Instant Maturity (or, How to Have a Happy Marriage)
I recently received the very sad news that a relative’s fairly new marriage is tanking. It’s caused me to reflect upon my own, and do a lot of praying, and considering what I should do (if anything) to help shore up their relationship.
Also, a friend… almost “just” an acquaintance, recently asked me if I would provide some guidance for her regarding her own marriage, since hers isn’t going nearly as she had anticipated.
I have a really good marriage. I adore my husband. I have high hopes for the continuing health and longterm viability of my marriage. However, that wasn’t always the case.
My parents divorced when I was 15 after nearly 20 years of a truly miserable, abuse-filled marriage. My husband’s parents married when they were 16 & 17 years old — not because they “had” to — and were divorced two sons and three years later. My dh was raised by his dad and a steady succession of evil stepmothers.
Going into our marriage, we were determined to break those patterns, and that *we* would do things differently. I thought that because these desires were so noble and Godly that, even though I knew basically *nothing* about healthy marriage relationships, it would be pretty easy. God would bless us towards that end, right?
Well, He has blessed us, and amazingly so. But it sure didn’t feel like that, early on. I, who previously rarely cried, wept every day for the first three months of my marriage, and very frequently after those first three months. The nearly continual wail from my heart was, “Oh God, what have I gotten myself into?”
I was really confused; things were *not* going as I had planned, and marriage was really, really, really hard.
A few pivotal things happened to change that, but at what felt like an abominably slow rate:
- I happened to study the Meyers-Briggs theories of personality, both as part of a church leadership retreat that I went to, and as part of a Bible study that I was going to. It sounds *so* cheesy, but that literally changed my life. It opened my eyes to the fact that not everyone thinks, processes, values nor expresses the same things I do, the same way that I do, and nor should they. It *really* changed my perspective on the whole right/wrong thing in my marriage and in other relationships, and gave me the tool that I needed to better understand both my hubby and myself. It was the bridge over what seemed to be an impassable chasm between my husband and myself.
- I started going to the aforementioned Bible study, based on Titus 2, and largely about being a better wife. That study opened my eyes to the fact that I had approached my marriage *very* selfishly, and expected it, and my husband, to serve my own purposes while I was just “me”, making no effort to reciprocate. Ugh. I also realized that I had the wrong, way-too-idealistic belief that if we were “right” for eachother, that he would just be “himself” and I would just be myself, and the twain would be exactly what we needed. IOW, neither of us would have to change.
- I had a little revelation from God. I remember the place (the blue-tiled bathroom of my first house) and the approximate time (about 3 years into my marriage). God showed me that I had expected Martin to not only put me on a pedestal and do nothing but encourage me, thank me, appreciate me, love me, adore me, comfort me, etc., but that I had expected him to build a soft nest for me. I had expected him to be the savior of my up-until-that-point very difficult life, and that his job was to make things easy for me. In an instant, I saw that if he had ever done that, it would not fulfill the purposes of God for my life. I’d never grow, I’d never mature, I’d never improve. I’d stagnate. Instead, at least at that point in my life, God showed me that I needed an “iron sharpening iron” relationship. I needed someone to challenge my beliefs about God, my beliefs about myself, and my understandings about what a good marriage was. I needed someone who could help me see the areas in my life that were frought with bad attitudes, poor assumptions and outright lies. I needed someone to pull me out of the pit of self-centered abject immaturity and onto the path towards something better. The thing is, that hurt. It was hard. It was not what I wanted. But, I saw in an instant that it was what I desperately needed, and that Martin was the man that God had provided for me to achieve that.
After that time of revelation in the bathroom, my perspective changed radically. I had the confidence that I had not made some horribly wrong decision to get married. I had the assurance that I had not married the wrong man. I had hope for the future.
But, things were still hard. “The future” seemed to come very, very slowly. It still seemed like things were all work and no joy. Or 99% work and 1% joy. Then, a few things happened to change that:
- We had our 10th anniversary in November of 2004. Martin planned our celebration — every bit of it, including childcare. We went to south Texas, which he had no personal interest in. However, along the Rio Grande are the best birding spots in the nation. And, my maternal grandparents live there, who are very dear to me, but whom I hadn’t seen in several years. And, he knows I like walks, which he cares not a whit for. He planned on us walking through the various nature preserves, birding. Also, he planned (with my grandparents) for us to stay a few nights with them. IOW, it was all about my interests, which I thought he had completely overlooked. We stayed in the BEST bed & breakfast on South Padre Island, and had a perfect time. At that time, I really needed to know that he cared about me; I had felt very utilitarian in our marriage, and somewhat unappreciated. I was toughing it out, but my heart was wilting. That trip went along way towards reviving me.
- In the summer of 2005, we attended some marriage classes at church. From our perspective at the time, it was kind of for continuing quality improvement, not because we really needed it. The book that the classes were based upon was OK only. But, the discussions that we had, as homework, ended up being exactly what we needed. I had a nonconfrontational forum to… air some grievances, and to admit some hurts. And Martin, instead of being offended, did what he could to change how he approached some things, and how he communicated others, and to me, it made a *huge* difference.
