Zac and I just celebrated 19 years of marriage.
Before we get into the sticky stuff–I cannot imagine a more incredible gift of a husband. We are best friends; he supports my dreams, isn’t afraid to kick me in the tail, and also loves me unconditionally. We love Jesus and we always have. We came into marriage with pretty minimal baggage, and yet still…
MARRIAGE IS DANG HARD. And being in ministry for most of our married life, I can tell you that marriage gets difficult for almost everyone.
I believe this fact occurred to me soon after coming home from our honeymoon; it was our first huge fight. Huge, as in…. complete with me throwing something, slamming the door, and driving away.
It was like a scene from a movie…..in fact, come to think of it, I am pretty sure I ripped it off from Meg Ryan. But in the movie…when the girl runs away, the boy comes after the girl.
So I waited and waited and waited for him to come chasing me, driving slowly around the block several times. This was before cell phones (can you even imagine?), so I knew if I went too far, he would worry and call the police. So I just circled the block.
After a dozen circles and no sign of a distraught Zac in the yard calling 911, I decided it was time to relieve my fraught-with-worry new husband… So I opened the door to our little apartment, and Zac had fallen asleep on the couch watching football.
Over the next 5 years, there were more slammed doors and a lot of football before I emotionally began to just shut down. Now, to be fair, we got married as little baby children (20-year-olds). Oh my word! What on earth? This was just barely legal.
And it wasn’t long before young marrieds became young parents, and we found ourselves treading the deep waters of parenting toddlers and difficult ministry, and unable to fight in a healthy way. I opened up to a mentor about some of our relational tensions, and she suggested that we seek out a marriage counselor.
“A counselor?!” In my mind, counselors were for people about to get a divorce. While our marriage could certainly improve… we weren’t that bad!
And looking back now, we weren’t that bad–but we weren’t great.
Why settle for “not that bad” when you could have great?
Year 5 of marriage: we began a life-altering journey through counseling. We learned about our families, about our wiring, about why we react to seemingly small things that shouldn’t hurt so much (but they do). We really heard each other, and we acquired tools that we still use today: how to fight well, and how to really forgive and reconcile. We had breakthroughs that shaped everything about the way we do life today.
It was hard.
It was costly.
It was brave.
It was SO WORTH IT!
Over the last 16 years of ministry, Zac and I have been privileged to see behind the surface of a lot of marriages and, hands-down, the very best marriages all have been through very dark seasons. And the common thread in each great marriage is that during their dark seasons… and sometimes during the bright ones… they sought outside support.
So why am I writing this today?
Because we just recently walked through another dark season in our marriage. (With Zac’s permission, I am sharing this.)
Last year, we kept hitting a wall (issue) over and over… and the issue was getting more and more heated. Even with all our past work, we still couldn’t seem to reconcile it. Our marriage was in an amazing place, otherwise. We are fully supportive of each other’s crazy dreams. And this wasn’t even a major issue; we should have been able to blow it off and get on with it… but we couldn’t.
So a few months ago, Zac and I reached out again to a local counselor. IF:Gathering had just ended, we were both neck-deep in projects and kids, and we didn’t have extra time or extra money for this, but we just did it anyway. And let me tell you….
COUNSELING IS GAME-CHANGING.
Here is why…
1. We all need translators sometimes to really hear ourselves or the other person.
2. We all need to hear the truth about ourselves in a safe environment.
3. We all need space to sort out how we feel or what we need.
4. We all need help at times applying the truth of God’s Word into real life.
If you are still reading this and you aren’t married, I want to justify the title of this blog for you… I said “everyone,” and yes, I mean you, too. I work at the IF:Gathering offices with mostly women who are unmarried. Many of them are in or have done counseling, and have experienced more of God and more freedom as they have processed their pasts and their futures with a third party. Even though this post is focused on marriage, I just want you to also consider how a wise third party could affect your life in the same way.
So Jennie, do you really believe everyone needs a counselor? Yes, I do. Here are some thoughts as you consider it:
1. Counseling only works if it works. It contains no magic…it takes two people fully committed to reconciling the relationship, no matter the cost.
2. Start with your church. Everyone needs a counselor, and some of you need to pay for it. And some of you don’t. Find a pastor, mentor, or older couple (but certainly, some problems need professional help). Talk to the elders or your small group leaders to decide who might be a good fit.
3. Find counsel from a Christian perspective, because we know that ultimately, our souls and deepest relationships were created by God and can only be sustained and healed through Christ.
4. Give counselors a chance. Know that your first 3-4 sessions with a counselor will involve him or her asking questions to get to know you and your spouse well enough to actually understand what is going on. In this time, you will for sure wonder if you are wasting your money, especially if you just want the fire put out.
5. No counselor is perfect. And it may take meeting several times before you find the right fit. Any outside advice you receive must be Scriptural and processed in the context of your community.
Tim Keller defines wisdom as the competency to deal with the complex realities of life. And sometimes, we need the humility to say that we do not possess all wisdom about all circumstances. It is godly to lean on another’s wisdom.
May we never look to a human to fill the place within us reserved for God, Himself. But may we have the humility to seek help on our journey toward Him.
Hey, guess what…. our marriage is really amazing. But we have done the work to get it there.
Don’t miss a great marriage.
Have you been to a counselor, or do you have a mentor that acts a counselor? What are the benefits?
If not, what are the tensions for you in this?