In a few short weeks, my husband and I will be celebrating 20 years of marriage, which is nothing short of miraculous to me. We did not start our union on especially strong footing; we were one signature away from legally calling it quits in year three. We were both miserable, wounded and exhausted.
There were a lot of things that worked together to provide my wake-up call. The first one came in a reality check for me of what my divorce would mean for some of the people around me. God allowed me to see, through the eyes of a precious child in Dave’s family, how our split would look to many of the people I loved. It hurt my heart to realize that I would no longer be part of these folks’ lives. Even though I already knew this from how other people’s divorces had affected my life, I now understood that the ripple effects of my divorce would affect a much greater number of people than just Dave and me. To my credit, though, I stubbornly stood my ground. I needed my marriage to be over. I deserved to be happy. The other people would just have to deal with it like I had dealt with it. People are resilient, right?
Another part of my wake-up call came in a two-week trip to Alaska to visit my friend. This was a trip I had long wanted to take, and I was partially taking it in defiance to my soon-to-be ex-husband. He didn’t think we had the money. I showed him that he was wrong by charging my plane ticket to a credit card. (See? We had the money!!) I stayed with my friend and her parents in the home she grew up in. We went kayaking, took long walks in the semi-daylight at midnight, made friends, dug clams, watched movies, made brownies, swung on her old rope swing and laughed like crazy kids. She was in a rough spot in her marriage, too, and we were both deeply hurting. Neither one of us had expected our marriages to turn out the way they were.
During my time in Alaska, my friend’s parents celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. We made a big, fancy meal for them and decorated the table with candles and pretty dishes. We even cleaned up the kitchen afterward to give her hard-working momma the complete night off. I heard a few stories from their marriage from my friend’s perspective as well as from her parents’ perspective–most of which I don’t even remember. I do remember the feelings I had while being in their home, though. I felt safe. Loved. Wistful for what they had. Regretful of what my marriage had become, but stubbornly holding to the notion that this was what needed to happen. Too many bridges had been burned. Too many ugly things had been said. Life was too short to hurt this much just on principle. It was time for me to be happy.
When I returned to Indiana, the state-mandated waiting period had elapsed and I could make everything official. I went in to do just that on my lunch hour one day. Dave had already signed what he had needed to sign, even though he made it clear that he was ready to work things out. My young lawyer clarified where we were in the process and that we only needed my signature to make it official. I took the pen in hand, skimmed over the document and then . . . numbly stood there while staring at Dave’s signature. Slightly embarrassed by the tears pooling in my eyes, I looked up at my lawyer. She very calmly said, “I get the feeling that this is not what you want.”
I said, “This is not what I ever wanted. I’m just so tired of the struggle, but I never thought I’d be here. I don’t know what to do.”
I don’t know how many times she had said this before or has said it since, but my lawyer looked me in the eye and said, “Trista, if you ask me, the State of Indiana already has enough divorces. We can put this on hold until you’re sure.”
We put it on hold.
From that time on, I have been increasingly sure that if I am going to be stubbornly committed to something, it is not going to be my own happiness. I can be up and down from happy twenty-two times in any given day. Happiness relies too much on my circumstances. I need something more substantial than that, something that takes root and is not swayed by whatever junk life throws at me. I want the peace that comes from doing what is right instead of what is easy and the joy that comes from living in true accordance to my beliefs. I want the victory of winning the battle over my own selfish and short-sighted interests.
Years four, five and six in my marriage were difficult, too. I’m not going to say that they weren’t. My husband and I had a lot of bad habits to break and a lot of good habits to create. We had to learn to be more selfless, putting each other’s needs ahead of our own. I’ll be honest: This was harder for me than it was for Dave. Fortunately, I married a very patient man who was willing to wait alongside his wife while she allowed God’s Holy Spirit to soften all of her rough edges. He recently told me he would marry me all over again. Whew!
So, three years of relative hopeless misery led to three years of purposely and painstakingly rebuilding our marriage on the Foundation of Jesus Christ. Those years were long. I mean, long.
Now, almost 12 years later, that tough season seems so long ago. It is truly difficult to imagine that we were ever in such a desolate place. I am thankful for the memory of it, though. It is part of the resources God has given me to encourage others to stand firm in their marriages–to not give up, to not follow a temporary happiness at the expense of seeking a true joy. Marriage is hard. Even now, for me, we have hard days. We disagree, we speak sharply, we act selfishly. But, we live with a grace for one another and repentance for our own actions that make things healthier. That’s what I want to share: There is hope. Lots of hope. Stubbornly resolve to hold on to hope for a healthy marriage.
Challenge: If you are in a hurting marriage, I encourage you to humble yourself and take ownership of your wrongs. If you can’t even open up a conversation like this without threat of argument, write it in a letter. You will never have a healthy marriage–regardless of whom your spouse is–if you do not choose to hold yourself responsible for your own poor choices.
If you are not in a hurting marriage, pray for someone who is. Pray, pray, pray. Remember that there are two sides to every story, and remember that seeking happiness is a temporary fix.