At around our tenth wedding anniversary, we had a realization.
The realization we had was this: despite all the quality marriage counseling we had received from our wonderfully gifted and skilled marriage counselor early on, we were, at that time, still not enjoying satisfaction.
We now knew the principles, but now we had to apply them. Knowledge of principles provides no satisfaction, only application provides satisfaction.
The year our marriage grew coincided with application. Instead of believing in concepts and talking about them, we decided to commit to working the concepts out in our marriage. This inevitably meant adapting the marital wisdom we had learned so it worked for our unique coupling, for our inimitable family structure.
We had had twenty counseling sessions, and I think our counselor was at pains to say, ‘Go and do what we’ve been talking about; what I’ve been showing you’… initially it even got worse. It had nothing to do with the standard of our counsel – it was like growing pains in our marriage. Things tend to get worse before they get better.
Inevitably, we as partners had to learn to commit to each other in ways we had never thought we would need to. Our covenant to each other was solid, but we now had to commit to love this other person in ways that worked for them, not simply ourselves. Without even recognizing it at the time, we began to accept each other like we had never done before. That is true love: unconditional acceptance at the deepest level. And it takes time.
The year our marriage grew was Year 4. Indeed, the previous three simply proved our commitment to each other. We hadn’t torn each other apart. But there were some horrible experiences. While those first three years were unbelievably tough, they set us up as we pressed on into the hard work required in finding our way into the space of marital peace (which is punctuated with conflict that is managed well in the main).
My wife and I are believers in marriage; that marriage is not only wonderful but hard work. We believe, as we experienced, that counseling works; but not only that, there’s a limit to what counseling can do. I say that as someone who gives marital counsel.
It must be applied. There needs to be a time where a couple weighs anchor and begins the work of reconciling the problems on the high seas of their marriage. It can take years, but don’t be despondent. You learn to survive when it’s just you and your spouse. Sure, we all need tune-ups, prayer and support, but others’ help is limited.
This is what we learned: marriage seems best when the foibles of one are acceptable to the other. What seems like an easy concept can demand years of work to arrive at.
Steve Wickham is a writer and pastor who holds degrees in Science, Divinity, and Counseling.
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