I Thought My Marriage Was a Huge Mistake (It Wasn’t)

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Nichole Forbes -Hardest Good Work3

Our shame is the enemy of someone else’s success.

I scribbled this sentence on the back of an old Taco Bell receipt and stuck it on our fridge the night of our first counseling session. We had been married less than six months and I felt like I had ruined both our lives when I said yes to marrying him.

We met at a church event. I was 19 and adulthood wasn’t sitting well with me. I was restless, disappointed and in the process of being found. I had spent an intense summer working at a wilderness camp that left me entirely out-of-sync with my peers, all the kids I had grown up with in the church. I was asking questions no one had answers for and saying things no one wanted to hear.

He was 25 and returning to church for the first time in years. He was coming out of a disastrous relationship. He was at odds with his parents and his best friends had recently moved out of province. He felt alone and apart from the world around him. He was messy and deep and creative. And I thought he was beautiful.

We became fast friends and a year later we were engaged. We became engaged without ever going on a date or sharing one romantic moment. We were friends who desperately loved each other and felt compelled to be a safe place for each other. We had the most fantastic friendship and marriage could only make it better, right?

I seriously just laughed as I typed that. How naïve were we? We were entirely unprepared for a marriage relationship. Like entirely! We sat through a series of marriage preparation videos at our church but I struggled to find any relevant information. These were older people with very traditional views on marriage. The videos were more than 20 years old when we watched them and the only clear memory I have of those videos is thinking that the very old man on screen was probably long dead by the time we sat down to watch these. I also remember that our pastor slept through the videos.

So, we blissfully marched down the aisle toward our doomed marriage. Within ten days of saying “I do” we both secretly felt as though we’d made the biggest mistake of our lives. Within four months we were drowning in misunderstandings, misconceptions and missed opportunities. We were mostly silent because words hurt too much. And really, what words could you say when you’re living a lie?

I was a Good Church Girl and he was The Prodigal Son returned. Ours was the stuff of church fairy tales. We were youth leaders, Sunday School teachers, choir members and the go-to volunteers for just about every ministry in the church. I grew up in this church and I felt the pressure to live up to the expectations of a hashtag-blessed life. He was welcomed back into the fold, but felt all eyes on him lest he screw up again. So, every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday we put on our church faces and dove into our duties as the poster-children for second generation Christians.

We dove and we sank.

By the time we hit our six-month anniversary, he had asked me if I wanted to move back to my parents’ place and I was mentally preparing to manage the damage-control for when we inevitably separated. And look, it wasn’t that we didn’t love each other or respect each other. And it wasn’t that we didn’t take marriage seriously. When we decided to get married we never imagined for one hot minute that we wouldn’t love each other forever. It’s just that we also never imagined that Every Single Thing would be so difficult. We never realized that our own expectations could strangle us. We never dreamed that love wouldn’t be enough to save us from ourselves. But it wasn’t.

We were drowning but someone offered us a lifeline and we grabbed hold with both hands. A colleague of mine recognized my heartache and invited Brad and I to her house to meet her husband. He was an associate pastor at another church in town and he was willing to help us.

We went to their house that first night and poured out our broken hearts to them. I cried the entire time. Brad cried too. As we talked, my tears turned from tears of heartbreak to tears of relief. Someone sees us. Someone sees us drowning and they are going to help us! We left that night with no answers, only a promise to wade in with us and to help us learn how to be married. We felt saved.

On our way home that night we didn’t talk very much. We just agreed to be honest and to keep showing up for each other. We also agreed that if we made it through this we had to pay it forward, we had to be honest with others about our struggles because we knew we couldn’t be the only newlyweds to feel this way, to feel the pressure to be perfect while we were so deeply imperfect. We made a pact to share our story whenever we had the opportunity so others would be courageous enough to offer help and receive help.

Our shame is the enemy of someone else’s success.

These are our words. This is at the core of how we live. Ask us anything. We’ll be honest with you. God didn’t do all of this in our lives for us to keep it to ourselves. If I know anything about God, I know that God is all about lavishly loving his kids. God is about abundance and doesn’t play favorites. God is about hope.

Brad and I have been married for twenty years now. We have weathered a lot of storms. We have faced near-death accidents, cancer, miscarriages, job loss, depression, Autism, financial lack, loss and heartbreak. We have also experienced hope and joy and love. Friendship, dreams come true, unimaginable blessings and belly-aching laughter have all been ours. We live this life with open hands and open hearts.

We show up.
We never give up.
We believe the best.
We smile at the future.
We dream.
We laugh.
We love–dangerously.
We serve.
We hold hands and hold each other’s hearts.
We are an unstoppable team.

After our year of counseling, we didn’t magically get a Happily Ever After. There’s no magic here; there’s only choices. We still have to keep showing up and doing the hard work of forgiving and loving. But we both want it bad enough to keep at it. From a distance, we may look like we have the perfect marriage and we do. Perfect for us. But we are still deeply imperfect people who annoy each other and disappoint each other and are occasionally inconsiderate of each other. But we are also two deeply imperfect people who are choosing to be present every day.

Marriage is messy and the hardest good work we’ve ever done. For us, it’s been holy work. But it’s all for naught if we gloss over the tough bits and only showcase the shiny moments because it’s in the tough moments that our two lives have become intertwined and fused together. It’s in those tough conversations that we have become the best versions of ourselves. It’s in those tough times that we’ve seen God do his best work in us when we have surrendered to him and allowed him to go to work on us.

We aren’t anything special. We’re really not. We just decided to try one more time all those years ago. And we keep choosing to try one more time. We keep choosing each other. We keep choosing to love.

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Nichole Forbes
Nichole is just a regular gal loved by an extraordinary God. She believes in community, justice, freedom, reconciliation and the sacredness of storytelling. Her journey to connect with her Metis culture and history has been her own liberation song. She tries to live bravely every day and say the kind words that need to be heard. She raises her three Not-So-Wee-Ones in the middle of the Canadian prairies with her favorite person ever—her husband, Brad. Nichole blogs, writes and speaks on the things that fill her heart and frame her world. 
Nichole Forbes
Nichole Forbes

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