Tag Archives: marriage

What love looks like to me

Two years ago I had the pleasure of travelling to Sydney, Australia for my job. Not knowing when, or if, I’d ever get back I tacked on two days to my trip to do a little sightseeing. As I’ve traveled quite a bit for my job I’ve gotten used to being bold and venturing out on my own, but this time I went ahead and signed-up for one of those pre-planned tours that would take me up into the Blue Mountians and a chance to experience what lie beyond Sydney.

I was the only solo traveler in this tour group and quickly befriended two older couples who were sightseeing for a few days before embarking on luxury cruises. Turns out both couples were quite seasoned travelers and cruise enthusiasts. Their kids were grown, they were retired or semi-retired, and had the time and means to see the world. They had a lot in common and at first I envied them the freedom of being able to travel around the world in your twilight years with the one you love.

Yet, as the day progressed and I spent more time around these couples I noticed some distinct differences. In one couple the wife was very outspoken. She was often critical and harsh in her judgement of things, and this included her husband. She spoke over him and for him. Their body language was that of two people who were used to each other, but not connected. The husband spoke little and seemed to be disengaged for much of the conversation.

The other couple was quite different. They held hands and sidled up close to one another. Their conversations had a lot of give-and-take and they seemed to really listen when the other one spoke. Everything about them exuded love.

From the outside both couples appeared to have quite an exciting and enviable life. But by the end of the tour, when I said my goodbyes, I knew there was only one couple that had my admiration and respect.

Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong.  It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out.
-1 Corinthians 13:4-6 (TLB)

My husband and I had those words from 1 Corinthians read at our wedding, just as I’m sure 98% of Christian couples do. It’s the proverbial definition of love. Standing at the alter listening to those words I thought I knew what they meant. I thought I knew what love looked like and I was confident that my new groom and I would live out these words for the rest of our lives. I really, truly did.

Jelise & David wedding
So much I want to tell that young bride about love and marriage.

But, as a young wife there were so many times I forgot these words. So many times I couldn’t wait to prove my point or win an argument (love is never boastful or proud); so many times I sat with girlfriends and complained about my husband’s lack of housekeeping (love will hardly even notice when others do it wrong); so many times I snapped at my husband (love is not irritable or touchy). Too often I focused on what I needed/wanted/wasn’t getting (love is never selfish), or I pointed out the things he was doing wrong (love does not demand its own way), and brought up past deeds in arguments (love does not hold grudges).

And the worst part of all? I was ready and willing to share it with the world. I thought this is what you did once you joined the wives club. You sat around with your girlfriends, mothers and sisters and complained about your husbands. I justified my behavior as a right of passage,  a way to feel like I wasn’t alone and seek support. But really it was selfish and terribly toxic. All it did was tear down the image of my husband in both my eyes and in the eyes of those around me. And most of all it left me feeling empty and unsatisfied because contempt breeds misery.

It took me many, many years — and coming face-to-face with the possibility of ending my marriage — before I began to change my approach. On the recommendation of a friend I bought the book “Power of a Praying Wife” by Stormie Omartian. I won’t say this book saved my marriage, because it’s much more complex than that, but this book completely changed my view of my role as wife and partner. It changed how I prayed (Before: “dear God, please change my husband to see things my way”) and what I prayed for (Now: “dear God, please help him to see the amazing husband and father you created him to be”).

Don’t get me wrong…I still mess up. A LOT. I make mistakes weekly and fall short often. But I look to 1 Corinthians 13, verse 7, and I particularly like this translation from The Living Bible. It says, “If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.” (TLB)

It’s been nearly 15 years since we stood on that alter and this is what love looks like to me now — to stand by my husband, always believing in him (instead of questioning him), expecting the best (not looking for the worst), and speaking highly of him (instead of complaining and criticizing).

Let me be clear: this is not always easy. It may sound simple, but it’s really not. It takes making the choice every day to set-aside my pride and ego and follow these guidelines. But I do it because it’s how God has instructed me to live. I do it because it makes my marriage, my family, my life fuller, sweeter, and happier when I do.

