The first few years of our marriage were terrible.
We fought–a lot. It was raw, ugly and unending. We both contributed to the dysfunction.
Our fights were almost always around my fear of getting my heart broken and rejected, so I would reject her first to protect myself (I had a broken engagement when I was younger, where the parents of my fiancé forced her to break it off, and the effects clung to me like a virus). And my wife’s family wasn’t supportive of our relationship, and she had dreams about an ex-boyfriend almost every night for about three years. So my broken engagement and fear of being rejected combined with her family and dreams about some other dude made for an explosive marriage.
The worst fights usually culminated in me trying to leave. I wanted out of our home and the relationship. I was the only one who tried to run away. My wife was steadfast. She was fully committed. She wasn’t going anywhere. And not only that, she stopped me from leaving—literally. She got in my way during those fights and physically stopped me.
In our marriage, my wife was the strong one. She bore the brunt of the pain. She’s the hero. I’m the princess. I was rescued from the tower of my fear. I don’t know if I like thinking of myself as the princess. But, it’s true.
Eventually, I saw that she would always love me and be there. And I stopped running and rooted myself to her. Her love healed me from my past wounds. Of course, I wasn’t completely healed, but what once was a gaping wound became a small ache that I barely felt, except on rainy days. I may be a princess, but I’m a grateful one.
And her dreams? Well, I had this revelation during a run. It was an epiphany that I should just love and accept her even if she is having those dreams. Those days, we usually met up after I finished up running to walk in the park. During our walk, I told her about my epiphany, and, for the most part, she stopped having the dreams. Almost overnight, we were stronger.
After eight years of being together, we are more sure of ourselves, comfortable, even confident. But, we still remember the past. We still bear its scars. Those around us can’t see them because the scars we have are on the inside. They are in our memories and in our hearts. So when our friends see us, they think we look like a perfect couple. What they see is a rainbows and unicorns kind of life, like we never fought a day in our lives and were always happy. What they couldn’t see were the years where we lived in the Coliseum years of our marriage, where we fought to the death like gladiators. So we tell them our story, baring more details than I revealed here, and they’re like “Oh man, that’s bad.” Yeah, it was.
But the bad isn’t all bad. The fact is that everyone has baggage, issues, sh**. It’s in all of us. We are all broken. Some have more than others, but, regardless, you must deal with the brokenness. There is no getting around that. You can’t get to the rainbows and unicorns marriage by going around the brokenness. You have to go through the pain to get to the happiness. Really, the bad is an opportunity. It’s a chance to love the person you’ve committed your life into a better place. You both can become better versions of yourself. It’s an opportunity to heal from past hurts. It’s possible. I’ve seen it in our marriage. There are few opportunities to gain that kind of richness and joy. You can feel what it’s like to love and be loved for who you are and who you are becoming.
The temptation for many people is to not be honest with each other about each others’ brokenness. Without honesty, a relationship with depth or intimacy is impossible. You need to dive under the surface. You need to address the brokenness in each other, and you need to sit in it with one another. That means talking about the dark corners of your past that you would prefer to leave behind. Those events always make waves in the present. So you shouldn’t try to bury them. They are like zombies that will only crawl out of the grave and haunt you and your marriage. And revealing them to each other may cause rifts in your relationship, but they are more likely to create a deeper intimacy. Sometimes this process to find truth can lead to conflict. If so, you can’t run from it. You need to work through it. And you will be stronger and better for it. Remember rainbows and unicorns only come after bleeding in the Coliseum. And the goal is to know and be known, and accepted.
Outside help was incredible for us. We found a marriage counselor during our engagement through the prodding of my in-laws. That advice saved our relationship. We had someone older and wiser than us walking with us through our fights and disagreements. He asked us questions about our backgrounds to help us understand the dysfunction in both of our families and how they would affect the new family we were making together. He told us the truth that we didn’t want to hear about ourselves. Eventually, we were so grateful for it.
Now, it’s not lost on me that there are relationships that are nearly impossible or just can’t be salvaged. But, I do believe that the majority of them can be. It’s just that very few people have been told that it’s hard work. No one told you that you need to bleed from the inside to heal; that we may spend so much time and money planning for our wedding, but fail to invest in our marriage; that you sometimes need to stand in the doorway and block your spouse from leaving. Sometimes your marriage may feel like a battle to the death. But, you can get to a place where your love grows stronger, richer, deeper than you could have ever imagined.
Believe the princess.
Thank you for persevering and sharing your story about the hard work of marriage. More people need to read, hear, and share honest stories of how it really is in married life.
Thanks for posting this and the encouragement, DJ.
Love this John. You know Jose and I well enough to know that we agree 100%. I feel like more couples need to be honest about the struggles in order for marriages to be healthy and whole. We once had a counselor say to us: “You have to sit in the sh*t to meet Jesus” and it is totally true. The broken, desperate, ugly places are where God meets us most. I wish it wasn’t so but I know it is! Thanks for sharing this post and for your honesty. If you guys ever want to come visit the Bay Area and share some food and wine and talk honestly about marriage, you are welcome here! 🙂
Thanks Laura. Yes, I do know your story. And know that you can empathize with our struggles. Love that quote. We’d love to share food and wine and stories. Thanks. Also, if you guys are ever in nyc, let us know!