More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse.
Now comes the hard part. Talking about the blood, sweat and tears.
I had a phone call a month ago with an old friend of mine. I called her to get some explanation of what could possibly be happening to our mutual friends' marriages. So many had fallen apart; some separated, some divorced. I met one at a mall after not seeing her for a couple of years and we were so happy to have bumped into each other. As we parted, I hugged her and said, "Say hi to hubby for me". I pulled away and her eyes had filled with tears. They hadn't made it.
Friends our age, Christians we grew up with, married, between 1-7 years. I didn't want gossip; I wasn't interested in the reasons for the break ups. I was just so sad, and so scared. What is happening to us?
I don't think anyone ever enters a marriage with a certain time frame in mind. It isn't like other institutions in which we are certain we'll be out in 4 years, degree in hand. When you get married, you're handed a certificate of 'completion', in a course that has its first introductory lecture the next day. Like putting a scalpel in the hand of a high school graduate and asking them to perform heart surgery. Like putting my toddler in the driver's seat of a moving car on a highway.
You have no idea how to be married. You've read the books, you've attended the classes, you have watched older couples with flourishing marriages...you're going in armed; and still, things are going to happen that will make you wonder, "What have we done?".
Bryan and I didn't shy away from conflict while we were dating. We were militant about sitting down and hashing things out when one of us felt offended, overlooked, unheard. Our first red flags were during our preparation before the wedding. We were in two different countries, so we went through a marriage course online with major topics: finances, children, task sharing, in laws etc. We would have 90 minutes on Skype once a week, sharing each others answers to the questionnaires after each topic. It was pretty hectic. Each questionnaire had two columns of 'yes' and 'no' at the end of each question. You were to give your answer to the question, and also write the answer you think your partner is going to put down to the same question. See the potential for WW3 there? LOL.
There were many instances I would say, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure you said no to this question."
"Are you serious?" he would say.
"Yes! How could you possibly agree with such a statement?"
Then we would have an argument, and afterwards waste Skype minutes in silence.
We had no choice but to compromise on the issues stuck at a stalemate. We each had to let go of some things for the sake of peace and unity. And that hurt. It was like taking a hammer to your pride. Even after all that, we have still had minefield moments where arguments we could never have anticipated made us go days without speaking.
Let me stop here and just say a few things.
Do NOT compromise on matters of faith. If you aren't both lovers of Christ; cancel the wedding. You would be setting yourself up for a life of anguish together, with no peace. A home with no peace is unbearable to live in. Most importantly, God has told us directly to not marry one who is not a Christian. If it sounds narrow-minded and intolerant, it's because it is. Jesus actually uses the word 'narrow' to describe Christianity.
Do NOT compromise on worrying character traits. If you notice your partner doesn't handle disagreement amicably...hit the pause button. If he shouts at you; if she screams at you, or manipulates you with tears; if he uses God's words out of context, "I'm the husband so you'll just have to submit to me, period, no questions asked, my way or the highway.", Girl that's a man who needs to go for some counselling of his own. If she "kalias" you, acts as though she's the final authority, that she knows better in everything; My friend, don't pay that caterer's deposit just yet. The woman you love needs a good dose of humility from God. If you can't get him to make decisions, to lead you; if he always waits on you to make the call over everything...sweetheart, he has issues that need dealing with before you make him the head of your home. I'm not saying do not marry these people. I'm saying you're going to need more time to have older and wiser people teach you the way you should go. If at the end of it, your partner remains rigid in his or her ways...abandon ship.
Funny thing is, we still made these very mistakes after we got married. There is no other relationship that has revealed my sinful nature to me, more than my marriage. I didn't know how selfish I could get, until Bryan would ask me to do something I just didn't want to get up and deal with. I had no idea how angry I could get, not until he went ahead and made a decision without me; he didn't think it was major, but I would breathe fire where fire wasn't required. Let's not even talk about how I went in so very sure I had understood how to be a submissive wife; only to have the notion blow up in my face one day. Sigh; remember the toddler driving on a highway? That's been me, a lot.
Blood. Sweat. Tears.
We flew to Joburg 11 days after our wedding. It was January and South African summer was at it's hottest. The minute we walked out of the airport, I got hit by the worst hay fever episode of my life. Pollen allergies were in full swing at that time of summer. So there we are in our friend's car. I haven't slept in 24 hours because I was up packing and crying my eyes out; it was the last night at my parents house for a very long time. I'm thinking he's is driving us to our new apartment. Bryan has failed to mention we're going to a barbeque at another friend's house. So I squeeze his hand and do the "communicate with the eyes" thing, pleading with him for us to just go to our house; I was so tired. But he was giddy from the excitement of bringing his bride to his city, and he wanted to show me off to everyone. So he whispers it will only be for a little while, and I capitulate.