I hope in 20 years we will look like that couple I met in Australia. Whether we’re travelling the world or sitting together in a booth at the I.H.O.P., I hope young couples will look at us and see the loyalty, the respect, and the unwavering love.

This is what love looks like to me.

1 Corinthians 13:7

My biggest fear

This past Sunday and again last night in our Bible study, the topic was fear. I’ve never felt embarrassed to admit that I am afraid of a lot of things. From the mundane like heights and snakes, to the irrational like swallowing a spider in my sleep (I don’t care what Snopes says about this, ever since I read that made-up statistic I am afraid of spiders crawling in my mouth).

I regularly share with my friends and husband my fears and worries about this whole parenting gig. Fearful that  I’m too strict, not strict enough. That I keep them too sheltered, that I give them too much freedom. And mostly, that in the end I really have very little control over their life decisions.

I have even written or spoken publicly about some of my real-life moments of fear, like the canoe trip I took this summer with my family, or following God’s calling to write, and even being molested as a child.

I talk about my fears because it helps me face the irrational ones, process the past, and glean a little perspective.  I do it to help others know they’re not alone and because it provides a sense of camaraderie.

But, there is one fear I never talk about, not even with my best friend or husband. My deepest fear that I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. The one that I’m embarrassed to admit. Afraid to say out loud to people, lest they confirm it’s true.

My biggest fear is not being loved.

Maybe a more accurate way of putting it is that I’m afraid of not being loved enough. That I love people in my life more than they love me. I don’t know how long I’ve had this fear, but I know it started when I was a child. I’ve been through enough counseling in my life to be able to identify some of the events of my childhood that probably contributed to the start of this fear. I’ve also been through enough counseling to know that it’s an irrational and unhealthy fear! But for me, it’s real.

afraid of not being loved

The worst part is that I know that this fear has actually created situations that have almost led to a self-fulfilling prophesy. I recall once planning a girl’s weekend with a group of close friends and in the weeks before it was scheduled to take place several friends either backed out or said they weren’t sure they could make it. My immediate first thought was “this friendship must mean more to me than it does to them. I knew it! I knew they didn’t really care that much about me. They just agreed to go on this trip because I pushed it.” Then I sent a rather unkind email to my friends letting them know just what I thought of their behavior. Ouch! Not a great way to strengthen a friendship in love. Thank goodness these friends do in fact love me, forgave my little rant, and we’ve had several girls’ weekends since that incident.

I’m ashamed to admit that I have been jealous of my friends’ other friendships. Worried over un-returned phone calls or emails. Replayed conversations in my head, over and over again. Been hurt by invitations that weren’t extended. And actually gotten myself so worked up I didn’t attend social functions because I was sure no one there would want to talk to me. All because I have this nagging voice in my head that tells me I am not loved. Not loved enough. Not lovable.

Then 9 years ago my marriage almost ended. It sent me down a dark rabbit hole of fear. While I was brave enough to make it known to my husband what I needed in order to save our marriage, inside I was terrified that I was not enough, not worth the hard work and effort. That I loved him more than he loved me. I struggled between wanting him to love me (and prove it) and pushing him away because I was sure in the end he’d leave anyway, so better get it over with now rather than drag things out a few more years. It was such a desperate time filled with fear and anxiety. In my brokenness I did the only thing I could do and went to my heavenly Father. I curled up in His lap like a little child, sobbing, begging for guidance and answers, and for it all to be over with already.

And God, He is so merciful. He held me and comforted me. He calmed my fears, changed my perspective when needed, gave me strength, and sometimes, just helped me fall asleep, knowing that a new day can bring with it hope.

It was during this point in my life that I really started to get a hold of this fear. Or at least I learned that when I feel afraid of not being loved, or when I start to feel the anxiety that I’m not loveable or loved “enough”, I need to turn to the source of ultimate L-O-V-E. Because, really, could there be anyone more in love with us than the Lord (said in my best Chandler Bing voice)?

