My husband Joshua and I just celebrated our fourth (!) wedding anniversary! This week, I’ve been feeling sentimental about our relationship and our marriage, remembering just how much we’ve overcome and how God truly gave us one another. To be honest, Joshua and I have so much to celebrate because there were times our marriage neary fell apart, and I personally wanted to call it quits.
It’s no secret among our closest friends, family, and church community that Joshua and I really struggled and still struggle in marriage sometimes. Joshua and I are two very different people (honestly, we are polar opposites in almost every way), and at times it felt that our differences were greater than our similarities. This is a normal experience in marriage, of course, but our differences felt insurmountable when we added in our different upbringings (his Christian, mine secular), different cultural backgrounds (his in the same Louisiana hometown all of his life, mine as an Army brat who moved all over the country before we settled in Northern Virginia), and the fact that he was a single Christian man who still had his virtue (yes, he waited until marriage), while I was a single Christian mom (to my sweet girl Raegan). There were seasons in our marriage where I wondered if we would make it, as our marriage was not panning out how I imagined. We experienced a lot of beauty (like Joshua adopting Raegan as his own in our first year of marriage, us getting baptized together as a family, moving to California, having another baby together, and more), but we experienced a lot of pain, too.
BUT GOD! The wonderful thing about being a believer is that the same God who brought us together is the same God who keeps and sustains us. I’ve received messages over the years asking me how Joshua and I make our family work as doctor and lawyer, having gone through intra-family adoption, and now juggling our practices, marriage, and parenthood. I also know so many marriages out there are struggling, where the wife, specifically, is tempted to leave the marriage, or has already left. Whether you fall into the category trying to balance it all, or the category of experiencing a challenging season in your marriage that makes you want to call it quits, I can relate because I’ve been there, on both fronts.
The struggle is real: the temptation to put the marriage on the back burner in favor of the kids and the career is present, but can be overcome. The temptation to leave when it gets difficult is also very real, but can be overcome. I can testify to that. Joshua and I are still growing, and I get tested, but over the years I found that there were some key things that have helped me to stay and grow together.
All of these things can be boiled down to “investing in my marriage.”
Therapy: Alone and Together.
I invest in my marriage by going to therapy. I will shout this from the rooftops: go. to. therapy. Honestly, I believe everyone needs therapy and I believe every couple needs therapy. The key is finding a therapist that you can identify with, one that points you back to Jesus and honors your background. I have received counseling from people who were well-intentioned but, frankly, off-base in their assessment of my marriage and of my own traumas because they were not able to understand my background. Individually, the most effective therapist has asked me the hard questions, provided me tools to help me re-route the way my mind thinks about certain scenarios, and points me back to Jesus as my ultimate Counselor. As a couple, the most effective therapist has given us space to vent but then presents us with tools to work out certain situations and, again, points us back to the Cross.
In therapy, we’ve learned just how much our childhood and “family of origin” shapes us. It shapes how we relate to one another, how we approach parenting, and how we see ourselves. Knowing how crucial our early childhood years were to our development, our therapist has pointed out the things we needed most to feel loved and still need to this day. From an individual standpoint, I now see myself in a new way and I think back to the little girl inside me, the one I want to encourage and let shine. Time in therapy even showed us how crucial this time is for our family, in that we are raising small children now. We want our daughters’ lives to be shaped differently than ours was, so it was a stark but needed reminder that we want to pass along healthy relationship habits to our children while they are in their early childhood.
Therapy has also showed me just how much I need Jesus in our everyday. I see so much in me that was broken, but I see it from the perspective that there is so much in me for Jesus to fill and heal, and I have hope. Having endured so much trauma, I learned that my mind began processing everything through that experience to the point that I could not handle conflict without viewing it through the lens of trauma. Going to therapy by myself and as a couple has helped me view life through the lens of Jesus, not pain. I am grateful that God has used therapy as tool to facilitate the unlearning, re-learning, and learning of behaviors in our lives.
