- Carissa Woodwyk
Remember that moment...the moment that your heart just knew you were going to spend the rest of your life with that person? The butterflies began fluttering more quickly. Your heart began beating more rhythmically. Your dreaming and fantasies were filled with nothing but bliss and delight. Your future...it was planned. You had found “the one.” Your belief in that person's goodness was cemented. This was love and nothing was going to move you from this place. Nothing.
Until you got hurt. Until you became disappointed.
Not once, but maybe somewhere around the 100th time.
Your heart, your belief in that goodness...it started to wane. Intention was questioned.
In the really hard moments with your spouse, does your heart ever long for more? More of your spouse...to show up? Do you find yourself wondering if it will ever feel like those first moments again?Isn't it amazing how the very things that first drew you to your spouse can be the very things that now drive you crazy?
Perhaps the laid back and easy going demeanor is now seen as passivity.
Or, maybe the goal-oriented, task-oriented achiever feels like someone who you can't be enough for.
Or, perhaps the spontaneous and big ideas person leaves you feeling average and boring.
Maybe it's finding out that the family system your spouse grew up in had layers deeper than you had anticipated and now your spouse's values and beliefs about how to live life and do family and what kind of God to believe in keeps one of you content and one of you moving...forward.
Perhaps the tender, sensitive, deep heart now causes everything you do or say to be taken personally and you find yourself being the one who brings pain over and over again.
Perhaps the ability to keep calm and the desire for peace has become a message that feels like you're not worth a hard conversation.
Or, maybe the ability to create order and structure and boundaries has become an expectation of perfection that you just can't live up to.
The list could go on and on and on. Something that once was so good has become something so hard.
For many couples, in its time, the very thing that was once a complement has become a burden. We stopped seeing what our spouse has to offer as a gift and we begin trying to change them...to become more like us. But, is that what God intended for this sacred and beautiful union? This mingling of souls? To become more like one another?
Could it be that as we choose to “join” our spouse and step into what comes with “I DO” that God has something transformative for us? That we, somehow, mysteriously could become more like him through this relationship?
When I meet with couples, I ask them to tell their story – the people and events and experiences that have shaped them. Afterward, I ask them to identify what, because of their story, do they specifically have to offer in their relationship; and then, what, because of their story, do they specifically long for in their relationship. It's amazing to hear how their stories are complements of exactly what the other person longs for...perhaps even what the other person needs more of. As I've listened and learned from couples and as I experience my own relationship, I've come to believe that what we offer in our marriages are specific ways that we reflect the image of God – it is good and needed. But often, what I find is that when disappointment surfaces – when things don't go the way we had hoped - we begin going after what we long for and gradually stop offering who we are...God's image. And that's when it can get really messy, really hard, really toxic.
Unfortunately, no one gave us a manual on how to respond when our heart begins aching and longing and hurting. So most of the time, we keep clinging to what we want changed and find ourselves and our marriage stuck.
It's the new year. A time to re-new. It's that annual moment when almost every human takes time to reflect on “what was” and “what is” and “what could be.” It's a time to pause and re-center and anticipate and dream. I love the intention behind this. I love what this can become.
In the practice of not giving anyone “3 easy steps” or “10 helpful hints” about marriage, I would rather invite you into a new way of thinking and relating and engaging. What would it look like for you to recognize that perhaps the space you have created for your spouse to step into – towards you – has become really narrow, really small? And then, what would it look like for you to widen that space and accept that person wherever they step in and not demand or expect them to be someone they aren't?
And then, have the eyes to see their goodness – the person that you saw when you first became enchanted. It for sure will feel a bit risky because it may be an unknown way of relating. Let that fear take you to new places. Let it change you. Let it remind you of who you are and what you have to offer.
I am hopeful that in offering that wider space, we are choosing to offer grace. We are choosing to believe in our spouse's goodness and that is love – that's what we said “I DO” to. And in doing so, we will honor ourselves, honor our spouse, and ultimately, honor God.
So...here's to the new year and to wider spaces.
Carissa Woodwyk is a Korean adoptee, wife, mother, and a licensed counselor and marriage and family therapist. She is also a co-author of Before You Were Mine: Discovering Your Adopted Child's Lifestory. She enjoys speaking on relationships, marriage, identity, adoption and the human heart. She and her husband have two children and live in Hudsonville, MI. You can read carissa's work on her blog here and keep up with her on facebook here.