Let me begin by saying this is honestly the hardest post I have ever written, but my heart has really been conflicted lately and I feel the need to share it with you in an effort to help even 1 other person in this situation.
Try as we might to hide it from others, I have to confess something. For a long time my marriage has been in trouble. I mean serious trouble. We haven't slept in the same room for nearly a year, haven't kissed in longer than I can remember, argue constantly, and have complete disrespect (to the point of utter contempt) for each other. Its been bad. Really bad. We have separated 3 times, and I have even used the "D" word more times than I would like to admit (sometimes really meaning it, but usually just for effect). I have even done the huge "no no" of confiding in my children when I am hurt or frustrated by their Father. This has only led to bitterness in mine and our children's hearts toward their Father, and caused him to take the defensive as his family teams up against him. He has shown his feelings outwardly, taking it out verbally and physically on myself and the kids. While I held my bitterness inside only to have random blow up sessions that left many of us tearful in the end. We have both felt very alone in this relationship. We have felt depressed and hopeless. Our children have witnessed the arguing and felt the pain and the fear that their family will be torn apart. We have not lived up to the purpose God has for us as a couple, and have (I believe) driven our children away from the Gospel, as we have destroyed our own testimonies. After all, if THIS is what a Christian marriage looks like, why would they want to be in one? We were preaching the Gospel to our children, and then living in hypocrisy.
I would read countless books, including the Bible, highlighting passages to read back to my Husband, that I thought would help HIM make the changes I was sure HE needed to make. I was positive that HE was the problem. If HE would just work harder, be a nicer person, make the right decisions, and follow MY lead, we wouldn't be in this situation! Yep! It was all HIS fault! I knew I wasn't a perfect person. I knew only Jesus is without sin. But I was so busy comparing who's sins were bigger, that I wasn't even working on mine! We had both been praying hard for our marriage for a long time, but it didn't seem like we were getting any answers. And then.... we did.
I received an email. (It seemed a strange way for God to talk to me, but I try not to question Him too much.) It was an application to join a book review group. The book was called My Beloved and my Friend: How to be married to your best friend without changing spouses (Seriously you guys, the title pretty much explains it all!) by Hal and Melanie Young, and we would be posting our reviews on our own blogs, before the book's release. I filled out my application, doubting very much that my tiny little blog would receive such an honor, but hoping and praying that it would, as I truly admire Hal and Melanie Young. (They have written another amazing book called Raising Real Men, and I have attended many of their speaking sessions, in utter amazement of the loving hearts that God blessed this couple with) To make a long story short, I got the mail one day and found a signed copy of this FABULOUS book! *insert squeals of delight*
I dug in quickly, eager to learn, and ready for an immediate cure for my marriage woes. Starting once again with my heart and head in the wrong place, I was only focusing on the things he needed to work on, and SOME stuff that I felt we both were doing wrong. But then, right there in the introduction, I was asked a very serious question that is the foundation of the whole book:
"Shouldn't we look at our spouse and see not only our lover, but our friend" (pg 1)
That was it really. The Mr. and I weren't friends, and we didn't respect each other as such either. In chapter 2, they go on to discuss how some people invest more care and affection in their friendships than in their own marriages; being more tolerant and forgiving, and sharing confidences that they guard from their spouse. Already I was finding fault in my theory of "fixing my Hubby to save my marriage". I KNEW we were BOTH extremely guilty of this. I have made excuses for friend's bad behavior, shared secrets with them, and worked diligently to save friendships that were not nearly as important as my relationship with my Husband; and he had put aside his relationship with me to try to please others whenever they asked. The chapter continues by showing how society compartmentalizes friendship, romance and marriage; and it is easy to see, based on that view, why no one would CHOOSE marriage out of the three. They then explain how you can have all three, "The Romantic Friendship of Marriage" they call it. The perfect combination, or trifecta, if you will. You see, some people, including myself, believe that if you are currently not feeling the romance side of marriage, then the relationship is not working. I have read countless marriage books that focus sooo much on that aspect, (how to keep it, or get it back) as if it is the be all/ end all. IT ISN'T THOUGH!!! Don't be fooled! Friendship is the very CORE of a marriage! Therefore, we must protect that FIRST! We clearly had not been doing that. Here, they sum up our relationship pretty well:
"We let ourselves become emotionally distant while geographically close, like co-workers or roommates. We work together or live together, but really have nothing in common." (pg 31)
But why is that? Obviously we did at some point or we never have gotten married. Its what they call indulging in a "moral hazard".
