It’s what I’ve said to many people when talking about Annie and my relationship, which recently hit its six year mark, the (almost) last two of which we have been married. We are both introverts, have similar ideas about finances, share similar values, and entertain ideas about life trajectories that are generally compatible. We both like to act silly and love children’s movies. We are pretty easygoing and make lots of effort to understand each other. So yes, it is true that heated arguments or fights are not commonplace. And when arguments do occur, we make a concerted effort to cool down, explain ourselves, listen to each other, and avoid accusing or being insensitive. All in all, though there’s plenty of room for improvement, I think that we’ve so far managed our conflicts pretty well.
So it’s not an outright lie. But I have to admit that it was an echo of my expectation that our relationship could be pretty darn close to perfect. For the couples out there who have been married for a more substantial amount of time, it will come as no surprise that I’ve come to realize that that is an unrealistic and unhealthy expectation.
Everyone experiences the honeymoon stage. You feel like nothing can take away from the fullness of your relationship. Even though you know obstacles will come your way, you aren’t fazed because you are sure you will get through them. There’s an overwhelming joy, satisfaction, and peace. Sure, you can see flaws in the other person but you are positive that you will be able to show grace and understanding when it comes down to it. I know this sounds silly, but I was pretty sure that Annie and I could easily work together through the tough times coming our way. And so far we have, as I’ve pointed out in the beginning.
For the past year, Annie and I have been living in Europe. And for the last three months, we have been traveling around Europe without a permanent home, which means we’ve been spending a lot of time together for the past year and even more so in these last few months. Being in foreign environments, we haven’t had normal routines and the usual outlets that balance out the different parts of our lives. Little things accumulated and started to make the relationship unbalanced. I felt disappointed and annoyed more often than before. Patience was growing thinner. My replies were sharper. At one point in our travels we were too upset to talk through anything, so we spent the day separately until we cooled down enough to talk about how and why we had become so upset at each other. That particular incident was due to exceptionally bad communication on my part, but it was clear to both of us that the underlying factors were rooted in our nomadic lifestyle.
If you didn’t think that sounded too bad, I agree with you – it wasn’t bad at all. In all it took less than a day to sort out and talk about the strains that extended traveling has had on our relationship and life in general. We were happily doing travel-things immediately on the next day, now more aware and sensitive to each other’s needs during this nomadic period. However, I firmly realized how naïve I was in believing that it would be so easy to have a problem-free marriage. I saw just how easy it was for me to turn selfish and judgmental and how hard it was to stop myself from lashing out, even though I was completely aware of what I was doing and knew that I should not do it. I’ve always prided myself in being sensitive to other people’s needs, listening well, and serving others before myself. And for my wife (who is not just any other person) I was so sure that I could be the very best in doing all these things and that we would be free from all the typical bickering and fighting. Apparently, not a chance – there was nothing I could do to shield her from myself.
For some reason it’s hard to accept that I’m bound to fail as a husband and a best friend for my wife. I want to reassure myself by saying that I will learn to be more patient, more understanding, more loving over time. That I will learn to protect us from our imperfections. After all, isn’t it only natural to want the best for my wife? Yes, of course, but is perfection the best? No – in walking with Jesus, I believe that for us, grace is best, not perfection. But it is so very tempting to use Jesus as a means for achieving perfection. Isn’t that what God wants anyway? The restoration of the world and humans to their original, perfect condition? Indeed, there is perfection waiting for God’s people, but that road is paved with forgiveness and grace. I know lying deep within me is the desire to achieve that perfection by myself, for myself. Wanting perfection for my own versus wanting perfection to become restored in God’s eyes… the difference can play out so subtly in real life, but the end results cannot be more different.
So with a bit of grumbling, I admit that I am a sinner even in this place called marriage, where I’ve never felt a stronger desire to be the best person I can be. Though on a brighter note, I guess this is a prayer answered, since I’ve wanted to find places where my best isn’t enough so that I can rediscover my humility and dependence on God.