In my last post, I ended with a promise of a Part II.
This second installment comes a bit later than I wanted, but here it is.
If you are just jumping into this post. Stop now. Go back and read Part I.
Before I dive into specifics, I am reminded of Solomon’s wise words in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The areas that Brad and I have had to wrestle with in our marriage are not unique only to us; others experience them too.
I find this comforting.
I feel less alone when a friend tells she has experienced the same situation or circumstance. It’s that immediate Me, too! moment. The power of the shared experience provides hope and a sense of connection. May this be true for you as you read.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone, but as a young newlywed, I wasn’t prepared to handle conflict well.
My part-Irish husband did not understand why I shut down, barely saying a word, when disagreements occurred. Didn’t he know that in the face of conflict I suddenly lost my ability to articulate my thoughts and feelings? Brad thinks quickly on his feet; I need time to process what I want to say.
Sometimes it felt like it took hours to resolve a relatively minor issue. Why do you always buy a different brand of toothpaste? Can’t you buy the same kind? I’m sure my stubbornness played a role in these discussions too.
Twenty-seven years later, I still struggle, preferring to retreat and avoid rather than wrestle through the mess. But I’ve gotten better at dealing with conflict.
In Rebecca DeYoung’s book Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies (Brazos Press) she says our identity in Christ reflects the “now and not yet” reality of the Christian life. This notion applies to conflict as well. This side of heaven no couple will handle disagreements perfectly. Yet, by God’s grace, we continue to press on, with hope and perseverance that facing and dealing with conflict will bear tangible fruit in the now. Eventually, we find ourselves listening better, forgiving more readily, and admitting our mistakes more easily.
Closely linked to handling conflict was learning how to communicate.
As a naive twenty-year-old, I blithely assumed that Brad and I would handle this part of our marriage well. We were prepared because we read marriage books and talked with other married couples who impressed on us the importance of good communication.
I know, rookie mistake.
I found learning how to talk with your spouse a bit like parenting. You have no idea what you are doing until you are in it. You can read all the books and talk to other parents, but until you are facing the screaming child in the grocery store and all eyes are watching, nothing quite prepares you for the reality of the moment.
Coupled with my naivete was my ignorance regarding how much the communication patterns I saw modeled from my parents would impact my own communication style. No surprise this affected my husband as well. Two different people bringing two different ways of communicating into a marriage.
By God’s grace and because of our commitment to each other, we stick at it, even when the progress is slow and sometimes painful.
I’ve learned that seasons of life also affect communication. Intense parenting periods—the toddler years, the teenage years—can strain a couple’s ability to relate to one another. Job changes, moves, or the loss of a loved one add stress and burden, making healthy patterns of communication a challenge.
Only in recent years have I learned that timing is everything when it comes to communication. Dumping all of my angst onto Brad at the end of a work day is a recipe for disaster. We’re both tired. Our minds are spent. Instead, we need to figure out a time to talk when we will both be at our best.
Recognizing truths such as this one takes time. This is the beauty of the long-haul view of marriage. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t often comes through trial and error.
Yet the work is worth it. A sense of true partnership develops and deepens that is only won when a couple commits to a long-term view of communication.
Finally, my twenty-year-old self was pretty selfish. Marriage (and parenthood) have revealed this to me like no other part of life.
I was unprepared for the demands marriage would make on my plans, my priorities, and my dreams as we two became one.
How do you move forward when one spouse is happy in his or her career and the other isn’t? How do you love and forgive when your spouse’s actions have implications on your life? How do you decide who gets to pursue his or her dream and who puts theirs on hold?
These and other complex questions tug and pull at a marriage. They can’t be answered quickly or with pat responses.
For the Christian, the notion of dying to self should not be a surprise. Jesus is quite clear about the cost of discipleship. We accept that we must surrender our will to Christ’s in our walk with him; yet, we sometimes fail to recognize the bigger and broader implications of this command to the rest of life.
Dying to self affects how I relate to my spouse, my children, my colleagues, my extended family.
This side of heaven Brad and I will never achieve the perfect angle of repose. We are sinners. At times, our selfish actions and desires win at the expense of the other person. Yet, part of the beauty of being married for all these years means that we have learned some truths along the way.
By God’s goodness and grace, some of the fruit that we enjoy in marriage is the result of persevering in conflict, establishing better communication patterns, and letting go of our own agendas.