Only issue is there is no way you take your new wife to meet all your boys and expect it to be a 30 minute thing. I mean, they got us from the car dancing and singing in Zulu, practically carrying us to our seats; they were all calling him "Aaaah Chief!", fist bumping, chest thumping...it was a scene. Don't get me wrong, that welcome was amazing and so hilarious. Oh, but we were there so long. I was half asleep, my eyes red and tearing, my nose itchy and runny, my skin was burning. I just wanted antihistamines and a bed.
When we finally got into the car, we got on to the road and he turned to me excitedly, "How awesome was that afternoon!?". I think that was the first time he actually realized that I was annoyed. I saw his face change instantly, as the realization hit him, "Oh no, I wasn't listening to her today. I didn't notice how badly off she was." I kinda blew up on him. It wasn't pretty. He just kept quiet. At the pharmacy we walked in and out in silence. When we finally parked our car at our new home; I just wanted to weep. First night in a foreign country, with my new husband, outside our new home and we weren't on speaking terms. We sat and sat and sat. Finally, he reached across and held my hand, "Bui, I'm sorry."
I melted. "OK. OK."
"Come, let me take you home."
We lugged our four suitcases up two flights of stairs with muted screams of excitement and joy (It was 10pm, we didn't want to be evicted on day one). He unlocked our door, and we had an atrocity of an attempt of him carrying me across the threshold. Hollywood doesn't factor in African hips friends, we fell down proper, laughing our heads off. It was a night we will never forget. We had to get our large mattress up to our bedroom that was a loft above the living room, and it couldn't fit through the narrow staircase. So I had to go up the stairs and grab hold of the mattress as Bryan hauled it up to me from below. Once I had held on to it on each side, there was a window of a few seconds in which he ran up the stairs to come help me pull it up over the balcony wall into our room. We discovered that night that I am a woman of superhuman strength. To this day he cannot understand how I managed to hold up a heavy queen sized mattress off a balcony...man we laughed so much that night.
At the end of it, we collapsed on our living room floor, ate Chinese take out. And the next thing I remember is waking up at some point in the night; we had blacked out from exhaustion right there, lying on our suitcases.
But. There have been many dark valleys since.
The first three months of our marriage were beautiful, but fraught with great difficulty too. For one, we were dirt broke. I mean...we were living on fumes after our wedding, plane tickets, and my tuition. This situation really wore Bryan down. Our first month anniversary might be the most precious we'll ever have. We drove to the Monte Casino mall, and walked hand in hand window shopping. My heart was breaking for my husband. He wanted so much to give me the world, but we had a long road to financial security. We ended up at a tiny quaint Italian restaurant. Reading the menus in silence, my heart sank even further looking at how much the food cost.
I looked up at Bryan and he had tears in eyes. "I'm sorry sweetheart; I wish I could have made this night better for you."
"I'm with my husband; I wouldn't give this up for anything. I'm with you, for riches, for poorer, I'm with you."
We shared a pizza,size medium. We couldn't afford to buy any drinks, so we asked for tap water with lemon slices. We have never shared a more meaningful meal. We look back at it fondly every time our anniversary comes around.
We were able to breathe when we finally got paid. I'll be honest, we were earning pretty well. After the struggle, life became super comfortable financially. But it wasn't for free. Our marriage was paying the price. Consultancy is a brutal profession. I genuinely think they shouldn't hire married people; or parents. Bryan was out of the house by 6.30 am every morning, and got home at 10 pm on a good night. And that was only because he had chosen to have one of the many conference calls of the day on his black berry. I can't tell you how many times I'd open the front door for him, and he would walk in on his earphones talking with people across the world. All I would get was a mouthed "Hi!", and a stroke on my cheek, then it would be another hour or more of sitting by myself, watching our dinner grow cold. We didn't own a TV, so the nights were painfully quiet.
I was alone in a foreign country, without a single friend. I couldn't drive myself past the four residential roads around our apartment block, because Johannesburg roads took me a while to get used to. Thankfully I was near a couple of big malls, so I spent a lot of time wandering through bookshops, and clothing stores. I bought groceries just enough for one day, so that I would have something to do the next day, and the next. At night I would read, call home, and watch movies on my laptop.
He started to come home after midnight. One night, he woke me up at 2 am. He couldn't get a cab home, so I had to go pick him up. I drove down Rivonia Road to the McKinsey offices crying in my pyjamas. He was going to leave me again in four hours. There's only so much grocery shopping, book reading and clothes buying you can do. We had a tiny church near our house, a good one, the preaching was solid; but we were the only people there younger than 55, and black. It was so funny how people would stare at us every Sunday we walked in. No-one was mean to us, at all, but we were strange specimens to them. Like we had walked out of a flying saucer that morning. So I had no young women to be friends with. I felt extinguished inside and out. I was alone in South Africa.
