I am a lot of things. But one thing I am NOT is an expert on marriage. Well, I’d probably be an expert on what NOT to do. I’ve gotten it wrong so many times I can’t even count. I’m not one to believe in “soul mates.” I think it’s a nice thought, but it’s not part of my theology, and it’s not really been my reality. That said, I believe Pete is absolutely a gift from God. I don’t think there is another human on the planet that is more suited for me than him. He is the most LOVING, PATIENT, KIND, and LONG-SUFFERING human I know. And he’s pretty cute too! #bonus.
We didn’t begin our marriage the right way. I was 4 months pregnant with Haley when we got married. This isn’t me passing judgment on anyone else; this is simply me sharing the facts of my own story. So, to start out feeling like “he had to marry me” is definitely not the best environment for feeling wanted, chosen, confident, pursued, or secure. And growing up in church, you couple all of the aforementioned feelings with the guilt of knowing better and you have a cocktail for a hot mess. Meet Carmen in her 20’s & early 30’s.
I don’t like to speak for Pete (and he’s super private! Y’all pray for him because ‘member, he’s married to me!) But I think it’d be all right with him if I told you what he would tell you today…he too wasn’t in a great place when we got married. The only difference between the two of us was that I was somewhat aware of my dysfunction—but him, not so much. Which doesn’t make one right or wrong. You still have two broken people with a new baby, a new city, and no manual. Seven years in, we welcomed another baby girl, and the cracks in our marriage were beginning to show.
I would love to tell you divorce was never an option for us, but the truth is that calls to attorneys were made. But here’s where it gets fuzzy—or perhaps it’s better to say Providential. We never went through with it. And I can’t even tell you why, except to say “God stopped us.”
There was no dramatic heart restoration or particular moment where we had this “Hollywood reunion” scene. It wasn’t like that at all. However, there are two defining moments that are embedded in my heart and mind forever.
The first one was in the marriage counselor’s office. I didn’t want to be there. Pete insisted we go. The counselor was trying to put me (and my attitude) at ease. Pete went first. He said, “Carmen has loved enough for the two of us for the first seven years of our marriage. I’ll love enough for the two of us until I can win her heart back.” I was so mad! I was mad because he was being sweet, and that didn’t sit well with all of my justifications. And it was the first time—in ever—I felt he wanted me, as opposed to being stuck with me.
The second moment was shortly after the first. A friend stopped by to see me. I was on the floor crying. She knelt down beside me and prayed this simple prayer: “God, whatever is pulling on Carmen’s heartstrings, You pull harder.”
I didn’t know much back then, but I had enough Baptist in me to know that God was on the side of my marriage, and for me to do anything differently would not be good.
You would think it would’ve been sunshine and roses from there on out. Ha! Not a chance. Thus began the hardest years. The silent-treatment sessions with God. The power struggle with His will vs. My will. And for a while, Pete and I even fell into the category of “let’s hang in there for the girls.”
But over time, a crazy thing happened. I would tell you in my own words, but Beth Moore blogged about her husband, Keith & her late last year, and honestly, I can’t say it any better than she did….
“We developed compassion for one another. We were both messed up and we each understood why. And, I really don’t know a better way to say it, we felt sorry for one another and started trying to help each other get better. We were both willing, many times through bitter tears and against our human-hearted natural preferences, to choose to love each other again. Over and over and over and over. After some really harsh things.”
This is Pete and I. Down to a T. Just copy, cut and paste our names. It’s nothing but the absolute GRACE of GOD that we are still standing. He saved us from ourselves. I shudder when I think about what we almost did to each other and to our girls. I know everyone’s story is different, but Praise Jesus we’ll be married 27 years on May 26th. I love how Beth put it in her blog, “Keith & I don’t kiss on our anniversary. We high-five!”
Pete & I often have people ask us for marriage advice or what our secret has been. This is when we glance at each other with that knowing-look and start laughing hysterically, “If they only knew!”
I don’t know where you are in the journey, but this is all I can offer:
1. God. Only He has the power to change a human heart.
2. Laugh. Praise the Lord, Pete & I never lost our sense of humor. Even in the darkest of days. Some of our jokes were just downright sick. But we would laugh our heads off through our tears.
3. Seek to truly try and understand the other person. For a moment, pretend like they’re not your spouse, but a sister, a brother, a friend. How would you treat them?
4. Learn that love is verb, not a feeling. Feelings follow action, though.
5. This book…
Pete is an avoider. I’m a vacillator. Read it and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Marriage is hard. But, it’s worth it. And If I’m completely honest at the moment I’m writing this, Pete & I got into a disagreement last night that has carried over to today. But the arguments are so different these days. We really don’t fight that often. But, when we do, we fight more fairly. And we’re no longer fighting against each other. We’re fighting for each other.
We may not have “entered in” the right way, but with the grace of God, (albeit bloodied and bruised) we will finish the right and only way…together.