I Didn't Marry the Right Person - The Counseling Sessions Part 2

{First off, I want to thank my husband, Nick. He has given me permission to post this, and is a person who truly understands commitment. He married me at the young age of 21 and has never looked back. Our counselor says I am one of the lucky ones- to have someone care for them the way Nick does for me. I know that is the truth. He's not the lucky one; I am. We share our story believing that there are more like us who will be inspired to not give up and work hard towards their own realistic version of  "happily ever after."}

"I don't feel like being married anymore."

Nick was sitting in the waiting room of our counselor's office, clueless to the forbidden words I had just tearfully spoken on the other side of the door. Words that had been burning a hole inside of me spilled out of my lips, and suddenly I realized that my secret was now bouncing off the walls of her office waiting to damage Nick, myself, and everything I believed about true commitment.

The counselor looked at me calmly, as if she had heard this all before. Her reply was simple, "Really? Why?"

I went on to explain how I married too young and had felt like I had matured and changed. He had changed. And.. I feared that I had not married the right person. I had spent months telling myself that I shouldn't have these thoughts. If I was a better person, I would never feel this way. The guilt had built up and only magnified the fear.

Her response was simple: "OK. You cannot stop the way you feel. There is nothing you can do to change your feelings. We have reached a very normal point in a relationship. In almost every long-term marriage, at least one of the partners comes to this point."

As I sat there, listening and collecting a large pile of damp, used tissues on my lap, she explained what should happen next.

"When a couple comes to this juncture, there are two courses of action. You can allow yourself to keep secretly feeling this way, building a wall up between you and Nick, and this will cause your paths to move further and further apart until you one day divorce. And believe me, people think divorce is easy, but it will be one of the most difficult and destructive things you will ever go through.

The second option is the difficult and correct one. I am going to bring Nick in here, and you have to tell him the words you told me. You can't stop the feelings, but you can learn to work through this."

I quickly interrupted her.

"No, no...I can't do that. He's had the most stressful year of his life. He already feels down and vulnerable. I can't add this to his plate. I just can't do this to him. He has been so committed to me."

She was relentless in her advice.

"Listen. He deserves to know the truth. You have to tear down this wall and join your paths once again. Yes, it will hurt. But, finally healing can begin."

You can't imagine how it felt to tell the only boy I ever dated and kissed those dreaded words - words I wish I could have somehow been "good" enough to never say. I wish I could have always kept a healthy perspective on life, love and change. I wish I had never begun to see everything through a lens of negativity rather than a lens of truth.

We left the counselor's office feeling like we had just run an emotional marathon. My head pounded. My eyes seemed to have permanent red puffy circles from hours of crying. All we could do was stop by a Starbucks drive-thru, hold hands and drive home in silence. We were almost too tired to read the one simple article the counselor had given us as that night's homework.

But, as we emerged from our emotional hangover, I read aloud the assigned chapter of Timothy Keller's book

The Meaning of Marriage. 

The words met us in our situation. Here are some of our favorite quotes from that book:

*****

Some people in our culture want too much out of a marriage partner. They do not see marriage as two flawed people coming together to create a space of stability, love and consolation, a "haven in a heartless world," as Christopher Lasch describes it. Rather, they are looking for someone who will accept them as they are, complement their abilities and fulfill their sexual and emotional desires. This will indeed require a woman who is "a novelist/astronaut with a background in fashion modeling," and the equivalent in a man. A marriage based not on self-denial but on self-fulfillment will require a low- or no-maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you. Simply put—today people are asking far too much in the marriage partner.

The Bible explains why the quest for compatibility seems to be so impossible. As a pastor I have spoken to thousands of couples, some working on marriage-seeking, some working on marriage-sustaining and some working on marriage-saving. I’ve heard them say over and over, "Love shouldn’t be this hard, it should come naturally." In response I always say something like: "Why believe that? Would someone who wants to play professional baseball say, ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to hit a fastball’? Would someone who wants to write the greatest American novel of her generation say, ‘It shouldn’t be hard to create believable characters and compelling narrative’?” The understandable retort is: “But this is not baseball or literature. This is love. Love should just come naturally if two people are compatible, if they are truly soulmates."

The Christian answer to this is that no two people are compatible. Duke University Ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas has famously made this point:

Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become "whole" and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.

We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.

