Years ago, when I was still a bit naive about love and marriage, I sat in my friend’s living room and listened to her confess her relationship fears. “What if we don’t make it?” Quickly, I replied, “Oh, you will make it!” My response was partially selfish because I wanted them to stay together so badly and partially due to my blind faith in love and people. Though technically an adult, I still had a lot of growing up to do. I had yet to realize life is messy – sometimes chaotic – and simply cheering marriages on is not always enough.
Thankfully, my friend’s relationship did make it, and she is happily married today; but, at the time, her pain was real, and her questions were raw and honest. Most marriages come to these points – moments of clear and desperate introspection. In hindsight, there were signs of these unsettling questions all around me in my families’ marriages, my friends’ marriages, my ministers’ marriages, and my co-workers’ marriages. However, being lost in search of my happily ever after, I did not seriously consider that such relationship woes could ever happen to me. After all, I was going to do this marriage business right.
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18, ESV)
It did not take long for me to realize that no matter how much I desired a happy and healthy relationship, heavy days come to everyone. Not long after counseling my friend through her relationship discouragements, I found myself asking my own set of questions. Though having this knowledge beforehand would not have discouraged me from getting married, maybe I would have been more prepared for the dark days had I paid more attention to the realities of the marriages around me?
So, for anyone out there who is wiser than I was when I was single, here are a few honest thoughts I have encountered since becoming a wife. As a single woman, I never knew I would come to these dark places, but I have visited these questions many times in the last twelve years.
- Does he even like me anymore? Several years after Eric and I tied the knot, a friend and I were skipping around town, just hanging out, when she started sharing some thoughts about marriage. To this day, I can remember where we were when she said (roughly translated), “You know, I always knew the day might come when I would get angry with or tired of my husband. But, it did not occur to me until recently that he may eventually feel that same way about me!” My heart laughed heartily, and I thought, “Yes, dear, he certainly will!” Numerous days, over the last twelve years, I have wondered, “Does Eric like me? Would he hang out with me as a friend if we were not married?” We all know people we love whom we do not particularly like, especially if they have hurt us in some way. Somehow, I was not prepared for the fear that my husband may not always like me; or, the bigger fear, “What if he stops liking me altogether?” In those moments, Eric’s super snuggly hugs and quality time have been salve to my heart.
- If he could do it all again, would he choose someone else? Being brutally honest, this is a question which never ceases to haunt me. Not daily, weekly, or even monthly – but, often enough. Throughout our graduate school journey, building a business together, struggling with communication, and dealing with the brokenness of infertility, I have occasionally fallen into this line of thinking. “Maybe he would have been happier with someone else. I have failed him. If he knew then what he knows now, surely he would have chosen differently.” What brings me some comfort in those insecure seasons is knowing I am not alone. Thousands of brides and grooms catch themselves wondering, “Would my spouse choose me again knowing how hard our life together would be? Would I choose my spouse again knowing what I know?” In the beginning, love is so outward – hugs, kisses, holding hands, adoring glances – but after the limerence fades and life together becomes “normal,” it is harder to discern if your special someone is still happy to be with you. Because outward signs of affection do cool off over time, it is important for married couples to remind each other often, “I chose you before, I choose you now, and I am going to keep choosing you forever.” Sometimes, I flat out ask Eric if he still loves me – not because he has done something to make me question his love, but because my heart grows insecure when he does not actively pursue me. Men and women often view pursuit differently. Men say, “I pursued you and married you. You were clearly my choice!” But, women need to be pursued (at some level) throughout their marriage or they begin to feel undesirable. When I ask Eric if he still loves me, of course he answers, “Yes.” If you feel the need to ask your spouse for assurance someday, do it. It is far better than letting your mind take you down an unnecessary dark road.
- Are we going to make it? Just like my friend, I have encountered fear-filled crossroads where I honestly wondered if Eric and I would make it until death parts us. On days when the anger was blinding, and the anguish was breathtaking, I was not sure my heart could handle a lifetime. At those junctures, God’s grace became more priceless than ever to my heart. There was (and is) such a deep comfort in knowing God can take what Satan means for bad and turn it for our good (Genesis 50:20). That He can turn our mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11-12). That He gives beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3). And, that everything works together for good to those who love God and who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Knowing God is with us and has a purpose for our pain gives me the strength to keep going, even when the hurt is deep.
