Think of playing a game, only this game has no rules. That described our marriage. Communication, with no rules, no boundary lines made for a toxic marriage. Sarcasm and cutting and hurtful words were the plays used to manage this game.
Thirteen years into full-time ministry, my wife Jennifer and I took a time-out from it all to focus on our marriage. We were both close to losing. Had we not taken this retreat, both of us would have dropped out, given up hope and very likely our marriage would have been over. Our time away was so critical, so helpful, I want to share what happened to us with hopes that it will encourage others to play as a team, and even help those who are where we were.
Here are 5 things I learned about my marriage during this crucial time away.
1. Transparency equals health.
I call this vulnerable communication; the habit of sharing openly and honestly my inner hurts and relational insecurities with my wife. Had I not become the person who willingly shares rather than suppresses, the forecast for a healthy marriage looked dim. Like an athlete forcing his body to take on a new role for the team, I knew this would take the harsh daily discipline and practice of evaluating where my head and heart were, but also a focused discipline to the daily verbalizing of “HOW I FEEL”. I was never good at that. This had to change.
2. Humility is a must. Pride has to go!
Until God took over I was hopeless. Until Jesus broke my heart I was in no mood to discipline myself to love Jennifer very well. Selflessness needed to take the place of selfishness. I finally gave in and made the commitment to do it His way, because my way was getting us nowhere accept down a path of destruction. I knew “my way” was the source of the struggle. For too long, I would not trust that God could use Jennifer in our marriage to bring healing to my heart. I needed her to help me love her. God used, and is using, the love that Jennifer has for me to heal the scars left from my past. I finally embraced my wife rather than pushing her away. She would become a significant part of my healing.
3. I don’t have to win.
I love to compete. Quite frankly I love to win. In many, if not most conversations I had to come out on top. I now understand that should Jennifer not see things my way, that is actually ok. If Jennifer has a different opinion or process, I discovered that it is not because she needs to battle for first place. God created her to think, process, and act differently than me, and that is good. When God said, “The two shall become one”, it applied to our marriage and situation. I now recognize that Jennifer’s different options, process, and actions are not a battle cry, but instead they are recourses that should be joined together alongside mine for a true marriage that has come together as one. Gratefully, the world still goes around, in fact much more harmoniously now. I love the view now, one I never had when I had to perch at the top position. Humility allows me to see and love Jennifer as I never did before.
4. Find a daily reminder.
Someone challenged me to carry in my pocket a “red marble” and to hold this marble in my hand as often as I could. I was told to remember that this “red marble” represented Christ’s blood that cleansed MY failures, MY shortcomings, and MY sins. When things become frustrating and hard again in my marriage, I was to grab this “red marble” and apply to Jennifer what has been applied, by Christ, to me. Jesus forgave me. I will forgive her. Jesus understands me and loves me still. I want to love Jennifer like that, and make room for her to love me in the same way. Jesus died to break down the walls of hostility. I want him to bring down the wall between us, and give us peace. The peace Jesus fought for, and died for, is now the peace that floods our home.
5. Accountability is crucial.
Scripture commands us to live in community. This is hard, especially for men. It will require us to live in such a way that we actually trust other people with our most hidden struggles. When we do this out of obedience to Jesus, and lean on him by leaning on community, we will not be concerned so much about the risks. We experienced the honor of sharing with our elders our deepest struggles, at our hardest time. They did not condemn us. They embraced us and vowed to help us to a place of health. The church became part of our healing. We shared our struggle with our congregation one Sunday morning. They stood around us and loved us. Many came to the altar seeking their own embrace from this same community. We met with a weekly marriage mentor. Alone, we would have easily slipped right back into the old habits defined by sarcasm and cutting and hurtful words. When His children live in community, God works and brings health and healing. Our sabbatical/timeout was needed, but what followed was needed more. By falling into the open arms of our elders and church friends, we found ourselves actually falling into the arms of Jesus.
To listen to my podcast interview with Jake and Jennifer Edwards, click here.