For my birthday recently I was treated to a night out painting with a group of other venturers, these events are called 'Brush Parties' or similar, maybe you've been to one? I thought it would be quite straight forward and that we'd have hours to natter and catch up while sploshing paint on like pros, ha! It was hilarious and very daunting! Honestly, the looks of concentration we all had, the intense focus, and as for nattering we were so intent on nailing the masterpiece we barely made time for a loo break! We had so much fun though, laughing at each other in our earnest efforts. I'd not seen one of these events before and didn't know what to expect or how it would work, being a creative type I assumed it would be easier but I was wrong. Isn't this how marriage can be? It seems the recent survey conducted would agree.
I've condensed and summarised the most common responses below, can you relate?
'I wish we would spend more time together, we're like ships that pass in the night'
'I wasn't expecting addiction; chronic health issues; job loss; children with special needs'
'I felt like Cinderella; just there to do all the work'
'We're less intimate now'
'When we were dating we talked so much about everything, now it's like we have nothing to say, we're gradually drifting apart'
'My husband is an undiagnosed adult on the spectrum'
'I've had to get out of the fairy tale happy-ever-after mindset that I was conditioned with'
'We have different parenting styles'
'I married a godly man, I expected him to take more of a lead spiritually'
'I'm so disappointed'
'We have different cultural backgrounds it's been hard'
'We just can't seem to communicate well or healthily'
BETTER or AS EXPECTED
'We've gone from the initial romance into a passionate life partnership, it has so much depth'
'It's been hugely challenging but we've found incredible joy'
'There is a lot of security'
'We're a team, best friends, lovers'
'I married a low maintenance man'!
Prince William recently made it look so easy but if you've ever tried juggling with 3 balls without training it's pretty difficult! He's laughing here in this image but the ones prior show a look of deep focus and concentration.
Looking back over my marriage of almost 23 years I can see the countless opportunities we've had to quit when challenges have been thrown our way. I never in my life expected the difficulties we've faced through finances, chronic illness, family crisis, differing philosophies, sin and selfishness, self-employment work pressures, personal brokenness, church hurts, persecutions, moving countries, fatigue, stress. As two young sinful, broken, selfish people we were totally unprepared for the focus, intentionality and self-sacrifice marriage required.
The danger of wrong expectation is that when the unexpected happens you're tempted to quit. When you're not prepared for the unexpected you think something is wrong and the 'it's not meant to be like this' thinking can kick in. This can be a really confusing and dark time. I had a 3 step downward spiral I used to follow;
1. Something's wrong
2. I'm wrong / he's wrong
3. Everything's wrong
No.1 can stem from wrong expectations, of course there can still be things which are wrong and need addressing such as infidelity, porn, addiction etc.
No.2 can lead to the blame game or self-condemnation, comparing to others
No.3 can get you questioning the marriage all together, ever thought you married the wrong person?
In reality marriage is full of the unexpected just like life. It doesn't mean you're wrong, they're wrong or the decision was wrong, it just means you're normal. I don't go down that 3 step spiral any more because it's a negative cycle that will get you stuck on repeat and leads nowhere. We need to be reassured that the struggles we face are common to most (70%), it's all to be expected. The trouble is we weren't prepared for it, either we didn't see marriage healthily modelled, no one trained us, the media trained us, or the wrong voices spoke to us giving us a false picture.
Marriage is a dying-to-self journey that requires all of our focus so that on the other side of juggling and growing we get to reap the rewards of a deeper love and joy. The Psalmist David declares in Psalm 108;
The deeper your love, the higher it goes;
every cloud’s a flag to your faithfulness.
Every dark season of our marriage has the potential to be a beacon of light above our homes but it will take a deep love, a deeper magic as Aslan put it.
My love is so limited, conditional, measured, tainted and shallow, 'If he didn't do this for me then I am going to withhold that, he hurt me so I won't trust or be vulnerable again, that's the last time I forgive him.' The only way I can love deeply from down beneath the layers of my limitations is to look to Jesus and surrender my heart to His leading, and that hurts because it requires a dying to self. In order to hoist a flag on the other side of any marital challenge it's going to take that deeper love of God at work in my heart.
Marriage can't be tit-for-tat, not even 50/50, it has to be 100 from my side even when his might measure at a 20, or less! I've learnt that I need to give up my rights to justice, to be right, to look for equal equal in our relationship, it wasn't equal equal when Jesus died for me 'while we were yet sinners,' Christ laid down His life.' What will the fear of the Lord lead me to lay down while my marriage might yet be broken?
Speaking of fear, it causes us to control in so many ways, we don't realise how much we fret and carry the burdens when we're afraid of what will happen should we drop the fret reins. God says in Psalm 37, 'do not fret as it leads only to evil doing,' we actually make matters worse by trying to dictate the outcome.
I remember years back when my husband and I were not on the same page, some of you will resonate with the feelings of pain, loneliness, anger, frustration, sadness. I held a wrong expectation that he should automatically know what to do and how to be a godly husband and father. I also had a wrong notion that if I held back then he would naturally step in and fill the void, so I held back. I thought this was respectful, I thought I was honouring my husband by not fully being myself, I thought this was being submissive and humble. The Lord gently touched on my heart after a while, 'Jacqui because you're holding back you're withholding my goodness from your home, you're the one holding Me back.' I was so stunned but it suddenly all became crystal clear. Through fretting, leaning on my own understanding, wrong input from others, I'd actually deprived my home of God's light, and even though I thought what I was doing was right it was actually my need to control disguised as submission, I was still trying to manipulate the situation which led to making things worse. Wow, I felt like Sarah with Haggai!
The same power which raised Christ from the dead lives in us and is able to help raise our marriage, yes even from the dead. Can these dry bones live? You bet they can and they can dance sister! But we're
going to need to trust Him with all our might. God is so invested in you, in your marriage, He is for you and able to speak into the everyday nitty gritty and show you one day at a time the steps to take as you dance with him.
Friends, I have so much on my heart to share about marriage and I'm looking forward to doing that with you all this year. I'm seeing this series as a banquet supper not a drive-thru snack bar, look at the menu of conversation points above! We need to delve deeply in and feast on the goodness of God towards us. I'm going to take a look at each question from the Marriage Survey and address them one by one so we can walk together, encouraged that we're not alone and looking to the One who can lead us through the course. Invite your friends and family to subscribe and join the community, I'd also love to hear your feedback, comments or questions, let's have a conversation not a monologue :)
I am assuming in this space that the conversations we'll be having are aimed at wives who are in a safe marriage between two people who although hurting, broken or dysfunctional still desire to hang in there and hope against all hope that God can do the impossible. Let's put the 'D' word (divorce) far from our minds and lips, let's erase that from the conversation.
"Victory is not made by evacuation" - Winston Churchill
So you might find yourself today in a marriage you hadn't expected, you're disillusioned and close to quitting. But don't be afraid, your situation isn't a shock to God and He can work with the smallest of loaves and fishes if you'll dare to offer them up to Him for blessing. I am praying for you all in your marriages tonight and am so grateful for your companionship along the way, let's go onward together for God's glory and the joy He wants us to know in Him.
With love, Jacqui x