One of my most vivid memories in my almost six years of being married (I am a newbie so forgive any naivete that is written here) is sitting in absolute dejection wondering why nobody bothered to tell me that it was absolutely possible to love your husband with everything you have and still feel completely unfulfilled in your union. I was a new wife and a new mom. Our infant did not sleep the night before and was screaming his head off, tears and all, for some attention. I asked my husband to attend to him and the man I love put our only child in his Pack-and-Play and walked away, unbothered. I. was. livid! That moment is forever seared in my memory because of what it spoke to me about my husband, whether my thoughts were true or false. It said that he did not care that I was struggling with sleep-deprivation as a new mom; he could not have cared about our son; and obviously he felt that the work associated with raising our children was beneath him and only fit for the maid-wife he had married. The thoughts all collided with each other and angry tears spurred me to call one of my leaders to unleash all the pent-up rage of postpartum frustration and anxiety.
After that moment, I looked for reasons to validate what my fears said was true. That my husband did not care; that he thought the kids were my responsibility and not his, and that he thought less of me. Anytime any of his actions lined up with those thoughts, I added it to my list of small betrayals. Once I did this long enough, I became a walking, talking personification of my worst fears. I was insecure about my place in my husband’s affection (wondering if he really liked me or if he thought I was a burden) and overly-sensitive to any of his criticisms (perceived or real) about my abilities as a wife and a mother.
When I finally noticed what misery I had created for myself, I had already wasted two years to insecurity and feelings of unworthiness. Those two years were not miserable years by any means. We created many fun and lasting memories. I am sure we had more than a few moments of deep joy and absolute marital bliss, but underneath it all was my belief that my husband does not really value me because if he did, he would have helped me more. What finally snapped me out of my “woe is me” mentality was a candid conversation with a friend. Her marriage was facing the same challenges that we were facing but had deteriorated to the point of separation. Underneath the tirade of issues they were experiencing was one common foundation – each spouse sincerely believed the other to be his/her adversary, not their partner.
Alarm bells went off in my head. I had been harboring the same exact thoughts about my husband. Believing the worst about him without speaking it aloud; complaining to our closest allies in hopes that someone would call him to the carpet. It felt like I was the perfect wife to an undeserving husband.
If I did not want my marriage to end in separation or turn into simply a marriage on paper (where we live under one roof and have completely separate lives), I had to change my mind.
Here are the 5 Ways I Changed My Mind and Saved My Marriage:
- Remember that I chose my husband just as much as he chose me. Nobody forced my husband on me, nor me on him. We saw each other. We observed one another’s character. We liked what we found in each other and we deemed one another worthy of a lifetime commitment built on Christ. I went into my relationship with my husband with my eyes wide open (for the most part). I knew he was not perfect when I met and fell in love with him. I had plenty of opportunity to decide if he was what I wanted (we have known each other for over 17 years and began our relationship eight years ago – so I had almost a decade of a head start to figure out who this man was before we were romantically involved). After weighing all my options and seeing him, faults and all, I still chose him and I still believed God when God said my husband was His best for me. Remembering the fact that my spouse is my choice forces me to remember why. It brings to mind all of the qualities that I saw before I gave him my heart. When I remember those things – his love for family, his generosity, the simplicity of his faith in Christ, his sense of humor, his intelligence and on and on like that – it is easier to honor him and our union. If my spouse is absolutely without redeeming quality, then why did I choose him? Chances are high that who he is, is who he has always been. Marrying him is my affirmative statement that “I accept you for who you are and I am committed to loving you for life with the knowledge that you might never change.” If I did not intend to make such a statement, then marriage was a premature move on my part.
- Treat my husband as my teammate, not my adversary or competition. Husband and wife are designed to become one flesh. That is what the whole journey of sexual intimacy in marriage, combining households, resources and finances, being emotionally vulnerable and monogamous is suppose to aid us to do. In name and in practice, we should be on one team, and speak with a unified voice. When I start harboring beliefs that my husband values his contribution more than mine, I am treating us as if we are competing with each other for “best spouse.” I am not treating us a team. Whether he works and I stay home, or we both work or he stays home, every effort made by either of us, is for the good of the both of us. Me taking primary caregiver responsibilities at home frees him up to focus on his work in the marketplace. It is not a lesser contribution. Him staying home with the children while I work full-time does not make him lazy or a bum. The care he provides at home saves us thousands in outside care as well as providing peace of mind that our children are in the care of those who love them best (their parents). All of the work and all of the effort goes into the same pot. There is no “his or mine,” only ours. And as a good teammate, if I see that my team member is struggling in an area where I am strong, I jump right in to support their efforts. I don’t share insider information (my husband’s confidences) with third parties. I don’t expose his weaknesses to those who may use it against him. I honor him both publicly and privately. And if there ever comes a point where I need to “take one for the team” (by sacrificing a personal non-essential desire for our collective wholeness) then that is exactly what I do.
