Before diving into this last post in my “Sometimes Marriage is Hard” series. I want to let you know, my dear readers and friends, that this post was hard to write. It’s real and vulnerable. It’s opening up a dark, hard place we’ve been to and come out of by the grace of God. Nick and I pray our story can be used to help others who find themselves feeling stuck in marital conflict and wondering if there will ever be a way out.
The D-Word, Shame and Restoration: Sometimes Marriage is Hard (Part III)
When you are single and looking for your life partner, marriage seems to promise itself as the antidote to loneliness. Sometimes it’s easy to believe that getting to the altar and saying “I do” is the finish line. Your search is over and the hard work is done; now you can go home and enjoy your “happily ever after.”
If you have ever been tempted to view marriage that way, it will only take you a teensy, tiny bit of married life to realize that the altar is the starting line, not the finish line. And while marriage can be extremely joy-filled, rewarding and fulfilling at times…it can also be a place of deep and profound hurt, pain, sorrow and loneliness.
During our darkest season of marriage, I felt trapped by the weight of our conflicts and by the depth of my loneliness. I’m a social person and being known and knowing others is high on my value list, but I found it extremely hard to let others know about our marital problems.
We committed early into our marriage to never joke around about divorce. The “D” word was off-limits and something we never wanted to even discuss because we are deeply committed to keeping our marriage vows. Yet, I found myself thinking about the “D” word often. Like way more often than I would like to admit.
It was about a year and a half ago and life was really stressful. Adler was still nursing and getting me up throughout the night. Everson was adjusting to having a brother who could crawl and grab at his toys. And Nick was wrestling with his work in pastoral ministry and praying through a vocational change. Life was not calm and we were not treating each other with kindness.
Honestly, we were both far more focused on our own selves–our hurts, pains, frustrations and needs–than we were on each other. (Just as a reminder, I have Nick’s total permission and encouragement to share this. We both want God to use our story to help others, so if that means airing our “dirty laundry” a bit, then so be it.) From my end, I was constantly dissatisfied with Nick, to put it bluntly.
On the micro-level, I was nitpicking everything he did at home. He wasn’t loading the dishwasher correctly; he didn’t read the parenting book I read so he wasn’t disciplining the “right” way; he didn’t keep our cars maintained the way he promised to and the lawn wasn’t mowed as often as I wanted. Yes, I was being totally being a petty jerk.
On a deeper level, my constant critiquing and evident dissatisfaction were driving Nick away from me. As a result, he wasn’t pursuing me with much, if any, romance. I felt zero “adoration”…that easy, abundant love we enjoyed in our early years of marriage felt like a distant memory.
I was in pain (as was Nick) and my brain was going haywire trying to silence or resolve the pain. It’s a common coping mechanism for humans. We have a headache, so we reach for Tylenol. Our high heel shoes hurt, so we stop wearing them. In my case, my marriage felt miserable and I didn’t know how to make it any better, so I kept being drawn to this “what if” fantasy of life without marriage. I was still committed to Nick and wasn’t actually planning on taking any steps toward separation of any kind. But, in my pain, I found myself going back to destructive thoughts, wishing for divorce as though that would make my life easier. (Side note: I know not all marriages can come to a place of reconciliation and I, in no way, want to put any ounce of shame on those who have gone through divorce. I simply hope that in sharing our story of struggle, we can offer hope to others who resonate with this story.)
I opened up to some of my close girlfriends during that season to finally share that our marriage was in a tough place. It was hard to do, but I knew we needed support and prayer. I shared that we were dealing with frequent conflicts, but I didn’t share the full depth of the situation. I couldn’t bring myself to say that I was thinking about the “D” word. I felt weighed down by a huge load of shame for even thinking about divorce.
Finally, after a huge fight, I decided I needed to let at least one person fully know the depth of what I was experiencing. I thought about who to call and where to reach out and decided my mom would be the safest person to talk to about our struggles. My mom deeply loves Nick and I knew she would only want to support us both and not take “my side” in the situation.”
I texted my mom an SOS text. I told her I needed to talk as soon as possible; I felt desperate and at rock bottom. She ended up coming over to my house and I cried as I told her about our marriage conflicts and I even shared, with fear and shame, my thoughts about the “D” word.
