I said things like, “I can’t do this anymore,” and “I don’t know why I bother,” and “I deserve better!” and, finally, “I’m going to leave.”
[If you're wondering how you missed reading about this last year, you didn't. I wrote about recipes and parenting and books and TV shows, but I didn't write about this. I couldn't. Some things you can't talk about when you're living it, and this was one of those things.]
So, I wanted to leave, to give up, to give in. I’d been fighting with Mark – and fighting for Mark – for half my life (if you count the years we dated, which I do, because we bickered and struggled and disregarded each other’s feelings during those years, too). It was too much. It was too hard. It was too . . . too.
Leaving isn’t a simple option, though, when you have a four-year-old daughter. And a house. And bills to pay and friends who don’t know and family gatherings to attend and cats to feed and lives that are entwined in the way that lives connected for 13+ years are.
Besides, I didn’t want to leave. Not really. But I didn’t think anything would change if I stayed. After all, it hadn’t so far. And, I thought, it probably wouldn’t now, either – no matter how much I wanted it and how much he promised it would.
No, I didn’t think anything would change. I didn’t think it could. I didn’t think WE could. I thought it would surely take a miracle to make this marriage work.
He didn’t ask me to stay. But he called a counselor and made an appointment. I didn’t go to the first appointment, but he did. That’s when I began to feel a tiny spark of hope. Maybe . . . this time . . . could it really . . . maybe . . .
I can’t tell you exactly when things began to change. I don’t have an 8-step plan for saving your marriage or making people do what you want or putting the pieces of your heart back together when it’s been shattered. Again.
I can tell you that realizing I shared responsibility for the miserable parts of our relationship was a game changer. It was. Learning to talk to each other in a totally different way played a big part, and so did remembering why we liked each other in the first place. And, of course, date nights are everyone’s go-to solution for a reason.
But, at least to an extent, those were things we’d tried (and tried and tried) before – including counseling. And it never made much of a difference. It definitely did not make a lasting difference.
And for the first several months after that anniversary counseling appointment, I was sure this time would be the same. He’d make promises, I would too, and we’d both tiptoe around each other until we got lazy and reverted back to our horrible selves. We’d try until it got hard again or we got our feelings hurt. And we’d be back where we began, a little more weary and singed around the edges of our smashed, barely-held-together hearts.
I just knew that we couldn’t fix this thing, that short of a real-life, God-given miracle, we were headed for more heartache.
Still, I’d promised to try and he kept going to counseling and trying to change and being kind when I tried changing, too. So we tried. For months we tried. And for a while, it really seemed like things were improving. Slowly, in small ways, things were getting better.
But then something happened.
Something happened, and I blew up. We yelled, and I cried, and we both said things that we’d said hundreds of times before. It was a huge fight, just like every other time.
Except . . . it wasn’t like every other time. Even though the hot-button topic that started it was the same and the heated words were the same, my heart didn’t feel the same.
Sure, I was hurt and he was frustrated. But for once in our lives, we quickly asked, “How can we solve this problem together?” instead of pointing fingers and blame and more ugly words.
That was the day I began to look at my marriage as the gift it’s been all along.
That was the day I realized that my marriage had been miraculously healed.
Now, don’t get me wrong. That wasn’t the day we had our last argument or started spontaneously dancing in the kitchen or making googly eyes across the dinner table.
But that was the day I understood, the day I truly believed that miracles can happen.
My marriage is still a work in progress. A redeemed marriage, yes, but also a marriage in recovery. We still have scars and struggles and, at times, short, selfish tempers. But it’s so different now. We are, for the first time since our newlywed days, on the same team. We are for each other, in every sense of the phrase.
When everything fell apart last spring, I thought my marriage was over. My heart was shattered, and I just knew there was not enough glue in the world to put it – to put us – back together. In a way, I was right. That old marriage – the one with two selfish people who bickered and repressed and ignored and seethed and snapped – is gone. I pray it’s gone forever. Because this new one? The one with two selfish people who problem solve and confess and forgive and extend arms and olive branches? It’s so good. And it is a miracle.
Are you in a season or situation that seems hopeless? I can’t promise you that anything will ever change or improve. I can’t, because I don’t know.
But what I do know is this: God loves you even when your circumstances seem stacked against you. And He is why we always have hope. We don’t have hope because of our own determination or strength or stick-to-it-ness; we don’t have hope because deep down, we believe that other person is good; we don’t have hope because things have to turn around at some point and there’s nowhere to go but up and my horoscope/fortune cookie/best friend said it would get better.
No, we have hope because our God loves us, and miracles do happen.
Do you need one now?
Will you tell us about it, let us pray for your miracle?