I sat there across from you in that white vinyl booth at the only restaurant we could find open in Pike’s Place Market in Seattle at 9pm. Chinese food. I couldn’t taste the food at all and could barely swallow because of the lump in my throat. Anxiety had been winning for days. It took everything in me to make this trip and support you as you ministered to so many. I was going through the emotions trying to feel as little as possible. Actually the only thing I wanted of that dinner was the wine. The wine would help calm me down. The wine would make me not feel so much shame. I took a sip of Chardonnay and forced it down around the lump. There was more to the story I hadn’t told you and I was feeling anxious and disconnected from you because of it. But I loved you and if I told you everything, would I lose you? I couldn’t risk that. The risk was too high…but so was living with anxiety, feeling uncovered and alone at all times. The only thing I was looking forward to those days was the next glass of numbing liquid. I didn’t want to live this way but I was so afraid to open up to you about what was really going on in my own soul. I looked at you and despite sincere efforts to hold it all in, a tear or two escaped without my permission and slid down my cheek. When you saw my tears…no, when you saw me..the pain I was in behind those tears, you said, “Come here. Come sit by me. I want to tell you something." I got up and moved next to you. You put your arm around me, looked me in the eyes and said, “I love you. I love you with everything in me. Even if you told me the worst thing I can possibly imagine, I’m going to tell you that I love you. That I am still here and that I will stay here by you. Forever. We will get through anything.”
So what’s the best marriage advice we have? Many times in leadership you will hear people say lead with “yes.” You know, don’t be the person in the room that says “No, we can't do that" all the time. Lead with “yes.' In marriage, we would say, lead with forgiveness. When you lead with forgiveness, you draw out the depths of your partner's soul. The parts they think you could never handle. No one could handle. The parts that are so shaming they hide it and it grows into a monster inside of them. A monster that convinces them they are a horrible person. That they must hide who they are, what they've done or felt. A monster that gains control and can pull the strings of anxiety, depression, hopelessness and addiction as if they are playing with a puppet. And that’s what your spouse becomes. A puppet. A version of themselves that is dead inside.
When we lead with forgiveness we let our spouse know we are safe, protective, and strong enough to handle who they really are. When we do that, we find out that we aren't as inhumane as that monster made us think. We aren’t as evil as we believed. You know what we often discover: we are human. We are normal. That part of being human means that all of us at times have desires or temptations that could cost us significantly. That’s part of being a human. But most people rarely get the luxury to do life alongside someone that can handle those parts of us and still deeply love us. When we lead with forgiveness, we give our spouse the opportunity to choose to stay alive inside. To be fully seen and fully accepted is to be loved. Most stay hidden because we fear the rejection of our spouse if we were fully seen.
Don’t be afraid of the dark moments in a marriage. Marriage has cycles. According to Love Psychologist, Dr. Joe Beam, The feeling of falling in love can only be humanly sustained for a maximum 3 years. So don’t bail on your marriage when you are in a cycle that feels like your love might be waning. You stay in there and you fight for it. You fight through the hard times…marriages only stay bad when one spouse quits fighting. Your love grows deeper when you survive the dark moments together. And how much more does the beauty of the sunrise take our breath away when we survived the night? The same is true in marriage. You lead with forgiveness and the sunrise will come again. And this time, you will not for a moment miss the warmth and the healing found in the beauty of the sun’s rays. Likewise, you will not for a second take for granted what it feels like to have your heart skip a beat when your spouse walks into the room, or your heart races when he leans in to kiss you. These things will feel lost at times in marriage, but you fight for your marriage, you lead with forgiveness and they will come again. They are never lost forever. And when they come again, they will be with someone who knows the depths of your soul: good, bad and shaming, and that is a level of intimacy that can only be built with time. You can trade your spouse in and get your heart to beat fast again for a few years with a new person, but you cannot trade your spouse in and get the depth of being known that is found in a life long marriage that led with forgiveness. That is an intimacy that takes time to build and is not easily replaced. Protect it. Fight for it.