A Thriving Marriage: Because "Good" Can't Be All There Is
I was fifteen when my parents separated. I had no context to handle the emotions, and it wouldn’t be until later in life that I fully understood how traumatic it was for me and my siblings. I buried the pain of their failed marriage because I was young, immature, and honestly, incredibly embarrassed. My parents had been prominent Christian leaders in our church and community, and my world was turned upside down when I heard the word, “divorce.”
Eighteen years later, one month after congratulating my in-laws on their fortieth wedding anniversary, I heard the same word. Again, it sent me spiraling. This time, I had been married for a decade and I had kids who had their own questions. Even though I was acutely aware that there had been problems for many years, I found myself echoing their innocent questions of, “why?” and “how?”
For months my children would ask if we were getting a divorce after every argument. They were afraid, and understandably so. “This is never going to happen to mommy and daddy,” is what we told them over and over, even after being chastised by others about how we shouldn’t “make promises we can’t keep.” I had been on a phone call when I those words had been spewed at me, and by the end of the conversation, I was seething. How dare they assume that I am going to lie down and let my marriage fail?! Little did that person know that their one comment would launch us into the most purposeful season of our relationship.
It was no longer a question of whether or not we would put a date night on the calendar, but when, and who was going to get the babysitter lined up. We were keenly aware that having hobbies together was important and we decided to explore new interests and revive old activities. We had always had above-average communication, but it forced us to get even more vulnerable and choose to let nothing be swept under the rug. We confessed sin. We talked about our insecurities. We walked in forgiveness. It hasn’t always been easy, and we haven’t done everything right, but it has been an incredible adventure.
We didn’t want to end up a statistic. We desired to sail into the season of empty-nesting with the best years still before us, instead of realizing that the romance and the friendship had faded long ago. We didn’t want to find ourselves in front of the T.V. or eating dinner in silence because we had become roommates with nothing in common. The word “stagnant,” with synonyms like “dormant,” “lifeless,” “dead,” and “lazy,” was not an option for us. We decided to chase after what could best be described as, “a thriving marriage.”
Similar to the farmer with goals of producing a bountiful crop, or an athlete determined to win a medal or represent their country, we recognized that effort would be necessary. There would need to be conditioning and sacrifices on repeat. We didn’t want to endure; we wanted to flourish. Our desire was a marriage that produced a harvest that was abundant, not mediocre. We signed up for the marathon, not the 100m dash, and we determined to break records.
This isn’t a popular idea— hard work applied over decades. Our society isn’t a fan of anything requiring patience. We want the wedded bliss, but the microwaved, Amazon NOW option that requires nothing on our part. We want to listen to the audible version instead of slowly reading and studying the manual. We want the three-day retreat with the money-back-guarantee instead of committing to thirty sessions with a therapist. We want to keep our addictions, secrets, and struggles from our spouses, assuming ignorance is bliss and that we “have the problem under control.” But it doesn’t happen that way. Those things cannot remain hidden forever.
There will continue to be fights. There will still be hurt feelings, words spouted in anger, and selfishness that shocks. The destination isn’t a perfect relationship or two perfect people. The vision is to inspire others toward a better future than the one we’ve been told is the norm. And what does that look like?
It begins with simple things, like saying, “I’m sorry,” or hard things, such as keeping your mouth shut when you want to get in the last word, or bring up past mistakes. It means preferring the other person, not allowing the seemingly insignificant things to build up, and being able to admit when something isn’t working. It’s getting real about sex and money, maybe for the first time ever. It’s opening up about the in-laws, the friendships, or the career that is exhausting. It’s getting on the same page about all of these things and setting realistic goals together. It’s recognizing that you will both grow and change and giving one another room to do so. It’s staying on the phone instead of hanging up, not walking out, and making the decision to love, even if you don’t feel like it, and they don’t deserve it. It’s forgiving and remembering that you too have inflicted pain. It is believing the best about each other, and not living with expectations that no one but Jesus can live up to.
A thriving marriage is the product of two flawed individuals choosing to communicate, respect and serve one another. It’s what happens when they walk in humility, and love, every day. It is the result of effort, sacrifice, and prayer, on repeat. It’s the realization that there must be something better than “good,” and they must have it. And so— they decide to go get it.