There are times when I am reminded of something from the bad years in our marriage. When I look at those things now, from the vantage point of having worked to rebuild our marriage into a source of joy and peace, I am ashamed of those feelings and actions—yet I remember the emotions and justification I felt at the time.
I am sad for the woman I see in my past. She created illusions that allowed her to believe she was in the right all the time. She had a husband who offered his heart, and she shut it out. Seeing the woman who I was. I want to reach out to her as a sister in Christ and open her eyes, hold her while she cries out her sadness and loneliness, and show her that she can change everything by taking a first step, and help her get her start.
My husband tells me that he never wanted a divorce, but there were several times when he asked me if it was what I wanted. At one point, while I didn’t say the word “yes,” I do remember thinking it. One time, I said, “Maybe.” He tells me that he sometimes wondered what I would do when our kids left the house.
This morning, I experienced a reminder that my refusing and gate-keeping were tangled up in my attitude toward our marriage. The reminder came in the form of a video that tugged at my heart: Luke Bryan’s “Do I.”
This song echoes many of the words and concerns my husband used to express to me:
- We’re going through the motions.
- You don’t seem to care one way or the other about me or our marriage.
- We used to have so much passion; why did it change, and how do we get it back?
- Do you still love me?
- I’m walking on eggshells around you.
- If I gave you everything you wanted, would that even be enough?
- I’m lonely.
- Do you want me to just leave so we both can get on with our lives?
I realize now that my husband had a lonely life. I think now about what this must’ve been like for him. He felt unloved, never knew how I would respond to anything, puzzled over what horrible thing he must have done to push me away, yearned to have our marriage back, wondered if there was anything he could possibly do to get “us” back, and even opened the door to ending things so I could be happy.
Meanwhile, I used to imagine what it would be like to live without my husband. When I would feel particularly stressed by marriage and family life, I would even go so far as to look at how much it would cost to rent a small place just for me or for me and the kids, something I could afford on my salary. As soon as I confirmed that I could afford to live on my own, I would feel settled. While I never seriously considered leaving, I frequently fantasized about what it would be like to have my husband gone from my life. The thought of going through a divorce overwhelmed me, but my husband had several health issues and I figured he might die—and then I could get on with my life.
While I didn’t actively want him to die, I felt like our marriage was a mistake; death sounded like an easier way out of the marriage than divorce. After all, a divorce might require me to acknowledge that I had failed in some way; if I were a widow, I could retain my belief that I was good and hadn’t contributed to the end of our marriage. Plus, people would sympathize with me. Yet even then, I knew how lonely I already felt. I wanted to not want to be without him.
And although I wouldn’t allow myself to admit to any ways I had contributed to the sad state of our marriage, underneath all my illusions and loneliness, I knew that if our marriage had any chance of working, I would have to put some effort into it, too. I had no idea how.
Our pastor’s sermon this morning included the story of twins, a brother and sister who had been placed on an orphan train. They were taken by different families, separated with no knowledge of what happened to the other. Even late in his life, the brother wanted to know that he was forgiven for not having protected his sister by finding a way to keep them together. They finally reunited—after more than seventy years apart. I left church wondering about our responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christian marriages. How can we comfort them and find a way to keep them together? Sometimes, leaving sounds so much easier. While it might be more work, sticking it out and making it work is better. How can we provide tools, be supportive, and encourage spouses who have made a decision to work on their marriages but see only a long road ahead of them?
I wondered about all my Christian brothers who feel stuck in their marriages, unsure what to do and if it’s time to give up. I wondered about all my sisters who feel stuck in their marriages, wanting something they don’t understand, with no idea how to get there. When I returned home from church, I saw posts on several different marriage websites from men asking how they would know when it’s time to just give up on their marriages and move on. How much longer would it have been before my husband had truly asked that? Or would he have stayed with me simply because he had promised to, living a very sad and lonely life in marriage to me?
Far too many people are lonely in their marriages. If you are one of them, chances are pretty good that your spouse is, too. So what are you going to do about it?
Is it time to leave? Is it time to give up? Or is it time to roll up your sleeves and get to work?