"The basic principle is that if I believe someone is in a committed relationship, I can take a risk that there will be no consequence if I indulge myself in a bit of misbehavior at their expense."
I KNOW we were doing that! Things that we NEVER would have done in the beginning of our relationship (our "courting" phase), out of respect for each other and hope that the relationship would continue to progress, we were now doing simply because chances are, that after 12 years and 5 children, that one little thing, won't end the whole marriage, so we can get away with it. Not much of the self-sacrifice or consideration that we had in the beginning.
So far the book was really hitting home. I was beginning to see what was wrong at the core of our marriage. But how do we fix it? I am the type of person who really needs detailed specifics of what I am doing wrong, what it should look like, and what I need to do to get there. Enter "The First Virtue of the Proverbs 31 Woman" (pg 39).
"The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life." (Proverbs 31:11-12 ESV)
WOW!!! This was a big one for me. I am extremely guilty of talking badly about my husband. I share confidences with my friends (and even, I'm ashamed to say, my children) when my Hubby does something that upsets me. I even tell stories of things that he has done that make him look foolish. Is this something I would do to a friend? Not if I wanted to keep that friendship! So this is definitely something I need to work on.
Communication was another big one. We both knew we weren't doing this right.
"We need to be aware of how we are communicating with our mates, and choose to use words that edify and encourage, while avoiding those that tear down and destroy" (pg 43)
Not saying we should never disagree with one another, or that we can expect to never argue they go on to say:
"When you have a disagreement you aim to come to a conclusion that is a win for both of you, as a married couple, the same way you are careful to avoid blurting out things that would wreck a valuable friendship. Instead of competing to win an argument, we should be striving to outdo one another in doing good..... whether you feel it or not, you should be showing even more love and respect for your mate, as you do your other friends." (pg 46)
I LOVE where they said "whether you feel it or not". Because, lets face it, we are not always going to FEEL like respecting our spouse and their decisions. I know my Hubby and I don't always have that feeling when we disagree. We have strong opinions that things should go a certain way... our way. But here's the thing: "Love is about doing, not feeling" (pg 53). True love is patient, kind, and doesn't demand its own way (1 Corinthians 13 4-5). And "If you express it in whatever way you can, you will begin to feel it more and more until it's no effort at all." (pg 46) So we HAVE to show that respect and love toward one another. Its not optional. Its in the Bible after all. It may take a concentrated effort for a little while, but it is a learned behavior. So, check, got another HUGE one for both of us to work on.
(The next chapter is on sickness and health. There are plenty of juicy tidbits and tender golden nuggets of wisdom and advice in this chapter, as Hal and Melanie relate to their own journeys through illness in their marriage. And as a cancer patient myself, I know that we can relate to this as well; however none of this seemed to be a particular weakness of ours. I will say though, that I LOVE the bit at the end about seeing the good side of the trials. I too have seen the blessings that come from the challenges we have faced together, as it has grounded our faith and trust more fully in God.)
The next chapter is on submission. I LOVED this chapter! Now don't let me lose you here. We are talking about Biblical submission. Not the nonsense that women are inferior to men and should bow down and submit to them all, but that women should submit to their husbands and the authorities God has placed over them. This is probably my biggest struggle of all. There has always been a juggling of power in our home, and unfortunately it has confused us all for years. In the past, when Hubby was not at home, I would be the head of the household and the only authority. Then when he would come home he would be the authority, however, since he had not been aware of all of the ins and outs of the daily rules of the household, power of authority would fluctuate between the two of us causing mass confusion for all parties involved. How should this look then? Well...
"In the first days of the world, God gave Adam a mission, then created Eve to be his assistant. He instituted things that way. He also gave Eve certain characteristics and strengths that Adam did not have, so the one would compliment the other. Eve's gifts and nature filled in the gaps in Adam's, and the opposite is true as well." (pg 70)
That means that God made me to be my husbands helper. I am to manage our household under HIS authority. Even when he isn't around. HE is the authority, and power is only given to me through him. That includes those times when we have REALLY differing opinions on a matter, and no one wants to budge. The deciding vote is his to make. Because God is the ultimate authority and he has given that role to the husband. That's REALLY hard for me to swallow sometimes, even though I know its true.
