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Change Your Marriage

Choose the third option: stand together

I now pronounce you husband and wife.

According to Erma Bombeck, "There are few phrases as sobering, with the possible exceptions of 'We have lift-off' and 'This country is at war.'"

I, however, was a little more idealistic about marriage. When friends asked what I wanted for wedding gifts I told them, "Wine glasses." I said simply, "Find us a beautiful picnic basket and stuff it with really great cheeses."

What else would we possibly need?

I was only 21, but that's no excuse. I was, in fact, capable of grasping that life changes would be hard and required work. Like motherhood. I had visions of sweet little cherubs with my husband's eyes and my cheekbones repeating the same phrase: "Gimme."

My strategy on that one? Avoid it.

But marriage? Marriage would be the shiny penny of happiness that had eluded me thus far in life.

My husband was absolutely as naïve as me. After we'd been married five minutes, he sweetly gazed at me with this gem: "I just can't reason why people say marriage is so hard."

I was determined to make money at any cost. My husband wanted children. There's one reason.

I hollered at home but hugged in public. My husband liked to sweep relationship tension under the rug. There's another reason.

The reasons start small. Little slices, like paper cuts. We had somehow hit the situation with no tools. Within a few years, we'd snowballed into a mess, blown the whole thing up, and abandoned each other—off to start fresh on a clean slate somewhere else.

A reasonable plan. Except for the mirrors.

Under separate roofs, we each asked a mirror, "How did I become the exact person I planned not to be?" Then we did something miraculous.

We changed.

We stopped being two-option people. (Option 1: run. Option 2: acquiesce.) We each, instead, became people who stood. Then we began again to stand together.

People don't like to change. Hour after hour I have spent in Bible studies with couples preaching relationship-strengthening Scriptures, and then they report home to marriages that are…lonely. But they don't change.

Terminating the two-option mindset in marriage is hard. We know how to run. We know how to acquiesce. Standing, however, can be confusing. We get very little schooling on how to do it well.

Esther understood this. She too wanted to follow a path of least resistance. Luckily, she had Mordecai.

Esther is an Old Testament heroine who stood up for her Jewish roots. But first she became queen to divorced King Xerxes, who wanted his second wife to have one particular inclination: submissive obedience.

King Xerxes was nice to the Israelites living in his kingdom, but the Jews were still pretty much persona non grata among the king's higher-ups. One in particular wanted to snuff out the entire Jewish population.

And it was up to Esther to tell the king, "Don't let him do it." But she didn't want to. She didn't want Xerxes to know she was Jewish. Plus, she wasn't allowed to approach the king unless he asked. He hadn't asked. And precedent had been set with Xerxes' first wife: Disobey? You're out.

Her cousin Mordecai told her that despite her fears, she should go to the King and plead with him. It was against the rules, but Mordecai knew an edict from one bigger than the king: God. Mordecai wanted Esther to answer the question we each face. Whose plan do you want to take part in—God's or man's? Perhaps God has called you "for just such a time as this" (Esther 4:14).

Change your mind, Esther. If you dodge this issue, every prayer, every call out to God hereafter will keep you coming back to this place. It's the point you become unfaithful to your God.

In a marriage, we can say paper cuts pile on top of paper cuts, but relationship cracks regularly come back to the first paper cut. A lot after that is reaction. And distraction.

Mordecai did not let Esther get distracted. In light of Mordecai's encouragement, Esther stood up to the situation. She made slow, steady statements. She took deliberate steps and would not be rushed. She did not run. Likewise, she did not acquiesce. She stood. She was not unfaithful to a God who handled a lot of the surrounding details.

My husband and I can each point to Mordecais who gave us wise counsel toward change. Like Mordecai, their quotes rarely followed a party line. One sage friend who strengthened me was a girlfriend with her story of a monumental boyfriend breakup and her mom who said, "Get used to being alone."

It was not negative. It was a pronouncement: You are my daughter. You, alone, are enough. Enjoy your own company. Now plan. Get busy. Your life and your loved ones wait.

Mordecai-like advice if ever there was. Don't be a two-option person because you're afraid to stand alone. As Esther stood, she was less alone then ever before. And the Israelites were saved.

Now my husband and I are each other's Mordecai. If not for my husband, I would be smaller, weaker. Distracted! If not for my husband, I would be less determined, less productive. I would set my sights lower in life. I would be less free.

Without me, my husband would be, obviously, a mere shell of himself. I have said that I am good at a few things in life but I'm a great wife. I am discerning and personal and encouraging and kind.

To my husband: you're welcome.

To the Mordecais and the Esthers out there: hang tough. Two options are not enough. Don't stand for them.

Change can be messy, but it beats a life of paper cuts any day.

Janelle Alberts is a freelance writer, focused on integrating Bible stories into daily life. She and her loving husband enjoy their two wonderful children most of the time.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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