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Make a Marriage Great Again (Part Three)

Everybody’s got a dark side Do you love me? Can you love mine? Nobody’s a picture perfect But we’re worth it You know that we’re worth it Will you love me? Even with my dark side?

(Kelly Clarkson)

We had a fight this weekend. It was over boundaries and adult children. And no, the next WTF is not the word fight (sorry to disappoint…we will get to that F), but the word flaws.

Back to our fight. It was mostly about how we don’t believe the other person is doing a good job in these areas (and certainly not doing what we would do).

Remember, Allen is kind and gracious. I am sarcastic and discerning. Allen is a hard-worker, quiet and reserved. I am quick-witted and loud. He is methodical and analytical. I am passionate and decisive. Allen is a supporter and a peacemaker. I am a leader and aggressive. Now just imagine (if you dare) how we might approach everything just a tad (ha-ha) differently and we strongly wish the other person would change and think and do what we think and do.

After a day of shutting down, processing by ourselves, apologizing, going to counseling, and then processing together, we came to the same conclusion we always come to: we both want the other to accept us for our complete selves, flaws and all, even if change never comes.

As in many marriages, we started off seeing only the good in each other. Believe it or not, we actually kept that up for about 10 years. It meant a lot of hiding and dodging and pretending, and I must say it felt kind of good. No hard talks. No hard work. We strived to believe the best. After all, who wouldn’t want a kind, gracious, hard-working, supportive, peace-making husband. I was sure for a long time that I did, or at least should. And believe it or not, many times I would ask Allen, “Isn’t there something that you don’t like about me? What ways do I drive you crazy?” And he would return with the answer, “Can’t really think of anything off-hand.”

Until it all “hit the fan.” About 10 years into our marriage, and with help from some friends, Allen took a huge risk and shared some of his “not-so-perfect” stuff with me. I would love to tell you that I returned his risk with the reward of kindness, understanding and grace. Not so much. His reward was judgment and anger. After all, I liked my perfect, cookie-cutter world, where we were “godly” people and had a picture-perfect marriage and family. It was really easy to live there.

Over the next months, things began to slowly change in my heart. Allen’s risk effected me. I was free to explore the “dark side” of my own life, the ways I was hiding and pretending, the parts of me that are flawed. And you know what happened? For the first time in our marriage I felt safe and free to share those things with him. If he wasn’t perfect, then I didn’t have to be either. What a relief!

(For you curious folks, I will share one example that might seem silly. When Allen was at work and my littles were down for a nap, I would sneak and watch “Days of our Lives,” a soap opera I believed a Christian wife and mother should not do. You might even be chuckling, and on the surface, it seems trite and “no big deal,” but it reveals the deeper hiding and lack of safety that permeated our lives and our marriage.)

This was the beginning of a very different marriage (we say we have the tale of three marriages), one where transparency and authenticity came to the forefront, and hiding was over (or mostly over). I would love to say it went swimmingly and that now, it is all easy sailing. But that “ain’t the truth,” as they say.

Without the hiding came truth (sometimes hard-to-bear truth), and hard work, long examinations of ourselves, counseling and not-very-easy talks, which continue to this day. We began to believe what we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt: real intimacy can’t happen without knowing each other’s deepest selves (flaws, or dark sides, and all) and loving and accepting those deepest selves. This came along with another truth: this is something worth fighting for. It will bring healing and wholeness to places only God and His unconditional love can reach.

It’s been a full-of-hard-work, wonderful, tough, worth-it 16+ years since this “AHA” moment in our marriage. And as you read at the beginning, the fighting continues, both with each other and FOR each other. We continue to face the battle for grace, mercy, acceptance, kindness, and unconditional love, both for ourselves and for each other. It’s tough going many days.

I watched Scott Harrison (the charity:water guy) on Sunday after my last post. He said something in his message about the fight for clean water, but it struck me in a completely different way: “Don’t be afraid of the work that has no end.”

There are days when I want go back to the pretending and hiding marriage where it’s easier and less complicated, where the work does have an end or seem to. But as I know in the deepest part of me, the best thing in my life is that I am fully known (super risky STEP ONE) and fully loved (super hard STEP TWO) by another.

This reveals the very heart of God to me, something my soul craves and is designed to know. This work has no end, but it’s worth every ounce of effort we put into it.

Allen and I are determined not to leave but to love. We reminded each other of that very thing last night (and I promise, we weren’t in a good place at the time). That changes everything.

There’s a place that I know It’s not pretty there and few have ever gone If I show it to you now Will it make you run away?

Or will you stay Even if it hurts Even if I try to push you out Will you return? And remind me who I really am, Please remind me who I really am.

(Kelly Clarkson)

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