Though my husband, Steve, and I recently celebrated our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary, our marriage hasn't been filled with the wedded bliss you might expect from such a committed couple. Through the years, our relationship has weathered the storms of Steve's struggle with pornography and a volatile temper, my severe PMS and incessant need for control, and our unforgiving spirits.
I've battled I-can't-live-another-day-with-this-man feelings. And Steve has said that on the days I "acted crazy" (during my PMS), he's thought, I can't live like this the rest of my life. Since we've never allowed divorce to be an option, on my most desperate days, I've cried out to God, "I can't go on!"
But thanks to God's faithfulness and resurrection power, we have gone on. While we've both relied on our deep faith in God, we've also hung in there partly because I have a stubborn streak that God's transformed into tenacity. And Steve's stint as a Marine instilled him with an I-will-not-give-up-on-this-mission mindset—in this case, his mission being staying married to me for a lifetime.
As I hear others make excuses for withdrawing love from their spouse, I think of the motto Steve learned in the Marines: "No excuses—just results."
Even though we continue to struggle at times, Steve and I still love each other very much. Here are some of the lessons I've learned about loving my spouse even in the tough times.
1. Adopt God's perspective on sin.
One problem in our marriage was my mixed-up view of sin. My sins—being critical or judgmental, for example—seemed small and harmless to me compared to Steve's swearing, temper, or spending all his time in front of the television rather than with the kids and me. However, God showed me the error of this thinking when I read Jesus' words in Matthew 7:5: "First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye." Begrudgingly, I noticed it didn't say, "First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the log in your friend's eye."
When I let God expose my motives and attitudes in the light of his Word, my sins always appear like planks, while Steve's sins grow smaller in comparison. God wants me to deal with my sins, not Steve's.
While Steve was in the Marines, he perfected the bad habit of swearing. He still occasionally lets loose a string of profanities. I worried about its negative influence on our children, particularly when they would utter a curse word. I remember one day praying haughtily, "Lord, deliver him from this evil habit." But then the Holy Spirit spoke to me, What about your sins of the mouth? Suddenly they came to mind—criticizing, complaining, gossiping. I cringed when I realized our children had picked up these sinful habits too. The truth hit me: my use of words was no better than Steve's.
Now I see that Steve and I are equals as we each battle to overcome sinful habits in our lives. I feel so close to Steve when we help each other do this in an atmosphere of love, not condemnation.
2. Remember who the real enemy of marriage is.
In our second year of marriage, when Steve and I were further apart emotionally than we've ever been and I had no where else to go, I turned to God for salvation. In his mercy, God allowed the distance between Steve and me to open my heart to his saving grace.
As a believer, I continually need to remember that the enemy of my marriage isn't Steve, it's Satan. God's shown me the importance of being wise to the Enemy's schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11) and taking my stand against them (Ephesians 6:11). One way I do that is to remember what first caused me to fall in love with Steve—his faith in God, compassion, integrity, intelligence, wisdom, and great sense of humor. He still excels in these qualities, but too often I fail to focus on them.
One reason I kept seeing Steve as my enemy was that I kept track of everything he did wrong. I even wrote down his "crimes"—his critical re-marks, his lack of attentiveness toward me, for instance—on paper. Now when I start to make that list, God reminds me that love "keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV).
These days, I've decided to thank Steve for what he does right. I keep a record of these good things by daily jotting down something about Steve for which I'm thankful in my quiet-time journal. Sometimes I put these positives in a letter to Steve.
Occasionally when I slip back into he's-the-enemy thinking, Steve will say, "Honey, you're forgetting—we're a team." I appreciate his reminder, because I forget it all too often. We're partners working together to build a strong union and working against the Enemy who aims to destroy marriages.
3. Pray God's way.
Instead of demanding that God do what I want in my husband's life, I've learned to ask, "How should I pray for Steve?" Then God gives me instructions and directs my prayers. One day I prayed, "How can I show love to Steve today?" I received a surprising answer: Iron his shirts. Steve knows I hate to iron, so that was a good way to show love. Even though it seemed to be such a little thing to me, Steve appeared so happy when he discovered me ironing his clothes.
Often during my prayer times, God uses his Word to bring me insights about true love. One verse he repeatedly brings to mind is 1 Corinthians 13:5, "Love does not demand on its own way" (TLB).
4. Love your husband unconditionally.
Recently I complained to God that he still hadn't answered a few specific prayers about Steve I've been praying for years. I recalled two of Steve's habits that almost caused me to call off our wedding while we were engaged—his temper and his excessive television watching.
During that time, my attitude was, I'll love you again if you change. Steve wrote me letters promising he would. And he did—for a while.
Throughout the years of our marriage, I'm ashamed to admit I've sometimes waved those letters in front of him, demanding, "When are you going to keep your promises?" God convicted me that I still had a negative attitude and was holding back because of those habits. But I'll love you fully if you change in those two areas isn't in line with my marriage vows. The correct attitude is, I love you even if these two things never change.
Because of my wrong attitude, I've sometimes blocked the way for change, or been blind to how much Steve has changed—even in those two areas. And I've blocked the flow of love from my heart to Steve's.
One wise wife said, "My job is to love my husband; God's job is to change him." God wants me to love Steve fully and extravagantly, regardless of where he is in our life journey. After all, that's the way God loves us—unconditionally.
5. Give your marriage to God.
Just because I pray for our marriage doesn't mean I always succeed in giving my difficulties to God. I'm quite adept at praying feverishly about problems and then taking them back one second after my "amen." My Bible study teacher has taught me to pray, "God, you've got a problem," which keeps me from thinking I have to solve everything.
The day I finally trusted God with my husband's addiction to pornography was a turning point in his healing. Prior to that point, I'd think Steve had given up viewing pornography only to find hidden contraband in our home.
"When is he ever going to give this up?" I'd cry to God, my counselor, or to a trusted friend. I told Steve my feelings, and he seemed to understand my hurt. I felt he finally was delivered.
But one morning I awoke early, and there was my husband looking at porn on the Internet. I felt as though I'd been kicked in the stomach. My usual response to such a discovery was sobbing, shouting, blaming, and shaming. This time I heard God whisper, Say nothing.
I went into the bathroom, knelt on the floor, and cried out, "God, I can't take this anymore."
Suddenly peace overwhelmed me as I gave Steve's sin and my pain to God. Psalm 62:1 came to mind: "For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation" (AMP). For the first time, I was silent. I didn't say anything to Steve. I didn't complain to my friends. I didn't call my counselor. Instead, God helped me see Steve's battle rather than focus on how his addiction affected me. While Steve looked to pornography for comfort, I realized I too looked for comfort in things besides God—things such as food and shopping. Within a week, Steve announced, "I've made an appointment with a counselor," something I'd pleaded with him to do many times.
He confessed he'd never sought counseling before because he was ashamed. And what was my natural response when I caught him in the act? To shame him. I had been part of the problem.
When I got out of the way, Steve was able to turn to God for healing. Giving our marriage to God isn't a one-time deal; it's something I have to do over and over.
Recently my parents reached their fiftieth wedding anniversary. As I joined in celebrating their lasting love for each other, I reflected on God's faithfulness through their tough times. And ours. I'm looking forward to our fiftieth—we only have 24 more years to go. When Steve and I reach that milestone, I'll give God the credit. I'll shout, "What a miracle!"—and even more loudly, "What a Miracle Worker!"
Elaine Creasman, a hospice patient-care volunteer and substitute teacher, lives with her family in Florida.
Copyright 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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