Surprisingly, my husband and I have become one in reality, deeply in tune with each other’s spirits even though we are still opposites in personality. Our tangible joy is inexplicable through secular eyes because from all outward appearances our life together has been a tough journey through poverty, raising nine kids, facing overwhelming chores on a small family farm and dealing with long-term, clinical depression.
How did our marriage survive never mind thrive?
I have always managed to keep our difficulties in perspective through humour. One of my jokes is on the typical marriage vow about for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. I say, “Well, we’ve seen worse, poorer and sickness and we are more than ready for better, richer and healthier.” Then I dissolve into gales of laughter. I must admit Michael never fails to simply raise one eyebrow in my direction and smile apologetically at our visitors. However, the truth is humour works. It has been proven, when people laugh at their foibles and do not take themselves too seriously, their problems suddenly shrink and they in turn gain perspective. Over-dramatizing conflict is deadly. This is simply an example of cognitive therapy in action: take a step away from each conflict and looking at the big picture, through the eyes of God.
The Gift of Suffering
Surprisingly, one of the keys to the longevity of our marriage is suffering. Suffering was a gift which unified us because it stripped away false pride and forced us to our knees in prayer. Honest prayer led both of us to self-knowledge, humility, and compassion for each other. When I asked a priest what my life would have been like if I had not suffered, if I had married a well-off dentist, had 1.25 kids and lived in an efficient, modern house, he put on a phony, pious face, put his hands together in prayer, and said in a high, mocking voice, ”Oh, you would be a nice Christian lady, praising the Lord.” What he meant by that amusing bit of acting was I would be shallow, without depth and strength. Well, when I see the results of a bit of suffering in our marriage, I say bring it on.
The Role of Faith in Our Marriage
The only reason my husband and I got married and stayed married is our faith. We are a brother and a sister in Christ, fellow children of God who seek His will together. We have always been on the same page, sensing the next level of growth in our spiritual walk and changing at the same pace. This has been a pure gift from God. It was growth in maturity and in my faith which healed our marriage because when I quit demanding love from my husband, quit trying to control him, he was set free to love me in freedom and in truth, in the power of the Spirit of God. When I let go and surrendered to God, He blessed me with more than I could ever have asked for in our marriage.
Advice for People Who Are Dating
Many young people wait secretly for their knight in shining armor to whisk them off their feet so they can live happily ever after, or for a wonderful woman to lift off a sense of aimlessness. Although we laugh at such ridiculous fantasies as the stuff of naive, lovesick teenagers, we all must face the deep temptation within ourselves to seek out a future partner to fulfill all of our needs. We have been brainwashed by Hollywood’s romantic movies. The truth is, counter to what secular society would lead us to believe, only God can meet our core need for love. Countless marriages end up in divorce because people have embraced the crazy notion that the man or woman of their dreams will completely satisfy and fulfill them. This is a lie.
Society does not prepare people for a Christian marriage. Couples have to actively seek out help and advice. I suggest a multitude of tools from reading insightful books, conferences, retreats, confession, prayer, spiritual direction and counselling which help couples mature and grow together as one in Christ. As a newlywed, I wish someone had explained to me that in marriage partners irritate each other by pulling out each other’s darkness, bringing their wounds to the surface. Once I understood this spiritual dynamic, I quit blaming Michael and pointing out his faults and instead centered on my own need for repentance and growth.
I spent years as a pitiful, innocent victim, crying my eyes out over my plight married to an insensitive man when all along my own sins blocked Christ's love from flowing to both of us in our marriage. Once I focused on my own need for growth rather than on Michael's issues, the Spirit of God could finally deal with my own sinfulness and need for healing. If I had thrown up my hands and divorced Michael, chances are the second fellow would have turned out exactly the same. My sinfulness triggered my husband’s sinfulness. Period. I had to stop blaming and pointing out Michael’s failings if I wanted a great marriage. Instead of pointing out the grain of sand in his eye, I had to allow God to show me the log of faults in my own eye. God designed us so only His love will fill the desperate desires of our hearts. Once I understood this truth, I could allow real love, respectful love, to grow between Michael and myself without making crushing demands on the poor guy to fulfill the role of God in my life.