Marriage: Mission Possible
Today Sheila of To Love, Honor and Vacuum will be sharing her Marriage: Mission Possible . . .
If there was only one thing from the story of your marriage that you could share, what would it be? What lesson learned, revelation, heart change or profound moment is a testament to God’s plan for marriage?
When my husband and I speak at marriage conferences, we often begin by telling people, “we’ve been married for twenty years and happily married for fifteen.” Because the truth is that the first few years were hardly bliss.
It started with our wedding night, which was an unmitigated disaster. Sex was horrible because I was so nervous. And thus began five years of intermittent conflict.
What I didn’t realize then, but do now, is that marriage is a journey. When Keith and I would fight, I would wallow in depression. I couldn’t even function until we had worked it out.
Looking back, I can see how part of my nervousness was that I couldn’t see one basic fact: “what we are going through now is only a phase. Because we’re committed to each other, we’ll get through this phase.” The beauty of being married is that you have decades to work things out. If things are tough, you can choose to stick it out, learn to love, and learn to listen. What you don’t need to do is panic. And what are the things I panicked about?
1. He didn’t understand me
When sex was a huge issue in our marriage, all I could think was, “why can’t he just love me for me? Why does he need me to do something for him?” Whenever he wanted sex, I took it as a personal affront. He wasn’t accepting me (it didn’t occur to me at the time that I wasn’t accepting his needs, either).
And I assumed that this is the way that it always would be. I couldn’t see that when you have two people who love each other and who each love God, God can help you learn to understand one another and reach out to one another. He can mold you into a different person. And that’s what God did for us. It wasn’t instantaneous, but as I look back on the last twenty years, I can see how we have grown together.
Now, when I feel like Keith doesn’t understand me, I don’t panic. I just figure we’re in the middle of a learning curve, and I work on our friendship so we can keep communication going. And soon we’re on the same page again!
2. Sex is Awful
When sex was difficult when we were first married, I was convinced that I was living a real life Emperor’s New Clothes story. I figured that God designed sex for men, and every other woman realized that it was a big rip off, but everyone was afraid to say it. I was the only enlightened one. And I figured that this is the way sex was always going to be.
Twenty years later I can gladly say that sex got a lot better! When I did my research for my new book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I found that sex gets better with time. The best years sexually for couples are years 16-20. So if it doesn’t work like clockwork right away, you don’t need to worry. Just laugh about it, relax, and jump in. It’s going to get better! (And if you don’t believe me, I wrote a series of posts on how women can orgasm right here).
3. Grief is Overwhelming
The biggest breakthrough in our marriage, ironically, actually came when our son was terminally ill. Five years into our marriage we had a little baby boy with a very serious heart defect. He died after surgery. The next day one of the cardiologists told us, “we should warn you that 50% of couples break up within a year of this happening.”
Besides being an incredibly stupid thing to say to grieving parents, it also wasn’t a prophecy. Marriage is a journey. We’re always moving and growing. The question is: are we going to move and grow together?
There was an experiment done off the coast of Brazil a few years ago. Some sailors dropped two bottles in the water to see what would happen. One washed up on the coast of Central America. One went all the way around the world and landed in East Africa. They started in the same place but they ended up half a world away.
You can’t drift together; you can only ever drift apart. If you want to stay together, you have to be deliberate.
In the days after our son’s death, we were deliberate. We were determined not to lose our marriage. We had already lost a son.
And as I look back over the sixteen years since his death, that’s what I have seen in our marriage. Things never stay the same. When they look the bleakest, don’t panic. You’ve signed up for life, and as long as you’re committed to each other, and you’re travelling together in the same direction, things are going to be okay.
You don’t need to worry about every little thing. You don’t need to assume that sex, or parenting, or your relationship is always going to be in a rut. But you also don’t need to let the big things bother you. Everyday is a journey together. Everyday you choose whether to walk close to each other or away from each other. And as you walk together, things do get better—even the things that we feel will always be bleak. That’s the beauty of marriage.