During the first few months of our marriage, we moved into my parents’ house in Findlay, Ohio. Living with your parents? Now that’s pressure.
We were also raising our financial support to join the ministry of Athletes in Actions, adding even more pressure.
Everything looked perfect on the outside. But on the inside we were sinking fast. We both began to wonder if we had married the wrong person.
We distinctly recall one hot summer day when my parents had gone out. What should have been prime “newlywed alone time” descended instead into something else altogether. The conflict began, as most do, with a conversation that escalated into an argument.
When things reached their boiling point, Dave got up and walked out of the room. But I wasn’t done with him. So I followed behind and shouted, “Hey, where are you going? Come back here and fight like a man!”
Like a man? Oh yes, I did.
As manliness went, Dave considered himself to be the manliest of them all. After all, he was the quarterback on his high school and college football teams and was even voted “the man” in both schools’ Halls of Fame.
The problem was, as manly as he may have been, he had never resolved a single, solitary conflict in his life. His physical muscles were respectable, but his emotional ones were pitiful.
So he did what any born-again, Bible-believing Christian missionary would do. He turned, kept walking away from me, and simply yelled, “Bleep you!” Except there was no bleep. It was no surprise Dave copied identically how he had seen his dad handle conflict.
“Oh, yeah? Well, bleep bleep you!” he heard me scream.
He spun around, totally shocked that his angelic bride had just double-cursed him. We can only imagine what the neighbors were thinking, since the windows were wide open. Oh, that’s just that missionary couple over there having a nice conversation.
As soon as my words hit the air, Dave stomped upstairs to get away from this horrible thing called marital conflict. But I was intent on dragging it out. I followed him up the stairs.
“Dave, we’ve got to talk,” I said. “We’ve got to work this out.”
I just couldn’t understand why Dave was taking a dive instead of fighting. To me, his unwillingness to keep saying horrible things was worse than actually saying them.
Trapped, Dave stammered, “What are you doing? Leave me alone!” He felt completely uncomfortable, since resolving conflict was not something he had ever seen done before.
Had I married the wrong person?
Much to my chagrin, unresolved conflict became commonplace in our young marriage. We eventually finished raising our financial support and Dave became the chaplain of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team.
Even so, our inaugural year from hell continued behind closed doors.
The months flew by, and we continued fighting. In fact, during our move to Lincoln, I told him: “Marrying you was the biggest mistake of my life!”
We literally had to pull over and get out of the car so we could both cool down.
This conversation was one of the lowest moments of our marriage. What had happened?
In only a few short months, we had gone from gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes to glaring at each other with anger and disgust, each wondering—and not only to ourselves—if we had married the wrong person.
The blinders come off
At some point in every marriage, the blinders are removed from your eyes. You begin to realize this person you married is full of flaws.
This would be hard enough to swallow, but usually something else happens that doubles the trouble: Your spouse has the same realization about you.
Most couples are blindsided when the blinders come off. No one prepares them for the difficulty, the work, and the unexpected beauty that can arise from marital conflict. This is why hundreds of couples tell us they believe they married the wrong person.
The fact is that every married couple will have conflict, perhaps a lot of it. That has certainly been true for us. We are both stubborn, willful, selfish people.
There are also situations in which one spouse dominates, while the other tends to be more passive. But make no mistake. Even if it takes years, the fuse will eventually reach the gunpowder and then … boom!
We’ve learned the hard way that how we handle conflict determines the health and future of our marriage. It is only by the intervention of a gracious God that we didn’t give up on our marriage during that terrible first year.
We entered marriage woefully unprepared, but we slowly learned how to handle our emotions. We learned how to confront one another in more loving and constructive ways. And how to forgive. Most importantly, we learned how to trust God, even in those moments when there weren’t enough “bleeps” to go around.