A Few Things Young People Should Know About Marriage (pt.2) – It’s What’s On The Inside

(My series on marriage continues…pt 1 here.)

When you marry someone, you marry all of them. Not just their body, but their character as well.  This means, there might just be potentially destructive things inside of them – memories, wounding, character weaknesses, lies, self-protecting behaviors, sins, addictions or addictive tendencies, negative family patterns, lie-based beliefs or unhealthy communication styles.  And you are marrying all of that too.  Since no one can hide their inner selves forever, these traits will almost certainly show themselves at some point during your marriage.  Of course there are positive things inside each of us as well, but my experience has been that the positive things aren’t buried.  Instead, they are grown through the years by intentional effort.  In other words, they aren’t a surprise, and almost no one hides them.  The negative however…well, we all know we try to hide that stuff until we just can’t anymore.  This means, they usually show themselves in the middle of a mess, when we, or our circumstances are out of our control, and our filters are down.  Which makes the internal potentially very, very dangerous.  And it makes knowing what is inside of us very, very important.  Imagine walking into the middle of a minefield (which is sort what marriage is) and having no idea where the mines are.  You are always one step away from not just ruining your day, but your life. This is what it can be like, marrying someone with internal hidden “mines” waiting to get triggered.

Let me preface some of this by saying, having darkness inside of us doesn’t disqualify us from marriage.  If that were the case, no one would be married.  We are all twisted compilations of woundedness and dysfunction.  My point is that, because of the reality of the potential dangers in our inner world, before you get married, or early on in your marriage,  it is a good idea to…

4. Date in such a way that you get to really know who they are and something of what might be inside of their heart. We all know that much of our dating practices are deceptive.  We wear our best clothes, put on our best manners, give more thoughtful gifts, hide our crazy relatives, sacrifice sleep to help, etc.  It’s a game we all play and it isn’t without its charming merits.  But, what would it look like if young people who think they might marry each other, said something like, “Because we should both know as much as we can about what we might be getting into, I am willing to do a few things that enable us both to see something of what might lie inside each of us.  (Counseling, sitting with older, wiser couples, taking tests, reading and studying together, etc) And I commit that, when (not if) we find things that hold destructive potential, I won’t hide them and I’ll begin working on them now, before we go any further.” Yes, I know. This sounds really weird.  And probably unrealistic.  But I promise you, there are a bunch of 40 something married folk who are cheering from the sidelines, “Do it! Do it! Do it!” Because it can be a rather terrifying experience, after you are married a while, to see something unexpected and potentially destructive pop out of your spouse that you had no idea was there.  I’ve previously written about what this can look like here. And since I’ve already gone to places you might be uncomfortable with, let me just go ahead and push it a bit.

5. Invest in professional pre-marriage counseling. Or invest in preventative, proactive counseling to build a stronger marriage, especially before problems arise.  In an ideal world, older, relationally healthy couples would voluntarily meet with, love on and teach younger couples how to be married well.  In reality however, we all know it is hard to find a marriage mentor.  (Don’t quit looking though! There are some out there.  If you find a couple like this, thank Jesus for this blessing, and then learn to be that to younger couples later.) Fortunately, there is a wonderful profession out there with people who not only study the institution of marriage, family, emotional health and how to integrate their spirituality with it all, but they have done a lot of personal work in this area and have wisdom to offer.  They are called professional counselors and marriage and family therapists.  Pr. 4:5-7 says, “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them.  Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.  Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” We invest in our cars, our homes, our retirements, etc.  That which is important to us, we don’t leave sitting out in the rain, trusting it won’t rust or decay.  We pay attention to it and spend money to maintain it.  Why would our marriages be any different?  Invest in it.  With the help of those who know what they are doing.  And don’t be afraid to pay for it if you have to. There is something very helpful about sitting with a non-involved third-party, someone who can lead conversations, ask probing questions, moderate conflict and create an environment for couples to talk about things that may never come up if not brought up very intentionally.

6. Look for a spouse who is learning the spiritual practice of transparency and openness with others.  (and learn to practice this for yourself) This can take a lot of different forms and names.  Some people join accountability groups.  Others have Bible study groups.  Some have mentors, spiritual directors, counselors, spiritual friends, pastors, etc.  The central idea is that they understand a vital part of their spiritual development is to open themselves up to others in honesty and authenticity.  They invite someone else to look at their inner world, their dark stuff, and speak to it or offer guidance around it. Telling our stories and being known by others is a vital part of our spiritual growth.  You want to be married to someone who is walking this path.   Because one day, if you do marriage authentically and deeply and don’t run from the pain, an issue, problem, crisis will arise in your marriage or lives. And it will require you and your spouse to do some soul-searching.  It will require you both to open some very personal and probably very scary things about yourselves to others.  And it will be terrifying if the first time you have to do this is when you are in pain and afraid and in crisis.  It is worth it as a young person to spend a little time learning how to do this, so that, when you really need to do it, you already know how to do it.