I spent the next day figuring out what to do. When Bryan walked in, I told him, "I'm going back home."
He dropped his bag and stared at me in shock.
"We never see each other. We don't talk. When we try your wretched blackberry rings off the hook. We eat dinner with your laptop open infront of you. We have not had breakfast together in weeks. I cannot live like this. I want to go home." The irony. Home was precisely where I was standing at that moment.
I didn't really know what I meant. I wasn't saying I wanted separation or divorce; but I remember saying, "I didn't sign up for this." It was a watershed moment for us. I felt the solid rock I thought we had been standing on turn into sinking sand. This was a house of cards, not a mountain of rock. I didn't know what the game plan was if I got on a plane and returned to Nairobi. Would he follow me? What happens to the marriage? That was the first time we realized, no-one is immune to the struggle. The devil will steal, kill and destroy from any two married people, however he can. Here, he had used Bryan's all consuming job, to make me forget my vows. Wasn't I supposed to stick with my man, for better or for worse? Wasn't Jesus Christ supposed to be my living water, my hope, my life? Why was I expecting Bryan to be those things? Did I even stop to consider how desperately difficult it was for him? Torn between providing for his wife financially and caring for her physically and emotionally? He was on a treadmill on full speed and couldn't find the OFF button.
How did we make it through that crisis? Well, only God knows. He showed mercy where none was deserved. He rescued two birds flying blind with broken wings.
Through God's mysterious ways; we decided Bryan would resign without a plan B. We sat at home, unemployed, praying. We used the days to find each other again, resealing the cracks in the foundation of our union. One morning, out of nowhere, Bryan was offered a job on his Linked In profile. A German company flew up from Cape Town to "interview" him; it turned out to be a meeting with them explaining the role and practically begging him to accept the offer. He came home in a daze, "Why would people just hire me out of the blue? They have no idea who I am!" We knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, God had sent us a miracle.
We signed the offer; earning more than before which was unbelievable. Within the month, we passed our apartment lease on to a friend, sold everything we couldn't take with us and then packed our life into our car. If you saw how much we managed to squeeze into that old Mercedes, you would have laughed at us a long time. We drove across South Africa over two days; windows down, eating junk food, stopping to take pictures at every little town, buying trinkets. I still wear earrings he bought me at a truly peculiar cafe in a tiny town called Lainsburg I think. It was such a gorgeous road trip! The minute we packed our car in the Cape Town hotel we were spending the next two weeks, we got a flat tire. Again, God got us where we needed to be before the car said, "No more guys."
It might seem that I've lost track of my point with this post, but I'm trying to illustrate how massive marital crises a lot of the time, build up slowly. For the most part, our marriage has been utter bliss. But it would be a lie to say it's been that way all five years, all day, every day. I've just given one example from our first year. We have had earth-quaking fights about money, about in laws, about friends from our past lives we feel were threats to our marriage...but for the grace of God, the cookie would have crumbled, and the Kariukis would have vanished like a mist.
That evening on the phone with my friend, we urged each other to pray hard. For our own marriages to be focused on Christ, and protected by Him. We felt we had to pray for our friends with broken hearts to somehow be blessed with miraculous reconciliation with their spouses. And to pray that we would not walk in fear of divorce. We aren't naive, we know it could happen to us; but God never gave us spirits of fear or timidity; rather He gave us spirits of power, of love, and of self-discipline. I don't believe all hope is lost for you whose marriage fell apart, or is about to. I don't know what happened to my friends; I don't know if there was infidelity, or infertility or violence or an irreparable breakdown in communication. I won't disrespect you by pretending that I can imagine how hard you must have tried to make it work; and how many deaths your hearts died when it was over. I'm not being sappy and unrealistic saying you should put your hope in Christ. Because I'm saying, "Put your hope IN CHRIST." The impossible is possible with Him. He can change people, redeem the irredeemable. He can pour an ocean of forgiveness into your barren heart that is too hurt to feel anything ever again. He can humble you, and break every strand of pride in the noose you've placed on your own neck, making you repent your sin, and plead forgiveness from your spouse whom you shattered with your sins. Put your hope in Christ. if not in Him, then where?
We have both made mistakes that we felt were unforgivable. I've disrespected him, failed to submit to him more times than I can recall. The times I do remember, make my heart ache. He has forgotten me, made me feel unloved, failed to listen to me and put his needs before my own. We have failed each other in some way almost every day of the last five years.We are two sinners who were bonded to one another; and God is sanctifying us through these fires we keep setting on our house.
By His grace, we will prevail.
Christian, wife, mom, doctor, and an alien on earth, on my way to the city of God.