LJ and I are celebrating 10 years of marriage and 17 years of being together. This year is significant because we’ve crossed a threshold where we now have lived more life together than apart. For having been with him for so long, I’m still surprised by what surprises me.
I’m surprised that I still get excited to dress up and go on date nights. I’m surprised that I’m still annoyed that he has 17 hobbies (though he’s whittled them down to 2 active ones). Or surprised that he thinks I’m mad just because I’m using my intense voice…come on, I always sound intense! Or I’m surprised that his goofy jokes that make our five-year-old laugh, get me to belly laugh, too. Most recently I was reminded that I’m surprised we are still having the same disagreements.
Last week we began to argue about work. Maybe some of you know this argument?
We were arguing about his time at work and his time at home. It’s a struggle for him to balance the time it takes to do his job well, while supporting his team and making time to be at home with us. (We always want more Daddy and I know he is sad to miss out on our fun).
Let me preface by saying deep down, I know he chooses us over work.
But that doesn’t change how I feel some days. The days our kids have been fighting, or my son has a double nose bleed, or we’ve gotten flu shots during which my 5 year-old screamed uncontrollably and later arrive home to discover the princess bandaids are gone and my 3 year-old cannot be consoled.
So even though I know he chooses me over work, it still doesn’t change how I feel some days. And it doesn’t change the reality that he has to re-decide every day how he will spend his time.
That’s true for all of us.
We began to argue about family dinners and our family schedule, and before I knew it, I heard him say,
“I just can’t seem to make you happy with my work schedule. I’ve let you down.”
And it felt like a punch to the gut. I realized in that moment I had let him down, too.
He didn’t feel like he was enough.
I then heard myself say: “I don’t expect you to be perfect but I do expect us to grow.”
You see, I’ve learned in 17 years of being together that sometimes we get caught in the trap of trying to be perfect for each other.
The perfect husband. The perfect wife. The perfect dad. The perfect mom.
But in reality, perfect isn’t possible. Being perfect is an unattainable standard, and in aiming for it, we set ourselves up for debilitating shame every time we miss the mark.
And I’m here to tell you, we miss the mark….often.
In reminding my hubby that I don’t need him to be perfect, we shifted our focus from the other person to the issue at hand.
The issue is that we will always have to assess how much we work. How much time we spend as a family. What we hold as our family’s top priorities.
It is in the rub of disagreement that we sharpen each other, our minds and our focus. It is in the discomfort that we transform. When we claim that we are two imperfect people doing our best to love each other, we leave room for our mistakes.
We accept that there will be cracks of hurt and disappointment in our relationship but we still aim to love each other like God loves us.
When I remember that the goal is understanding and not perfection, I’m more likely to choose grace instead of justice and forgiveness instead of righteousness. And when we can’t seem to do it on our own, we trust that God will fill in the broken spaces with His grace and He is the one who will hold us together.
I will admit, in the moment of our disagreement, my hurt and my wounds were being poked and prodded. You know the phrase: “hurt people hurt people.” My hurt was what was hurting LJ and vice versa.
My shame was telling me that I wasn’t important. I wasn’t valuable. His shame was telling him that he wasn’t enough. He failed. Our natural inclination was to turn away and protect our pain. But what I’ve learned about shame is that it wants us to hide and get small.
But we know healing cannot happen in isolation.
Instead of hiding, avoiding and giving up, we’ve learned to lean in. In the moments we want to give up, we have to choose to give in.
We have to give in to our relationship and to stay in the discomfort, accepting we aren’t perfect, and will only reach understanding together.
This isn’t easy.
I have to fight my instinct to flee or hide, and bravely lift my eyes to meet his. That looks like asking the second, the third and the fourth question and declaring the good so to chase away the shame.
- How do you feel you’ve let me down?
- How do you not feel valued?
- You are a good dad. You love your kids by drawing them napkins for school and playing legos on the floor before you even change your work clothes.
- I value you as a mom to our kids and your time is valuable. I believe in your writing and your teaching, don’t stop.
These questions help us to hear the other better. And these statements of truth help to drive away shame and encourage growth. Because as imperfect people, we have room to grow.
For we are promised,
“that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phillipians 1:6)
We can rest in the promise that each of us are good and unfinished works in progress. And I love LJ for who he has been to me and who he is becoming. This is where the breadth and depth of love continues to amaze me. May we bravely claim our imperfection, lean in and have faith that God will continue to grow us towards completion together.