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Just How Married Do I Want To Be? – My Annual Anniversary Post

Today is my wedding anniversary – and Jeff and I are celebrating! A few years ago I started marking the date by writing something about marriage in general and my marriage in particular, for Intersections on this day. (Past

Our brick in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.

Our brick in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.

examples are here  and here.)  As you can imagine, with the last few years we’ve had with Jeff’s health, I am reflecting quite a bit. Not that I need much to push me into reflective mode, mind you;) but… What a ride we’ve had. So, what follows are a  few meditations on marriage that have been rolling around in my head and heart for a while in light of our present season of life.

  • Just how married do I want to be? In some ways, being married is sort of like being pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t. And in some ways, marriage is sort of like milk. There’s skim, 2% and whole – you have some choice in your experience with it. There have been times in the last few years, with the threat of losing my Jeff hovering over me, that I have found myself pulling away from him emotionally in order to protect myself. Because it is so painful to fully feel all that is going on inside of me. Even as I’ve been very present and very committed to physically taking care of him. This is a natural tendency we all have – pulling away to protect ourselves. So I am asking myself these days, “Just how married do I want to be? Am I willing to go “all-in” even if I know it will hurt unbelievably to “stay in?” (I wrote about this phenomenon here a while back. It is one of my favorite posts I’ve ever written.) “Do I want the type of marriage that protecting myself builds, or do I want the type of marriage that an “all-in” investment, both emotionally and physically, builds? I’ve decided that I want to be very married, as married as one can be. Because “skim” marriage is so watered down…I don’t want a roommate and babysitting partner. I want a husband. And having one of those well takes a lot of work. And emotional capital. And time. And tears.  And I’m willing to pay for THAT experience with marriage… b/c kisses from a man I truly love are so much more satisfying than kisses from a man I just like…b/c I want my kids to grow up in a home where their parents are really married…b/c I want to be loved by Jeff fully like that…b/c when Jeff and I married 18 years ago, this is what we were agreeing to try and do together.
  • Even when I don’t think I have choice, I always have choice. I did not get to choose whether or not my husband got sick. It would be easy to focus on that – and allow helplessness, despair, anger and jealousy of others rise. (And those emotions, and many more, have certainly had their way with me many, many days. Have you read my blog in the past?) But there is so much I do get to choose in my life’s situation! For instance…When our family’s story is told years from now, I get a lot of choice in determining who I will be in that story. Will I be the woman who ran, if not physically, then emotionally? Will I be the woman who allowed bitterness to rise and rule in her heart and life? Or will I be the woman who decided to keep her vows – not just the letter of them, but the spirit of them as well? Will I be a wife who loved her husband as best as she knew how, as fully as she knew how, even as it held the potential to utterly break her heart? Will I choose to find the joy and humor in it all as best as I know how, even when the easier choice is to indulge the despair and self-centeredness that tempts us all in the middle of pain? I also get to choose much of how I walk with my Jesus through my pain – letting Him speak to me through it, heal me with it, strengthen me as IMG_1179a result of it. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Pain isn’t the worst thing that can happen to me. A life without meaning is. It is so easy to try and do my life and marriage without Jesus. Because sometimes He just complicates everything. (I wrote about this here.) And when I hurt, my natural response is to avoid, numb or medicate. Or to assume that the presence of pain indicates I am out of His will for my life, that He is at the worst, cruel, and at best, too busy to notice me. But what if…what if my pain is actually an invitation to more? To allow Jesus to do a deep and healing work of the heart within? To know Him more. To become more. To become a potential blessing to those I love? What if I decide to “stay in” those painful circumstances, and ask Jesus what exactly it is He is doing in my life …and then cooperate with whatever His answer is? I have found that walking with Jesus through pain (instead of around it) does this most amazing thing. It grows my heart bigger. It allows me to love more. Forgive more.  Weep more, yes. But also to laugh and enjoy life and being married more. And when my heart has a greater capacity to feel all that…to be more fully human…really great things happen in my marriage. And in my parenting. And in my life. My marriage can have greater meaning than just making me happy – although that is certainly a part of it! It can be a way Jesus makes me more whole. And I am finding that everyone around me benefits when I bring a more whole me to the table. But I have to choose to stay in it, even when it hurts, even when there are easier choices out there, even when how things are playing out isn’t what I would choose on my own. Because…at least on the days I can gain a glimpse of clarity…I want my life to have meaning. I want my pain to have meaning. And pain is often a doorway to meaning. To clarity. If, and only if, I am willing to walk through it.

So, choosing to stay “all in” my marriage, wholly and fully, even when it hurts…can be absolutely wonderful. Even on the days it most definitely isn’t. And this is part of what I am celebrating today with my husband. Happy Anniversary to us!