2 Types of Marital Problems You Already Have
I have marital problems.
I have to tell you the truth. I’m all about facing the truth of our own ordinary lives, and the naked truth is that my marriage is not all jellybeans and back rubs. It’s also arguing and grumbling and disappointing and misunderstanding and stress.
My marriage breeds two types of problems: the loud kind and the scary kind.
The loud kind of problems multiply like dust bunnies, billowing forth with regularity. My husband and I are both emotionally volatile people, and we don’t hold back when we disagree. Now, since the beginning of our marriage we have foreseen (or experienced) the dangers that our version of verbal shock-and-awe might pose, so we set some terms of engagement: we won’t speak disrespectfully to each other; we won’t use foul language; we won’t lie; we won’t use the divorce word; we won’t air our grievances publicly. We will hash things out, and we will find agreement if it kills us. Then we’ll move on.
These are the types of marital problems many of us experience . . . we just try to pretend that we don’t. We act as though everything is perfect, and our laundry doesn’t stink, but everyone knows that’s a sham. Our children know it. Our spouse knows it. Our close friends know it. We just aren’t honest about it. We don’t usually answer, “Hi, how are you today?” with “Fine, I nearly won a war of words with my spouse on the way to church.”
So that’s why I’m going to start off telling you the truth right up front: I have marital problems. Because David and I are two real, sinful people who are sometimes selfish and tired and cranky and insensitive and inconsiderate. And he’s Latino. And I have hormones.
Besides the frequently loud (and somewhat humorous) marital problems, there’s a more sinister, silent marital emergency.That’s only happened twice in two decades, and it scared me to death both times. It’s the kind where you wake up one day to find yourself standing in the middle of the house wondering where your marriage went and where it is going. It’s the kind where you are suddenly filled with cold dread at seeing where this road is leading . . . and it’s not to Happily Ever After. It’s the kind that looks like your worst nightmares have come true.
Our first nightmare dawned nearly a decade into our marriage. We were living separate lives under the same roof, straining beneath unbearable financial and ministry and health and parenting stress. My husband had lost more than one job, and the pressure of keeping his bilingual position as a very obvious immigrant in the affluent East Coast town flattened the optimism out of him. He worked two jobs — banking all day and loading UPS trucks all night — to make ends meet for years on end until it literally broke his back. And still he kept working in excruciating pain right up until his back surgery.
Meanwhile, I homeschooled three little children, taught private lessons for 15 hours a week, and volunteered at the church and school next door for nearly 30 hours a week. We had a child who vowed aloud to never obey us, and he went two years straight proving his point regularly. Meanwhile, we lived in the parsonage during an acrimonious church split. The anger and criticism issuing from the building next door compelled me to pull the children inside, pull down the shades, and pull myself further into my shell. David and I had neither the time nor energy for more than a passing kiss in the doorway, and our hearts and bodies were starved for affection.
Our marriage was quickly going under as temptation loomed large and close. I began to build walls around myself, anxious to protect my heart and spirit from the criticism and demands all around me. In fatigue and fear, I shut out friends and even family members, pasting a façade of friendliness to hide my crumbling emotions. I could not control the painful people surrounding me, so I turned to what I thought I could control: my time and my tasks. Micromanaging my productivity and projects, I managed all intimate relationships right out of my life. That included my husband.
If I was less and less available at home, though, other women were more and more available in the workplace. David’s successful move to banking center management caught the attention of not only financial executives, but also clients — lonely female clients impressed by the handsome, young, upwardly mobile banker with a sexy accent.
We were both in trouble, so David took the brave step of moving our family clear across the country within eight weeks. It took months before we were even ready to talk about what happened, what went wrong, how we had hurt each other, how we nearly lost it all for what we didn’t even want.
Marriage often feels like a battle. And sometimes it looks like we are fighting each other. But in our hearts we know we are fighting together for the solution, and we won’t stop until we both win.
That means even two loud fighters like us need to listen a lot. I need to make sure I hear what the problem is from his perspective since I’m pretty consumed with my own ideas. I need to listen actively: asking questions, repeating back what I heard him say, putting more energy into understanding him than into pushing my own viewpoint.
I also need to be completely honest. That is painful, because when I am hurting, I won’t talk. Instead, I want to pull all the pain and wounds close within me, shutting out everyone and everything around me in self-preservation mode. But that shuts out the one person I need most. Intimacy will grow and wounds will heal when I expose them to the light, when I open up to the truth.
But this takes a lot of time, a lot of back-and-forth of listening and exposing, asking questions and answering honestly. It’s tempting to just slap a bandage on the problem and rush off to our regularly scheduled busy lives, but that’s not going to make us one again. Instead, we need to take time to remember our dreams, to reframe them with the solutions we just prescribed. We need to stay there, wrestling the problem and solution into our Together Dreams, until the dreams become reality in our relationship.
When a marriage relationship is built on that unity, fighting and hugging and all, the issue of leadership is no longer at odds with biblical submission. Every day, every decision, every fight, every make-up-session is all about Ephesians 5: Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. We listen to each other, we expose truth to each other, we cast visions for each other, we plan for fulfillment with each other, we forgive, we give, we hug, we serve, because we honor God within each other. We each submit, yielding ourselves to the unity of redemption.
Author of Rocking Ordinary: Holding it Together with Extraordinary Grace, Lea Ann Garfias helps women recognize the extraordinary impact they make with their seemingly ordinary lives. Join Lea Ann for live Facebook chats filled with encouragement to help you rock your ordinary life. facebook.com/lagarfias