I believe your marriage will often shine the brightest after you’ve traveled on the darkest roads—together. After 32 years of marriage with Susan, I can testify it’s true. As Ecclesiastes 3 says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” We’ve basked in seasons of great pleasure and weathered seasons of great pain. We’ve known the highs of marriage and we’ve known the challenges of marriage.
Dark roads shed the brightest lights for us, requiring hard work and heart work from us to survive so we can thrive. Let me share with you some of the most challenging moments of my marriage, and how we’ve grown through them.
Our Major Challenges
Susan’s Heart: When Susan was in high school, she had a cardiac event while cheerleading at a football game. It resulted in a “code blue,” a miraculous resuscitation, and a pacemaker. Early in our marriage, she wound up with major heart-related issues for a year, requiring a new pacemaker and surgeries. I had to step in and be a health manager and inexperienced household manager with three young kids.
Parenting through Adoption: Parenting is one of the challenges of marriage. Several years into our marriage, God opened our family to the adoption of two children from Siberia, Russia. We were all excited! But for several years, Susan and I struggled with lots of unforeseen upheavals, including our son getting kicked out of two schools. He also struggled with major anger issues. Thankfully, he and we have grown past those days. But in the heat of it, we struggled mightily to agree on how to handle situations not found in typical parenting books.
My Back: In recent years, I suffered through intense searing back pain from two herniated discs that immobilized me for about a year. Admittedly, I’m a cranky patient, unlike Susatwwn, who is far more graceful. My reactions put pressure and stress on our marriage as Susan took on health and house manager responsibilities. Like in those early years when I did that, she had to cover more ground alone than when we could divide the burdens together.
Parental Care: A year and a half ago, Susan’s dad got cancer and couldn’t take care of himself. He came to live with us for several months before passing this last summer. We learned how taking care of his basic needs was immensely humbling. It was a privilege for us to love and care for him, but it was exhausting work that affected how we spent time together.
Our Best Lessons
The challenges of marriage are not for the faint of heart, but they’re also great teachers. We’ve learned a lot.
The challenges of marriage are not for the faint of heart, but they’re also great teachers.
Commitment is key: A marriage is a covenant, not a contract. God invented marriage as a way to put the covenant relationship of Jesus Christ and His church on display. That’s why marriage is really between three parties: two spouses and God.
Persevering is bonding: Going through pain and struggle together makes you stronger together, like two soldiers in a war who bond because of their shared experiences. When you fight for your marriage together and have the scars to show it, that deepens the bonds you’ve already formed.
Expectations can crush: When Susan and I got married, we said “for better or worse,” but we expected “better” as the norm. In the difficulties, we learned that expectations have a big impact on how we experience each other while we walk through the challenges. Managing our expectations of each other helps us through the tough times.
Grace is oxygen to love: Showing favor to each other, even when it’s undeserved, is grace. Grace needs to be the watermark of the stationery underneath everything we do with and for each other. When our expectations are out of line, grace gets us through.
I don’t share these to make you think better of us, but to give you hope for you! I agree with author Tim Keller in his book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. Keller sees “suffering as not the interruption of a life story but as a crucial part of the good life.” I’ve seen over and over again in all kinds of marriages: The struggling but surviving and thriving marriage shines brighter than the one that looks “perfect.” So embrace the hard roads to shine brighter together.
What challenges of marriage have you endured that made your marriage stronger? Share in a comment.