counseling

On Marriage: Enemies and Allies

8436971481_97855c3b9a_z

I'm excited to have another post for the #LiveTogether series which is about the ups and downs and bumps and tears and laughter of doing life with other people.

Today, my friend Nate brings some real, raw, and honest writing about marriage and the fights and grace involved. We hope you find it helpful.

***

“God, I really hate this bitch right now.”

That was an actual thought that passed through my head during one of the more heated moments of a fight with my wife a couple months ago. And I meant it.

You probably think I'm an asshole at this point.

Before getting married, I expected we would have disagreements. I knew we would not always get along perfectly. But I never expected I could feel this. Not hate. Not towards her. Somehow I figured I would always make the choice to love, no matter what. No matter how badly she pissed me off, no matter how unfairly I felt she was treating me, I would stoically maintain a loving attitude and see the argument through to its resolution.

What an idiot I was.

Marriage changes something. I'll be damned if I completely understand why that is, but something changes between two people when they get married. A lot of it is good. You get a partner, a best friend, a confidant – someone who you know (in theory) will always have your back through the rest of your lives together. It's good. Marriage is good.

But marriage sucks sometimes, too. No, it's not just hard--it sucks. Because when you're married, you also become comfortable with your partner. Guards are dropped, and in a healthy marriage the guards need to be dropped. But when your guard is dropped, you become vulnerable. Your partner becomes vulnerable. And then, without even thinking about it, you say something that is beyond unkind – it's devastating.

That's when stubbornness kicks in. See, I often know within seconds that I've said or done something hurtful. But instead of doing the right thing, humbling myself and apologizing, I start to make excuses. I justify. I am the king of justifications. I've actually won fights this way, verbally manipulating my wife until she is so worn down and tired of fighting that she just gives up. I win. Except that's not really winning. She's not supposed to be my enemy. We're supposed to be on the same team. When I win those fights, I've only deepened the chasm between us.

When this happens enough times, something dark begins to set in. Tempers flare more quickly as we both become quicker to recognize when a fight is brewing. Remembering to love becomes harder and harder to do. Eventually we give up, and hate begins to set up shop. I get so good at justification and manipulation that I start to believe my own bullshit, and she becomes my enemy, in the literal sense of the word. It's her fault. If she would just learn to deal, not be so sensitive when I'm a jerk to her, we wouldn't have to fight about this crap anymore. After all, what I said to her wasn't that much different than what I say to the guys at work when we're horsing around. Damn--this is such a pain in my ass.

Well. Now we have established that I am indeed, an asshole. You're probably wondering if she's drawn up divorce papers yet.

She hasn't.

Fighting is normal. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, feeling hate is normal too. But here's the thing – even though those feelings are normal, I think it's foolish to try and work through that alone. For a long time, my wife tried to convince me that we should get counseling from someone. I hated that idea. It felt like failure. Counseling was only for marriages that are really on the rocks. We weren't there. I didn't need someone else to tell me I was being an immature asshole. I already knew that, and had enough self-loathing that I figured I'd eventually get it right.

That is total, utter foolishness.

It is ok to ask for help. It doesn't mean your world is coming to an end and that the next step is divorce; it just means that you've been banging your heads up against a wall over and over and over and over again, and something needs to change. When I finally did agree to meet with a couple from our church, it was amazing. They were an older couple, with tons and tons of marriage experience and counseling under their belt, and in a very short hour and a half I learned so much about my wife and about myself. The biggest thing: this is normal. It's ok. Don't be so hard on yourselves. You have a lifetime to figure each other out; give each other some grace.

I'm not going to be able to wrap this up in a neat little bow, if that's what you're hoping for. Marriage is a process. Sometimes it sucks, but then sometimes it's great. We've had these fights, but they don't last. Eventually, we remember that we're on the same team, and actual reconciliation starts to happen. We're learning to give each other grace. The key, for me, is letting go of the need to be right, the need to win. It is absolutely one of the hardest things for me to do. That's not the same as being passive and simply rolling over whenever she gets mad. It just means learning how to empathize--how to speak kindly, gently, and to affirm each other, while at the same time being willing to take however much time we need to work out our shit. Even if it's two in the morning.

I love my wife. She is amazing, and she treats me with honor that I truly don't deserve most of the time. I know that she loves me, and I can say that with total confidence. I try to love her well. Most of the time. But we both screw it up sometimes. Badly. It's ok. It's human nature. Humans are naturally selfish, sinful, jerks. God is doing a work in our hearts, though--changing us, perfecting us. I can think of no one else I would rather go through life with, fights and all. She is my best friend, my greatest ally, and the love of my life.

Also, makeup sex is amazing.

***

Nate Roach is a plumber working in Lancaster, PA, but is currently beginning to transition to full-time ministry working with CrossRoads Missions in New Orleans. He's been blogging for years, and recently started a new blog with his wife called Unfettered Grace, where they will share stories and thoughts on ministry, life, and their new adventure in New Orleans. They also occasionally blog at The Sometimes Ugly Truth, sharing about some of life's difficulties and challenges. He's a drummer and music lover, and generally still a boy in a man's body - he still loves video games. More importantly, He is a husband and a daddy to two little people he adores.

You can follow him on Twitter, too.

Featured photo ©2013 Ivana Vasijl | Flickr