And I wanted to reach through the computer and shake each and every one of them to wake up.
If your marriage sucks...if it is a huge disappointment...it is dangerously easy to think that the answer lies in someone else. After all, that is the way it works in the movies...right?
Everyone walks down the aisle full of hope and promise, and everyone hits a point...or maybe several points...where they know that the person they've married is a complete mistake. And that is typically the point where you will meet--or remember--the person who is the perfect anecdote to the situation. Because it is far easier to pack up your pride and walk out to begin Chapter 2, than to deal with the heart issues that are causing the problems in the marriage.
To be fair, there is no linear "step 1, 2, 3." We are each complicated and very deep people--with a host of dreams and hurts and values. I also don't think God expects us just to suck it up and go on. Walking wounded is no solution. Healing is needed, but healing of what?
Over the past 5 years, John and I have watched 12 incredible couples have their marriages flatline. I'm not talking about someone with a loser spouse where there is relief in the dissolution. I'm talking about beautiful, amazing people. So I've given this a lot of thought. (of course, I should probably mention that John and I were one of the 12 so this is intensely personal.)
It occurs to me that when romantic love is good, it is magical. It takes ordinary people and makes them extraordinary. But I believe the part of that equation that we miss, is how much of that emotion is generated by what romantic love makes us believe about ourselves. When believe we are special, valued by someone we admire...it elevates us. We actually do become extraordinary.
Day-to-day life is like our kryptonite. It makes us mundane. When our spouse yells at us, doesn't see us, disrespects us...we shrink. And we stop being amazing. Our internal light goes out. And we are drawn to anything that makes us believe that we are extraordinary again.
I used to think the solution was to make my internal light invulnerable to the kryptonite. If it were bright enough then the mundane wouldn't dim it. But I'm not sure it actually works that way. When we live with people as intimately as marriage requires, we are influenced by that person. We are hurt by their failures, injured by their slights, and completely oblivious to the failures and slights we offer them in return. To make our internal light invulnerable, we build walls to protect it. And it doesn't take long for them to become so thick that they hide the light rather than preserve it.
While I don't think there is a single path that fits all couples, I do believe there are some themes that can "restore." Many of them are counter-cultural and all require an intense amount of vulnerability.
Knowing our own hearts. We get busy. We entertain ourselves. We get caught up in the expectations of others and earning their approval. We spend very little time quietly with ourselves exploring the deeper parts so that we can live authentically and with purpose. Many times if we aren't happy we look for an external source rather than taking the regular pauses needed to find it internally. Without knowing our own heart, it is impossible to share it.
Confession. The problem with having a secret is that you lose all personal power. You are consistently vulnerable to its exposure and lies become the only tool for covering it up. There is no intimacy where there are secrets. If you have one, chances are that in the times you get quiet the burden is great. If you really want to know your own heart, you will have to let go of the secret, and if you've been keeping it a long time this won't be an easy thing to do. Ask God to help you with the revelation. It will require a willingness to let go of the illusion you've created for ownership of the reality.
Forgiveness. The thing about forgiveness is that it requires nothing on the offenders part. It is all about you. You can release your right to vengeance and clear the transaction. Mark it as paid. This will likely be an ongoing process. There is no way to live intimately with someone without offenses. They owe you. You owe them. There is no way to balance the books, you have to simply clear them.
Quantity time. There is no quality time without quantity time. Relationships are built by sharing the mundane. I wish I had learned this earlier in my life.
Share desire. Once we know our own hearts it is easy to share our desires. What do you truly want at the deepest and most honest level? Sharing desire draws people closer. People bond over it. In fact, you may find yourself discovering (rediscovering?) the very desires that drew you together in the first place.
John and I are living proof that restoration is possible. Not only that, but it is a worthy goal. What you gear shift into is so much deeper than anything that went before. There are places you can get to that few go.
Please understand, I know that there are things that happen that people can't come back from. Decisions that are marriage-ending events. I also know that it is impossible to save a marriage by yourself. If you are one of those people, this post isn't for you. It is about the thousands of others caught in the gap.