Author: jzhess

Living the newlywed…nightmare?

Have you ever seen someone finally make the BIG decision to get married…so they could feel miserable?

Me neither.  That would be, as we all know, silly and absurd (and insane?)

Maybe that’s why when this ends up actually happening – e.g., pain and heartache multiplying early in marriage…well, it’s pretty hard to stomach.

Bliss ahead.  After all, virtually all of us bring the highest of hopes to a marriage decision – expectations, if not of hollyhocks and roses, then certainly of an immediate increase in happiness and sweetness catalyzed by life-with-our-beloved.

That, at least, was what we imagined….Bright eyes.  Pitter-patter heart.  And outsized dreams brought us together.

At that high point of our wedding-and-honeymoon crescendo, the future horizon of our can-you-believe-it-we’re-going-to-live-together seemed like a glorious fantasy-come-true.

Until it actually started.

Within one month, something had changed – a visceral shift that left us unsettled and more than a little rattled.  With the wedding still visible in our rear view mirror, a new and terrific ache descended on us – an underlying tension that wouldn’t fully leave us for another five years.

What the (HECK) had happened to our HEAVEN on earth?

As dramatic as it sounds, that was the essential question that preoccupied both of our minds and hearts over the days and years that followed…moment by moment.

How is this happening? How is this fair?

Not only were these ambiguous and despairing feelings confusing….they were NOT okay.  NOT okay. NOT not NOT.  Did you hear that?  NOT!!

[That’s pretty much how the Thought Stream sounded…]

Making things worse. Goodness sake’s alive, we were married because we thought this would increase our happiness.  And THIS is what we get?

In addition to the actual emotion (of sorrow or anger or fear) we were experiencing, both of us spent plenty of time fighting, controlling, forcing (or trying to manipulate) that emotion away. That created a second layer of complication, wherein we weren’t even communicating honestly (with ourselves or each other) about what we were actually feeling – or what exactly was going on.

It took us literally years to realize the degree to which this fighting, controlling and forcing (of ourselves individually…and of each other) lay at the heart of our problem together.

But in the meanwhile, the resistance was constant – both within our body-minds – and across the divide in relation to each other.

Tears, cold silence, hot arguments, accusations (some voiced, others hidden), and grinding resentments…with little to no resolution on the horizon.

Bleh. Isn’t that moment when people throw in the towel?

Even writing about this wild, torturous ride through chronic conflict makes me feel int he body how much that fatigued and drained both of us. Our hearts go out to any couple experiencing such a chronically depleting (and terrifying) moment.

And seriously, how could you blame someone – anyone – from walking away from THIS?!

Bigger picture.  We obviously know we’re not alone. In our love-toxic society, any soul(s) bold enough to aspire to lasting, long-term commitments will – no question – come under fire…especially since there are literally hundreds of factors and forces that uniquely subvert that kind of love today.

In fact, you could probably argue that we’ve never had a more marriage-and-true-love toxic culture era in the history of the world. Seriously, glance at one of the Omnipresent-Screens filled with demi-god like figures evincing their bliss in pursuit of the hottest of pleasures…

What does the Screen say to committed couples? Can you imagine a better entreaty to dissolution – a better pitch especially to wounded hearts…just begging them to walk away?

Not only are these couples faced with the enormous despair of disappointing real-life-hard-stuff in a relationship anticipated as bliss – they SEE that bliss flashing before them every where they look…available at their fingertips.

It’s what you might call the Triple Threat of Newlywed Life in 2016 America:

(1) Ultra-high expectations of how wonderful life is going to be.

(2) Some deeply painful relationship experiences early in marriage that not only betray the expectations, but almost seem to blow them up?

(3) Immersion in a media atmosphere of near-constant sexual pleasure – with endless variation in fascination around IMPOSSIBLY beautiful relationships.

You add all this up, and what do you get?

A Life That Sucks (at the very least).  At the most, how about…um, Newlywed Torture?

We’re not being dramatic.  Can you imagine something more painful than such expectations of bliss dashed against a brutally painful reality (that doesn’t seem to have any end in sight)?

No wonder people bolt…Wouldn’t you?

Maybe that IS you…reading this now.

If so, please know you’re NOT crazy to be feeling that way.

We’re no longer baffled at couples walking away from each other.

This tough stuff.

So why would anyone be crazy enough NOT to bolt?

Our answer:  Because of what comes NEXT.

Life after the tension.  Yes, yes – there is a LIFE AFTER.  Trust us!

As we’ve only begun to describe here on this blog, the changes we’ve experienced in our relationship have been dramatic and mind-bogglingly refreshing.

Today, we have a profoundly sweet and constantly enjoyable relationship that we literally couldn’t have imagined during those dark days.

