When we stood at the altar 30 years ago, and my friend Marcy sang those haunting words, I had no idea in my 25-year-old head how true they would ring this many years later. I didn’t know we were embarking on a journey of Three Marriages (and that’s so far…who knows how many more we have in us).
When we meet couples who are on their second marriage, sometimes we feel like we can’t relate. After all, what do we have in common with them? But as Allen and I joke, we aren’t only on our second marriage, we are on our third…it just happens to be with the same person. Very different and also somewhat the same.
Our “Three Marriages” have been loosely marked by the decades we’ve been together. This past weekend, questions were posed to us by our Pastor when we were interviewed on stage at our church, “Tell us about the early years of your marriage. What came naturally… and what was a challenge for you? Any Points of Conflict?”
My answer to him was hard for me to say and even harder for me to hear out loud and share with the audience. However, it was worth telling because vulnerability breaks strongholds and provides undeniable freedom. (Sorry. I have kept you in suspense long enough with how I answered, so here goes.)
Our first Marriage was characterized by HIDING. We so longed to be the perfect Christians, the right kind of wife and/or husband, the ones everyone would look at and say, “We wish we could be just like them. They have it all together.” Needless to say, with this kind of pressure to perform, we hid from ourselves, our families, our church and mostly, from each other.
We had lots of manners, not a lot of meaning. Lots of talk, not a lot of truth. Lots of outer, not a lot of inner. During that time, we actually did NOT have a lot of CONFLICT (which probably made my conflict-avoiding, peace-loving husband a happy camper), but we also did NOT have a lot of CLOSENESS. And to be honest, it felt good.
Thank God He didn’t leave us there. It all “hit the fan” at the end of those 10 years.
Our first marriage came to an abrupt end. With the help of some friends, Allen took a huge risk and shared some of his “not-so-perfect” stuff with me. I would love to tell you that I returned his risk with the reward of kindness, understanding and grace. Not so much. His reward was judgment and anger. After all, I liked my perfect, cookie-cutter world, where we were “godly” people and had a picture-perfect marriage and family.
Over the next months, my heart began to slowly change. Allen’s risk affected me. I was free to explore the ways I was hiding, the “not-so-perfect” parts of me. For the first time in our marriage, I felt safe and free to share those things with him. If he wasn’t perfect, then I didn’t have to be either. What a relief!
This was the beginning of our second marriage, one characterized by a lot of HARD WORK. Transparency and authenticity came to the forefront and was mostly met with forgiveness, grace, and compassion, which required long talks and much conflict.
We plunged headlong into books on authenticity, life groups that offered mutual transparency and trust (we have a couples’ group and we each have our own group comprised of just men and just women), and fought for these everywhere in our life: each other, our kids, and our friends.
As that decade came to a close, and our second marriage felt fairly successful, God called us to another, even deeper level in our relationship with Him and with each other. With the help of a very safe and close-knit group of friends who regularly meet together and the decision to go to counseling, we found out that we “married the wrong person,” to quote Pastor Tim Lucas’ book on the subject.
We began a slow undertaking towards HEALING, wholeness (I MEAN SLOW), another marriage, our third. Our small group went on an inner journey together exploring our pasts and how those played into who we are today, for both good and bad.
Counseling revealed to us that we each had core wounds that affect most aspects of our lives and especially each other. That was tough. There was even one very scary night that stands out vividly in my memory.
We were lying in bed, seeing very little light at the end of the tunnel, and asked each other, “Will we make it? Is there any hope for us?” We actually weren’t sure and this made for a very dark time.
We pushed ahead with our group and with counseling. This journey for HEALING seemed endless. One evening during a session, we came right out and asked the question, “Do you see any hope for us? Is this normal, that it gets much worse before it gets better?”
Thankfully, our counselor answered with a resounding, “YES!” to both questions. That gave us the spark we needed to move (albeit slowly) forward.
We have found a few things during this time that have been huge for true HEALING in our marriage.
1. Working on our marriage without recognizing and working on our own individual brokenness is pointless. They go hand-in-hand.
2. Removing blame from each other for our own wounds is huge. Blame produces shame, shame begets blame and the cycle goes round and round (that might just be why our fights kept going in circles).
3. Neither of us is changing the basic core of who we are. We have each had to (and are continuing to) grieve the things about each other that we wish were different. To give you an example, I am just not a physical person and Allen’s highest love language is physical touch. Even if I set alarms on my phone to cuddle and hold his hand, it just doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s really sad for Allen. It might never change, no matter how hard I try. He is grieving what might never be. The hope we cling to is that at the end of the stages of grief lies acceptance and freedom. YAY! We’re slowly getting there. (Believe me, it’s not just one way. I’m grieving too, but not throwing Allen under the bus this time around.)
4. The journey is SLOW. There’s no way around it. It takes lots of time and needs the “long-view” approach. None of us can undo years of damage and bad patterns in days, weeks and even months. The good news is that this perspective calms hearts and gives the much-needed room for long-term growth and change.
5. The process requires struggle. It might be painful. There will probably be some conflict. It won’t be comfortable. On Wednesday, Allen reminded me of the image of a butterfly, my all-time favorite creature. Without the stage of the cocoon, there would be no transformation. Scientists tell us it looks pretty gruesome deep inside the chrysalis, kind of like caterpillar soup. Finally, after weeks of this and the butterfly is ready to emerge, it takes hours of struggle to get free and more hours of waiting to fly. The result is sheer beauty.
6. The other person is worth fighting for. Each of us longs to have true intimacy: being fully-known and fully-loved, naked and unashamed, as Genesis defines it. We want it for each other and for ourselves. This is the place where the most transformative healing can happen, inside true transparency and trust. This is the toughest and yet most rewarding path of all!
We wonder if we will have even another marriage, one where HIDING, HARD WORK, AND HEALING are over.
It actually sounds a little bit like HEAVEN to me!
Esther and her husband were interviewed by their pastor about the authenticity and transparency they have in their marriage today. The entire 51-minute video is excellent, (if you love This Is Us-you’ll love it) and the Goetz’s are interviewed at the 26-minute mark and last about 10 minutes. (Click “Here is the link”) HERE IS THE LINK
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