“I want a divorce, and that’s not an option. I feel trapped.”
I said this to my husband at almost midnight, just before leaving the house to buy beer and cigarettes. No, you haven’t stumbled across another blog by accident, and I’m not talking about a friend. I won’t go into all the details, but several months ago, some things that have been slowly moving under the surface of our marriage came to a head and to put things quite simply, I wanted out. So, incidentally, did he. In all the arguments we’ve ever had, and all the stressful situations we’ve been in together (some of them of our own making,) I’ve never felt so completely, utterly hopeless as I did in that moment. That night, I sat on the couch in my living room, smoked half a pack of Marlboro Lights, drank half a pack of Guinness, another half-pack of wine coolers and got drunk for the first time in over a decade.
The next morning, I got up and, at the advice of a friend, decided to change the one thing I could change:
I wrote that almost two years ago, during an especially rocky time in my marriage. I’d had every intention of really changing, really focusing on the things I could do to make my relationship with my husband better. I was going to write this wonderful blog post, something along the lines of “I did X, Y and Z and ended up with a blissful marriage! You can, too!” I bought books, did as they suggested and made every effort… for about three weeks. At which point, things were right back to normal.
That’s not to say that “normal” has always been bad. I have a happy marriage. I also have an unhappy marriage. Those two things are not mutually exclusive, but I’m not sure they both have to be true in every marriage. Jon and I want to learn how to have a better marriage. We want to learn how to communicate better, how to love each other better, how to support each other better.
And so, we’re seeking help. Today, we went to see a professional Christian marital councilor and I can honestly say that we both left there glad that we went. For me, it was like sitting down with the author of all my favorite books on marriage, cognitive therapy and even dieting (which often has roots in cognitive therapy) and getting a whole hour to pick the author’s brain. I had the feeling of being taken by the hand and introduced to all the roads I really, really, really want to follow but don’t have the strength/willpower/motivation/whatever-you-want-to-call-it to travel myself, with the assurance that I won’t have to travel alone. At one point, I got all teary-eyed (which seldom ever happens to me) and thought “this is exactly where I’m supposed to be. I should have done this years ago.” Jon also appreciated the session, not so much because we’re learning anything new (Jon works with counselors and even wrote the program that is currently used at his place of work to help kids through their addiction problems), but because we have someone to hold our hands and help us do the things we know we ought to be doing (nothing like spending money that you really don’t have to motivate you to get things done!) We were both also happy with the fact that this particular counselor wasn’t practicing cognitive therapy with a Christian smiley face, but genuinely invited Jesus into our conversation, praying with us during the session and assigning us to pray with each other as one of our first “homework” assignments. It was made clear to us that Jesus would be the reason change happens, with therapy simply a tool He could use to bring that change about.
That’s not to say I think this will be easy. Nothing in this first session even remotely hinted at simplicity or effortlessness. As I’m learning, it’s never easy to be vulnerable and I’m practically scared to death of all of this. The goal of counseling is to change and giving myself permission to change means that I don’t get to control everything anymore, and that terrifies terrifies TERRIFIES me. But you know what else I’m learning, lately? I’m learning that the most important things are often the things that are the least comfortable. I’m also learning, as one of my favorite bloggers like to say, that I can do hard things. I can do scary things. I can be brave and dare greatly.
I’m also learning that sometimes we just need help. And there is no shame in that.
This is something that our counselor said to us, that perfectly sums up so much of what God has been showing me, lately. (Of course, he said it much more eloquently than I will, here, but this is the gist):
When Jesus told Lazarus to come forth from the grave, Lazarus was born again. But when he left the tomb, he was still bound “hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin.” Jesus then told those standing by to remove the burial shroud from him. Like Lazarus, when we’re born again we sometimes come forth with our burial shroud still binding us and we can’t take it off ourselves. Just like Lazarus, we need help.
Help, of course, can be found in many forms and I certainly don’t think that everyone needs professional counseling (I also don’t believe that everyone is still bound by the past after they’re saved – I do believe that healing can take place instantaneously, but I’m starting to see that I, personally, did carry some of those graveclothes along with me.) So for me… for us… and I’m thankful to be there, with someone professional who can hold our hands and walk us through. Our homework assignment for this week, aside from praying together, is to ask ourselves what we want our marriage to look like.
Honestly… I have no idea.