- I made a concerted effort — and this has only been in this last year — to concentrate on my husband’s good qualities. I had found myself in a very discontented place, and constantly aware of my hubby’s flaws. I had another little revelation that if all I could see of this good man were bad things, then I needed to change my perspective. So, I made a list of all the things I was thankful for about him, and put forth major efforts to take my thoughts captive, choosing to spend my thought life focusing on his good points, instead of angsting about his bad ones. It’s not that I started lying to myself, and it’s not like I was just glossing over areas that needed attention. But, I decided that I needed to remind myself of the truth — the good truth — and not to pick apart every negative thing about my dh and dwell upon them.
So, these last 2+ years, and specifically, this last year, have been the best of our marriage, ever. I feel extremely blessed. It’s not like my hubby and my marriage magically became perfect, but my focus has been on the better parts of both, instead of all the spots that need improvement. Many of those spots are still there; they’re not swept under the rug or anything like that. I’m just aware that they’ll be worked on in God’s time, and not my own. AND, it’s a lot easier to work on those things in an environment that’s joyful, playful, contented and blessed.
Now, where does the “instant maturity” thing from the title of this post fit in? I’m seeing more and more, both in my friend’s marriage, my relative’s marriage, and in life in general, that the things that specially we women long for in our marriages and in our husbands, only come after staying in for the long haul. We want instant maturity, but it doesn’t happen like that. The things we really want only come about after weathering things together. They only come as God brings us through the processes that are difficult and often painful. Now, there are probably a LOT of women out there who aren’t so stubborn and self-centered and hard-headed as I was (or am), so the journey to get you from discontentment to peace might not take you 10+ years as it did me. BUT, I’m firmly convinced now that there are no shortcuts to maturity. And just because you or your husband are flawed, just because you have areas of discontent doesn’t mean that you’ve married the wrong man. It just means that there are some things that you need to go through, together. It just means that *surprise!* when you’re 21 or 24 or 30 or whatever, neither you nor your husband are the paragon of maturity and wisdom, and that’s going to affect your relationship.
Virtually all the complaints that I’ve heard or observed about poor marital relationships stem from the fact that there’s immaturity somewhere. Usually, the wife wants (expects!) her husband to be all the man that she envisions that he can be, but she wants that right now. She wants instant maturity for her husband, for herself, and for their married relationship. And when those things don’t happen instantly, she too often thinks that he’s wrong and that the marriage needs to end.
I believe that plays right into the enemy’s plans and thwarts God’s more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding plan for marital (and personal) happiness.
Last thought: Yesterday, as I was mulling this over, I considered the parallels between choosing to strengthen one’s marriage and choosing to work out (body build, strength train, excercise, etc.). See, early in my marriage, I thought it was unnatural and not right for me to bend into something that I wasn’t. I thought that if my husband and I were “right” for each other, we should just be who we naturally were, and that should be enough, and that there was something wrong with acting or being something that didn’t come innately. Well… if that were true, then there would be no value in working out. There would be no value in eating healthily. There would be no value in studying anything difficult. There would be no value in challenging oneself to take on apparently insurmountable challenges. But the truth is, each of those thing (under the right circumstances) leads to a better self: A strong, healthy body; better knowledge; greater strength of character and perserverance. Why is it so easy to see the value in working out — which is “unnatural” — but not so easy to see the value in changing one’s communication habits, or exercising selflessness, or exhibiting self control?
Anyways… I have a feeling that if I read this 30 years from now, I’ll be embarrassed by my audaciousness at claiming some level of maturity, and claiming that I have a good marriage. But, believe me, I’m *way* further on both those paths than I was 12 years ago, and I’m glad to be there. Some of it has been simply the grace of God, some of it has been due to my husband’s innate character, some of it is due to his own efforts, and in him drawing closer to God. And some of it has been through my own choosing to apply (at least some of the things) that have been taught to me about marriage and personal growth — both in reading Scripture for myself; in having a wise pastor who actually challenges people; in having people around me that I can learn from; from books; and the change that just sort of serendipitously happens as one seeks to go further up and further into relationship with the God of all creation.
So, my admonishment and my encouragement to anyone who still happens to be reading is, DON’T GIVE UP on your marriage. My pastor likes to say, “If you don’t quit, you win.” Don’t be deceived by the idealistic discontentment that says to you, “Well, if he was right for you, your marriage would be a lot better right now. He’d be a better father. You’d be happier.” SOME things, some rewards, don’t come until you’ve prepared the soil, planted the seed, tended the young plants, weeded, taken care of any attacking insects, watered neither too much nor too little, provided sunlight, and maybe some extra nutrients. It just takes time. NOT time sitting back and doing nothing: ACTIVE time.
I hope this all makes sense. And, I truly hope it will be of use to someone who is thinking about giving up. “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”