Tenacity: Making the Decision Not to Give Up
I invest in my marriage by making the decision not to give up. It sounds cliché and basic, but it’s true. One day I decided, “I want to stay married.” This may sound silly to say that, given that I made a vow to stay on my wedding day, but nothing could have prepared me for the storms we walked through early in our marriage. I’ve shared before that I have witnessed divorce in my own family, so the thought of getting out, starting over, and doing what feels “easier” rears it head from time to time. I’ve shared with one of my friends that it felt like the thought of divorce was chasing me down, that I thought I could not shake it even though that’s not the legacy I wanted to have. To be clear, I understand that there are Biblical grounds for divorce, but those grounds did not exist in my marriage. Instead, I was using the idea as a “get out of jail” free card, when it should not be an option on the table. Also, to be clear again, I am not here to shame anyone who has experienced divorce. I’m talking to the wives out there who have lost hope and do not know if marriage is worth it when there’s so many issues to work through.
One of my dear friends shared the most profound revelation she received from Jesus on this point. She and I are so similar, and our husbands are quite similar, too, so we relate to and encourage one another in the Lord. She told me that the Lord asked her, “How is it that you overcame x, y, and z in your life, but you won’t overcome this? How is it that you didn’t give up on anything else in your life, but you are willing to give up on your marriage?” Talk about conviction!
Those questions stung my heart, just as they stung my friend’s heart. I’ve shared my story before of being a single mother while attending law school, after having left what turned out to be an abusive relationship and having endured homelessness for a short season. How is it that I determined, by the grace of God, to overcome these problems, and yet I am deciding to give up on the marriage I know God called me to enter into?
I decided to not lose hope (it, after all, the anchor of our souls, Hebrews 6:19).
Being Transformed: Allowing My Mind to be Renewed Concerning Marriage
I invest in my marriage by not conforming to this world and being transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2). Even in the body of Christ, we have to be careful so that we do not conform to anything other than the Image of Christ. Many people will tell you what a godly marriage looks like, but when you ask them where in Scripture do we we get certain ideals about marriage, they cannot find the verse. For me, it’s been critical to find the verses about marriage and devour them, because I felt that Joshua and I were at risk for building a marriage that was not God-glorifying.
When Joshua proposed to me, I went on a fast almost immediately to get alone with God to hear His voice concerning my marriage. As our engagement progressed, however, Joshua and I sought a ton of counsel from other couples, but many of their voices (albeit well-intentioned) began to muddy the waters for me, such that I had a very distorted view of what a Christian marriage should look like. I entered into marriage feeling that I was not cut out to be a wife because I did not possess any of the characteristics I heard that Christian wives should have: I wasn’t quiet, I wasn’t naturally submissive, I didn’t enjoy cooking at the time (I love it now), I did not believe in the “umbrella” analogy (where God speaks to Joshua as my covering, or the umbrella, and this message pours from Joshua to me and then from me to the children) because I believe the analogy implicates that I cannot hear from God independently, and I did not find it appealing to be Joshua’s help and to let my own callings die. I could not wholeheartedly recommend marriage to others when it looked so constricting to me as a woman and, more importantly, did not look like what I read in the Bible. I see why women and wives have become disenchanted with the church and with marriage based on some of the things I’ve experienced, and my heart breaks because that’s not what God has for us.
Now I root for Christian marriages because I’ve had to delve deep into Scripture to allow God to shape my thoughts about marriage. When I read the Bible, I see basic principles about being a wife outlined throughout Scripture (Ephesians 5, Titus 2, Colossians 3), and I also see vibrant depictions of the diversity of marriage between a husband and wife. We see wives submitting to and serving their husbands (1 Peter 3), we see wives leading nations (Judges 4) and we even see wives making quick and wise decisions despite their husband’s actions (1 Samuel 25). The beauty is that there is room for me to be myself, fully, in my marriage. That there is room for my gifts of teaching, writing, speaking, being an attorney, and other gifts, and that in God’s eyes, I’m not less important or second fiddle to my husband. I’m working it out in this area, but God is really renewing my mind concerning marriage, and I invite you to let Him renew yours if you are struggling in this area.
