This week I’m going to be writing a short series about the more difficult parts of marriage. I don’t claim to be a marriage expert. I’ve been married for almost 17 years, and I’m still learning new things about myself, about Chad, and about the best ways to share a life with another person. I think Chad would agree that I do most of my learning by doing things wrong the first several times. But, usually I do eventually learn what not to do. I would love to hear your thoughts on these issues, so chime in when the urge strikes!
When Chad and I stood on the platform at the First Baptist Church in my small hometown back in 1999, we honestly had no clue whatsoever as to what we were doing. But, we knew we were desperately in love and that we couldn’t survive another day living as two separate people.
The thing about becoming one flesh is that you suddenly realize that God is calling you to love someone else as much as you love yourself. (See Ephesians 5:28-30) The romantic chick flicks make it look so easy, but it. is. not.
Standing there in front of your friends and family and saying “I do” doesn’t suddenly erase all of your selfish tendencies. You don’t wake up the day after your wedding wholly unconcerned with your own needs, wants, anxieties, preferences. And, in the days following, as you try to learn how to be married, how to live this one life with this other very different human being, you tend to get even more concerned about your own needs, wants, anxieties, and preferences. In fact, you may start to feel the urge to fight desperately for them, as if letting go will somehow cause you to lose yourself in the process.
I think we all tend to feel some sense of panic as we merge our life with another person’s. There is fear of disappearing into coupledom, and as each of us tries to influence the other to change our ways in different areas, we feel sure that we are being forced into some mold that we weren’t meant for. We kick and fight against the ways that our spouse is probably working to make us a better person.
Chad and I had only been married for a few weeks when he gently tried to persuade me to hang all of the clothes in his closet facing the same direction. I had never in my life even considered doing this in my own closet. I just wasn’t built that way. For whatever reason, chaos suited me when it came to closet spaces, and the fact that he wanted all of his clothes facing the same direction annoyed me to no end.
I remember so clearly the day that I finished a couple of loads of laundry and purposely hung his clothes in different directions, just to teach him a lesson. I was sure that as soon as he saw that his clothes were hung incorrectly and the sky hadn’t fallen that he would lighten up about his closet and we could move on with life, enjoying our matching chaotic closets.
You can probably imagine that that’s not exactly what happened. He came home and spent quite a bit of time completely rearranging his closet, and he was understandably upset with me for purposely ignoring his polite request to hang his clothes the way he liked them.
Now, did I really do that because I wanted to teach Chad a lesson? Probably not. I did it because I felt that his desire to have his clothes hanging in one direction was somehow a critique of how I hung my clothes in my own closet. So, desperate to cling to my clearly inferior way of “organizing” a closet, I bucked against his reasonable request and I showed a real lack of care for his need to have a nice, neat closet.
How did this impact my marriage? It seems like such a small thing, how to hang clothes in a closet. But, in that moment, I succeeded in showing Chad that I didn’t have to do anything that he wanted me to do. I pulled away from our unified flesh in the slightest, letting him know that there were certain things that were just too much to ask of me. And, one of those things was something as easy as hanging clothes up in a particular way. If he can’t trust me with something that simple, how can he trust me with the big issues, decisions, and sacrifices that have to be made over the course of a lifetime?
One thing marriage will certainly teach you is just how selfish you really are.
I never purposely hung Chad’s clothes the wrong direction again. In fact, shortly after that happened, I realized that his system was far superior to mine, and I started trying to make my closet look more like his. He’ll laugh when he reads this, because I certainly don’t succeed most of the time.
But, I learned during that first year and the years since then that one reason I married Chad was that I loved his ideas. I loved the way he thought about things and the way he handled things. Yet, somehow when we walked out of the church on our wedding day, I suddenly decided that I knew better in all areas, and I didn’t want to listen to his suggestions about how to do things. This may seem like normal married bickering, just like we see on all the TV sitcoms. But, the truth is that hard headedness and self-centered living are spiritual problems.
Remember when Moses and the Israelites were wandering around in the desert? Even after God had saved them from pharoah’s army, provided them with shoes that never wore out, made food fall from the sky and water gush out of rocks, the Israelites still complained. They still felt sure that their way was better. They still claimed that they ought to have stayed in Egypt, literally working themselves to death, just so they could have their comfortable, familiar, inferior life. In fact, God calls them stiff-necked, unwilling to change, foolish. They were behaving this way because they didn’t trust God. The result was that the majority of them didn’t ever get to claim the Promised Land. They made choices that caused them to die, wandering around in an endless circle of refusing to change.
God tells us that marriage is about submitting to one another and loving one another. When we resist the molding and shaping that He does through our spouse, then we are missing out on a major blessing. One of the reasons he gave Chad and me to one another was so that we could challenge each other to improve in all areas, sharpening each other like iron sharpens iron. (See Proverbs 27:17.) That happens in all kinds of ways in marriage, whether it’s about organizing closets or confronting a major sin issue or just constantly reminding each other how good God is.
I don’t know if you’ve been married two years or fifty-two. But, don’t let another day go by refusing to change just because it’s tough. Don’t be stubborn and hard-headed and stiff-necked, or you may end up wandering through life, missing out on the great blessing of a true one flesh union, one that brings out God’s best in both of you.