I think there comes a moment in everyone’s marriage – usually early on for those with good communication skills, and later on for those who are better at hiding what is actually going on in their heart (my category, by the way) – where you look at your spouse and wonder, “Oh my God, who are you and what did you do with the person I married?”
I’m not talking about the “you squeeze the toothpaste from the middle” argument, or the classic, “Toilet paper should spin from the top, not the bottom of the roll” disagreement that every newlywed has. I’m talking bigger things today. Like:
When they really lose their temper in front of you for the first time and it makes you afraid. When you realize that thing that didn’t really bother you while you were dating really does bother you now that you live with it, and you awaken to the fact that it isn’t going to change. When you catch them using porn on the internet. When you realize what you thought was a bad habit is actually an addiction. When you get that credit card bill for that thing you can’t afford, didn’t want and now are on the hook for. When something from their past pops up that they didn’t disclose to you before the marriage, or you didn’t fully grasp its ability to affect you, and now it is sitting in your lap. When the emotional baggage from their past won’t be suppressed anymore and you begin to realize just how broken by sin they are, and now they are evolving into someone right before your eyes that you aren’t even sure you recognize. When they make a really stupid or selfish mistake and do something, say something that hurts you so badly, different words enter your vocabulary – like betrayal, abandonment and regret. When you start entertaining those thoughts on “What if…”, when you swore you never would.
(This is a discussion where it is really important to realize that if you are pointing a finger at your spouse, you are also pointing three fingers back at yourself. If you are thinking any of these things, I’m pretty sure your partner is having the similar thoughts about you.)
It is usually at that moment, when the new reality begins to set in, that most people begin thinking “Is this marriage thing really permanent?”
When you marry, in front of God and your family and friends, you make unbreakable vows to each other for this very reason. Because if people could get out of marriage, at some time or another, almost everyone would. Sure, people divorce and move on all the time. But make no mistake, when you break your marriage vows, you also break the people who made them.
The marriage predictor I am talking about today (the character qualities, behavior patterns and practices that bend a relational trajectory towards a loving, stable relationship – or not) is your decision to stand and work and fight for your marriage and not run when this first happens. And I’m pretty sure this moment happens to everyone. Because most of us have bought into the lie that marriage is about making us happy – and when it doesn’t, we begin thinking about how to bail. At some point in the relationship, most likely you will be faced with the temptation to leave – either physically or emotionally. And when you decide to honor your vows, to stay, even when everything in you is screaming, “Get me out of here!”, you set your relationship on a trajectory that leads to a very promising place.
Learning to do this, early in the marriage, to stay in, all in, both emotionally and physically, is a learned skill. And learning to do it from the get-go…I can’t really think of a stronger predictor of one’s ability to do it later, when the stakes just might get exponentially higher. Committing to the energy it requires to work through those “Oh my God…” moments early on in your marriage teaches you that you can survive them, and that you can work together through whatever will come up later. And just a bit of truth for all the young couples out there…there is always something else that will come up later. And later, it is almost always something much more complicated (which is code for ‘painful’).
So young couples – talk to each other about this. Make it part of your relational vocabulary. And decide together that you both will survive these early challenges and come out on the other side, more invested in and more committed to the success of your marriage than before.
Here is a link to an interview from the world’s oldest living couple, married over 85 years!
(This post isn’t meant as a critique of anyone’s marriage, broken or damaged – it is meant as a springboard for discussion and prayer. I’ve heard from some of my readers that this series has been painful to read. Please know, I totally get how tough marriage is and can be. I am writing from a place of great compassion for you.)