How Do You Spell Relief?
Whether the issues that you face in your marriage are a result of his job or relational differences or other outside pressures, there is a likelihood that at some point you will want to give up. Even the best marriages have occasional long winter seasons, and we are human.
For sixteen months, Brent lived out of town during the week while he commanded another area. Then he transferred to a local position but took on the most challenging job of his life. I saw him more, but for the first few months he came home and promptly fell asleep on the couch. His job took more and more of his energy, concentration, and time. Then personal hard times hit. It was very difficult. After many months of seemingly impossible demands at work and at home, I saw a change in his behavior. He became withdrawn, angry, forgetful, and, at times, almost victim-like. This wasn’t like him. For awhile, I was concerned for him. But then I became more concerned about me.
“How long will this last?” led to “I don’t want to be treated like this,” which led to “I don’t deserve this.” That led to “I don’t have to take this anymore!”
I started detaching myself, entertaining thoughts of escape. It became a big temptation that consumed several days a week. I stopped fighting for us in my mind. I was letting go, giving up. With each squabble and each let-down, I found myself drifting farther and farther away and hurting more and more.
It was the first time in our marriage that I considered leaving. It was a very strong temptation. Frankly I just wanted out. I needed relief.
We took a vacation to the beach in southern California, and I wondered how to tell him where I was. We bumped along through the week, and I felt so distant. He was in the same room, but I felt we’d grown miles apart. One day we took a trip to the zoo with the kids. As we got into the car, we had an argument, and that was the final straw. All the way home it was over for me. I’d had enough. I didn’t want this anymore.
After dinner I went for a walk on the beach to clear my head. As I walked toward the ocean, I noticed a really cool sandcastle that someone had built that day. It was fortified with thick little towers around it and stones and a moat. Someone spent a lot of time building it.
The tide was coming in. A wave lapped at the fortress that surrounded it, and suddenly I was riveted. For the next hour, I watched as wave after wave washed bits of the castle away. The fortress was the first to go. Then the waves methodically carved a hole in the back side of the castle I couldn’t see. Suddenly the top fell off, and the waves washed it away within minutes. Then a large wave swept up, and the rest of the castle split in half. My chest tightened, and I caught a sob. My eyes filled with tears as I realized that, to me, it was not a sandcastle disappearing but my own home.
I heard a whisper: “Are you gonna do this to your family?”
I wept as the tide completely wiped the sandcastle away, leaving only the stones that garnished the fortress. It was as if it had never existed. And I heard that still, small, but firm voice ask me again, “Are you going to do this to Brent? To your kids? Everything you’ve built will be for nothing. And for what?”
I looked up at the blurred stars through my tear-filled eyes. “No,” I decided, “No, I cannot do this. No! I will not leave.”
I listened to the waves crashing on the shore and gained a little strength.
“No, I will not do this to my husband. I will not destroy my family.”
The hurt still burned in my heart. But I decided to stay. And then I decided to recommit myself to loving my husband no matter what he was going through.
After that night I had to re-train my mind to think positively about Brent and our relationship. It took a couple weeks, but then I realized that he was hurting too. He was burnt out. He was empty, weary, and he needed me! So I reached out with a new attitude and started actively loving him again even though not much changed on his end at first. I loved him first out of compassion but then with fervency.
Then things began to change. He relaxed. Work seemed to ease up. We started laughing together. Twenty days after the sandcastle moment, he presented me with a beautiful little song that he had heard and thought it could be ours. This meant so much to me! It seemed that once I decided to stay, my recommitment encouraged him and lifted him out of the place he was in.
Think We, Not Me
As I look back, I realize that I let myself get really self-focused. It became more about me than we. And when times are tough, this is a recipe for failure.
That night on the beach reminded me of something else. After the sandcastle disappeared, I looked to my right and saw some large rocks that some condominiums were built upon. I realized that Brent and I had built our relationship on a strong foundation of trust, mutual respect, and unconditional love. We were undergoing some strong storms of life and had been pelted and worn down. But because our foundation was strong, we would not fail. Our life together would not disappear like a castle built on sand; it would stand the test of time.