And we have it in writing!

I mentioned the book of Isaiah in my post last week, and how it reads like a passionate love letter from God to His people. In the book of John Jesus tells us just how much God loves us, foretelling His death as the ultimate sacrifice of love.

In Romans chapter 8, there is my favorite verse of all time. A reminder that we are loved beyond all means, above all failures and obstacles. I especially love this translation from the Living Bible: “For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are—high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean—nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us.” (verses 38-39)

And then, there is 1 John chapter 4. I only just discovered this verse when studying the word this week, but oh my! I’m pretty sure this was written just for me. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them… There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (verses 16 and 18)

1 John 4:.16

Um, yeah. So there you have it.

Thankfully, some things do get better with age. While I still struggle from time to time with this deeply rooted fear of not being loved, it has slowly eroded over the last several years. It rears its ugly head less often than before and is replaced with confidence that God loves me. Not just in a “yeah, you’re alright, but most days you’re not my favorite child” kind of way. But in a desperately seeking, all-consuming, nothing can stop it kind of way.

If He can love me like that, how can I possibly be afraid of not being loved enough? And this is how I face my deepest fear.

Extra soft tortillas or extra-soft tortillas?

My husband and I have been together for over 18 years and married for 14. By this point we are pretty aware of each other’s distinct personality traits, including our basic communication differences. For example, my husband knows that speaking to me before 8 a.m. will result in a grunt and nod at best, and at worst could be dangerous for his health. And I know that if I wait until we are both in bed to try and discuss something important, I’m going to get a lot of “uh-huhs” and “I don’t knows” before I start to hear snoring.

Over the years we have learned a lot about how to communicate more effectively and gotten past many of the basic communication hurdles that plague men and women. He gets that I have a need to hash out every detail of a situation, and lets me do so. And I have learned to stop reading into everything he says (or doesn’t say) and just come right out and ask what I wish to know. Yet, there are  moments when our efforts to communicate clearly with each other actually backfires.

For example, last year we were preparing to have some family over for dinner and my husband offered to run to the grocery store if I made the list. I was planning to make chicken fajitas and my shopping list looked something like this:

Bell peppers

Onions

Sour Cream

Chicken

Fajita kit 

Yes, I use a boxed kit and it’s delicious. Don’t judge.

But as I started thinking about how our family of five easily goes through all of the soft tortillas that come with the standard kit, I thought it best to have some extras on hand since we were having two guests. So I added this to the list:

extra soft tortillas

I put the “extra” in there because knowing my husband, who will shop with a calculator in hand to make sure he is getting the best bargain, I had a feeling if I just put “soft tortillas” on the list he’d come home with nothing, declaring that there were already tortillas in the kit, so he didn’t need to buy them separately. Makes sense, right? I was just avoiding a potential miscommunication that would lead to a return trip to the grocery store (and when you live 20 minutes from the closest store you employ whatever means necessary to avoid a return trip).

50's housewife with list
Let’s see, if I put “extra soft tortillas” it should avoid any confusion.

That afternoon my husband came home from the store and I started to help him put away the groceries. Bell peppers – check! Chicken – check! Fajita kit- check! Extra tortillas – well, he bought burrito sized tortillas, not the smaller fajita sized ones, but that’s OK, at least we’d have enough.

As I was putting the tortillas away my husband came over and said, “I hope these are OK, the package says they are super soft.”

Me: “Huh?”

Hubby: “Well, I didn’t see any that said extra-soft on the package. These were the closest I could find. Is that OK?”

Me: (pausing a moment to process what he’s just said) Bwahahahaha……can’t breathe……..laughing…….so hard…….tears streaming……..down…….my face

Hubby: “What? I don’t get it?”

Me: “I meant extra soft tortillas,” giggle, snort, giggle, “not extra-soft tortillas!”

