The day I learned my marriage wasn’t doing so great seemed really quite ordinary at first. And like anytime you discover an upsetting truth you’ve been ignoring—it was also pretty difficult. It was a typical Tuesday morning trying to juggle breakfast, signing school slips and managing our family’s other regular chaos. My husband, Jeff, was handling it all with his usual good humor, teasing our daughter into fits of giggles and pretending to steal bites of toast from our son. I was tired and grumpy and trying to plan my day. I was also angry Jeff had forgotten to wash the dishes the night before and I wanted him to get the kids moving faster, not play around. My impatience kept building, and when our son’s toast hit the floor as he pulled it back from Jeff’s mock attempts to eat it, I snapped…
I yelled at everyone in the kitchen—including my spouse. I made the kids cry. In that moment, I felt so righteous in my anger that I didn’t even feel bad about their tears, or the crushed look on Jeff’s face. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I do recall what my husband said to me in response, “Could you please stop talking to me like I am one of the kids? Why are you so angry at us all of the time?” He said it quietly. He didn’t even seem mad. If anything, he sounded sad. And he looked tired. Like a man who wasn’t sure what to do anymore.
I’d love to say my response was contrite. But it wasn’t. Instead, I got defensive and snapped, “Maybe if you didn’t act like a child, I would talk to you like an adult and I wouldn’t feel so fed up!” He didn’t say another word. Instead, he quietly kissed the kids, picked up his coat, and walked out the door without a word of goodbye. I was stunned. He had never done that in all our years of marriage. I managed to hold it together until I got to work. And then, once my office door closed behind me, I finally cried.
I didn’t know how I had become so frustrated and angry all the time. I loved my husband. I loved my kids! Life had just become so busy. I was so tired. Overwhelmed. And to make matters worse, my husband and I were growing further apart every day. Sometimes, I felt like we were roommates, not lovers. Very grumpy roommates. It made patience on rough days so hard. And Jeff was always so cheerful that I didn’t even realize that he was unhappy, too. For the first time in our marriage, I was scared. I didn’t know how to fix it, so I did the only thing I could. I turned to God and prayed for help to lift up my marriage.
A week later, my husband and I sat nervously in our pastor’s office. After much prayer, we had decided to seek help in getting our marriage back on track. In the beginning, our pastor listened to each of us talk. My husband was gentle when he spoke of me, but it still hurt to realize that I had become short-tempered and snappy when talking to him and the children. And he seemed truly surprised to learn how frustrated I was and how often my anger was masking weariness and frustration. We both were in tears by the end of our meeting. But at the same time, I felt a deep relief at having all the stress and pain in the open. It felt freeing! It was the first time in days I felt confident things might be okay.
At the end of our session, he handed us a card and told us to go home and take an online marriage assessment and come back in with our results the following week. “I know you both love each other,” he told us. “I can see it in the way you look at one another. The way you hold hands and sit close together. I think your challenge is communication. You’re not ‘hearing’ each other anymore. I think this can help you figure out why.”
When we got home that night, we took the test together. Even just filling out the questions, I began to see some of the issues my husband and I were having more clearly. And when we went through our results, we really began to understand why we had been struggling. So much of my frustration was coming from the way I judged my husband’s parenting style. He was being easygoing because he wanted peace, while I was more firm because I wanted organization. And the way we handled conflict was completely opposite! I was holding frustration in and he was avoiding tough conversations to try keep things calm. In the end, it was having a negative effect on our relationship and pushing us apart when we desperately needed to work together.
When you go through premarital counseling, you learn a lot about how to treat your spouse. But it doesn’t always prepare you for how you both will change. How different your lives will be when you add kids and bills and work into the mix. How you communicate the first day of marriage may be drastically different 10 years down the road. And if you’re not careful, or you don’t recognize it, you could wind up hurting one another by accident.
The day I lost my temper still embarrasses me, but in many ways, I think it was the wake-up call I needed to change the way I was living as a wife and for Jeff to grow as a husband. Things are not perfect (are they ever?), but Jeff and I have been using what we’ve learned from our assessment and working with our pastor to continue building our marriage back to the way it was before we let the busyness of daily life pushed us apart. It’s taken change, humility and a lot of prayer, but with determination and God’s strength, I feel like we’ve got this!