Keeping up Appearances

Admitting your marriage isn't perfect may be the first step to making it better

When I was a newlywed, my mentor gave me this advice: Never speak negatively about your husband or marriage. This seemed simple enough. Anyway, what negative thing could I possibly say about my darling soul mate or my blissful union?

Quit laughing.

In the years since, there have been times when I've been grateful for that advice—as I bit my lips to keep from joining in laughter-filled husband-bashing sessions. But there have also been times when I've been confused. Lost. Isolated.

What about when I'm hurting? When it's a struggle to live side by side, day after day, with this wonderful person who is sometimes as mysterious to me as a stranger at the mall? or more infuriating than the guy who cut me off on the freeway? What about when we're having the same argument again—the one we know so well, we could switch sides and say one another's lines for a change of pace?

That's when I'm convinced that Pete and I are a special case—our marriage was put together wrong to begin with, we chose each other hastily, we've ventured so far off the path, there's no getting back. No way to heal. And I bite my lips in frustration, wanting so much to tell someone, to test the waters and find out if I'm crazy.

My hesitancy to speak is not based solely on my mentor's advice. There's a hefty dose of pride mixed in. We're Christians, I reason. We shouldn't have these struggles. We know marriage was ordained and sanctioned by God, and it models the love between Christ and the church. When I look around at Bible study, I see smiling couples ("shiny, happy people, holding hands …"). Those smiles would slide right off if I revealed my own ickiness and the difficulties in my marriage. Surely I'd be treated like a pariah forevermore.

I exaggerate a bit. But not much. A few years ago, I tried to share a chronic frustration I had with my husband—it was bigger than a toilet seat but smaller than adultery. When my listening friend started to laugh, I was bewildered—until she playfully shoved my shoulder and said, "That shouldn't bother you! That's crazy!" She walked away shaking her head, and I felt awkward with her every time I saw her after that. She clearly viewed me as ridiculous. Pathetic. Whiny.

So I went back to my old way of doing things, plastering on a smile in public and desperately trying to "fix" things in private. I was convinced it was the way things had to be.

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