I knew I was in trouble. As I stood on stage interviewing a person, I needed a note card that was in a chair on the front row. I didn’t necessarily want to stop and say, “Could someone bring me that note card in the chair?” So as I was speaking, I pointed to Jenny, pointed toward the card, and then waved toward me. But there was a major problem–I knew there was very little chance she would understand my gestures.
Jenny and I don’t do well when it comes to anticipating what the other is thinking, reading one another’s minds, or understanding sign language in high-stress communications. We wish we were better, but we aren’t. So even as I gestured, I realized it was highly unlikely it would work. In fairness to Jenny, there were two children seated between her and where the card was. So she didn’t have much of a chance. Thankfully, a friend of mine was on the second row, quickly saw what I needed, leaned forward, and told Silas to take the card to me on stage.
This one instance illustrates a much greater reality–there are many things we can’t do. Our relationship is far from perfect. There are weaknesses in our relationship which will forever be present. Some we must work on, never allowing a weakness to negatively impact our relationship. But others, we must simply accept knowing that no matter how much we work, we will never be compatible in those areas.
It’s a foundational understanding within a healthy marriage–we will never be the perfect couple. We will struggle with some issues that other people never debate. We will experience frustrations in areas that other couples experience great freedom. What some will find as the easiest aspects of marriage, we will find the most difficult. (See: Only Tell Your Problems to Two People)
Not only will we not be everything we want to be as a couple, neither of us will fully be everything the other wants in a spouse. No matter how hard I try (and I should try hard), there are many things I will never be to Jenny. She deserves someone who is more outgoing, adventurous, and free-spirited to match her personality. Instead, she gets a husband who is more cautious, suspicious, and a homebody.
In reflection of our imperfections, we must remember two things.
1. We must work diligently to fixate on the strengths of our relationship. Yes, we are imperfect. Of course there are struggles. Yet there are many things which are good, beautiful, and right. While we should never ignore weaknesses, to focus too much attention on what we get wrong at the expense of everything we get right, will cause our marriage to suffer. Instead, our weaknesses should give us a great appreciation for our strengths. While there are ways that I disappoint Jenny, there are also ways in which she is very lucky to have me. Some of the struggles other couples have, we will never experience because of the choices we make. We must appreciate these things. When we do have gratitude for everything that is good in our relationship, it softens the blow of the struggles. It empowers us to endure them and doesn’t allow the hardships to destroy us. Many couples fail, not because their struggles are too much, but because their gratitude is too little.
2. We must discern the difference between potentially fatal and non-fatal problems. Not every issue carries the same weight in a relationship. Rolling your eyes at your spouse and cheating on her are both wrong, but one might just lead to the cold shoulder while the other might cost you half of your belongings. No matter the amount of gratitude for the good in your relationship, thankfulness cannot overcome some issues. They are fatal if left to persist and you must get help to solve them. Other issues are minor. They are unfortunate, but not greatly damaging. Knowing the difference between the two is vital to a healthy marriage. What can we accept as unchangeable and what must be changed in order for us to survive? In some situations, a couple cannot make those determinations on their own. Having a mentor couple who is further down the relationship path than you can be helpful to inform us into which category an issue might fall. Sometimes a professional counselor must be consulted. What we do know is that if a spouse believes an issue is vitally important, it is vitally important. One spouse can’t downplay an issue to the other spouse expecting them to just get over it. Yet discerning if a weakness is just a minor weakness or a major threat is necessary for a good marriage. (See: Marriage Won’t Fix Your Problems)
I wish I could be more for my wife. In many ways, I strive every day to make personal improvements, have a deeper understanding of myself and her, and to become a better man. At the same time, there are some things that simply won’t change. The positive traits which she most loves about me also have some serious negative aspects which will forever frustrate her.
There are some things Jenny and I can’t do. Some we mourn. Some we try to change. Some we just laugh at because they remind us of our imperfections and prove that our love is stronger than our struggles.