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When marriage feels hard

I recently read an article by Joanna Gaines talking about her marriage to her husband Chip (hosts of the show “Fixer Upper”, among other things). In the article she talked about how she has never wanted to go on a girl’s weekend or spend time away from her husband, how being with him gives her energy and she thrives on their togetherness. I believe she is being sincere when she says that, and Chip and Joanna Gaines are an adorable couple who appear happily married and in-love. But my marriage looks nothing like theirs.

I can’t relate to Joanna’s desire to spend all of her time with her husband. You see, I do enjoy a good girl’s weekend. I desire alone time. I get energy from these things and sometimes I crave them desperately. The honest truth is that there are moments when being married drains me. It can leave me feeling weary and depleted. Because you know what? Marriage can be hard.

Now, don’t get me wrong…I truly love my husband with every ounce of my being. I love date nights and I especially love a weekend away with the man who has been my one and only for over 20 years. We need those moments to reconnect and remember why we fell in love in the first place. We are really good together and still genuinely enjoy each other’s company. However, there are also nights that I lie awake feeling frustrated and angry, praying for God to give me peace and sleep. There are days that I feel like we just can’t get it right…that we still have the same fight we’ve been having forever. There are moments when I feel resentment or jealousy and wonder if it’s really supposed to be this much damn work. And in those moments, it’s so, so easy to look at my marriage and compare it to others and worry that maybe we got it all wrong.

It’s easy to look at the couple at church who still stare at each other adoringly after 30 years; to see the couple on Facebook posting about how blessed they are to be married to their best friend; to see the couple on TV who spends every minute together and lovingly talk of their perfect partnership in life and business — and then compare these marriages to my own and think that my marriage doesn’t measure up.

And I get that what I see of other marriages is only a glimpse of reality…the public face of their marriage. Yet often when I speak to people who left their marriage or have been unfaithful they cite how marriage was just too much work; they always had the same fight, they didn’t feel happy, they fell out of love, and I wonder: by what standards and expectations are we measuring love and marriage? How many of us are looking at the public face of seemingly “happily married” couples and weighing our own marriage against it? How many of us have accepted the mainstream, Hollywood or Disney version that lasting relationships end with “happily ever-after”? How many of us feel unsatisfied in our own marriage and even give up because we decide it doesn’t look like these other marriages, so it must not be meant to last?

This is a problem. Because this is not how God designed love and marriage. Nowhere does God promise real love will be effortless or come to us easily. In fact, He actually says the opposite. He says love requires some hard work. It requires patience, and humility. It requires we stop envying what others have and that we cast-off our own self-seeking motivations (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

Nowhere is it written that marriage is about happily-ever-after. God’s design for marriage is sacrificial. It’s about a husband giving himself up to his wife, and caring for her in a way that puts her above all else. It’s about a wife respecting and loving her husband with reverence and humbleness. It’s about both leaving behind their individual selves and becoming one (Ephesians 5:22-33). And that last part might sound romantic at first, but when you realize that becoming one means dying to self and striving to love another the way Christ loves…it suddenly gets very real and feels nearly unattainable. Paul even declares it to be a “profound mystery.”

God didn’t promise us happily-ever-after. He never said a healthy marriage happens with ease. In fact, He made it pretty clear that there would be some real intentional work involved. And this is why I think it’s important that we acknowledge that sometimes marriage feels hard. It’s supposed to!

A healthy marriage does not equal a marriage without conflict. A healthy marriage does not mean you desire to be by your spouses side 24×7, or that you never get on one another’s nerves. It is OK to admit that some days working through conflict with your spouse drains your energy and zaps your patience. We are human beings after-all. And, no offense to the Gaines’s, but I believe that couples who publicly perpetuate the idea that their marriage is always harmony and sweet togetherness, are actually doing a disservice to the reality of what a divinely-appointed marriage is supposed to be.

This is not to say we should publicly complain, shame, or belittle our spouses. I absolutely believe we should be building each other up. But it’s OK to say, “you know what? I love my wife, but some days being married to her takes a lot of energy.” OR “Loving my husband the way God calls me to love is not easy today.” Because if we are in a community of believers where we feel safe to be honest about our challenges, we can find strength and encouragement within each other. We can say, “Me, too. I’ve been there. I know how you feel. It will be OK. God will see you through this.”

So here it is. My moment of truth and honesty. This week marriage has felt hard. So, I’ve been turning it over to God. Because while He never promised me it would be easy, He did say that if we invite Him into our marriage it will remain strong. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” – Ecclesiastes 4:12.

If your marriage feels like hard work right now, know you’re not alone. But more importantly, know that it is not an indication that your marriage is unhealthy or failing. Get off Facebook, turn off the TV and stop comparing your marriage to everyone else’s. Whatever is weighing on you, turn it over to God; invite Him to be in the center of it all. He will help you through.

Ecclesiastes 4:12

photo credit: Omar Parada Untitled via photopin (license)