I've had three marriages so far.
[Don't freak out just yet. Read until the end.]
My first marriage was characterized by HIDING.
It lasted about 10 years.
We so longed to be the perfect Christians, the right kind of wife and/or husband, the ones everyone would look at and say, “We wish we could be just like them. They have it all together.”
Needless to say, with this kind of pressure to perform, we hid from ourselves, our families, our church and mostly, from each other.
We had lots of manners, not a lot of meaning.
Lots of talk, not a lot of truth.
Lots of outer, not a lot of inner.
We actually did NOT have a lot of CONFLICT (which probably made my conflict-avoiding, peace-loving husband a happy camper), but we also did NOT have a lot of CLOSENESS.
To be honest, it felt good.
But it wasn't good.
Thankfully, one fateful day, that marriage came to an abrupt end.
One of us took a risk.
Secrets came pouring out.
But instead of grace, the other one of us lashed back with judgment and anger.
The "picture-perfect" image where we were godly people in a godly marriage was shattered.
In a million pieces.
We couldn't go back. It had to end.
Enter my second marriage.
This one was filled with HARD WORK.
It also lasted about 10 years, give-or-take.
I didn't want to end up in the same place, so this time around, my spouse and I put our noses to the grind.
We shared our flawed selves with trepidation and transparency.
We had lots of conflict.
We fought to show grace, compassion and forgiveness.
We opened up to trusted friends.
We went to counseling to learn how to truly accept and love another.
Gladly and sadly, it wasn't quite enough.
This marriage was better than the first, but it wasn't what we truly wanted.
It, too, came to an end.
But this time, it was slow and steady.
The mutual compassion we shared allowed for us to let it go and explore our true heart's desire.
After 20 years of HIDING and HARD WORK, I had no idea if another marriage, the one I so longed for, was something God would grant me.
He surprised me.
It started off so differently from the others.
Yet, it reaped the benefit from the others.
This third marriage brought HEALING.
At a snail's pace.
And this marriage wasn't about the other person.
This one was about our "selves."
Our personal discoveries.
Our core wounds of shame and abandonment that really were the root cause of the demises of our previous marriages.
Our very much-needed unique HEALING.
It was tough.
One very scary night stands out vividly in my memory.
We were lying in bed, seeing very little light at the end of the tunnel, and asked each other, “Will we make it? Is there any hope for us?"
We actually weren’t sure and this made for a very dark time.
"Would this marriage end just like the others?"
The journey to HEALING seemed endless.
We came right out and asked our counselor, “Do you see any hope for us? Is this normal, that it gets much worse before it gets better?”
Thankfully, he answered with a resounding, “YES!” to both questions.
That gave us the spark we needed to move forward, keeping all these thoughts on how to bring HEALING in mind:
1. Working on our marriage without recognizing and working on our own individual brokenness is pointless. They go hand-in-hand.
2. Removing blame from each other for our own wounds is huge. Blame produces shame, shame begets blame and the cycle goes round and round.
3. Neither of us is changing the basic core of who we are. We have each had to (and are continuing to) grieve the things about each other that we wish were different. The hope we cling to is that at the end of the stages of grief lies acceptance and freedom.
4. The journey is SLOW. There’s no way around it. It takes lots of time and needs the “long-view” approach. None of us can undo years of damage and bad patterns in days, weeks and even months. The good news is that this perspective calms hearts and gives the much-needed room for long-term growth and change.
5. The process requires struggle. It might be painful. There will probably be some conflict. It won’t be comfortable.
6. The other person is worth fighting for. Each of us longs to have true intimacy: being fully-known and fully-loved, naked and unashamed, as Genesis defines it. We want it for each other and for ourselves. This is the place where the most transformative healing can happen, inside true transparency and trust. This is the toughest and yet most rewarding path of all!
So far, this third marriage of mine has lasted for more than a decade.
It's been more than I ever hoped for.
I often wonder if I will have even another marriage, one where HIDING, HARD WORK AND HEALING are over.
It actually sounds a little bit like HEAVEN to me!
Now that you have made it to the end, you may have guessed that I have had three marriages. But they have not been with different people. They've all been with the most wonderful, gracious and kind man in the whole world, the one who I've been married to for 31 WHOLE years today.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO US!