- I wonder if he realizes how deeply he hurts me sometimes? Before the baggage piles up, it is easier to convince ourselves that our significant others have good intentions. He did not mean to hurt my heart. He is just tired. She is a sweetheart most of the time. She probably snapped at me in front of my friends because she is overwhelmed with work problems. But, after several years of heartache and hurt feelings, compassion runs thin. After the fiftieth similar offense, we start to think that maybe, just maybe, our sweetheart is not that nice after all. Maybe he is not in the dark. Maybe he knows he is breaking my heart and just does not care. As is typically the case, the truth is often in the middle. Eric sometimes does hurt me when he is angry and frustrated. But, he is not a villain who wakes up each morning looking for ways to break my heart. As the man who holds my emotional core in the palm of his hand, he has a greater ability to hurt me than most anyone else on Earth. When you marry someday, remember how much power you wield in your spouse’s life. At times, I have ripped Eric apart without even realizing it because I forgot the power of my words.
- Will life and marriage ever turn out the way I imagined it when I was single? My head knew marriage would not be easy, but my heart was on a hot air balloon ride. Marriage was going to be wonderful; those who said otherwise were jaded and had somehow screwed up their lives. My mind dreamed up a beautiful fairytale romance, then reality showed up and shot my gorgeous picture to pieces. We realized how different we are and how passionately we value mutually exclusive pursuits. During many of those early days, marriage felt like an elementary school game of tug of war and we both felt like the losers. But, I kept up hope and thought, “As soon as we get through this next hurdle – pursuit, goal – we will get to breathe and enjoy married life.” It took me a while to realize that we were smack dab in the middle of married life, and though easier days may come, we cannot count on them. We have to find the happy in the midst of the drama. At one time or another, we all have to grieve what we thought our lives would be.
- Why do I have to need this man?!? My pride swells within me when I am angry with Eric and yet have to admit I still need him. When steam is floating from my ears and darts are protruding from my squinted eyes, the last phrase on Earth I want to utter is, “Eric, I need your help.” At times, I try to convince myself I do not need him and that I can do just fine on my own. And, you know what? I am sure I could. Some way or another, I would make it; but, my heart needs this man. Even when I feel deeply justified in my anger, I still know deep within I need him. At first, I hate admitting it because I want to prove I can do whatever I need to do on my own. But, as the darkness fades and the ice around my heart melts, I soften and reach out for him. As the years pass, it becomes ever clearer that God created this marriage relationship for a reason – for our good and His glory – and He will be faithful to us even when we struggle to love one another faithfully.
- How will I ever live without him? Even after all the arguments, all the tears, and all the painful questions, when I consider my life without this man, my heart cracks open. He is my friend, my partner, my comic relief, my (earthly) provider, my snuggle bug, my Pookie, and my companion. Life is hard. Last week, we got in a dispute over trash bags. You heard correctly – trash bags. This is life; this is marriage. Some of the biggest laughs you will ever have with your future spouse will be over your dumb arguments. During periods of painful questioning, remember why you love each other. Write down why you chose each other. Refer back to those memories when the going gets tough.
This post was not intended to depress you – quite the opposite, in fact. Instead, I want young people everywhere to know you will have questions, days when you feel like you are losing control, and fears in all stages of your future marriage. Even the strongest person becomes vulnerable when the heart is involved, and when we do not talk about our struggles, we begin to feel like the only one in the world fighting to stay afloat. So many times I have curled up alone, feeling a deep sense of loneliness, visualizing every other couple I know laughing and having an amazing time with their spouses. In reality, they were probably sitting somewhere feeling the same way but too ashamed or afraid to admit it to anyone.
Later on down the road, when you encounter some (or all) of these questions, remember Eric and I have been there; and, keep in mind that no matter what people present in public (and on social media), there is often pain somewhere lurking beneath the surface. We are not alone in our suffering.
Since you know difficult questions are coming, I encourage you to start planning for them now. Write a letter to your future-self explaining why you love your significant other. List specific details and examples of why you find your man or woman to be so special. Write out answers to the questions above while you are sober-minded. If it would be more impactful, record your voice answering the questions. Test your answers with the following verse:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8, ESV)
Despite the bumps and scrapes, marriage can also be pretty amazing. It was designed to be tremendous, but darkened when sin entered the world. Eric has a special way of making me laugh no one else can touch. His is the face I want to see at the end of the day, and the embrace I want to feel. When I encounter pain in our relationship, remembering our many good times helps me to not lose heart.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18, ESV)
As with everything else He created, God made marriage to bring glory to Himself, and if we view our marriage as an avenue to bless and honor God, the rest will fall into place. It will never be perfect, but it can be incredibly humbling, sanctifying, and rewarding.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33, ESV)
How are you preparing for the difficult seasons to come?