7 Year Itch

 

I like to think of myself sitting down and chatting with you, dear reader

I like to think of myself sitting down and chatting with you, dear reader

Yesterday I was discussing marriage with a group of fellow moms. And as I sat there, reflecting, my heart felt very thankful, and there existed within me a peace that was not there two+ years ago in regard to my marriage. Two years ago would have been our 8th year of marriage having completed year 7. Ironic, that the term “7 year itch” actually refers to this time period, apparently psychologists really did note an actual trend of difficulty. CS Lewis talks about moving past the “honeymoon” phase of anything we set out to do, when the newness and excitement wears off, and we have to set about “doing the thing,” relying a little more on commitment.  Well, I found this to be true, and I was often “on the ledge” (as my husband puts it) in regard to my marriage…meaning, I was viewing everything through a more drastic lens than was necessary. Hey, what can I say, I feel deeply.

Anyway, I’m thankful for this time, because it ended up being very growth-producing.  A time of pruning. And let me share my secret to the new growth…there is no “ special secret.”And you know what? My marriage didn’t get better because suddenly my husband morphed into some perfect or radically changed human being. I found that very little of the work that needed to be done had anything to do with him becoming someone who pleases me more. Really. But I will say, as I began to change, he reciprocated.  Anyway, I thought I’d share some things that I learned. These aren’t mind-blowing at all, but I think as we walk this journey of life, we have a responsibility as part of the body of Christ to share what we learn to edify our fellow sisters. After all, we’re all doing this thing called marriage. And it’s not easy. But, if we work at it, it can be really good. So, here’s a few things that stand out:

Expectations. Ah, what a power-packed word.  A word that can set a tone and mode with our spouses that can spiral an evening downward faster than a fire in a haystack. I have learned a thing or two about expectations throughout my marriage…a huge portion of our disappointments come from unmet expectations, and a huge portion of our unmet expectations comes from never voicing them.  Somehow, our husbands should just know what is in our heads, our hearts. I mean, we think so much alike, right? HA. HA.  Communicate expectations. Honestly share the disappointment when they’re not met, but give some grace, because if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes our expectations need to be reevaluated (insert sheepish smile here).  Sometimes we haven’t even thought through them ourselves. My husband is in the legislature. I realized very early on, that I could continue to cling to specific expectations about what life would look like on a daily basis, or I could lower my expectations to a realistic level, trust my husband’s heart, and be a happier woman. Thank God, after some excruciating kicking and screaming, I chose the latter.

Our thought life, or what I like to refer to as…the running tape in our heads. This is really really important, ladies.  And the enemy is really sly with this one.  I would say that a good 85% of my unhappiness in my marriage a few years ago was due to a negative pattern in the way I was thinking regarding my husband.  Doubting us, criticizing his efforts and motives in my mind, nursing hurts, thinking about what he was not and what I wanted him to be rather than what he was and I was failing to be thankful for. The gift he actually was/is to me that I was failing to see. I needed some blinders removed so that I could see.  Blinders that were rooted in expectations that were never intended for my husband, but that came from my historical frame of reference…trying to put my square-shaped husband in a round hole. Blinders rooted partly in my own selfishness, and also partly in my need to learn about some embedded, unhealthy expectations that were quietly effecting us.

How were some of these blinders removed? HOW did I stop this negative running tape? It was work.  I felt God convicting my heart and whispering that a thought life unbridled was deadly. He showed me that this tape was the reason I would blow up at things that did not warrant that type of reaction.  So I started by asking forgiveness. It took me recognizing the sin of not honoring my husband with my mind, and I asked my husband’s forgiveness for this as well. I began to pray and ask God to help me…in the thick of the daily. Whenever I felt it creep back in, I asked Him to help me overcome this pattern and to see truth, and to see my husband with the eyes Jesus wanted me to have, to love him better. This meant choosing to rephrase something before it shot out my mouth. Choosing to recognize some ways he feels loved and doing some of those things even when I didn’t feel like it.  His love languages are words and service; so I started writing little notes affirming him verbally, filling the car up more–I’m the wait-until-the-last-minute filler-upper, so this was work for me.  And…this one is hard:  His job is stressful at times (yes, mine is too, however)…I recognized the need for rest in him. I started to let him sleep in on the weekends sometimes without resenting it…I’m still working on this one.

