Engagement photo by Greenlight Photography
Being a child of divorce and seeing the havoc it wrecked on our family, I swore I wouldn’t do the whole “marriage thing” until I knew for sure…
So I waited to get married until I was 35. I was way past all those years of college, career choices, immaturity, and had a more seasoned view of life and what I wanted. I even married an “older man” to assure that I had made a choice for someone solid and grounded. I heard marriage was difficult and I had no illusions of that fact.
Yet, sometimes the best of intentions…
Hearing about something and EXPERIENCING that very thing are two totally different ways to learn.
Apparently I needed the EXPERIENCE.
That whole marriage thing is beyond hard. A beast. I had heard, but had no idea until I experienced it.
The best of intentions for my marriage ended in my very own divorce.
Sometimes life is like a box of chocolates? No, I think life (and marriage) is more like a triathlon.
A challenging competition made for all shapes and sizes, ages and abilities. Whether it is the swim, bike or the run, we all have different parts we are better at. And, with all those transitions and outside factors, there is bound to be something that goes wrong.
You may have trained (or waited) for months, weeks, years, but no matter how hard or long you train, stuff of life happens—flat tires, falls, goggle malfunctions, a kick in the face during the swim, gears get tangled on your bike, wardrobe mishaps that end up rubbing you the wrong way, or maybe everything goes smoothly, but you just **BONK**
Let me set the stage. It’s just over a year ago. Summer blossoms and green trees surround us. I am now forty-something and seven lucky years of learning and life brings a second chance—a new opportunity for a great relationship with the very best of intentions. We are newly engaged and enjoying the outdoor, Oregon weather at an amphitheater with some great friends, great wine, great music. I am holding hands with my fiancé and I look lovingly over at him.
“Aren’t they the cutest?”
We hear a voice behind us.
I glance back at where the voice was coming from and find two young ladies who look to be in their late 20’s. Their eyes are filled with envy and looking longingly at… (Not us!)– We follow their envious gaze toward what captured their attention. They happen to be admiring the love between our dear friends, with whom we are attending this concert.
It warms our hearts to watch these love-birds who truly are “the cutest!” Their love seems to overflow, not only to each other, as he pushes a strand of her blonde hair away from her eyes and while she stares into his eyes, but it overflows to everyone around them!
“Don’t they act like newlyweds?” I ask of the on-lookers from behind.
“Totally! They’re so cute. I never want to settle! I want that!” One of them oogles and nods again in our friend’s direction.
“They just celebrated their thirteenth anniversary. Three kids. And still so in love.” I tell them.
“Wow, so it can happen?” One of them asks.
We nod and look back our two friends, like we can somehow absorb some of the overflow.
I love to brag on these two who’ve been blessed with so much. I love to watch their love. I learn from them because I know what they’ve been through.
Life. And it hasn’t been a box of chocolates.
Thirteen (plus!) years of marriage—something is bound to happen! Ups and downs; victories, joys, concerts, family time, transitions, malfunctions, mishaps, health scares, deaths in the family, betrayals, loss, words that can’t be taken back…
A great piece of advice my new fiancé and I received the night before we married came from some seasoned “love birds:”
My aunt and uncle (pulling from much experience) gave us this GEM that we pull out ALL THE TIME:
“At random times during the day or month, but at least once a month, say ‘I’m so glad I married you.’”
I got this when I came home after 2 weeks of my new marriage:
Fast forward one year–
I’ve just returned to Arizona after a magical honeymoon and am ready for some girlfriend time!
Just two old friends meeting for lunch and I can hardly wait to see her. Her blond hair is now straight and longer, but every head turned and watched as she entered and joined me in a corner booth. We sit across from each other. Her smile hides something. Her shoulders are rigid, like they’ve been bearing something too long. And, like old (and great) friends do, what troubles her doesn’t take long before it pours out of her heart, her eyes and her mouth.
“I’m sorry I’m unloading all of this on you.” She looks down at her hands fidgeting on the table. “I mean, here you are, just back from your honeymoon, and I’m dumping all this on you.”
“Well, the honeymoon IS over.” I laugh and wink at her, trying to lighten the tension that now radiates from her.
