How We Fight for Health in Our Marriage (with all that junk in our trunk)

Our marriage is far from perfect (are you surprised? I certainly hope not!). We argue, disagree, I’m selfish, so is Will. I’ve said it many times: Marriage is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard you guys, for anyone.

Specifically, today I am talking to those lucky few with stories of massive redemption. People who were once identified as orphans, now forever chosen; those with a history of hardship, a messy past, a sticky story…What about those who have experienced the realness of Christ as a result of their pain, before being married? Marriage is hard for anyone, but there’s some significant and unique circumstances that come up when you come from a broken home. 

Here’s how Will and I have made intentional choices to fight for health in our marriage, when we both come from our own version of crap-central (yes, I said that): 

1. We go to counseling.

We have gone to therapy since the beginning of our engagement. Nothing was wrong. We weren’t even really fighting. We just knew our circumstances were different than most new married couples (because of me fostering as a single for so long) and that our stories required some unpacking. Nothing could have prepared us for the amount of things we’ve worked through in our two years in therapy. I cannot recommend it enough. For anyone. Place the stigmas to rest and realize, if you are going to step into therapy, it’s probably because you’re the healthy one in the storm and you are able to step out whole. The things Will and I have discovered about ourselves and each other, the ways we’ve learned to communicate, I can’t vouch for it enough…We’ve been able to heal together, and that’s special. 

2. We let each other cry. 

So. many. tears. There have been nights where the bills are piling or Will’s job is just hard to navigate (for both of us) and we just cry. I listen to Will say that it’s hard. I agree. And I listen. And then, in other circumstances, he does the same. We don’t try to fix. We don’t try to lecture. We just say, “Yup. This sucks. I’m so sorry honey,” and let the other just feel whatever they need to feel. And sometimes, I have to remind him, “please, stop talking, and just listen.” And guess what his reaction is? “Thank you for telling me. I’m sorry.”

3. We get mad for each other. 

Even when I’m wrong, I sometimes just need to hear Will say he’s upset on my behalf. That he is on my side, and that he is for me; that he’s going to march up to that person who made me sad and give them a piece of his mind. 

This took time. And counsel. Will had to learn that he’s on my team now, and all his other loyalties (except to God, of course) were secondary. We went through a rough season of him defending and reasoning, “yea, but babe…a, b, c, d.” And me shutting down in response. What we learned was, after having a mom that was not only not a defender of me, but out to literally destroy me, that I just needed to know Will was on my side, even when I was just venting. And I do the same for him. 

I, on the other hand, am actually really good at this, in a really bad way…I’m his number one fan and number one protector. If you try to hurt him, take advantage of him, or dishonor him in anyway, you should watch out. And you will hear from me. It’s something I like to call “little dog syndrome.” 

4. We separate what’s “me” and what’s “them.” 

What I mean by this is, if Will comes home, and I’m snappy and not wanting to talk, he usually knows it’s not something he did, but it’s something happening outside of our control. Whether it was a rough day with the baby or a holiday that reminds me of losing the boys is approaching, I’ll probably start complaining about the need to clean the house. And Will’s response? He invites me to rest, to get alone time, and does something to alleviate the stress, like do the dishes. Even if my behavior raises anxiety in him he talks himself down and reminds himself, first, that this isn’t necessarily about him. This is me, and my junk, and I’m still a baby in trying to work through it all. 

I am not in any way saying it’s good to take out our stuff on our spouses. I am, however, coming from the perspective of a woman who grow up in a destructive home, and unless you’ve been there, you can never understand the impact it has on all your marriages, but most of all your marriage. It’s inevitable that things come up, and sometimes the “thing” is too hard to utter. As I learn to communicate what’s going on in the midst of my analysis paralysis, he reminds himself of what’s actually happening, and where this is coming from. This is where fight, flight, or freeze comes into play, and when it is absolutely necessary to know what your partner’s MO is. 

6. We laugh and pray together. 

Sometimes, we just bust out in laughter in the middle of our biggest fights. It’s usually because we realize we (eh…I’m) just fighting out of stubbornness. We could be in the middle of a fight, and in the next moment I have tears rolling down my cheeks from laughing so hard. Just because marriage is hard doesn’t mean it’s not fun! Gosh, if I could remember these early days as full of laughter, that’s a win in my books. 

I would love to tell you we pray after every fight. That we pray together every night and every morning and before we get intimate or…you get the idea. But we don’t. Not always. A lot of times, it’s me waiting for him to take ownership as the pastor of our home, or it’s him not even thinking about prayer and me feeling too vulnerable to take the one step deeper. But when we say it out loud, I think we should pray, or can you pray for me, we make it count. Even when we’re not “feeling it” or spiritually wiped out, we do it and it is an engrained reminder for the next time, when we are spiraling and having that what the heck is going on kind of week. God is faithful to remind us, gently, that we’ve forgotten our first love (Him) and let other things (even good things: church, kids, each other) steal our focus. He reels us back in and reminds us that He is our home, and nothing is more powerful than when we come to Him united. 

Last night, when Will and I were watching Modern Family, we were intrigued by this quote: “Why do we choose partners so different from ourselves? It’s not fate or chance or clichés like ‘the heart wants what the heart wants.’” “We choose our partners because they represent the unfinished business from our childhood.”

There is so much unfinished business, whether it be pain or joy, that stems from our childhood. It’s necessary to work through, and it’s a lifetime of learning; but I love that I get to do it together. 

We hear a lot of times that people marry someone because they bring out the best in them. I tell people I knew Will was the one for me, because he gave me freedom to be my worst with him. Those shattered pieces I had so delicately glued together came crashing down, reminding me that I’m not finished yet…and won’t be until heaven.