Quality Time: Make Time to Spend Time Together
I invest in my marriage by being intentional about making time to spend quality time with Joshua. I shared on IG that I am making an effort to pursue my husband’s heart, to remind him that I want us forever. As a working mom, I catch myself giving my all to my kids and my job, and letting my marriage “tend to itself.” I tend to double down on this behavior when Joshua and I have tough times. However, I fight back against this behavior by tending to the marriage. Tending to the marriage looks like speaking my husband’s love languages. Joshua’s greatest love language is quality time, so I make a concerted effort to prioritize time together by setting and honoring, as best I can, a weekly date night and taking time away from the kids on overnight trips when we can. I try to be romantic to add variety, and to show him that I am pursuing his heart just like he pursues mine.
Give Each Other Space: Honoring Individuality
I invest in my marriage by allowing Joshua to be himself. Studies show again and again that respecting in a marriage is key for its longevity and success. Of course, we don’t need studies to demonstrate this principle, and I can tell you from personal experience that many disagreements stem from not respecting the fact that someone thinks or sees things differently than you. Joshua and I are almost polar opposites, so we there is a lot of opportunity for us to be shocked or dismayed whenever those differences rear their heads.
Lately, I have found that it is much easier just to say, “You know what? That’s just him.” My husband does not like sharing on social media, and I do. He tends to move a little slower in the mornings while I like to be up and at’em. I enjoy British home improvement shows and culinary documentaries, while Joshua likes Marvel movies and action films. He does many things that puzzle me, and I do things that leave him flabbergasted, but life is a lot more enjoyable and our marriage is happier when we just let each other be themselves.
Community is Key: Godly Encouragement is Needed
I invest in my marriage by seeking a solid community. Our parents root for us and encourage me in my marriage, I have friends who are also wives and mothers who want a godly marriage just as I do, and I have a spiritual mother who speaks into my life. We also believe that a solid church family is key in supporting the marriage and individual growth.
I can tell you that a multitude of voices does not mean that you have a solid community. Sometimes a plethora of voices can become a noisy din that distracts from or even contradicts God’s voice in your life. Community is based on unity, and it’s an invitation to be your whole self with people who know you and do life with you. My community is where I open up and let the light shine on those areas of my own heart that contribute to marital challenges. My community is a safe place for me, where I am loved, known, corrected, and pointed back to Jesus. I think of the symbolism of spreading jam on toast: the more you spread it, the thinner it becomes. In the same way, there is not a lot of opportunity to go deep with people if your core community is spread very wide.
I can also tell you that community is not always based on proximity. Sometimes those who know you the most are farther away from you than those who are right near you. This has been my experience for most of my marriage and even most of my adult life. Right now, my community is spread out over half a dozen states or so. We moved to California shortly before the pandemic began, so we have not had much of an opportunity to make additional friends. Before that, I still had friends from my childhood in Virginia, my college years in Ohio, and my law school years in Georgia. Now, our community includes family and friends in Louisiana, Texas, and California. No matter the distance, our community roots for me. They know my struggle in transitioning from a single mom to a wife, and they lovingly come alongside me and lift me up and encourage me, even when geography separates us.
If you are struggling in your marriage, I hope this post encourages you to know that you are not alone. Sometimes Christian culture can make you believe that doing it God’s way means that you are immune from marital challenges, but that’s simply not true. Jesus never guaranteed that we would not have struggles. To the contrary, He tells us that in this world we will have trouble, but we can take heart because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). He sees our struggles and he empowers us to overcome through Him, to walk through challenging seasons, and to invest in our marriage in spite of those challenges.
I’d love to hear what other wives do to invest in their marriage in challenging seasons. Please share and encourage other wives in the comments!