The contrast between THEN and NOW couldn’t be more dramatic.

Our purpose in writing this blog is to share what got us to this point, in hopes of sparking similar possibilities and conversations for other couples.

If that describes you – it’s probably hard to imagine a future any different than today. The despair and tension of THIS moment can be so overwhelming that it’s hard to see anything beyond it.

But TRY.  Or better said – don’t give up…not yet.

Research shows that some of the happiest couples are those that make it beyond (and through) THOSE hard moments.

What they (we…you?) find on the other side of that tension and heartache is not only worth it…it’s truly beautiful.

A treasure waiting for you to find it…if you’re willing to hold out for the adventure?

Three Music Videos for Worn-Out-Couples Looking for a Little Hope…

It’s Saturday evening – date night – on a holiday weekend. When else could you find a more care-free and happy time for couples?

At least for most of them…?

It’s easy to assume “more happiness” around us during the holiday season…forgetting about the (many) people that simply aren’t.Charlie-Brown-Christmas-e1353517228395

“I just don’t understand Christmas,” Charlie Brown said, “I might be getting presents, sending Christmas cards, and decorating trees, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.”

Especially when a sharp contrast exists between our present reality and the happiness we’re “supposed” to feel, a time like the holidays can come to feel even more painful than other times.  Nowhere is this more true than when the central relationship in our lives – the one that is “supposed” to be deeply fulfilling and happy – is instead, in a painful and difficult place.

Date night on a holiday weekend for that couple, might be way harder than even the ‘usual’ hard.

We’ve lived through some of those kinds of holidays, and find ourselves in a very different place now….With crazy-amounts of gratitude for the miracle that led us here, we can’t help but think of other couples this time of year – wanting them to have at least a glimpse of better days still possible…

For any and all relationships that are grasping for a reason to stay hopeful – including and especially during the holidays – Monique and I highlight three videos that comforted us during some of our difficult moments – and kept us believing in miracles still possible.  Trigger warning (!) for those not into spiritual stuff these days; we never would have made it without Help outside of ourselves…that was our experience.

1. Broken Together, Casting Crowns. If there’s only one video we could share, it would be this one.  

“How I wish we could go back to simpler times
Before all our scars and all our secrets were in the light
…Will we make it through the night?
Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete
Could we just be broken together
If you can bring your shattered dreams and I’ll bring mine
Could healing still be spoken and save us
The only way we’ll last forever is broken together”

2. Worn, Tenth Avenue North.  It’s nice to stay hopeful…but what about when you’re totally spent…with nothing more to give? If we’re serious about moving in another direction, maybe we shouldn’t pretend that people even have enough energy to begin with…?  For us, this Tenth Avenue North song really captures a crucial moment in our marriage – when we recognized the hard reality of where we were – and what that meant for any possible step forward.   

“I’m tired
I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes to keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world…

And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

I know I need
To lift my eyes up
But I’m too week
Life just won’t let up
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

My prayers are wearing thin
I’m worn even before the day begins
I’m worn I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn so heaven so come and flood my eyes

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Yes all that’s dead inside will be reborn
Though I’m worn
Yeah I’m worn.”

3. Lead Me, Sanctus Real. This last one won’t be popular with some of my feminist friends. That doesn’t make it any less true or beautiful or right. Other men looking for inspiration to be a husband and father in this crazy world will recognize this song for what it is: one of the few music videos EVER made that – rather than tearing us away from these roles – actually offers a bit of inspiration and strength in the near-impossible (at times) challenge of rising up and being that man.     

“I look around and see my wonderful life
Almost perfect from the outside
In picture frames I see my beautiful wife
Always smiling
But on the inside, I can hear her saying…

Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can’t
Don’t leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, what about us?

Show me you’re willing to fight
That I’m still the love of your life
I know we call this our home
But I still feel alone

I see their faces, look in their innocent eyes
They’re just children from the outside
I’m working hard, I tell myself they’ll be fine
They’re in independent
But on the inside, I can hear them saying…

Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can’t
Don’t leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, but what about us?

Show me you’re willing to fight
That I’m still the love of your life
I know we call this our home
But I still feel alone

So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I’m called to be
Oh, Father, show me the way
To lead them
Won’t You lead me?

To lead them with strong hands
To stand up when they can’t
Don’t want to leave them hungry for love,
Chasing things that I could give up

I’ll show them I’m willing to fight
And give them the best of my life
So we can call this our home
Lead me, ’cause I can’t do this alone

Father, lead me, ’cause I can’t do this alone.”

“That’s just the way marriage is…”

il_570xN.366018247_pteyIt usually comes from someone who’s been married for awhile – heard soon enough after your own marriage starts:  “Hey, sorry about that – but, you know, that’s just how marriage is.”