*****

You never marry the right person. Perhaps the only marriages that survive are ones who recognize this truth, and see marriage for what it truly is: a commitment; a covenant. You sacrifice a bit of your freedom to ultimately experience a well-lived life and a relationship that is a unwavering, trustworthy safe-haven in a roller coaster world.

I am not a person who believes much in haunted houses or fairy godmothers. But, during this process I had the weirdest thing happen to me.

When I was grappling with these feelings and secrets alone, my mother called me and said she had experienced a recurring dream, for several nights, featuring her deceased mother.

In the dream, a younger version of my Grandma Grace (you can read more about her here) was standing next to my Grandpa Roger and worrying over a handwritten letter. My mother looked at the lines of the letter and saw my distinct cursive handwriting on the paper.

As my mom told me this over Skype, there was a sudden pause on my end. I was hoping she couldn't hear my tears through the voice call. She was completely surprised and apologetic when she realized it upset me so deeply. Despite all my beliefs, over the previous several weeks, I had internally wished I could talk to my Grandma and feel her strength and advice.

My Grandma Grace adored Nick from the moment she met him. They had flown from New York to Missouri for Christmas. We were sitting in their Holiday Inn hotel, enjoying a nice meal, and she loved how any time I would even try to move my chair, a sixteen year old tall, blonde Nick would quickly jump up and awkwardly help pull the chair out for me. She always believed he was kind and made for great things. She believed I had married the right person.

She once told me that when she was in her 30s, that she almost left my Grandpa Roger. She considered divorcing him because he was too predictable, too quiet, and lacked ambition. He was happy simply going daily to his job as a chemical engineer and returning home to play with my mom while washing and drying the evening's dishes. My grandmother was bored out of her mind. But she then told me that her Jewish mother, Sarah, always knew that Roger was the right man for her.

I don't know what happened. She never told me how she overcame that struggle. But, she stayed. And as my grandparents aged, the Crowells were known around town for their complete love and support for one another. At my Grandma Grace's funeral, their financial advisor got up to speak, and said that the thing that stood out most to him about my grandparents is that even when they were in a meeting about taxes or investment, they would sit quietly close, holding hands. They had become true life partners.

When the sparks had left. When their life roads and goals seemed to be diverging, they had chosen to stay on the same path.

One day, in the 1940s, Grace and Roger stood on her parents' lawn in Massachusetts and said these words.

On May 23, 1998, Nick and I stood on a church's stage in Missouri and echoed the same.

"I, Olivia, take you Nick, to be my husband, 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."

Last year, 2014, I finally began to understand grace. And perhaps after reading these words, this blog post about Christmas, grace and Nick's gift to me gains clarity. It was during that Christmas trip back to America that we spent a week with our counselor.

I am confident that 2015 is the year that I learn about self-sacrificing love. I am thankful for my grandparents' example and for the victors of self-sacrificing love I have encountered around the world and throughout the decades. To join the ranks of these victors is the challenge of a lifetime that creates the most beauty in us, in our relationships and in the fulfillment we will experience the final years of our lives.

As I write this, I realize the risk and am aware that I have been completely vulnerable in a way that can truly hurt me. But, life is too short to pretend. If our story can help one couple take the necessary steps to merge the roads of their weary marriage, then go ahead and crush me; pulverize my reputation. 

I'll still be standing as the luckiest woman on earth - beside my faithful, kind-eyed Nick. I will rest in the arms of someone who has seen my beauty and my ugliness, who has kissed my sixteen year old lips and my wrinkles, and is deserving of a love that never walks out and leaves.

I first memorized the passage below when I was 12 years old. I didn't understand what it meant then. It was like the plot of a romantic novel - a love I would some day experience full of butterfly stomachs and soul-mate ease. Now, after a counseling session in Ohio, I can truly understand the beauty and pain of the true love expressed in these words.

"If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut,

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Isn’t always “me first,”

Doesn’t fly off the handle,

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies."

                                                - I Corinthians 13- The Bible (MSG version)

Hold on. Wait. Tear down walls. Share. Jump on the same path. By all means...don't let love die.

And if you're still holding out for marriage until you meet your perfect astronaut/ novelist/ past New York fashion week model...just don't. Don't let yourself settle for the selfish, lonely life. Dive into the imperfection with a truly good person, and even when the butterflies fade, you'll be safe at home.

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