Once it sunk in what he’d done (or what I’d done, depending on how you look at the situation) we both laughed for a while.

Mission tortillas
Look honey, they say “super soft” on the package!

It’s a funny example of how sometimes over-communicating can be problematic. Unfortunately, in our house, this doesn’t always lead to a funny story. Oftentimes my “over-communicating” is perceived by my husband as nagging. Like when I ask him to call the phone company about an unusual charge on our bill. Then the next day I email him in the morning as reminder, and then I text him in the afternoon. When he gets home I ask him if he called the phone company and he says, “no, I didn’t have time, but I will do it tomorrow.”

By this point we are both completely frustrated. I’m frustrated because I’m thinking ‘I only reminded you three times! How could you not take care of this one little thing?’ And he’s thinking, ‘I told you I would take care of it, and I’ll take care of it. I can’t do everything you want me to, right when you want me to, so stop nagging!’ (or at least I assume the inner-dialogue in his head sounds something like that). And now something as simple as a phone call has built a small wall between us, and perhaps even set the tone for the entire evening.

What I could have should have said was “honey, I really need to pay the phone bill by Thursday, can you please be sure to call them and find out what this charge is before then? I can send you a reminder if you want.” And then just trust he will get it done, because most times he does, especially if I communicate exactly what I need, why, and when.

I know this is a better way to communicate, and it’s not all that difficult, really. But the truth is, even after 18 years, we still do this to each other. I do it because I’m distracted and don’t take the time to think about what I’m really asking. I do it because I’m caught up in the hurry-up-and-get-it-done of life.  I do it because old habits die hard.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he wrote, “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29). How much frustration would I relieve, how many hurt feelings would I avoid if I made sure my words ‘fit the occasion’ and ‘gave grace’ to my husband?

Don’t answer that; it was a rhetorical question. I know I’ve got some work to do here. But I have a feeling I’m in good company.

 

And next week I’ll be offering a free class for married couples called,  Extra soft tortillas vs. extra-soft tortillas: Why punctuation matters.

 

 

Why it hurts whenever I hear the words “if my husband ever cheated on me, I would leave him”

[Author’s note: I am incredibly grateful to my husband for encouraging me to write about and share this very personal part of our story. He believes, as do I, that God has called us to use our past to encourage and give hope to others. For his selflessness and bravery, I love him all the more.]

Friends in cafe
Copyright: peus / 123RF Stock Photo

There we are, sitting at a table in a busy restaurant, enjoying a “mom’s night out”. The talk at the table turns to a friend of a friend who is going through a painful divorce. Her husband had an affair and she is, of course, devastated and trying to pick up the pieces of her life. And then it’s said. That one sentence that I know is coming. “My husband knows if he ever cheated on me it would be over!”

Around the table heads nod in agreement and friends chime in with their unanimous support of this statement. And I shift in my chair uncomfortably. I pretend to study the menu a little more closely. I sip my drink until there’s just ice. Anything to avoid eye contact or weighing in on this conversation.

I know my friends have no idea how hard it is for me to hear this statement. How much it hurts. I know because ten years ago I could be found sitting around a table of girlfriends saying the same thing.

But that was before.

Before I knew what it was really like to be faced with that reality.

Growing up I saw the devastating effects of infidelity in my parent’s marriages. As a child I felt the repercussions. I also saw and lived through the life-altering effects of divorce, and at times grasped for a life-ring in the wake of the pain and destruction it left. From my child’s eyes it was so simple. I would never, ever get divorced, I vowed. That is…unless…he cheated on me. I mean, after-all the Bible gives us an out on this. As Christians we can say this in mixed company and no one will judge us. Everyone will agree.

But then.

Then your life, your marriage, doesn’t always go the way you plan. Hell, does anything go the way we plan?

