When Debbie met Greg, she loved that he was successful, determined, hard working, and smart. It seemed that he could fix anything. Throughout their dating relationship she admired his incredible knowledge and financial wisdom. After dating a couple of years, they married.
I met Debbie a couple of years ago. Ever since then, I have admired her as an excellent communicator and teacher, active in ministry and committed to changing lives. This is her story…
Within the first three years of our marriage, I started having thoughts that marriage wasn’t going the way I wanted it to go. Greg is self-employed, and at that time he was establishing his business. I became jealous of the business, seeing it as taking his time and affection. When we got married, the things I once liked, I began resenting. I failed to see his work as great qualities because he wasn’t meeting my every need.
The whole time I was unhappy, but never looking at other men. I moved out a couple of times, staying with friends, then moving back in with my husband. Short times turned into longer stays. It seemed easy to justify, but in hindsight it was crazy. Then, in year four of our marriage, I met someone at work. He was very charming, and it was so deceptive. I was instantly lured in, thinking he was so funny. It came upon me so quickly, at just the wrong moment. Justifying that my husband and I were already separated, I became involved in an affair.
God used painful things in my life. I had one friend who loved enough to confront me, and we often had painful conversations. More pain came when my mom was diagnosed with leukemia. When I told Greg I was moving away to care for her, he offered to buy a new reliable vehicle.
After about seven months of living and working in another city, my mom and I went to a doctors appointment. They said she only had three months to live. When I called Greg to relay the news, something incredible happened. He offered to take care of everything. He told me to quit my job, and he would pay rent and take care of me so I could be with her. At that point, we had been separated for two and a half years, with no reason for him to step in and care for me, but he was there.
Three days later, my mom died at the age of 59. I realized life is short. The things I thought I needed for happiness were actually really fleeting. I saw the life I was pursuing and realized the deceptiveness of it. When I saw Greg was standing beside me, I got a real glimpse of my selfishness and learned it was affecting the people around me.
Greg told me I had as much time as I needed to help my dad get everything settled. Then six weeks after my mom died, I moved back in with my husband. For good.
It was hard. In a lot of ways, I had to learn to like him again. I learned to appreciate who he is, not what I thought he should be. Greg offered a lot of accountability for me. While it was difficult, I knew I needed to earn his trust, desperately wanting to earn it back.
Now, we have been married for 22 years. I am able to see my husband for who he is and all that he does for me. Greg still does things that make me go agh!…But I do the same thing to him! We have worked on a genuine friendship together, and have figured out a lot of the problems.
Greg and Debbie have a marriage and a story that is an example to many. I am so grateful to know them, and I have gained perspective and wisdom from marriage conversations I’ve had with Debbie. Greg and Debbie have an incredible life together because of their hard work, patience, and forgiveness. In a culture where giving up seems easier or more fulfilling, they choose to value unconditional love and sacrifice. They did the difficult work of making their relationship something beautiful.
Here are issues they worked through to make their marriage last:
I thought our marriage would look more like my parents marriage. We weren’t like my parents or their schedule – home from work and sitting down for dinner each and every night. So when Greg was closing the store, I was disappointed. Instead of being upset, I should have loved the fact that he was such a hard worker.
I found it’s immature to think your marriage will look just like your own home growing up. You’re not going to be the same. And you don’t have to be the same! It’s important to look at what we’ve seen modeled – or not modeled – and accept that you can be different. Gather a healthy understanding of what each of us do and why we do it (without using it as excuses). Have eyes to see and change the course for your own marriage.
So many times I heard – you’re young, you’re attractive, you deserve to be happy. Deserve? When we think we deserve something, we’re selfish and wrong! We go into the most important relationship we have on earth with that attitude, then wonder why we struggle.
I wanted my husband to meet my needs in the exact way I wanted them met. I thought Greg would fulfill my every whim, exactly the way I thought it should be done (he does, but he does it differently than I would!). When my motives were wrong, I missed all that he was doing.
Eventually, Greg became uptight. In his response to my unhappiness, he dug in his heels. I had to release him from those expectations and the self-centeredness to think he had to do it my way. I could finally see how he was fulfilling my needs, and recognize it was just different than I expected. All along he was my provider, protector, and friend, but these roles looked different than what I initially thought. That’s okay! In recognizing this, I freed Greg up to be himself again, and as a result it let his sense of humor come back through.
Recognize the ways your spouse fulfills your needs. Keep eyes on the things they are doing, rather than what they don’t do or what others may do for their spouse. When you keep your eyes in the right place, you can avoid becoming bitter. Know your spouse’s limitations, and free them up from being your source of complete fulfillment. Ask these questions:
- Is this about me and my happiness?
- Am I really seeing all that God is doing and where He is at work?
- Is God really going to be enough for me?
Identify what thing about your spouse is a big deal for them: the part of who they are that is really important for them. Then find ways to respect it, and have the right heart towards it. For Greg, it was his hard work. So Debbie could communicate respect by spending their money wisely and appreciating his work ethic.
I didn’t fight fair from the beginning, so Greg couldn’t either. Eventually he became my enemy. It wasn’t until we had a conversation specifically verbalizing our goal of friendship that everything changed.
When we’re not adversaries, we both win because we ultimately want the same things. Communicate in a way that expresses that. Even in the midst of an argument, take time to verbalize the friendship. It changes how each of you respond, in word and tone. Say it often!
I hope you have learned as much from Debbie’s story as I have. Her honest reflection on both the good and bad, the wise and immature, and the happy and painful make her worth listening to. As she would say, it’s not her story, but God’s story to use how he will. And I hope your marriage has been strengthened through it.