We met in January 2001 through our church friends, and got married in September 2005 out in the bush on my family farm.
The ceremony was under the ancient Milkwood trees that grow together to make a church-like shelter. The larger domed ones next door is where we ate a celebratory braai afterwards.
Photos were taken in the fynbos, open fields & in front of the ruined stone house from my grandfather’s time. The register was signed in the hunting lodge just out of sight (& vows repeated to make it legal). My dad had to build the road out to the bushes twice because the first one was washed away by a freak flood. My mom was a nervous reck, convinced we’d have bad weather. But it was a beautiful South African spring day and the storm only broke as we were driving to our honeymoon, giving almost enough time to get everything packed up first.
Only the cake I had painstakingly planned for 6 months flopped & appeared covered in pink icing & foreign flowers… Instead of dark chocolate & fynbos, but it still tasted great. As it arrived & everyone watched me, I just kept reminding myself that all that really mattered was leaving there married to Steve – the only man I’d ever considered submitting to (not that I’m at all good at that).
And then married life started.
We spent nearly 5 years getting to know each other, worked through a book on pre-engagement preparation, two marriage preparation courses (I don’t believe in half measures), and an interesting 2 week honeymoon during which I accentally ingested some Bankok canal water (not advisable), and spent a few enlightening (mentally and in terms of weight) few days and nights crouching in the bathroom with my husband reciting his marriage vows to himself as he nursed me back to life… ‘For better or worse, in sickness & in health…’.
I won’t say that any of it was waisted or pointless, it did go someway towards preparing me for marriage. But… Often in those first two years it felt like all that preparation was a bit like taking a cat lover to the zoo for the day and then leaving her to live with a pride of lions for the rest of her life. There seemed some vague similarity, yet also a large disconnect.
My expectations for marriage were so vastly different from what I found, that I still sometimes find them overwhelming, but its only now, 9 years on, that I am starting to feel free enough to acknowledge the disappointments and tragedy I faced when. I came home to reality.
I want you to understand that I am not unhappy with my choice of husband! No other man would do me any better. I am also not unhappy with motherhood. I love motherhood, despite its deep and intense sacrifices. I even believe that I will grow to love marriage as I have grown to love motherhood. The difference is that I had such high ideals and hopes for marriage that I cannot be satisfied with it until I change my heart; but I had nothing but fear and dread for motherhood, so every blessing has been a surprise of joy.
That is why I am writing this. Not to put people off marriage, or to bemoan my own, which I have no intention of ending; but rather to help myself & hopefully others to get a more realistic view of marriage, with the hope that less bitterness and anguish would result all round.
The first expectations to be dashed were the simple, but surprisingly deep rooted ones like the following:
– now I’ll have someone to rub cream on that tricky spot in the centre of my back.
– we’ll discuss our day every night
– we’ll kiss goodnight & then I’ll fall asleep in his arms every night (or at least most).
– I won’t need to eat dinner alone anymore.
The cream – I think thats worked out for me maybe 15 times in the 9 years, mostly while heavily pregnant (& moody as…). Thanks to yoga & determination, I have tamed that spot myself.
My husband is a bit of a loner, but I get the impression that few men are really up for this on the level that we would like. Every time I tried talking about my day, he perceived it as a plea to quit working. Ironically I only learned this years later, after struggling for years to forgive him for getting me to quit. He thought he was doing me a favor & I thought I was obeying him, but neither of us was happy because I still wanted to talk, even when i stopped working, & the fact that I was struggling to forgive him for my loss wasn’t helping much. Over time we grow to understand each other better, but the understanding and amount of communication can never fulfill us both, one of us will have to suffer unless we learn to work together & both compromise.
Sleeping in his arms – it was made abundantly clear while still on honeymoon, that cuddling & sleeping were two completely separate things, both precious, but NOT to be combined under ANY circumstances. I comfort myself (but probably perpetuate the myth) by having a girl cuddled up to either side of me (sometimes right on top of me) at nap times instead.
Dinner – as newly weds, my hubby was often working late so often that waiting to eat dinner with him was far worse on my body & emotional state than if I had felt free to eat & go to bed. I didn’t realise it while single, but I actually enjoy reading a book while I eat, its just when depression stole my appetite that it seemed like being alone was the worst thing in the world. And thats not really any easier when you have an exhausted husband to care for & two un-cooperative little critters you’re trying to feed at the same time as eating your own dinner. My husband makes a point of being home for dinner on time these days (he works round the corner), and probably just as well since some days I might not bother eating if he wasn’t there. His presence IS good, it keeps me accountable; but thats not what I’d hoped for. I’d hoped for so much more.
Then there are the bigger issues, the ones these little ones only hint at. And thats the point, they do hint at greater expectations, and dealing only with the little issues only makes room for more.
The cream hints towards my desire to be cared for, then there is the desire to communicate and be understood (ironically the spark that started our friendship), and finally the desire for intimate companionship and the abolition of loneliness.
No human husband can fulfill these fully. It is simply unrealistic to expect it from a fallible human like ourselves. But there is someone who can. I think that is why I tend to keep expect so much from my husband. Before we started dating, I was taking time ‘off men’ to get my head & heart straight. I had been in too many failed relationships & had decided rather to focus on me & God, & I had found that all 3 of those were fulfilled in my relationship with Him in a way that no other relationship I’d had could compare.
And then Steve shadowed it in some small way. Not fully, but just enough that I regretted turning him down. Just enough that life seemed a little too empty without him. Just enough, that over the next 5 years I became convinced that I could actually be married to him… Just enough that sometimes I get them confused, & in my busy mommy life that doesn’t get enough time alone with God, I start to blur the lines & expect from him what I can only rightly expect from Him.
How do non-Christian cope with marriage? I do not know. My heart goes out to them, because surely they too have dreams & expectations put into their hearts that can only be filled by God Himself, but which they too will constantly be tempted to seek in their partner. Without the hope of that fulfillment in God, I don’t know how they cope. But I do know that it is what keeps me coping, and that it required constant straightening out!
Let Godbe God, and my man be human, my human.
Truth is that I’m often too selfish to want to want to admit this though. I want my needs & desires met without having to acknowledge my husband’s humanity. I suspect the same goes for many on both sides of the marriage, which is probably why divorce is so prevalent! I’d lie if I said I’ve never considered it, but divorcing my husband for this reason, would really be acknowledging my humanity & needs without his; & ignoring God’s ability to provide.
There is blessing in working together and finding the common ground. Other areas of life have proven this abundantly already. Even if my hard heart still sometimes chooses to see it as sacrifice, I still believe that it will prove to be the greater, more excellent blessing, even greater than the blessing brought by the sacrifices of motherhood. I have had glimpses of this blessing as my heart occasionally softens; and I will get there with the Lord’s help!
Yes, with the Lord’s help, not my husband’s help, but the Lord’s 🙂
Mark 10:4-9 (ESV)
4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”
5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.
6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’
7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife,
8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.
9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”