We had been married for 5 years when I found out that my husband had been unfaithful. It was the most devastating experience I could never have fathomed. The air was sucked out of me and I was living a bad dream, just waiting to wake up. While it was a one-time occurrence, I found out that it had been triggered by a spiraling addiction to pornography that my husband had managed to keep hidden from me for the 9 years we’d been together. An addiction he’d struggled with since he was a boy. As with any addiction, it escalated, sending him down a dark rabbit hole and dragging him deeper and deeper until it was completely out-of-control. The shame, guilt, and fear he lived with everyday…well I can only try to imagine.

When the truth came out I was in a state of shock for weeks. I didn’t know what to do, what to say, or where to turn. But I knew two things. 1. My life would never be the same, and 2. I didn’t want to pack my bags and leave like I had always thought I would if faced with this news.

I saw before me a broken, hurting man. The man I loved so dearly. Yes, I was angry. Yes, I wanted to scream and yell and hit him, and sometimes I did those things. But mostly I wanted to love him.

Once he confessed it all, he immediately offered to go seek the help he knew he needed. We both went to counseling, separately. Him to face his addiction, and me to deal with this new reality.

I told only two people in my life what had happened.

I prayed. A lot.

I went through days where everything seemed fine and normal, and days when I just cried for hours, barely able to get out of bed. I questioned him over and over again. What else had he done? Who else had he been with? What wasn’t he telling me? All trust was out the window and gone and I was scared. So, so scared that it would never be there again.

I won’t sugar coat it. It was hard. We went through some excruciatingly dark periods. For a while I had the number of a divorce attorney in my Rolodex at work, and many days I thought, ‘today is the day I will call’.

It took the better part of two years of counseling to get through the worst of it. And at least another two years before I really started to believe we were going to make it.

I recall one night lying in bed after an argument with my husband, crying and pleading with God. “How will we ever get through this? Will I ever truly be able to forgive and trust him again?” And I remember so clearly, as if He was in the room with me, God whispered in my ear and said “If I can forgive him and love him, so can you. If I can forgive you of all the wrongs you’ve done, how can you not also forgive him?”

I didn’t wake up the next day and find everything had magically fallen into place. But, after that moment I was able to see my husband as a beloved, hurting child of God who was worthy of forgiveness. And over time I was able to forgive him — really, truly forgive and let go — and eventually trust him again.

It’s been 9 years since I found out about my husband’s affair. I tell you the truth when I say I love and respect this man more today than I did the day I married him. He spent over four years in counseling working through his addiction, his past and all of the hurt and pain it had caused in his life. I am amazed at his fortitude and all he’s overcome.

Our marriage is far from perfect. We argue, and get on each other’s nerves, and sometimes…every once in a while…when we’re not communicating as often as we need to I still feel a little bit of the old worry and doubt creep in. But over the years this happens less and less; maybe one day it won’t happen at all. Or maybe it will always be there on some small scale as a reminder of where we’ve been and just how far we’ve come. I don’t know.

What I do know is that this does not define us. My husband’s addiction and sin does not define him as a man or a husband. Being the wife who was cheated on is not my label. Being the couple who survived infidelity is not who we are. We are so much more than this. We are sinful, broken children of God who are doing our best to live the life He called us to lead. To be the husband and wife He knows we can be. The parents He has blessed us to be.

Please, please know that this is our story only. I share this not as a model for what I think all couples who are facing infidelity must do. I cast absolutely no judgement on anyone who has walked away from a marriage broken and hurting. Everyone’s circumstances are different.

I write this and share it with all of you because I want you to know there is hope. If your marriage has been broken, if you are facing an addiction, living with shame — there is hope. You must want it, and you must work for it and, above all, you must be patient and trust the Lord to heal you and your relationship, but it can be done. Whether the relationship survives or it doesn’t, the Lord will mend your heart if you let Him.

Just promise me…next time you’re sitting with a group of friends talking about marriages and infidelity, try to remember that until you’ve been there and walked that broken road, you don’t really know what you will choose. And, God forbid, if you ever do find yourself in that situation, know that there is no shame and no weakness in choosing to stay.