by Robyn Hubbard
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 know why they found it necessary to plan a weekly “date night” in order to keep their marriage intact. 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. He had his thing and I had mine. 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 got the itch 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 with lips so red she looked as if she were wearing lipstick when she greeted the world for the first time. Perfect.
She was a perfect, 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 gig, 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 were short with our daughter and were utterly disappointed when she didn’t live up to our idea of perfection.
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 scenario and theory that might make him better. Donny threw himself into his work. It was all he knew to do. He had to provide so we could get our precious baby boy the help he needed.
We grew apart.
It was so slowly. 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 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 four months alone. 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.
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 year that followed, I learned so much. Every single day I intentionally thank God for my marriage and think about what I can do to keep it healthy and strong. I read books and get advice from godly women who are farther along in their marriage journey. I pray and ask for guidance. I actually talk 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 lead 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.
- Your marriage comes before your children.
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 a better mother than you were when you left. Hit that reset button. It’s okay. You have to make time. You have to find room in the budget. It is crucial.
- Your marriage comes before your job.
Most men have an innate need to provide for their families. This is often where they find their worth. They want to give you everything you ever dreamed of having and feel like failures if they are unable to do so. It’s easy to get caught up in work and success when this is the case. I know from experience, working moms don’t have enough seconds in the day. We feel as though we already have two full time jobs and our husbands just have to understand that at the end of the day, we just don’t have anything left. Stay-at-home moms feel the same way. I know because I stayed home for a year and I’m a teacher, so I get to stay at home every summer with my children. During those months, I feel like I’ve given of myself all day long. When Donny comes home from work, I feel like I have no more to give.
Dig deep, girls. Let your husband bathe the kids while you take a second to breathe. Do your best to get your second wind, put on some lipstick, change out of the yoga pants, and make time for your husband. I always have papers to grade, but I’ve made a habit of saving them for Saturday afternoon nap time so my evenings can be spent with my husband. Put the kids to bed and spend time doing what you both love. Start a new series on Netflix, read a book together, play cards, or just TALK. Now that we are making an effort, we sit out on our deck sometimes at night and talk to each other about the things we used to avoid. Your time to unwind with your spouse should be the best part of your day. When the kids are gone, you will have to know how to do this. You might as well start now.
- Never assume your spouse knows how much you love him/her.
Say it. Text it. Email it. Tell others. Be proud of each other. Donny started writing messages on my bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker. Such a small gesture that probably takes him less than a minute makes me feel loved and valued all day. 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. Let that sink in for a bit… 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. Be specific. Love intentionally.
- Stop “venting” about your spouse.
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. “Well, my husband ALWAYS forgets trash day! He’s so forgetful and it makes me crazy!” Before we even realize what has happened, we have reduced all of the men in our lives to absolute pea-brained morons 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. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the time a 5th grader in my class stood up to give a presentation on her research of another country. She gave all of her facts and at the end, she said with an expression of disbelief in her voice, “and once they get married, they can NEVER GET DIVORCED!!” The entire class of 10 year olds, both from families that had been torn apart by divorce and those who had not, gasped in shock. One student yelled out, “But what if they get sick of each other? What happens then?!” The knowledgeable little presenter said matter-of-factly, “They’re just STUCK with each other.” My entire class was so appalled by the notion, they just about sucked all of the air out of the room with another giant gasp. I was speechless. This is the norm. This is what we are teaching our children. 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. Protect your promise.
If you get a funky vibe from a woman who speaks a little too highly of your husband, nip it. If you start noticing a handsome man at work is giving you some extra attention, avoid it. If your spouse spends all of his time on the computer and you are seeing red flags, confront it. Don’t be afraid to fight for your marriage. We are living in a get-what-you-want-when-you-want-it society, which is an extremely dangerous place to live. Protect your promise. Don’t allow poisonous people into your circle. 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 and grace is essential when two people decide to live together forever.
Grace is essential.
God wants you to find joy, companionship, intimacy, and divine love in your marriage, but 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.
“Great love isn’t two people finding the perfect match in each other. Great love is two people making the choice to match.” – Lysa TerKeurst