There is probably no other area of my life that has challenged me more than my marriage. (Can I get an AMEN!) My husband and I just celebrated 27 years and praise the Lord we now have an intimate, fulfilling, great relationship. But, this was not always the case. In fact, we struggled for many years, and I almost walked away a couple of times. Actually, it’s only been in the last half a dozen years or so that we have gotten to this point. So what changed? Well, God had to break down and reconstruct our hearts.
Even though neither of us had good role models, many of our struggles were not that unusual. Marriage is hard no matter how prepared you might be. We were often left hurt by unmet expectations and poor communication. We each had traits that should have been red flags when we were dating, but we were too in love to believe that they would cause problems in the future. Like most couples, we had the added pressure of raising kids while trying to build careers and financial stability. And since both of us are strong willed, passionate people, we each wanted to be in charge. Whisk in the fact that each of us was more interested in talking than listening and you had a recipe for tough times, no doubt. Thankfully, God is the Master Chef and knew just what ingredients were needed to save our union.
Ingredient #1: Prayer
I am a bonafide perfectionist. A fact to which my entire family will attest. This coupled with my crazy childhood (see I’m Not in Control! Part I) compelled me to try and fix all of my husband’s faults. I nagged him constantly about how he spent his time, how he treated me, what I didn’t like about how he did this or that, etc. In fact, I would arrogantly chastise him by exclaiming, “I’m a perfectionist and you’re not! (My husband then would famously respond by saying that that’s why you married me and I married you!) But, seriously, the more I pushed, the more he resisted and the more we argued. And our arguments got pretty ugly.
Not long after I became a believer, a friend recommended The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian. But, it wasn’t what I expected at first. Chapter One is titled, His Wife and in it the author explains how she learned to to replace her favorite three-word prayer from “Change him, Lord” to “Change Me, Lord.” I didn’t realize how much I needed changing but, as I began to open my fists and put my idol of self righteousness on the altar, my husband noticed my softening heart and he started changing too. Over the years, I have faithfully kept a prayer journal where I cast all of these concerns upon the Lord and as I go back and read it, I am always amazed by God’s mercy and grace.
Ingredient #2: Humble Submission
Around our 10 year anniversary we went on a couple’s retreat with a few friends from church. To close the weekend of focusing on Ephesians 5:22-33 and how marriage is a model of Christ’s love for the church, each couple was given a basin of water and a rag to wash each other’s feet. When Jesus washed his disciples feet, he conducted an act of extreme devotion which was normally carried out by a servant. Then, in John 14 he says, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” The very night before Jesus would submit Himself to death on the cross, He would model how we are to humbly serve one another in our lives. The retreat leaders wanted us to follow His example and show our willingness to die to ourselves and submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph. 5:21)
As I watched the other couple’s kneel down and began to wash their spouse’s feet, I felt faint. My husband was enthusiastically ready to wash my feet. But, I had no desire to participate. Why? Because it felt like by committing to serve him, I was giving him permission to control me. And I was way too smart, strong and independent to allow that! (But if I was truly honest, I was the one usually trying to control him.) As he looked at me and asked what was wrong, I knew I had a BIG problem. I think I could have washed anyone’s feet in that room but my husband’s. In order to avoid total humiliation, I did it anyway, resenting it the entire time.
As God exposed this arrogant area of my heart, He used the instruments of verses, people, bible studies, and books to cut away the ugliness. One book in particular Liberated Through Submission: God’s Design for Freedom in All Relationships by P. B. Wilson taught three invaluable principles: 1) Submission is for everyone 2) Submission plus faith equals power and 3) Submission plus power equals liberation. Probably the most impactful verse He used to convict me of my pride was and still is Philippians 2:2-4. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests but, also the interests of others.” God knows we cannot possibly do this in our own strength. We must depend on Him.
Ingredient #3: Love and Respect
Between 2009 and 2011, my husband had two companies close. Consequently, we went through 2 rounds of unemployment while living in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Even though God had healed so much in our marriage there were still unresolved issues and the stress we were under, of course, magnified them. Since my husband wasn’t open to counseling, I went to talk to one of our church Pastors by myself. As I recounted my marital frustrations du jour, he said, “It sounds like you think you are better than him.” Ouch! And then he asked me a very poignant question. “Do you believe that God can give you the happy, satisfying marriage you are looking for?” As I contemplated his words, I had to be honest with myself. No, I really didn’t. But, I bought the book he suggested we read anyway which subsequently sat on the shelf untouched.
Soon we were forced to make our 5th move together so that my husband could finally be employed again. He was traveling constantly and under a lot of pressure with his new job. I was left to pick up the pieces for our family in yet another city and it wasn’t going well. We tried to talk things out but we weren’t even speaking the same language. It’s not that we were arguing really. It was more like we just walking two separate roads and I was very lonely.
I begged my husband to go to counseling but, again, he said no. I was hopeless. Then I remembered that untouched book given to me by our Pastor during our time of unemployment, Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. To my surprise my husband agreed to not only read it, but to talk about it with me! Through it God worked a miracle. After 20 years of striving, this book proved to be the missing chapter in our marriage. Based on Ephesians 5:33, “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband”, it taught us how to effectively communicate so that we both feel truly heard and loved.
Whether your marriage is falling apart or you’re simply not as fulfilled as you want to be, God can give you a great marriage. You may have to surrender to His heart surgery but, I promise you it is worth every bit of the pain. My husband and I still stumble because we are imperfect human beings. But, Jesus Christ is the third person in our marriage now and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)