Something else worth mentioning here, because it was big for me:  I was talking with a dear friend from Texas during this time, and she said something to me that God drove into my heart. She was talking about submission and respecting our husbands (in the true and healthy Biblical context, not the over-the-top meanings of these words that our society likes to use to drive fear and resistance into the heart of women and thereby prevent them from realizing something truly life changing)…and the fact that submission to our husbands—respecting his way of doing things, loving him well, allowing him to lead even when it is very hard— is often an act of obedience…not to him, but to GodOur “meter” so to speak isn’t his worthiness or how well we think he is doing a particular thing (or if we think we have a better way), but the fact that God asks us to do it.  Trust me, it can be a game changer. Submission is complicated, and very much misunderstood. It is not becoming a doormat or not having a voice or never disagreeing with him…it’s using our voice, our lives, to work with our husbands and not against him…allowing them space to become who God created them to be.  And let me share a paradox here: it can be really, really freeing to let them lead.

True change in any relationship begins with us. We have to be willing to humble ourselves and really let God begin a work within us.  It’s just the hard, uncomfortable truth.  During this time, my husband and I had some really honest, really difficult conversations where we both shared some things that were difficult for the other to hear. I had to be willing to listen to my husband’s heart during these times, and be  willing to lower my pride and realize that there were indeed some things that I was doing that needed to change. I had  to really listen and realize that I had also disappointed and hurt him…even at times when it really had not been my intention and my heart had really been in the right place. If we are continually “keeping tabs” or a “tally sheet” in our marriage, it only ends in tears and fruitless rabbit holes.

I want to share something connected to this that I heard a conference speaker advise an attendee to do when she shared that she was in a marriage that was very toxic and seemed to be without hope; they were in a gridlock so to speak.  He said to take 30 days where she approached her husband and said…for the next month, I promise to work on_______.  During this time, the wife would agree to lay off of the husband, and truly commit to change in the areas outlined. Regardless of the fact that she was really justified in some of her issues with her husband. Regardless of the facts of who was more right/wrong than the other.

I found this to be tremendous advice, because let me tell you from experience…when we start walking this road desiring real change, begging God for help, giving our husbands (and others around us) the benefit of the doubt, praying for them, communicating more honestly and extending more grace…and let me tell you, beginning to REALLY do these things is what one would call “painful pruning” and is a three-steps-forward, two-steps-back process at times….well, little buds of new, fresh growth start to happen. And much like the miracle of a flower, where there is so much going on under the soil before one can ever see the beautiful bloom itself–change happens, from the inside out.

It began to dawn on me in a new way what a gift my marriage is, and I started to see that my husband complements me in ways that I never imagined.  Marriage can be a slow fade…but it can also slowly come truly alive.  Change happens through a million tiny decisions in the mundane daily life to take the higher ground. You can begin to feel thankful for him…which translates into lots of good things in the daily. By the way, speaking of being thankful…thank your husband for the things you see him do, the effort he puts forth. It can be surprisingly powerful.

And one day, you sit in a talk on marriage and are told to write down all the things that really frustrate you about your husband, and suddenly, the list is shorter, and the things you do think of don’t have the depth of feeling attached to them that they once did. Because there’s a confidence that those things aren’t game changers. There’s a better understanding of your husband’s heart. There suddenly exists an anchoring, a stability, and some deeper roots of love and life in your marriage that weren’t developed before the pruning. There’s a little more fun, more joy. Don’t get me wrong. There’s more pruning that is needed. There’s still plenty of struggle. I’m a complicated, messy, scattered work in progress, on so many levels. But there’s been growth. And there can be for you too.

Sometimes you suddenly realize that you’ve had something good all along. And know not only in your head but in your heart that fulfillment doesn’t come from our spouse, but from the One that is the source of all life.

 

 

 

Disclaimer: I know there are some women who are in marriages that are extremely difficult, with some very hard circumstances, that require more than what I have outlined here. Sometimes requiring some specific plans.  I know some of you, I see you. It was not my purpose today to address some of these things, but I also wanted to make clear that in no way do I want to make light or simplify your situation. And there are a lot more practical applications of how to deal with some hard things in marriages that I did not go into here, and maybe I will when I have the time in the future. I just wanted to share some of the things that I have personally found in recent years to be particularly helpful in hopes that it would encourage someone else along the way.

About Amy Fitzwater

Amy Fitzwater is a child and family counselor who specializes in play therapy. Play Therapy is a revolutionary and highly effective type of counseling that helps a child develop and work through traumatic, life changing and/or overwhelming situations in their lives. Amy believes in the "Power of Play" for kids (and adults) and has seen the benefits of these techniques in a counseling setting, as well as in a home setting with parents. Amy is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with certified training in Play Therapy.

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