But here's the thing, while so many people (women especially) in today's society view that as bondage, it really is more of a sense of freedom. As they explain, it doesn't mean I wont continue to make plenty of decisions throughout the day, it just means I don't have to worry about making the wrong decisions when it comes to the critical stuff. Because it all comes down to the mission we are meant to accomplish, and my role is to assist my husband as he leads our family toward this goal.
Don't worry though ladies, its a two way street. Hubby is not only supposed to direct our family but also take responsibility for it. That's a lot too! The Bible says:
"Just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every way. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her..." (Ephesians 5:24-24 NKJV)
As Hal and Melanie explain, that means I am not just blindly submitting to the point of subservience. He is expected to earn this type of devotion. That means he must model "servant-leadership", and we both must be giving each other self-sacrificial love. This it where it is hard for me though. I have refused to submit until I have felt he earned it, and he has refused to make self-sacrifices because I won't submit and allow him to have his God given role as leader. This was causing a leadership struggle in which their was no winner. So here it was: My lack of submission was causing him to grasp for power in any way possible. I'm trying not to throw my hubby under the bus, but simply put:
"Just as wives struggle with submission, husbands struggle with leadership. In some cases men will take their God-given authority and wield it capriciously over their wives and children. They make arbitrary decisions and issue directives to test their family's responsiveness. They speak down to their "subjects" and even enjoy degrading and humiliating them. The resentment, anger, and rebellion, it breeds can drive entire families away from the Gospel..... They truly thought an iron hand on the reins would keep the family from straying into the errors and sin of the parent's past. The perception of tyranny in the eyes of the children was more felt than real, because layers and layers of relationship issues had grown up between them and their parents. Often the father had missed the "servant" part of leadership, the mother was not showing true respect to the husband, and the children grew up to despise the hypocrisy of both" (pgs 81-82)
So this was it. The section I could highlight to tell him HE needed to work on in order to save our marriage. Unfortunately for me, it all comes full circle, and I am equally to blame. If I were allowing him to have his authority in the first place, and giving him the respect God commands me to give my husband, he wouldn't be asserting his power in negative ways just to have some. Clearly I'm not practiced in this, so where do I begin?
In the next chapter there is a section entitled "You Get the Mate You Believe In". (Seriously, it all in the title again folks) Listen to this:
"If a lady believes her husband is on the way to becoming a great man, he will be. If she has confidence in him, he'll have confidence in himself. If she respects him, he'll have self respect. If she believes in him, he will do everything in his power to live up to her expectations. If he is struggling in his job or stumbling repeated over a besetting sin in his life, a wife who constantly points out his failures and shortcomings will probably succeed only in depressing his efforts to overcome them." (pg 93)
WOW! That's some convicting stuff! I mean obviously I knew that nagging at him about his negativity was the wrong thing to do. What is the old phrase? "Beatings will continue until morale improves". How can I expect his attitude to change when mine won't? But how can I show love ALL the time when I am not feeling it MOST of the time? Oh yes, they explain that too!
"Love is regarding someone else's needs and desires more highly than your own. It's something you can do, something you can practice.....Choose to love....You can choose to regard someone else more highly than yourself." (pg 102)
Yes folks, believe it or not, a conscience effort will have to be made until it is natural. That won't be easy, Ill admit. And at times it may feel like I am the only one sacrificing. Hal and Melanie write "Often when you start showing love and appreciation, the other person reacts with skepticism or even hostility.... Accept this as the due consequences of your previous neglect and earn the right to be believed. It will take a while." (pg 104) But the payoff will be amazing! If both of us are constantly putting each other above ourselves then we will both be tenderly cared for and loved. How awesome would THAT be?!?!?!
The next chapter is all about the physical aspect of marriage. This was a great chapter that discussed the fact that our sex life is just between us and God, and if those three are happy then it doesn't really matter what everyone else is doing. Just looking at the cover of popular magazines will tell you that people are often concerned that they aren't "doing it" enough, or that they need to spice it up. Really all that matters is that it works for us, in our current situation and stage in life. It can be challenging to remember that at times, I am sure, but its also important to remember that our stage of life will change constantly throughout our marriage.
