Chad and I have had a pretty amazing run at marriage for the past sixteen years. But, like all marriages, ours goes through phases. There are times when we feel closely connected. Other times we feel completely out of tune with each other. Phases in marriage can last for a few days or for years. Thankfully, so far our relationship has been dominated by good phases, and by God’s grace we really and truly love being married.
Communication is the Key to Becoming One Flesh
When I look back on the more difficult phases of our marriage, I can see a pattern of a real lack of communication. I think that on the whole, it’s tough for couples to really tell each other how they feel. I think we hold back because we are afraid. We’re worried that our spouse will think we’re dumb or immature or too clingy or too sensitive. We’re concerned about revealing once and for all to our spouse that we are the big phonies that we feel in our hearts that we are. This is especially prevalent in Christian marriages. I think there are times when we work hard to keep our spouse from finding out who we REALLY are. That we are really just broken down sinners who don’t have it together in any way. It makes us feel vulnerable and we tend to fight against ever putting ourselves in that position.
But, one of the keys of intimacy is vulnerability. When God said the two shall become one flesh, He wasn’t just talking about sex. I know my own flesh. I know every flaw, every thought, every desire of my heart. I know every way that I am likely to think and react in a host of different situations. I know all of my own likes and dislikes. I know what makes me feel loved and what makes me feel dejected. Not only that, but I love my own flesh. I try to take care of it and protect it. If Chad is now part of my flesh, then I should know these things about him and do these things for him, as well. But, there’s only one way that I can know and love the real Chad, and that is if he talks to me. And, there is no way he can accurately guess things about me– I have to communicate them to him.
I’m not at all saying that your husband or wife needs to know every little thought that comes into your head. Don’t do marriage like that or you will have trouble! Your wife really doesn’t need to know what you think of her floral capri pants. But, it is impossible to become one flesh if you spend your life trying to hide your struggles, your failures, and who you really are from your spouse.
The Unexpected Elements of Married Communication
Before we get married and we are in the phase of talking on the phone for four hours or gazing into each others’ eyes all evening while discussing hopes and dreams, it’s difficult to imagine a time when it will take great courage to try and communicate on that level. Yet, it seems that somewhere along the way, the longer we know each other and grow and change, there are certain topics that get difficult to bring up. The need to know our spouse and be known by them doesn’t go away, but it can be easy to start creating compartments of our deepest thoughts that we can’t bring ourselves to bring up.
The truth is that even saying sweet and loving things to our spouse can start to feel awkward after awhile. Couples who were once absolutely spewing sweet nothings years ago can feel weird just trying to say I love you. We can get self-conscious and feel dumb trying to express our love to our spouse. But, we need to do it anyway. We can’t assume that we can live happily for the rest of our lives on what we said or did ten years ago. Marriage is an on-going exercise in making fools of ourselves for love’s sake. And, I don’t know a person on the planet who doesn’t like to be told how much they are loved and appreciated, how beautiful they are, or how inspiring or how precious.
Another incredible surprise of communication in marriage is that when we do embrace the vulnerability and we reveal our real selves, our spouse’s reaction is often nothing like we imagined. A friend recently told me that she realized she was struggling with feelings that she didn’t feel were God-honoring. As hard as it was to do, she opened up to her husband about them, not knowing whether he would preach to her or laugh at her. But, to her great surprise when she told him about her issue, he wept and reassured her and told her that he was so glad that she had opened up to him in this way.
We can’t be guaranteed that our spouses will react with such compassion and kindness when we make ourselves vulnerable. We are all imperfect people, and we won’t get it right every time. But, how will we ever grow in Christ as a couple if we don’t reveal our hearts to each other? We have to be real with one another in order to progress as one flesh.
But, What if It Seems Hopeless?
Some of you are in marriages where the trust has been so shattered that you are barely making it through the day living in the same house, much less sharing intimate thoughts. To you I would just say to start small. Start by setting aside five or ten minutes of honest conversation each day. Write it down if you can’t bring yourself to say it out loud. And, be open about your struggles and your hurts.
Some of you are in marriages where you are the only person who has a relationship with Christ at all. This does make things difficult because on a heart and soul level there are things about you that your spouse doesn’t understand. You can’t grow in Christ together yet. But, you can still strive for that one flesh intimacy by communicating with one another. In your marriage, this may be the avenue through which God speaks to your spouse. (1 Corinthians 7:13-14) And, there is still a lot to know and understand about each other, even if you don’t have that spiritual connection that dual relationships with Christ afford.
Above all, whether your marriage is happily chugging along or is on the verge of collapse, pray. Pray without ceasing for the courage to open up. For the wisdom to react in loving ways when your spouse is vulnerable. Pray for a change of heart in both of you. Pray for the determination that you need to stick it out, and for protection from the things that crop up in life that seek to destroy your intimacy and break your bond. One thing I can say after sixteen years is that there is no good time in marriage to become lazy or inattentive. If our marriages are going to last, if they are going to be the soul-enriching, love-pouring blessings that they are meant to be, then we have to constantly be tending to our relationships.
Becoming one flesh is about giving all of your real, imperfect, messed up self to all of the brokenness of another person. And then God’s love covers the whole thing and gives us beauty from what ought to be one big pile of ashes. He redeemed our souls, and He can redeem our marriages. It takes courage. But, He gives that, too, if we only ask.