The Problem With Marriage

wedding kissI have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.

–Mother Teresa

Our marriage is probably like many of yours—sometimes effortless and occasionally the hardest work I’ve ever done.

I’ve been married for eight years now. The first six flew by in a breeze. We didn’t have to make it work because it wasn’t that difficult. There were romantic getaways and shared dreams, giggles and tickle fights and a growing family. We started a church and had a baby; we bought a home and moved to suburbia. Life was abundant with service and ministry and blessings. Sure, certain obstacles came our way, but our confidence in each other was high.

And then REAL life hit.

Tragedy and drama and human weakness at it’s finest.  Our fragile foundation rocked and rolled like the San Andreas fault.  My parents were suddenly both taken by fatal disease, Tim injured his back and faced permanent nerve damage and partial paralysis , there was spinal surgery, a long and painful recovery, and our constant battle with infertility that wove itself through every story—miscarriage after miscarriage. Add in a blended family and teenagers in to the mix and for two years we fought to keep our heads above water.

Maybe marriage wasn’t so easy.

Maybe it took work. Hard work.

Fortunately, I married a persistent man who never, ever, gives up. Week after week he showed up at the counselor by my side ready to tackle the broken parts of him and us and me. And even when I was drowning in sorrow and weary, he never let go of my hand.

While I wish certain outcomes were different, because I sure miss my mom and dad (and all the babies I won’t meet until eternity), I don’t regret the journey it’s forced us to travel. Pain brings out our best and worst traits. My husband has seen me unraveled and paralyzed with fear and yet he continues to love me. I have seen him blustering and red in frustration and yet I get up and choose only him every day.

So many people avoid pain. They run, they hide, they cope. I was a master at this.

But with a 72% divorce rate in Orange County, I don’t really think this strategy is working out too well for most of us.

If I learned anything from years of therapy it’s this…don’t avoid the pain–do the opposite–lean in.

Pain has made our marriage better. Adversity overcome together creates the glue of relationship. Pain forced us to restructure our boundaries, to surrender to one another sacrificially and to leave our selfish natures behind for something better—a relationship built on rock and not sand.

Every day we can either deposit love or steal life from one another. It’s a choice we are all given.

Today I sit here and write after another failed pregnancy, and a heartbeat that slipped away, with tears and sadness, and a surgery to remove the remains of another sweet baby. One more soul added to our little tribe in heaven.

But I am content. Not because it doesn’t hurt—oh boy it does, but because I’m facing the pain with my best friend at my side. The friend I have fought for and who fights  for me on a daily basis.

I am what we call in our family “happy/sad.” The sad is obvious, but the happy is because I have fallen in love with my husband all over again through this yucky experience. I am crazy about this man who shares his whole heart unabashedly and shines his light so bright it makes the dark not so scary for me. He holds my hand and whispers prayers when I need encouragement, he points me back to God when my faith wavers, and he makes me laugh through my tears.  I can only hope I will choose to fall in love over and over with this same man for the rest of my life.  I want more than anything to focus on the good and not dwell on the bad, celebrating the smallest victories and offering forgiveness quickly.

The problem with marriage is that it’s not easy.

We have to choose one another every day in spite of the pain and the brokenness of our humanity.

I’m so glad we didn’t give up on the mountain of hard, because the greatest joy was reached only by cresting this summit together.

–Samantha

Spiritual Band-Aids

Band-aid My hands move fast, busy about the kitchen.  I cut, prep and toss bits and pieces of veggies and spices into the pan to make chili.  Frank Sinatra croons on the radio and I strain to hear Kolby’s giggle on the swing out on the front porch.  Faith is doing her homework in the next room and Kyle is about to arrive home any minute after football practice.

It’s my normal fast-paced evening as I pull double-duty with three kids while daddy works late.

Suddenly, something red catches my eye on the bowl in my hand.  It’s a bright crimson, almost like strawberry juice—a smear of blood perhaps?

I stop in my tracks.  I slow down and peer closely now.

I gasp.  The red is everywhere.

Panic rises up in my throat.  I think of dead bunnies from Fatal Attraction, psychos and ex-boyfriends.

Why is there blood all over my kitchen?

The white cabinets have streaks of sticky red on the doors on the cabinet pulls.  The china plates on the table are hit.  The fridge and the dishwasher and the cabinets all reveal stains of red.

I look down at my feet and gasp.  Red splotches leave a trail from the stove to the table and back again.  Ooooh gross…I’m walking in it.

The calm side of my brain finally takes over.

“Ok, Sam, assess the damage.  Where is it coming from,” I tell myself.

(I also look for the knives in case I need a weapon)

Am I hurt?  I don’t feel anything.

I do a body check and notice my left hand is covered in blood.

WHAT?

How did I miss that?