Chapter 7 is entitled How To Have The Right Number of Children, and as the mother of 5 children (who would LOVE to have more!!!) with family members and friends who share different views on this, I would like to personally invite you ALL to read AT LEAST this one chapter! I LOVED this chapter! It reminds us that "God's direction for our family did not include a plan for us to take actions to stop bearing children at some pre-determined number.... He should be the judge of that, not we ourselves." (pg 147) There are sooo many excellent points made in this section, but I am trying not to get on my soapbox here so I'll just ask you to read it for yourself.
Okay so at this point I am beginning to realize that I have only told you about roughly half of the book, and this post is getting longer and longer and longer.... Plus I kinda want to leave SOME surprises for you as you read it. And read it you must, because this, my friends, was a FANTASTIC book! Seriously! Its a keeper! It will be staying on the bookshelf to reference back to often, soon to be filled with dog-eared pages full of highlighted passages, and notes scrolled along the margins. I have learned so much from it already.
So, upon finishing this book, I knew I had to make some changes. I started one Sunday, deep in prayer about what I needed to do. I was to be submissive. (Please understand that for me this is 180*) We were getting ready for church and I began to nit-pick something that my Hubby was doing. The argument began, and I stopped. I APOLOGIZED and then walked into the bedroom to get ready. It was REALLY hard for me to let go of wanting to be right all the time, but I knew I had to. The rest of the day continued without me rolling my eyes, butting in or speaking negatively. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't mean I didn't have those thoughts going through my head, I just chose not to act on them. I chose to put his needs and wants above my own. I chose to act lovingly. And as previously discussed, he was skeptical. He saw what was going on and he tested me on it all day, and in the end he saw that I was serious about this change. That evening I asked him to have a private conversation with me. We went into the dining room and I told him how my heart had been moved by what I had read. I told him I thought submissiveness was my biggest struggle. I read him the chapter and he saw how I felt. He told me that it meant so much to him when I apologized that morning. He couldn't remember the last time I said I was sorry (neither could I). He said he could see a change in me all day and he admitted that he tested me on it throughout the day to see how I would react. The conversation continued with me admitting that I knew I needed to make some changes as well, and that it wasn't all his fault (as I often tell him). Then he said something he has never said before and it tore me apart (though deep down I knew it already). He said " To be honest, I gave up on our marriage a long time ago. I just figured it wouldn't get any better, so I quit trying." While I have said this type of thing to him many times, I had never heard it said to me. But, I needed to. It showed me what was in his heart all this time. And if it had not come out we would not be making the changes toward self-sacrificial love that we are now. I know we have a long way to go, and that it may a be a daily struggle for both of us for a while, but we are getting there. And I believe that this book truly helped us see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel: being married to our best friend.
Isn't this what we ALL want? Yes, I see you nodding your head in agreement. So no matter where you and your spouse are right now, BFFs, on the brink of divorce, or somewhere in between, this book could be the tool that God uses to improve your marriage. How awesome would that be? How do you get this magnificent book you ask? Well, here is some splendiforous news: You can pre-order this book for only $12 and get Christmas delivery! That right folks. I said CHRISTMAS!!!! I mean seriously, think of the gift giving potential! Not only would this be a great present for yourself or your spouse, but surely you know some newly weds or newly engageds who would be blessed by such a gift. What about using this as a book study for married couples at your church? Hhhmmm? I bet you are already compiling a list of recipients in your head right now. (those really ambitious folks are writing on paper... with PEN!!!!)
And if you are one of the few people who don't hop on the bandwagon and pre-order it for Christmas, don't worry. Are you ready for this? (drum roll please) I will be hosting a GIVEAWAY around Valentine's day for this! (cue applause) I know you're excited. I am too. But lets try to contain it, okay friends? I mean, at least keep the cheers down to a dull roar as you share this on facebook, (twitter, pinterest (myspace for all you old folks out there) and every other social media you interact with) and tell everyone you know about it. So here are the pertinent links:
Click here to go ahead and get the ball rolling with a pre-order and be one of the cool kids.
Click here if you need a little more convincing and need to read other reviews to prove the AWESOMENESS that is this book.
And then just purely to prove that I follow the rules: