“For better or worse.” When we stand at the altar and make those vows, I wonder how many of us truly, TRULY understand the “[for] worse” part. I know I didn’t.
The darkest time we faced in our marriage (to date) was the season of the café trials. Allan was a co-owner of a café, which turned into one nightmare ordeal after another. During one particular season (which also happened to be the first year of our oldest daughter’s life), it seemed as though uncontrollable and highly unfavorable circumstances were attacking him from all angles. Over the course of nine months, I saw his frustration level rise, and he was anything but his usual, cheerful self. It was painful to watch.
My husband is usually a very upbeat kind of guy. When he’s “up,” those around him (especially me) can’t help but to feel happy, even if I was having a downer day. But when he’s “down” and upset, the atmosphere becomes full of tension. I get very anxious. He has such a boisterous, influential presence, and I have a tendency of being like a sponge, soaking up the atmosphere that I’m around. When his frustration level kept rising and his negativity permeated our home, I began to wonder: Is everything going to be OK? How can we get out of this and be happy again? Will things always be like this? Some days, I was actually relieved when he left for work. At least then, I felt all the chaos and anger were outside of our home. Then I quickly felt sad for feeling this way. How can this be? We were only two years into our marriage, and this was not how I pictured it would be.
Needless to say, this was one of our “[for] worse” seasons. How did we make it through? I know that I didn’t handle it in the best way. The important thing is, we did make it through, and in the process of making many mistakes, we came out wiser on the other end.
MISTAKE #1: I threw myself a pity party. As I type this, this happened to me again last night. As human beings, I think it’s pretty much impossible not to view ourselves as the victims, at least initially. So I should rephrase this: the mistake is to STAY at my own pity party. I stayed there for a long time during the café season. Allan was so tied up (even more than usual), and when he was around, I was the soundboard of his frustrations. I missed my fun, upbeat husband. I missed our home being free of tension and chaos. I missed having him around more. I was frustrated too, but I felt I couldn’t dump it on him because he was already going through so much. I kept thinking: What about me? What about my needs? What about my hurts? Again, throwing a pity party for ourselves is so incredibly easy to do, and sometimes we have a right to throw one. Yet how do we get out of that spot and not stay there? The answer leads to my next point.
MISTAKE #2: I turned to my spouse to heal my wounds. Wait…isn’t that what our spouse is suppose to do? I’ve learned that our spouse can be a tool that God uses to bring healing, but God is always the ultimate HEALER. I wanted Allan to make it all better. There were many nights when I cried myself to sleep (in the living room), hoping that Allan would hear me and come comfort me. When I did dump all my emotions on him, he usually tried to “fix” my hurt, which often involved him defending his case (in hindsight, I know that deep down he was feeling very bad for how this trial was affecting our family). My wounds could not be fixed; they needed to be healed. My girlfriends listened and sympathized, but they could not heal. My mentors gave me advice, but they could not heal. I learned some valuable lessons during that trial. Fast forward to present time. Last night, as my pity party began in the shower, it quickly turned into a prayer session. I cried out to God. I let Him know how much this hurts. I brought all of my brokenness to Him. He hears. He understands. Most importantly, He heals. (Psalm 147:3)
MISTAKE #3: I expressed my feelings to my spouse without checking my motives. When we’re hurt or disappointed, it’s easy to speak out of our current emotions. I did that a few times to Allan during the café season. It only made matters worse. Why did I need to communicate those feelings to him? If I was to examine my heart, it was because I wanted him to know how miserable I was feeling, not because I thought it would make things better. I’m not saying we should never communicate how we honestly feel. We do need to remember though, God gave us power over our words. He gave us power to speak life into the hearts of those we love. Last night, as I pondered on this, I realized that the most effective things I can say during these times are often the farthest from what I want to say. Instead of “What about ME?” I can say, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Which one of those phrases will breathe life into my husband, and which one of those phrases will let him know that I am his #1 fan? (Proverbs 16:24)
MISTAKE #4: I let worry and anxiety cloud my mind. Oh boy, it’s scary how good I am at this one. Triggering from one single incident, I start thinking how it’s always going to be like this and what kind of damage it will do to our family. Our mind can be such a tricky device, can’t it? If we let it, it will go through that downward spiral so fast, and before long we’re like a slave to a god called WORRY. I can’t remember the exact phrase my pastor used, but it was something like this: “Instead of being a WORRIER, be a PRAYER WARRIOR.” That stuck with me, and that’s the first thing I do when I begin to worry. I ask God to give me the RIGHT perspective – a clear and balanced perspective, instead of one that is clouded by current emotions. I claim Scripture over our situations. My God says no weapon formed against me shall prosper (Isaiah 54:17)! Shortly after I do this, the worry god is inevitably DETHRONED, and my God Almighty is in His rightful place.
The last piece of all this, in addition to all of the above, is SURRENDER. Life is hard at times, and I don’t know what the future holds. In marriage, ten out of ten couples will experience the valleys as well as the mountaintops. Many times there is nothing that I can do to change the situation, and most certainly I can’t change my spouse. One thing I hold on to – and I will keep hanging on, until the day I see Him face to face: I cry out to God, I trust everything in His care, and He delivers me from all my troubles (Psalm 34:17). Not once has this not been true. It doesn’t happen instantly. Often times it’s a long climb back to the mountaintop…but I always get there. What is the reward of all this faith-stretching struggle to the mountaintop, when another valley will eventually come? It’s that when I do hit another valley, like I did last night, the climb back up is a little bit lighter and easier. In the process of the climbing, it’s me who’s changing. That’s what it’s all about. When I climb that last mountain, into the loving arms of my God, I hope that who I am then will represent more of His character than when I first began.
As an added bonus, this journey helps me to become a better wife when we hit those “[for] worse” seasons.