I run my hands under cool water and the gash appears on my index finger.  It’s deep and bleeding profusely. I grab a paper towel and make a Viva tourniquet, putting strong pressure on it.

Finally, finally…the pain comes—an intense throb, then sting and the relief of knowing there wasn’t a stalker hiding behind my cupboard.

About an hour later, after dinner, it stops bleeding and I’m able to bandage the wound.

……

My finger boo-boo is constantly on my mind—probably because I’m typing with a bandaged finger, but mostly because I am shocked that I was so oblivious to an injury on my body.

It seems a little crazy; here I am I imagining scenarios that had nothing to do with reality.  I walk around and drip, drop, drip blood and yet assume it’s something beyond me and my person because I didn’t feel the sting.

And then I think of how often I do the same thing in other areas— in matters of the heart—not physical, but spiritual wounds.  Someone hurts me and I either ignore or avoid the pain.  I gloss over it and pretend it’s no big deal—until it starts seeping out in other areas.

I get sick or I withhold from the person who hurt me.  I get defensive or shut down my heart in self-protection.

The wound finds a way of making itself known even when we don’t acknowledge the pain.

……

My husband and I sit in the counselor’s office and we talk about an issue.  It’s maybe my least favorite thing in the world to talk about but my husband digs in.

I’m uncomfortable.  I squirm in my seat.  I hate pulling out this muck from my soul.  I stall and stutter and finally he pushes hard enough and I blurt out, “It’s because you said this “thing” on our honeymoon and it made me feel ashamed.”

Bamm.  The words are out there.

The counselor looks at me wide eyed.  Tim shakes his head in shock.

“I’m so sorry,” he says.  “I had no idea.”

And suddenly I’m back in the kitchen and I’ve found the wound.  Only it’s been years and years of marriage that I’ve been seeping out the blood.

Now I’m ashamed even more for unconsciously holding onto my pain like a prized medal to beat my husband up with.

And as my husband apologizes and holds me as I cry, I finally rip off the spiritual band-aid and start to heal.

……

It’s been seven years of marriage for Tim and me—seven years of figuring this “uniting into one” stuff out.

Can I just say it’s hard?  Clearly marriage is not for the uncommunicative or the martyr—both attributes I exhibit at my worst.

But the more we dig into the cues and wounds of old—the more we can find our triggers and how to move past or avoid them altogether.

Two steps forward—one step back. A daily dance of beauty and intimacy as selfishness hovers nearby just waiting to intrude.

……

I meet a young woman at a party.  She is bitter over a divorce. 

Her words are harsh, “I married potential, I divorced reality.”

I’m shocked at first, but if I’m honest I recognize myself in her.

I have the potential—with God—to be all that he created me to be.  And I have the potential—in my own strength—to fail miserably

I will never get it all right.  But I pray my husband can see both—the good and bad—and love me in spite of it, choosing every single day to stay on the same team and believe the best about one another even when we act our worst.  

……

I know so many of you are hurting and in pain.  You are in the storm.

The blood is all over the kitchen.

And I’ve been there with you.  I’ve walked through the hell of divorce.  It’s a relational death like no other.

But I’ll tell you a secret.  It won’t be easier on the other side.  You will still take “you” into the next relationship.

And if “you” are anything like me, you still need some fixin up and hard edges polished.

Band-aids need to be ripped off so you can heal and be the best you.

I know it’s hard work. And it means letting go and forgiving beyond yourself.

But I believe God won’t leave you in the mess if you are willing to do the hard work and find the wounds.

Christine Caine puts it this way, “On the other side of every disappointment is a God appointment.”

And sometimes the greatest pain is simply a mercy in disguise.

–Samantha

Where have you stuck a band-aid on a wound in your relationship that needs healing?

 

The (married) Sex Challenge

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July 2014

There’s an article traveling around social media. It’s one of those kinds of blogs—you know the sexy kind.

It catches my eye. I fervently look to the right, then to the left, then do the fast swivel to make sure no cameras are watching me… then I click.

It’s called “5 Reasons Why You Should Have Sex with Your Husband Every day.”

Offhand, I can think of way more reasons not to, but since Tim and I’ve been arguing lately and struggling to connect, I think maybe I should read it again.

I go back and re-read it slowly.

And then I mentally battle with it. This chick only has one kid and I have three. She’s young-30 and I’m 42 and freaking exhausted.

She’s probably a man.

Then one of my male friends sends me the article later that day.

It’s multiplying male propaganda.

The article is haunting me.

Now, admittedly, I’ve been a proponent of more vs. less sex in marriage. I speak on marriage and I even teach young couples that it’s good for a relationship.

In fact, I could have written the article

But that was before this year—before my heart broke.

……………..

July 6th, 2014 (from my journal and no God does not speak to me in an auditory voice)

God, are you trying to tell me something? Are you hinting that I need to have more sex with my husband? Because I don’t want to.

“Why?”

Tears roll down my face.

Our sex life took a hit when I watched both my parents die brutal deaths this year. I’m still in shock. I’m still reeling and I miss them like hell.

And honestly, I haven’t felt anything resembling horny in months.

It’s not that my husband isn’t sexy. He is. In fact, I am more attracted to him than ever.

It’s not him. It’s me. I’m the messed up one.

Some days it’s hard to get out of bed and brush my teeth much less get my jiggy on. I don’t feel sexy. I feel sad. And misunderstood. And alone.

And then I feel guilty for feeling depressed because I’m supposed to give all my worry and anxious thoughts to God. So then I end up feeling guilty and depressed and frigid.

Grief is NOT HOT. It’s just not.

But maybe there is something I’m missing in my marriage by keeping my husband at arm’s length.

When I’m sad or we argue the last thing I want to do make love.

But maybe it’s what I need?

July 10th, 2014

I decide to try the sex test to see what happens. I want to know if sex will not only reinvigorate my marriage but also help me grieve.

Week 1: I make an effort. Maybe not daily but at least every few days. I have to force it at first. I’m grumpy and I feel like a sham. I want to say, “Touch my boobs and you die.” But I don’t.

Result: My husband is smiling more. We argue less.

Week 2: He is gone on a work trip. I’m surprised how much I miss him. It catches me off guard, this wave of intense emotion. Then I get mad at him for leaving me alone with three kids. I waver back and forth between desire and pissed off(ness). When he returns home I demand a back rub and a good night of sleep before I let him back into my arms. Truth…reconnecting is wonderful.

Result: I actually feel a wee bit sexy. And when he holds me afterwards I cry hot tears of release. His arms are a refuge for my hurt. He seems happy. He’s walking around with a big goofy smile.

Week 4: Our sex life is regaining speed. Still trying for daily but it’s more like every other day. I am noticing my husband’s body more. He’s lost weight. He looks good. I think about him at work. I think about him a lot.

Result: We are much more connected. We hold hands, we snuggle and I feel loved. I’m talking more about my pain and processing it with him. It’s been five months now since the funerals and the tears are finally flowing. Geez…I’m such a stuffer but it’s coming out now.

Week 5: He’s gone again visiting his family in Seattle. We talk on the phone every day. I tear a muscle in my hip running. When he comes home we have to be careful because of my sore hip but we figure it out and yes…its fun!

Result: I’m generally not annoyed at my husband anymore. For a while, he took the brunt of my anger over the loss of my parents. I can see this now. We are communicating better and I’m getting the affection and empathy I wanted desperately but didn’t know how to ask for. Despite the fact that I’m a writer, I’m realizing I’m a suck communicator when it comes to my marriage.

Week 6: It’s a good week. I remember how much I love sex! I ask Tim to start praying with me daily again like we did when were dating. I feel God prompting me to lean into more than just physical intimacy but spiritual as well. Tim agrees and every day we cuddle up, hold hands and pray together.

Result: No more arguing. For a while, I thought the neighbors would turn us in for yelling at each other. Yes, our sex life is humming along, but more importantly our relationship is healing too as I accept my parent’s death. I wanted to blame him for being a jerk and not understanding my grief but I can clearly see much of it is me—pulling away—holding my heart at a distance. I wasn’t the only one hurt; he was hurt too by my withdrawal.

Week 7: Tim goes out of town for work. I think I might be pregnant? All of this sex has worked a little too good. We giggle and laugh and dream of another baby.

Result: The praying has sealed the deal! Every day we affirm each other, ask if we have done anything to offend, ask what we can do for each other and then ask how we can pray for one another. I have become bold in asking for affection. I tell him when he pisses me off and we clear the slate. Tim asks for sex more often and I’m more willing to please him because both our needs our being met.

Week 8: It doesn’t look like the pregnancy is good. After two weeks of hoping, it doesn’t work out. I’m too old for this (without medical intervention) and my uterus has cried uncle.

Result: Although I’m sad, I’m not spiraling. Tim and I are in a good place. We are praying daily. When I need a hug his arms are near. I have a posse of kids waiting for me in heaven and I hold onto that hope. We have make up for “no baby” sex. Now I’m the one smiling.

Sept 10, 2014

The intimacy I feared is the intimacy I crave.

I feel alive again. Not so sad. The depression is lifting. I’m grateful to have a husband to hold and children to love. I miss my parent’s but it’s not overwhelming me anymore. I think I can face the holidays with joy instead of dread.

And I imagine that’s what my parents would have wanted for me—to live and to love and to ENGAGE in life without guilt. And yes even in the sexual arena.

(that feels really weird to say)

Sex is a great way to connect a marriage. I just needed to take some of my own medicine.

