It was our three-year Wedding Anniversary and the worst of the worst had reached its climax. I found myself walking out the door 6 months pregnant, with a one-year-old son and a backpack full of pocket change. I didn’t know where I was going, but I was finished with this marriage. Pierre panicked and called everyone he knew to call – my father, our pastor, his mother. It was the latter who got in her car with her husband and immediately drove to our house. They sat us down in separate rooms and listened. For the first time, I was sharing my heart with someone outside of my home. That night, she convinced me to stay.
That was the beginning of a tremendous turnaround for us. We were Christians for over a decade, leaders in the church, having influence wherever we went – but we were broken, and no one knew. There were so many times I wanted to reach out to someone and get help, but I couldn’t trust anyone. Deep in my heart I knew we would overcome this rough patch, and I didn’t want anyone to hold my husband’s offenses (or mine) against us. So I remained silent of our struggle for years.
I want to preface this by saying that there are some serious issues in marriage that need intervention, counseling, and/or separation if one or both parties is putting the other’s life in danger through abuse, infidelity, or the like. Yet the vast majority of marriages that end because of irreconcilable differences are marriages that could’ve been saved with some TLC.
Pierre and I just celebrated our 11-year wedding anniversary and have three awesome children. I can honestly wholeheartedly say that we now have a great marriage. We communicate well, support one another, effectively meet each other’s needs, and have tons of fun. We truly love each other in the biblical sense of the word (1 Corinthians 13). Having successfully navigated those waters, here are 5 steps that will help you get through a rough patch in your marriage:
1. Believe. When we were at our worst, I would read articles online, hear a sermon preached, or watch a movie that would show happy married couples and I thought it was all a farce. I believed that everyone was secretly hurting as much as I was, and no one was admitting it – especially those in the church. I didn’t think our marriage could be healed. I thought I had married the wrong person at the wrong time. I didn’t want advice or hope in my heart. I wanted out. The first step in getting through a rough patch is believing that you can have a happy healthy marriage, despite what it currently looks like.
2. Forgive. Something about marriage makes it difficult to forget your spouse’s offenses. It’s like you feel that because you agreed to marry this person and forsake all others, they better live up to the hype. You expect more from your spouse than you do from everyone else; so when they fail, it stings. Yet if we keep in perspective that we are not perfect and need grace, then we are able to freely give grace to others. Forgiveness means giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt, and not pigeon holing them into specific character flaws. It means truly giving them a clean slate.
3. Surrender. Oh man. This word ranks right up there with “submission”, doesn’t it? A lot of times we come into marriage with a fortress around our heart; and if we didn’t, we build one soon thereafter. We are going to protect ourselves at all costs from this person who keeps letting us down and hurting us. Let me tell you, that is nothing but pride. We are saying our spouse is not worthy of our love. We think we get to withhold, be cold, and treat our spouses like roommates. If we don’t let them in, they can’t hurt us. Except that living alone in a fortified tower of our own making only leads to a longing that will surely be fulfilled by someone else. Then you’re starting over. To get through a rough patch in your marriage, you need to surrender to your spouse. Wave that white flag and make the decision to be vulnerable.
4. Give. How often are we focused on what our spouses aren’t doing? What they aren’t giving us? How they aren’t meeting our needs? Guess what. Your spouse probably has a list of their own. At some point one of you felt like you were getting the short end of the stick, and the other responded in kind. Now you’re both selfish, refusing to put the other one’s needs before your own. If you want to get through a rough patch in your marriage, you need to be selfless. You need to love your spouse like they’ve never been loved before. Not for a day or a week, but forever. That’s what you signed up for when you said, “I Do”. Learn your spouse’s love language, and treat them the way that you would want to be treated as well. #GoldenRule
5. Receive. This is the part you’ve been waiting for. You’ve implemented steps 1-4 and your spouse is coming around. Their behavior towards you changes, they start becoming more loving, more affectionate, more appreciative. Isn’t it awesome? Not always. At this stage, many of us recoil. Oh. So now you’re acting this way? Now that I’ve believed in you, forgiven you, surrendered my whole heart, and sacrificially given…noooooww you want to act right? We doubt our spouse’s motives and become sarcastic. At the very time when we should be rejoicing that our marriages are on the way to healing, we damage them even more by rejecting our partner’s efforts. Don’t do this. When your spouse is making strides towards a healthy marriage, receive. Know that strong marriages take time to build for many of us. If you have someone who is willing to build with you, appreciate it.
Really what it all comes down to is that the person you married agreed at some point to put their body, mind, soul, and spirit in your hands. They didn’t have to. There are plenty of fish in the sea, so don’t take that for granted. Treat it like the precious life choice that it was, and do your absolute best to walk in love with the one you chose as well.