Many people seem to view a marriage on the same terms as Vegas…“what happens here, stays here.”
But today I’m going to propose to you that one of the worst things you can do is go it alone.
Heading into marriage, Todd and I basically thought we had it ‘made in the shade’. We both came from solid, Christian families, grew up in the church, did the premarital counseling (faithfully completing homework assignments and all). After we were married we attended marriage retreats, and listened to Focus on the Family ‘religiously’…(pun intended). We had everything going for us.
Except that, reality was (of course…duh!) that we were (and are!) very imperfect people. That marriage isn’t based on textbooks. And all the information in the world doesn’t necessarily make a healthy relationship. Those factors alone just aren’t enough.
There came a point when we were hurting. Badly. After 6 years, and some of the major life stresses you hit in that time period…jobs, house buying, having a baby…well, it took it’s toll. We were relationally burned out, and no matter how much information Dobson and Rainey gave us, something was lacking. We were not meeting each other’s needs, didn’t really know why, or how, or what was going wrong. We were venturing into murky waters.
There came a point where I expressed that I thought maybe we should go for some marriage counseling. I was feeling desperate. Todd resisted, feeling, I guess, like we should already know what to do. We’d ‘learned’ so much. What ‘new’ thing was anyone going to tell us? His feeling was that somehow we just must be failing spiritually. We must need to pray more…or something.
And so, while continuing as youth leaders, worship team members, regular (and multiple) Bible study attenders…we crashed and burned. Everything I *knew* in my head, just didn’t matter one iota to my heart anymore.
You see, marriage is a lot like parenting in that, having all the information in the world doesn’t necessarily make you ‘good’ at it. We need people. We need trusted friends, mentors, counselors, who we not only allow to see the reality of our lives, but that we also give the freedom to give us input and feedback. We need to be willing to listen..and actually hear and consider…with an open heart what they say.
I realize this simply isn’t an easy thing for many people. There are so many factors at play. Maybe it’s not just here, but it seems especially here in my little spot in the Northeastern U.S., the general sense is…“Keep family matters private.” For whatever reason, we think what happens behind closed doors should stay there…locked up tight. And certainly, by all means…I’m not saying that every detail of our marriages or even family lives should be aired for public fodder. However…if we never let anyone in to the real places…the disagreements, the hurts, the sins…it can become a dark and confusing place that we can easily and quickly lose our way in.
Shame is usually a factor. Especially if you grew up in the church. There’s an unspoken (or maybe even spoken!) “You should know better“.
Maybe pride comes into play…not wanting anyone to see or know our shortcomings or weaknesses. Dare I say it…even our sin.
Opening our lives to the light of the outside world, and allowing others to not only see, but speak into it, can be a very difficult thing for some. It can be embarrassing, risky…even possibly painful. But in the long-run healthy input from those who are in relationship with us can be lifesaving.
If you are stuck in a crazy cycle of miscommunication, hurt, confusion or sinful or harmful habits, I would strongly encourage you to enlist some outside help. The perspective of outside eyes…those not entrenched in the difficulty…can be refreshing and freeing. They will see things you can’t. They can point out things that you might be unaware of…or unwilling to acknowledge on your own.
If you have been the type that we were, saying “But we are Todd and Jessi…we are supposed to have it together!”…please, oh please…just stop. Know the reality…no one…I DON’T CARE HOW GOOD THEY LOOK…has it all together. (They might not know they don’t…but at some point, it usually comes up to smack them in the face…like it did us.) Nearly everyone…if not everyone…struggles at some point. The simple reality of life is that there are difficult season, and unexpected trials. But not everyone is done-in by the struggles. Sometimes, when dealt with healthily, the struggles can even help you come out stronger.
People who have amazing, successful marriages don’t usually go it alone. They most often have healthy relationships with others, who can offer them help and insight when things get rough and murky. Sometimes this comes from friends, sometimes church leaders, sometimes professional counselors. (In our case, personally, it was all of these!) Wherever you are able to find this source of mediation and perspective and input…please just reach out for some. (Though, I would offer a word of caution that it is the very rare case when this type of input comes from a family member. It is rather hard…and really, unfair…to expect a member of either side of your family to be able to give completely unbiased input. It’s better to find some neutral parties that you both are able to trust and accept input from.)
Just remember…struggle is normal. Difficulties are to be expected. It’s what you do when they come that matters. Don’t hide, don’t go it alone. Don’t let pride or shame or stigmas stand in the way of seeking help. There’s nothing wrong…and everything right…with reaching out to others.
And when you are able to weather the storms, you’ll be amazed how much stronger you’ll come through the other side. You’ll be surprised to find that what our spiritual enemy meant for harm, God will use for good. You’ll be blown away to see God take what was a trial, and…if you allow Him…turn it into a tool in your hand. A tool that you’ll be able to use to help others build and repair their own marriages, in the way that someone helped you.
It’s an awesome thing to experience. I’ve been blessed to see it time and again. And every single time, I give thanks, not only for God bringing us through, but also for the people that he used in our lives.
Don’t go it alone!!