The contrast with pre-marital rhetoric couldn’t be more striking:  “It will change your life…I’ve never felt more joy…married people are, on average, statistically happier, you know?  That’s a proven fact.”

And it was all true – at first…for awhile – until it wasn’t.   Until the heartache, the resentment, the complications all started…from the dizziness and magic of courtship, the fall from grace was surprisingly profound.

And that’s when it comes – “yeah – me too.  Every couple experiences this, you know?  It’s tough.  You have to work at it.  That’s just how marriage is.”

And like that,  you’re in on the dirty little secret.  Now that the illusion has been punctured, you’re officially an ‘insider’…’in the know’ about marriage – about what it really is.  You see, it’s tough – like old beef, sickness, jobs and other things we have to ‘just push through.’

And in a way, I guess, that’s kind of comforting – “Oh, good.  Phew.  We’re not the only ones.  Other couples struggle too!” It can also be reassuring to be around others experiencing similar challenges – ‘hey, I guess we’re all in this together’ – sort of like Weight Watchers, group therapy or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

But there’s a difference too.  In AA, you’re gathering with similar people to walk a path of redemption towards a new life.  You’re seeking healing, recovery and a mighty change.  Where is the redemption in a relationship that has become chronically tense or difficult?

One theologian, Daniel Judd, writes about every relationship having a sequence of “creation, fall and redemption” – describing how a couple came back from the brink of divorce when they realized a new life together was still possible.

That’s not how we talk about this marriage stuff – at least not usually. Instead, all over the place, we are reminded that this is just how it is – how marriage is, how relationships are, guys are, how women are, etc.

How many couples end up just concluding this is the best experience they can hope for – letting go of any expectations otherwise?

And who could blame them? Don’t expectations lead to even more heartache, as we impose upon our spouse an idealized story of ‘how it’s supposed to be’? And how often have we seen out-sized expectations drive someone to look outside their marriage for answers – ditching their partner to ‘upgrade’ to another ‘better model.’

Those aren’t the expectations I’m talking about – and certainly not the way to fulfill them Monique and I are proposing.  There is another way…

To a couple who’s lived for many years in a difficult relationship with little change, this sounds crazy or naive.  For these couples who have come to accept their life-long exercise in patience, this may even sound de-stabilizing and dangerous…since some relationships might literally survive based on the brave acceptance that ‘this is just how it is.’

But is it – really?  Is this the best I can expect for the next 30 years?  To live out the refrigerator magnet in my parents’ house – an elderly couple who say, “the first 50 years of marriage are always the hardest”?

I can’t believe that.  And I don’t believe it…we’ve experienced another way.

In 1988, a number of couples who had experienced redemption from substances in the 12-steps decided to experiment with what the same path would mean to their difficulties in relationships.  They formed an organization with a funny name:  “Recovering Couples Anonymous” (RCA).

It’s the kind of program that gets mocked by more enlightened professionals who think it’s central focus on trusting a Higher Power is an amusing curiosity.

I’m not one of them.

To me and Monique, a program that starts with an acknowledgment that we do not have the power, of ourselves, to move this relationship to the place we hope it can go …well, that feels factually true – as confirmed by years of our own experience.

But isn’t this dis-empowering and maybe even harmful – to convince someone ‘they don’t have the power’ to change by themselves? What people overlook is that in the very next breath, we are invited to acknowledge that Someone else – whatever Higher Power you know – can restore our relationship to health and intimacy.  That feels refreshing.   Taking God seriously is refreshing.

Funny name aside, there’s one other thing that stood out to me about this organization.  Compared with the typical therapy or marriage organizations, couples on their website spoke of fundamental shifts – mighty changes…from one sort of relationship, to a very different one.RCA

I bought the book…two books, actually.  From page 255, this paragraph jumped out at me:  “Because of our histories we have learned to tolerate pain. …we are used to hurting.  Physically, we ignore tiredness and discomfort.  We sustain personal emptiness and shame.  In our coupleships, we bury our feelings, allowing disrespect to continue.  As couples, we ‘adjust’ to pain.  Intolerable situations exist in which both partners simply try harder.”

Just try harder.  Just stick with it.  Just hang in there…because, as we all know, that’s just how marriage is.

Is this what I signed up for – what we signed up for in this marriage?  Not me.  It’s not okay to walk away – but something also feels wrong about “just accepting” to live in relationship of low-level, chronic tension or struggle for the rest of life.  There’s got to be something more…a relationship redemption that leads us to another place entirely.

That’s what my gut tells me.  That’s what the RCA program tells me.  And that’s what God’s word tells me—e.g., “Is my hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem, or have I no power to deliver?”  (Isaiah 50:2, ESV)

What does redemption of a difficult relationship look like?  I want to find out.