Our marriage seemed doomed one beautiful Sunday after lunch when my husband Steve put his fork down and listened to my complaint that he'd skipped church once again, and didn't he think it was important for our three-year-old daughter to have both parents in church, and that he'd know how wonderful it was if he'd only come once in awhile, and on and on, followed by my fist slamming the table. He just looked at me with those level green eyes and said in a soft voice, "You should feel guilty."
"Me, guilty? You are the one who should feel guilty! Why me?"
"Because you are a Christian, and you are not loving."
It was true, of course, but I protested with flair, stomping upstairs to our bedroom, where I locked the door and railed at God about Steve's horrible unfairness to me. When Heaven answered with silence, I realized God agreed with my husband.
In only two years as a believer in Christ, I'd failed God completely. I was cut to the core and became deeply repentant before God, owning up to my failures as a wife. This process of repentance birthed a lifetime commitment to learn to love my husband again.
Since I was flat broke in ideas, God would have to supply them. And he did, every time I asked. Not overnight, but throughout many months our marriage healed to a better one than we'd previously known. By inches, Steve came to trust my love again. He looked better to me, somehow, when I stopped criticizing him. Handsome and romantic. Without a word of goading from me, his once non-existent faith also grew in this safer environment. Day-by-day we relaxed into our love for one another again. We laughed again and reached for one another again. Our romance bloomed. Wildly.
It's true, the best marriages are polished in hard times. Through difficulties doused with prayer and grace, we aim to forge a united front against deep problems like a prodigal child, a cancer diagnosis, or financial hardship. What really erodes a marriage from within are poisons like criticism, emotional distance, and moral dishonesty. But nothing kills a marriage more quietly and certainly than lack of love.
I still fail plenty of times at being a loving wife, but God resets my course every time I ask. Lest you think we live in a love bubble now, we don't. Real love takes work, has little applause, and presents lots of challenges. No one just "falls into love" or "falls out." Love is a deliberate choice each day, a commitment to weather the next storm together by faith in God alone.
Conflict, like bad weather, is normal in every marriage. Just today, for example, we had a brief head-to-head in a restaurant over something Steve wanted to do. I spoke my mind without threatening or yelling, and my husband emphatically disagreed. Once, we'd have pushed the issue to a painful ending with wounds that could take days or weeks to resolve. Not now. I simply stopped talking briefly, a miracle in itself, and set the issue aside until a better time. As we pulled away in the car later, Steve planted a tender kiss on my lips and said, "Can we just start over?" Of course we could and we did.