by Carey Nieuwhof
How’s your marriage?
I’ve been fortunate to be married to my wife Toni for over 22 years. And we’re experiencing more joy and satisfaction in our marriage than we’ve ever had.
But we almost didn’t make it.
There’s a lot of pressure on marriages and families today. We’ve felt it. Intensely.
Life and leadership put a lot of strain on a marriage. Add kids and jobs into the mix and the pressure sometimes can get ultra intense.
I wish I could say I have an ideal marriage, but I can’t.
I wish I could say we never fight, but I can’t.
I wish I could say I’ve led my family perfectly, but that wouldn’t be true.
Recently at Connexus Church, where I serve, my wife Toni joined me, and together we shared the message. As part of a series on love, we talked as openly and transparently as we could about the very real struggles we faced. About seasons in which she didn’t think our marriage was going to make it, and about seasons when I wasn’t sure how we were going to get through.
Like many couples, we started out strong, but the busy-ness of life, the pressure of ministry and our own baggage and issues interfered to the point where we both felt our marriage was broken.
We weren’t sure how to fix it, or whether it was reparable, but we both refused to believe God had given up on us or our family. So we pushed through.
I hope our story will encourage you like it encouraged many in our congregation.
I know . . .
How tough leadership can be.
How exhausting (and exhilarating) ministry is.
How guys don’t like to do the things we tell other people to do.
How easy it is to quit.
But both Toni and I have come to a place where we are so thankful we didn’t quit.
Although we went through seasons where our emotions were painful and made us want to escape, our emotions eventually caught up to our obedience.
But for your reference, here are the seven things we talked about in the message that helped us make it through.
While we were hesitant to say we’ve got it figured out, we want to share them in the hopes they might help you like they helped us:
1. We had dates nights. We saw evenings with each other as investments, not expenses. Although we sometimes felt guilty for time away from the kids, we knew that one of the best gifts you can give your kids is a healthy marriage.
When it got really tough, I began to resent date nights because they would turn into date arguments, but I’m so glad we pushed through that. Prioritize your spouse. No matter what.
2. We prayed for our marriage. Again, I wish I was the hero. But I wasn’t. Even as a pastor, something inside me resisted praying out loud with my wife. We did manage to pray together, and we both believe with all our hearts that it is Christ who has kept our marriage together. A cord of three strands is indeed not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
3. We sought Christian counseling. You can see a pattern developing here, but it was easier for Toni to seek help than for me to do so. I’m sure it was pride. But good, Christian counselling, among other things, helped us to stop the cycle of blame and replace it with responsibility.
4. When we hit impasses, we went to a third party. Having a handful of people (and a small group) you love and trust is a God-send, literally. We are grateful for our closest friends who prayed for us and helped us.
5. We took divorce off the table. This should probably be in 82 point font and underlined. Out of obedience, we refused to quit. I believe God wanted us to press through, so I did. And I kept thinking about the story I wanted God to write for my kids, family, and ministry. Divorce was off the table.
6. We worked to build an authentic friendship. Sure, we were great friends when we got married, but many people go through a period for a decade or so where you so focus on the kids you almost have to reintroduce yourself when that season ends. Just because youre married doesnt mean youre friends. Weve become great friends (again) and are really excited about the times ahead, now that our kids are getting older (21 and married, 17 and in high school).
7. We put our obedience ahead of our emotions. Sometimes you have to do the right thing, even if you don’t feel like it. And eventually, our emotions caught up with our obedience. All the hard work and our trust in Christ paid off, and we are in a season now where I think we’re reaping the harvest from the good seed we sowed in a tough season. Were both incredibly thankful.
Toni and I share this in the hopes it encourages you.
While our marriage hasn’t been easy, it’s been so worth it.
We’re at a place where we had always hoped to be, but didn’t know how to get to. And our emotions have caught up with our obedience.
What’s helped you? What are you learning? What remains as your biggest struggle?
This article originally appeared on Carey’s blog. Reposted with permission.
Carey Nieuwhof is founding pastor of Connexus Church and is author of several bestselling books. Carey blogs, podcasts, writes and speaks to church leaders around the world about leadership, change and personal growth.