I can’t remember the details of my conversation with my mom, but I know it was a turning point. The Bible says (in Galatians 6:2) that we are to “carry one another’s burdens.” When we try to muscle through our darkest seasons, it can feel like too much to bear. Vulnerability is hard and scary, but when we decide to share our burdens something incredible happens. Our (emotional) load actually feels lighter. We realize we are not all alone and there is someone else in the world willing to help hold our hand through the storm.
My parents are big fans of a nationwide Christian marriage conference called “Weekend to Remember.” My mom had said numerous times before that she hoped we could go someday. (It’s a great conference for engaged and married couples–whether you are in a solid place in your marriage or on the precipice of dissolution.)
After hearing about our marital problems, my mom looked up when the next “Weekend to Remember’ conference was in Grand Rapids and talked to my dad about treating us to the marriage retreat. They generously offered to pay for our hotel room, conference registration and watch our boys for the weekend.
We, of course, accepted their generous offer and looked forward to the conference with great hope, praying that God would work through that time together to help our marriage. It turns out, God heard our prayers and answered them with a massive “YES.” That weekend was completely transformative for our marriage. The marriage speakers (a husband and wife team spoke, as well as Brett Ray, a Christian speaker from Holly, MI) shared openly about the marital problems they had worked through and we gained a ton of practical advice.
The biggest change, during that weekend, came for me in finally realizing that I was being 100% selfish in my marriage. I was so focused on what Nick was doing wrong instead of all the hundreds of right things he does each day. I was obsessed with my own pain, rather than thinking about the pain Nick was experiencing. It may sound simple, but truly realizing this and owning this reality was earth-shaking. It required confession and the start of a big shift. We realized that we needed to think about one another’s needs more than our own needs (yes, we knew this in theory before, but our eyes were opened to how critically important this is). We also realized that simple acts of kindness were essential to restoring the fractured lines in our marriage.
God also gifted us (and answered a year-long prayer of mine) with a mentor couple. At the end of the marriage retreat, I walked up to Brett Ray-one of the speakers that weekend-and asked him for some Christian parenting tips. Even though it was a marriage conference, I had really enjoyed hearing Brett’s stories about how he and his wife Carol had raised their five children. I had no expectations as I waited in line to talk to Brett (and I happened to be alone because Nick had to miss the last session to attend church that morning, his last Sunday in pastoral ministry). I thought maybe Brett would give me a nugget or two of wisdom that I could go home and try to apply in my parenting practice.
Since the “Weekend to Remember,” we’ve not only spent an evening with Brett and Carol in Holly, but they initiated the opportunity to mentor us through periodic FaceTime phone calls. When I was praying for a year (maybe more) for God to bring a mentor into my life, I would try to picture someone in my life that could mentor me (or mentor both Nick and me) and I just couldn’t imagine who it would be. But, I kept praying and trusting that God would figure out the details and make it happen. I am still praising God for the immense, huge gift of Brett and Carol’s wisdom and mentorship for Nick and me. It’s been a game-changer.
If you are married, whether you are struggling right now or not, I highly recommend seeking out a mentor couple. If you have no idea who to ask or how to proceed, start praying and keep your eyes open. God will lead you to the right couple (even if it takes over a year)!
Learn more about Brett Ray’s ministry by clicking here.
Our marriage is by no means easy or perfect. But I can say, with so much joy, that we are in a completely different place now. We have put a lot of hard work into our marriage and by God’s grace, we are no longer in that dark place. Through implementing kindness, working toward selflessness (a constant work-in-progress), prioritizing time together, gaining wisdom from our mentors and praying together, we are in a much healthier place today. To God be all the glory! He is in the business of redeeming the brokenness of our lives. God resurrects what is dead; he heals what is sick.
Stay tuned because next week I’ll be sharing a guest blog post, written just for you guys from Brett Ray himself. He’s offering some of his top tips that have helped he and Carol throughout their 28-years of marriage. You don’t want to miss this, friends! Subscribe here to get an email when new posts are published here.
New to this series?
Check out the first two parts to this blog series by clicking the links below:
**Photo credits: The wedding photos were taken by Color Splash Studio and the photo of Everson & Adler was taken by Pamela Fallon.