How do you stay close if your spouse goes through something really tough–and seems to change because of it?
With thanks to Harper Collins for sponsoring this post on behalf of the Indivisible movie.
“I stopped by the English department today,” Keith told me.
That seemed strange, since the English department was on the other side of campus from his medical classes. We were just a few years into our marriage, and Keith was deeply in a funk.
“They told me it would be easy to transfer my credits, and I could still finish a 4-year degree at the same time. I’d just have to do a full year of English courses at the end.”
I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. He was in his third year of medical school, and I felt like I had to force him out of bed every morning. Academically he was doing well. Emotionally he wasn’t. He just hated school. And now he wanted to ditch it all and become an English major.
We got through that time (and Keith never did get that English degree), but not because I handled it well. He couldn’t stand the constant criticism and horrible environment of that school, and for a few months there I really thought he was going to toss his dreams away. And part of me panicked. He was becoming a different person from the man I married.How do you stay close if your spouse goes through something really tough--and seems to change because of it?Click To Tweet
That’s not the only time one of us has threatened to make a 90 degree turn in our marriage–or had a major emotional crisis.
There was the time Keith thought I should stop homeschooling the kids in middle school. We were so busy, and I was so overwhelmed, and my speaking was picking up, and I didn’t feel like I could hold everything together. But instead of trying to do life differently, he wanted me to chuck my dream of homeschooling. Of course, that wasn’t his intention. He was simply trying to help. I didn’t see it that way.
There was the year I broke down several times, blaming Keith for burning me out, when really I was severely anemic and didn’t know it.
There were the years that we just grew apart, when he was working in a different city, and we barely saw each other.
In all of the cases, it was like one of us had changed into a person who couldn’t handle life–who almost refused to live the life that we had agreed upon and promised.
I was thinking about all of these things as I watched the movie Indivisible last week.
The movie follows Darren and Heather Turner as they readjust to life together after Darren returns from a 15-month deployment to Iraq as a chaplain. Everyone–including Darren and Heather–thought they were the perfect couple. But Darren came home with PTSD, and his personality changed. He was angry. He was tense. And they couldn’t connect. Heather felt like he was completely rejecting the family.
And they had to find their way back to each other again.
It was an emotional movie for me to watch, since my newest son-in-law is in the military, and one day, sooner rather than later, we’ll likely be facing a deployment.
But as I watched the movie, at times I wanted to scream at the screen, “Will you just talk to each other?”
Because what the movie showed so perfectly is that relationships often grow distant and desperate not because there is something wrong at the core of the relationship, but because the couple refuses to be vulnerable with each other about the pain or doubt they’re carrying.
How do we handle doubt in our marriage?
Did you hear God’s voice right? Were you supposed to be in this job? Were you supposed to move to this town? Were you supposed to have this child?
When one person starts to doubt big decisions you’ve already made, or even the life you’ve chosen, how does the other person not panic? How do you stay close?
When doubt and hurt hit, what do we tend to do? We do just what Darren and Heather did. We get overcome by our own pain, and we can’t see what our spouse is experiencing, too. We interpret their doubt about life to mean that they have doubts about the relationship.
How many times have I chosen to feel hurt by something that Keith has done, and have I collapsed with a box of Kleenex, feeling as if our love was falling apart, when really, if we just talked to each other, we would discover it’s got very little to do with how we feel about each other at all. It’s how everything else is affecting us.
In your doubt, don’t pull away!
Our tendency, when we’re overwhelmed with pain, is to pull away, largely because we can’t face the enormity of whatever it is we’re feeling. Keith fearing that he wouldn’t be a good doctor. Me fearing that I can’t face the day to day with my kids. Or, more profoundly, Darren feeling like he couldn’t carry the weight of the world anymore.
That’s when the most insightful line in the movie came:
Fear. Anger. Pain. I can handle that. What I can’t handle is the distance. You’re shutting me out. That’s what hurts.Heather Turner
When you’re in pain, you often think the marriage problem is more complicated than it actually is. But we keep it complicated because we won’t communicate.
It was a week before our son Christopher was due, and Keith was in agony.
We knew that he had a very serious heart defect. We knew the surgery he would need would be very risky. We knew that likely that surgery would not save his life; it would just prolong his death.
I was comfortable with NOT putting Christopher on a heart transplant list. He likely wouldn’t be a good candidate, and I didn’t want to put him through that torture if he didn’t need to be, especially since it likely wouldn’t work. Keith was struggling with all the ethical issues as a doctor. Was it right to not do absolutely everything possible?
I felt like he was treating Christopher like he was a textbook example in one of his ethics books. He felt like I was too lacksadaisical about it to think through the morality of it. I felt like he was questioning my faith. He felt that I thought he was putting ethics over what was actually best for our son.
And we went round and round and round.
In the end, it didn’t matter. We never had to make any of those decisions. We wasted a lot of time worrying about “what ifs”.
And in the middle of it, if we had just said to each other, “I don’t know how to process that my son is likely going to die,” we would have been much further ahead. But Keith turned it into an ethics case. I tried to ignore it. And we grew this big wall between us that was brick after brick of unexpressed emotion.
I felt that same emotion watching the movie, and seeing Darren and Heather hurt each other over things that weren’t their fault.
As Darren and Heather are fighting, on the wall in their bedroom is a plaque that says 1 Peter 4:8.
It was an aside; the movie didn’t really draw attention to it. But I wondered about it, so I looked it up.
1 Peter 4:8
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Or, in The Message by Eugene Peterson, who passed away last week:
Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.
Love makes up for practically anything.
When Darren finally let Heather in to some of her pain, she was able to see past her own.
I’m hurting. But so is the man that I love.Heather Turner
I think that’s the key to being indivisible as a couple. It’s not denying your own pain. It’s recognizing that you’re not going through it alone. And it’s deciding to see theirs, too.The key to being indivisible as a couple is not denying your own pain. It's seeing theirs and recognizing you are not going through it aloneClick To Tweet
If you’re hurting today, ask yourself: Is my spouse hurting, too? When you can see that, in the midst of your pain, it’s so much easier to carry that pain together.
Plus, if you’re wanting to grow the kind of marriage where you’ll stay indivisible, and you’ll keep communicating, check out the Indivisible devotional: One Marriage Under God. I get so many of you asking for a good devotional to do as a couple, and here’s a great one! Check it out here.
Sign up for our emails and get access to the TLHV free marriage and parenting resource library. We have over 25 downloads and are constantly adding more. Sign up here!