- Give him (and myself) permission to grow. The most dejected I have ever felt about my marriage were the moments when I would convince myself that things would always be like this because this is who we were as a couple. When we are in a hard season as a couple (bumping heads, on different pages or simply not connecting emotionally), that thought is absolutely terrifying. It feels like “I chose the wrong partner” every time we have a difficult day. But when I give my husband full permission to grow, I realize that husbands are grown, not born. What is hard today is not necessarily going to be hard a year, two years or ten years from now. My husband minimized holidays and birthdays when we first got married. He did not grow up celebrating them so he never made a fuss about them and rarely gave gifts. I used to be so disappointed when what should have been milestones would pass just like any other day in our home. I would do my best to celebrate for the both of us. As the years has gone on, my husband has adjusted to my love of holidays and I have adjusted my expectation of him as well. I do not expect a parade at each occasion and make it a point to appreciate thoughtful cards and token gifts. He, in turn, has done an amazing job at surprising me in recent years with meaningful gifts and celebrations. We have both grown in that area. If I did not give us permission to grow in this particular place, I would have interpreted his lack of gift-giving as a measure of love (or lack thereof) and he could have decided my disappointed response from our early marriage was a measure of my ungratefulness for the many ways he takes care of and shows affection towards me year-round.
- Celebrate my portion. There is a lot of good in my marriage. I do not always have time to shout it from the rooftops (my Facebook and Instagram page) or throw a party about it, but nevertheless it is true. And I am almost sure that there is something to celebrate in every marriage. If I am married to someone whose company I genuinely enjoy (and I am!), that is something to celebrate. Although it should be true for every marriage, I am sure we all know at least one couple who have chosen to stay together but it is obvious to everyone on the outside that they cannot stand each other. If that is not your portion, please celebrate the friendship that you have with your spouse. If I am married to man who is a great provider, then I celebrate the peace of mind that comes with knowing that my partner invests into our family without having to be prodded. There are some men (women too) who do not want a marriage unless it comes with a “roommate agreement” (split the bills and everyone must pay their own share) so if you have a spouse that joyfully tackles whatever responsibilities may come to your household, with no regard for whose name is on what (no “yours or mine,” only ours), then you have a partner worth celebrating. If my husband is completely in tune with my emotional needs, then I celebrate that. If he is an amazing father and hands-on parent, I celebrate that. If he is a man devoted to private prayer and corporate worship, I bless God for that as well. There is always something to celebrate in my portion, and I am sure if you look for it, you will find something to celebrate in yours as well.
- Quit the comparison. One day I was listening to a woman I greatly admire as she was talking to a group of us about her marriage. She told us that her husband sent her to the hairstylist after two days of her rocking a “do it yourself” hairdo while awaiting her hair appointment from her regular stylist. At home, I looked at my wig-less head in the mirror and busted out laughing. As much as I admired my friend’s union for all of the wonderful things that God does through her and her husband, I realized immediately that I would never thrive if my husband was an exact replica of hers. I can go months without a proper visit to my hairstylist. And this is not because I am doing my hair everyday at home. Most days, my natural hair is braided down and hiding underneath one unit or another. My husband always shows me extra loving when I get my hair freshly done, however he has verbally expressed that he does not mind my hair however I choose to wear it at home. I use that light example to drive home the point that God has given me what I can handle. I am designed to flourish exactly where God has placed me in my marriage and with my husband. Comparing my life to anyone else is a fruitless exercise because what looks amazing on them would never fit me properly. Someone else’s marriage is not my size – it will either be too big and swallow me whole or it will be too small and choke the life out of me. Besides, great husbands are not born, they are grown. I cannot even begin to imagine the amount of effort, pain or growth it takes for some of the marriages I look up to, to become what they are today. Some of the experiences that strengthened their union, could very well kill mine. There is no point to coveting something when I do not have the whole picture.
These are five ways I am reminding myself not to be the foolish woman who destroys her home with her own hands but rather, be the wise one who builds her house. Some of these points may be too “pie in the sky” for some readers. That is okay. Everything is not for everyone. But if any of these points resonate with you as the underlying reason for whatever friction has been on-going in your marriage, then I encourage you to take these words to heart and do whatever it takes to have the marriage of your dreams. Great marriages do not happen by accident. Pray for me as I pray for you. That our marriages will be ones that we all enjoy, rather than institutions that we simply endure.