I don’t believe any of us are prepared to cope with great trauma alone—but that’s exactly what we do when we isolate.

The truth is, I’m only alone if I choose to be. God gave me a wonderful and very human husband to grieve with. And the spirit in him ministers to me—if I allow him to.

Sometimes it just takes a stupid article for me to take the hint.

So, I dare you…to pray together and to love one another physically. A sort of (married) sex challenge!

Please don’t take the gift of marriage for granted.

Blessings,

–Samantha

5 Tips to Stay Crazy in Love

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One of the best dates with my hubby was actually a dare.

We were DARED to go to Fashion Island, dress up like fools, sing to the crowd, and then ask some older married couples the secret to a long and satisfying marriage.

Dressing up was a kick, singing (or maybe screeching) at the top of our lungs as rich people averted their eyes and a dog in a stroller howled at us was a wee bit more difficult(and humbling), but approaching the couples for advice was downright fun and eye-opening.

Why, oh why, don’t I listen more to the wisdom of people who fought the good fight (relationally) and won?

Hollywood’s advice stinks, celebrities ditch relationships on a whim, and Disney and Playboy aren’t making it any easier on us either.

Want to know what these awesome couples said?

Here are the tips we learned from couples married 45+ years who still hold each other’s hand and are madly in love…

1. Listen

After the first older gent we confronted at Nordstrom’s (who didn’t run away) stopped laughing at our outfits, he was glad to share from his heart. 

He said the single most important thing in his marriage was to shut up and listen more

Listening to your spouse, instead of always trying to prove your point, brings nothing but the best to your life together. When you listen, you’ll discover insight on how you can love the other person more deeply. You’ll see a picture of their heart—their hopes and dreams, hurts and fears. You’ll piece together why your spouse operates the way they do. You’ll discover belief systems and thoughts that affect your relationship. If you think you ALREADY know everything about them, you’ve already stopped listening. 

Both you and your spouse will continue to change, mature, grow and learn until the day you are called into eternity.  Don’t stop learning about the priceless creation God has entrusted YOU with to cherish.

The next man said this…

2. Recognize Your Spouse’s worth

Recently, a friend of ours had a tumor removed from his brain.  His wife has been blogging and sharing about their journey.  Many times, I have been brought to tears as she describes the beauty of character and humility of her husband through this trial.

Deanna values her husband’s Jon’s worth and she lives it loud.  (check out www.DeannaRamsay.com for her blog)

When you value someone’s worth, you don’t belittle or tear down that person. You also won’t take even one day for granted.  You will cherish their heart and build them up in front of others. When you see the true worth in your partner, you’ll appreciate what this person brings into your life on a daily basis.

And you will shout out loud (like Deanna) for the world to hear, because you know you’ve got a good thing.

3. Forgive

We met another older couple from the Middle East outside the food court.  The man was adamant on how “the forgiveness factor”  impacts marriage.

(He also suggested to the guys, to always let the wife win, hee hee!)

No matter how googly-eyed and in love you are, two imperfect human beings are going to hurt each other with insensitive words, selfish actions, and occasional neglect. Forgiving each other is the foundation for any lasting and loving relationship. Without forgiveness, small offenses and wounds accumulate like a fortress in your heart.

Commit to tearing down these fortress walls (on a regular basis) before you can’t see over them anymore.

The Middle Eastern man’s wife said this, “Divorce is not an option where we come from(Palestine), so take it (divorce) out of the equation and learn how to have fun together since you are stuck together.” 

4. Have Fun

I guess if we are stuck together, laughing is better than crying.  And my husband makes me laugh like no one else.  When we sneak away and go on a date, I fall in love with him all over again.  I like who I am with him and he likes who he is with me.  We are better together than apart and I always say (away from uptight church circles) that my husband puts the F and the U in FUN!

Science backs this couple up on their “fun theory.”  Laughing alleviates stress, improves communication, gets past image management, and releases feel-good hormones in the brain. It builds lasting memories, helps heal old hurts, and binds hearts together.

Maybe your spouse is like Tim –always busting you up, or maybe you are both serious in nature, but you laugh at the same dumb movies.

No matter where you uncover the F and the U and the N, laugh together and have some fun.  Apparently, laughing matters!

5. Find a Nice Gal

This comes from my father-in-law, but I had to throw it in.  He told Tim, no matter what; find a nice and kind woman.  I think what he meant was, bitchy women are great to have crushes, on but don’t marry them. 

I like this advice and it certainly applies to both men and women.  When it comes to the daily decision to love, kindness is king. First, it shows appreciation. It also builds up security. It’s difficult to be in a relationship with someone whom you have to walk on eggshells around because you never know when the next constructive criticism or putdown is coming.

What are some of your best marriage tips?

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