Recently, someone, a person new to our home and our lives, said to my husband Cole and I, “Can I just say that I’ve been watching you two all night, and I can’t believe the teamwork you two have? I noticed that even though Cole is tired after working 8 hours, after dinner, he picked up a broom and swept under the highchairs. To me, that is the coolest thing ever. It’s all those little things that really make a team. I want that in my marriage.”
Cole and I looked right at each other and grinned, turned back to him and I said, “Actually, this is a new-found teamwork in our marriage. It’s not been like this for long. I made a lot of mistakes and said horrible things.” Then, without missing a beat, Cole said, “In fact, we’ve put in a lot of elbow grease recently to battle the fights, arguing and hurt we’ve both caused this marriage.”
The next question out of our friend’s mouth was, “Well, thank you for being honest, I forget sometimes we don’t see the whole picture. Can I ask what you did to get there?”
There really wasn’t a defining moment, or a fantastic book that we both read as a couple, we didn’t go through marital counseling (although we may have come to this place sooner if we had). The truth: it was a slow painful process. But, I can point out where it began.
Cole and I were married six years ago and we had all the “right” stuff: careers, decent living wages, little debt, agreement about where our lives together were going, beliefs about marriage, and we shared faith.
It wasn’t long into our marriage before arguments began to happen–the silly ones about ridiculous things that would escalate because hurtful words were given. Cole would apologize for the things he said (and I too), but the damage had been done.
When someone knows you well enough–they know the words that cut to your soul. And so, the damage to my heart caused me to begin the process of building up carefully executed walls around my heart and my emotions. The walls created a breeding ground for resentment and anger.
Most of my anger and resentment was about what Cole wasn’t doing. He wasn’t helping with chores. He wasn’t cleaning his jeans off the floor or unscrewing the lid on his coffee cup, or leaving the drawers hanging out of the dresser (of course I’m sharing the menial, they did get deeper). He was selfish. He was a jerk. But, honestly, I was attempting to be independent of him and doing everything. He didn’t know what I needed until I was accusing him of not doing it.
I began simply to not care anymore about what his feelings were. They just weren’t as important as the pain he had made me feel. No apology from him would erase that pain because he had wronged me.
The “us” we swore to have on our wedding day became the you and the me of this marriage. “You did this to me. You said this to me.” And what’s worse, is that I knew I wasn’t right. But more so, he was wrong–and that became the most important. It would have been easy to walk away, right then. Believe me–I thought about it. But, when I also thought about a commitment I made-I knew I hadn’t done enough to try to mend this relationship first.
See, we both grew up in the Christian faith, but we had failed to make Christ more than the foundation in our lives. Because of Christ’s work in us being compartmentalized to only church and “spiritual”life–we were left to run the rest ourselves. And we were doing a really crappy job of it.
I can’t tell you when exactly, but I began to seek out Christ for more than a Sunday morning devotion. Somewhere, in the last few years I began to fall in love with Jesus. The Jesus of the Bible–not the one people hold hateful signs about (that one doesn’t really exist). The one who did more than die for me (although that would have been enough) he continues to live for me too. The same one who said, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. “(Matthew 22:37-38, The MSG).
So, me and Jesus began a journey. He loved me first, so, I out of love and out of that alone, began to see that his love for me could and would motivate me to serve him faithfully. (1 John 4:19). My life began to change–my heart began to soften. Jesus and anger and resentment don’t survive long in the same place. They just can’t.
I was becoming a woman who didn’t need to care about building walls because it wasn’t her heart anymore it was Jesus’. He came in and took over.
I stopped focusing on Cole being wrong and began to work on me and my actions and words that weren’t right.
In Matthew 22:39, the verse immediatly following loving God with all you are, it also says, ’Love others as well as you love yourself.’
I had forgot to love my neighbor–my husband who lived in the closest proximity to me, because I hadn’t learned yet to love Jesus. So I did. I began to love Cole and serve him regardless of the pain I had once felt, because I realized I also had hurt him. And, strangely, it didn’t hurt me to do that–it was free-ing.
This is the coolest thing–are you ready for it? Well, the Jesus who was working in me and softening my heart–was prompting my husband to do the same. Cole was in the process of learning to fall in love with Jesus too. Out of that love and his heart softening, he began to love and serve me. (I’m not sure who started first) I saw that and responded with love and service and the cycle continued.
For awhile, I think we were both waiting for this all to come crashing down. And it’s not perfect, but we have practiced and are continuing to practice service to each other so much so that I can honestly say we are a team.
Know what I realize now? What I know now is that Cole is a good man with a servant’s heart. He’s still the same man I fell in love with. I forgot that in the midst of my pain. Cole would have given me his right arm if I would have asked, but I never humbled myself enough to ask. We really just both lost touch of what each other needed and how to be vulnerable because we were too blinded by our own insecurities and our pride kept us from moving away from them.
I’m not saying it’s easy. Each day, we have to decide to serve each other (which is very hard), but it is worth it. I’m no longer holding my husband’s hand because I’m trying to create a treaty between us or clinging to what we once were, but rather I’m holding it because there’s nothing holding me back and because of what we have right now. It’s no longer a “you and me” type marriage, it’s an “us” marriage, and that is exciting!
Then he [Jesus] told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? Luke 9:23-25