When the going gets tough
“We just don’t get one another. He drives me crazy/ She is distant and unavailable. Our relationship is stuck. We are thinking of separation and divorce.”
I know that a multitude of things happen to get a couple to this point in their marriage and I don’t want to minimize that. This statement, however, has caused me to ponder what happens when the going gets tough. Do we end up leaving, deciding it just isn’t worth it, or do we get into the trenches with our loved ones and fight for something we pledged to honour – which is God first, and marriage second?
My wife and I met in our late thirties. We had both been involved in previous same-gender relationships, and we knew that God was now drawing us together both in friendship and in marital love. It was a new thing, to be walking toward a romantically-inclined marriage with someone of the opposite gender. We came together knowing that divorce would not be an option, no matter our unfaithful behaviours. During our journey toward marriage we described our pre-marital counselling as leaving no stone unturned. We knew that marriage would be our first ministry, and yet we had and continue to have a lot to learn.
During the honeymoon it became clear that I was a control freak and my wife had no clue how to navigate a map. Yet we didn’t talk about this because we were trying to be on our best behaviour. So instead of letting my wife drive while I navigated, I drove and tamped down the frustration that I felt over her lack of navigation skills. My wife, on the other hand, ignored her own feelings of frustration over the fact that she could not navigate better. We loved each other and didn’t want to hurt the other by what we thought were just our own critical thoughts. Having been in relationships before where we had to be highly independent, now we struggled to be interdependent. We thought love would cover over the multitude of unloving things we felt.
Our honeymoon was the beginning of us getting to know the areas that we’d rather not let the other see. Even with all the great pre-marital counseling and mentorship from others, it was the two of us who woke up face to face with each other every morning and shared the same bed every night. How will I love my wife today in a way that goes beyond my own supposed happiness? Will I actually lay down my life for her?
When I choose love, I am choosing to honour my relationship with God first, no matter how hard it gets. When I go to bed at night and reflect on the day, I realize my human weaknesses of where I could have done things differently. Then I have a choice. I can choose to repent of my failings and ask for forgiveness, or I can let my failures weaken my resolve and take control. When I let failures win, I choose disappointment rather than love. And that means I no longer seek to serve my wife; rather, I try to get my own way. I begin to look at all the ways she may not be meeting my needs. Now liking the other person begins to wane and everything that you never thought would bother you does. These things begin to pile up, and this begins the slippery slope into some deep, unhealthy relational ruts.
The choice to take ownership of your failures and bring them to God and your spouse is not easy and it will take a great deal of hard work, but the healing that can come in this place can be a tremendous blessing. There is no rut so deep and entrenched where God in his mercy cannot come in and get you unstuck.
Kenny Warkentin is Associate Pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Winnipeg, where he lives with his wife Paula and their daughter Phoebe. He blogs at kennypwarkentin. blogspot.com.