Her face is pinched with pain and discouragement weighs down the corners of her mouth, “Just wait until you’re married 14 years.”
She drops her hands and sighs, “It’s a cycle and we’re back in it.”
She has **BONKED**
“I get by with a little help from my friends…”—The Beatles
My new husband and I are no strangers to “the cycle.” We’ve each experienced divorce for ourselves and we don’t want to repeat it. EVER. After reading this ground-breaking and insightful book-“LOVE & RESPECT” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, we could finally put a name to and understand what ailed our prior relationships: “The Cycle.”
In essence the cycle is:
from “Love and Respect” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs
We desire to not repeat the mistakes of our past. So we read, we seek counseling, we tell each other, “I’m so glad I married you!” every week, we invite a power beyond ourselves into our marriage (God’s grace) and we try whatever we can to not get caught back up in “the cycle.” Yet, we know we can’t do this on our own. And when we are in the cycle (and it WILL happen—honestly it already did! ;)) we might just need some help to get out/off of it—
See the thing about this life is, like the triathlon, it’s a competition. You may at the start and swimming for your life, in the middle and pedaling your butt off, nearing the finish line and dragging your legs through the run, or you may be yelling your happy lungs out adding to the competition through your words of encouragement; we are all doing this together.
But this competition isn’t against who you think it is.
There is an opponent who is completely working against us. Our “competition” seeks to knock us down, keep us out of the race, hold us back from doing our best and trip us up. Our competition tells us we’re not good enough, fast enough, strong enough. Our opponent will laugh at us when we crash on the bike, will rub dirt in the road rash when we fall and will throw our missteps and down times back in our faces during the worst possible times.
The competition is NOT OUR SPOUSE, but it is the enemy to our spirit.
This enemy wants to steal good relationships and destroy them. (John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;”)
It is this enemy that seeks to keep couples IN the cycle.—Reminding us of harsh words, hurt feelings, or our own brokenness and destroy our relationships.
And if you’ve ever been in “the cycle,” you know how difficult it is to hop off.
Like the old school playgrounds where you are spinning on the old metal (and mental!) merry-go-rounds (now considered too dangerous.) But when you’re spinning, you hold on for dear life because– if you let go, the centrifugal forces will whip you off, like a bullet from a gun, and who knows where you’ll land!
This cycle is not fun, and the journey of getting off of it is scary. The enemy tries really hard to keep you holding on (to the baggage, hurt, past, etc.), but the sooner you get off, the better!
And then there is HOPE.
When you’re in the competition of a triathlon, (and I have experienced this for myself!) nearly everyone cheers each other on! The abilities and age ranges are all staggered, so you don’t begin with who you are “competing against.” All throughout the event, from sidelines and from everyone in the event, people speak words of encouragement to one another and pull each other along. There are husbands, wives, kids, parents and friends on the sidelines with all manner of signs and cowbells. It is awesome and inspiring to witness this.
It’s like everyone knows, “Hey, there is a lot that can go wrong out there, we need to stick together.”
“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
And just as there are covenants and vows in marriage, there are rules and restrictions in triathlons. Some are common courtesy. Like during a pool swim, if someone taps your foot, you should allow them to pass. But breaking some rules (and vows!) will eliminate you from the competition.
For example, during the bike, a warning about DRAFTING—If you are caught “drafting” in the competition of a triathlon—you will be DISQUALIFIED. All that training, all that planning, the money spent, all for nothing if you DRAFT.
I’d heard this rule (and obeyed it), but I never totally understood it, until I experienced it.
“I look around and see my wonderful life
Almost perfect from the outside
In picture frames I see my beautiful wife
But on the inside, I can hear her saying…”
—Sanctus Real lyrics to “Lead Me”
I am not a leader.
I’ve mentioned before, my new husband and I are in the midst of training for our first triathlon together.
He is a leader.
He commands a classroom of “kids these days” every day. He’s coached cross country and track. He is a runner–He qualified four times for the Boston Marathon (ran it twice) and completed three FULL Iron Man triathlons. He has oodles of knowledge and experience in these areas. And, even though I love a good “underdog story” and watching a great come-back, when you are the one (me) always coming from behind, it can be discouraging.
And, as he “goes before me” during all our training, he believes it pulls me along. It’s a difficult place to be—behind. No matter how hard I try to feel I can never catch up; not good enough to be side-by-side, just about enough for me to psychologically **BONK**
So, when we went for our first bike ride together, I was not surprised when he pulled ahead of me.
Miles go by, I keep pedaling. The gap is still there. I pedal harder and get closer. The gap remains. It would be easy for me to make him my competition and my enemy as I struggle and struggle.
But then I experienced something awesome. As I was fighting to stay close to him and keep up, I realized something…It was actually way easier to ride behind him.
Again, hearing about something and EXPERIENCING that very thing are two totally different ways to learn.
From Wikipedia: Drafting…is a technique where two vehicles or other moving objects are caused to align in a close group reducing the overall effect of drag…, as in motor racing and cycling, drafting can significantly reduce the paceline‘s average energy expenditure required to maintain a certain speed and can also slightly reduce the energy expenditure of the lead vehicle or object.
So, I experienced “drafting.” And now I love DRAFTING. BUT, get caught doing this during competition and you will be OUT.
As I glided along behind him, I breathed easier, I began to enjoy myself and then I witnessed just another reason I am so glad I married him.
As we continued on our ride, God bless his little “leading heart;” I watched from behind as he would point down every so often. And I realized he was pointing out the jumping cholla in our path, a large stone, and a pile of broken glass or a pot hole to avoid.
“I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars.” Isaiah 45:2
Drafting aside, I suddenly see more benefits of having a leader! Having someone to go before me—to watch out for us as we ride along and to point out road hazards that could very easily trip us up! It’s actually quite nice having someone to pull you along—(and, most likely, having someone to finish first so they can cheer you across the finish line!)
“I get by with a little help from my friends.”—The Beatles
And it was fourteen years ago, in a magnificent cathedral in Genesee, Colorado that I stood witness, cheering on my blonde friend as she swore her covenants to her partner.
Now, across the table from her, I see her competing against the enemy and I cheer her on from the sideline:
ME: “Remember that invisible force drew the two of you together when you first met and worked together?”
HER: “But that was a LOOOONG time ago.”
ME: “Remember the concert? That wasn’t that long ago. Remember how you felt that night, that whole trip?”
HER: “Yeah. But this last year has been tough.”
ME: “Remember when you discovered you had matching birthmarks? Figured you were soul mates?”
ME: “Remember how amazing he is with all the other residents at the Alzheimer’s care clinic every time you visit your mom?”
Her eyes fill up.
ME: “Remember how you felt on your wedding day in Genesee? The horse drawn carriage ride symbolically traveling across the bridge?”
Remember the vows?
“To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.”
They wouldn’t have made us vow all those juxtapositions if they knew life wasn’t coming at us and going to hit us head on.
But we don’t have to do this on our own.
A cord of three strands…
Ecclesiastes 4:12 “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Seek wisdom from those who’ve gone before you.
You may be the one asked to pull someone else along. It may be your significant other. It may be another couple. It may be someone you were asked to “stand up for” or even someone who you don’t feel qualified to speak wisdom to. But sooner or later, it will happen. We all can “get by” with a little help from our friends…
And remember that centrifugal force on the merry-go-round that threatened to rip you off? There is a much more formidable force within each of us that empowers us to let go of our grasp in that cycle. There is a stronghold of love that resides within each of us that we can cling to when we’ve exhausted our own abilities. That invisible force that drew you to your spouse in the first place– That is the love that God placed in your hearts. That is love that knows difficulty. That is love that endures, sacrifices, and can pull you along when you think you cannot go another step.
We ALWAYS have ONE with whom we can draft.
He is FOR us. He seeks to restore our relationships and to heal the brokenhearted.
And for every couple out there who is stuck in the cycle–
Let go of the merry-go-round and hold fast to the hope we have in the One who shows us how to forgive (seven times seventy); to the One who shows us how to love (unconditionally); and the One who has gone before us and leads the way for us.
And remember this, unlike the triathlon, in marriage and life—there are absolutely NO RULES against DRAFTING!