Guest Blogger: Rachel Gemicke.

I was driving around on Valentines’s day this year listening to “This American Life,” a radio program I catch now and again.  A man from the United States was describing his stint singing in a Chinese opera company.  Some of the details are a little fuzzy- somehow he saw a Chinese woman, it was love at first sight for him, but he didn’t get to meet her.  He spent the next two years tracking her down through a series of sleuthing skills and luck- and even though she was put off by his persistence at first, he won her over, they dated and married.  Just like that…what a love story right?  He said that people were always fascinated by how they met and fell in love- it was a story they were asked to tell again and again. 

He then went on the describe the difficulties they had faced after being married; the language and cultural differences that intensified after they came to live in the U.S., their personality clashes, and the huge contrast in how both were raised.  At one point, they decided to separate and possibly divorce, but in the end, they stayed together.  “How we have stayed together” he said “is a story infinitely more important than how we met.  That is the story worth hearing.” 

I was so struck by that.  I can still hear the earnestness in his voice as he said it, and it went right to my heart.

My husband and I love to have people over for dinner and one of our favorite questions to ask both young and old married friends is “How did you meet?”  It is usually followed by our re-telling (for the zillionth time) of our being set-up on a blind date…etc etc…and then came marriage.  We tend to leave the conversation there- most people only want to hear what happened right before you rode off into the sunset of Happily Ever After.

No one wants to hear what happened after that.  How we were in marriage counseling within a few months, both convinced we’d made a terrible mistake.  How we argued and fought so often it began to feel like one fight just morphed into the next with brief reprieves in between.  How I looked around at other married friends my age, envious of their obviously happy marriages, completely at a loss as to how I had ended up in such an unhappy situation, and worse, seemingly powerless to fix it.

When it seemed that nothing could get worse, it did.  I discovered that my husband was involved in pornography and masturbation.  For some, this might be a small, possibly even insignificant thing- maybe even normal.  For me, it was nothing less than a bombshell dropped on the already fragile emotional and physical life we shared.  We were ruined; utterly devastated. 

There didn’t seem to be anything left to salvage.  He had lied and lied repeatedly; and I was hurt and disgusted beyond what I thought I could overcome.  We tried more counseling.  He promised it was over for good.  Somehow we patched things back together enough to have 8 more years together.  The arguing got a little better with time, but not significantly.  We had 4 children, job changes, moves across the country…and life seemed to be going along as well as it was going to get for us- we were just oil and water.  I had come to accept that we would just never be as happy as other people we knew- it just wasn’t meant to be for us. We learned to live in a state of semi-happiness. 

What do you call an event after a bombshell?  After those 8 years and 4 kids, I again discovered that he was still involved in the pornography and masturbation, only it was much worse this time- all of it was so much worse.  If it wasn’t over the first time, this time it surely was.   

Even as I write all this, I feel like I need to take a deep breath- it all seems so depressing.  And, if that were the end, it would be only that- the depressing story of the demise of a marriage that didn’t have much of a chance after we rode off into the sunset.

But it wasn’t the end dear reader, not by a long shot. 

I can remember the exact moment when I felt like there was a sliver of hope for us.  My husband was broken and convinced that I was going to leave; convinced that life as he knew it was over.  I didn’t disagree.  I took a walk as he talked with the bishop of the church we attend.  Though I was in my own almost zombie-like trance, my mind reflected on the many times I had needed heaven’s help- all the times I had cried out in my own pain and sin and how the burden and the guilt had been mercifully replaced with love and hope. 

Of course, I thought, his sins are worse than mine…there really is no comparing what he has done with my shortcomings…and then it dawned on me.  “Worse” and “Better” are labels we use in comparing ourselves with one another- not God.  To Him, any sin separates us from His love.  My selfish temper, my demanding criticisms, my smug self-righteousness…all separated me in much the same way that pornography had separated my husband.  It further dawned on me that I could continue to try and determine who was more separated from God, as I had done for most of our marriage, or I could come to Him and be healed.  The choice was mine. 

I have found that almost everyone has a story of how they have stayed together that tells more about them than how they met.  You just don’t hear about it much because no one swoons or says “awwwwww, how cute!” , and it’s hard to admit when we struggle.  The stories revolve around common characters; good, flawed people who decided (barring violent, abusive or illegal behavior) to learn how to keep the promises they made to God and to their spouse after all the lovey-doveyness of courtship and honeymooning wore off.  After they discovered the irritation, difficulties and sometimes the sheer heartbreak involved in tying yourself to another person and forming a family.  After all of that, these people just decided, day after day, to stay together and work it out because they said they would; most of the time, they had a feeling God could help them do it.

I found that to be true for me.  There was healing in first wanting to be healed, in looking at myself when I wanted to overhaul someone, and in asking God to show me how to keep the marriage covenants I had made.  My husband worked very hard to achieve and maintain recovery from his addiction through the Alcoholics Anonymous program, which deals with all kinds of addictions.  I found that I could recapture the feelings that had led me to choose to marry him as I let myself admire his efforts, as I let myself trade the imagined happy, perfect lives of others around me for what I had; a good husband who wanted to be with me as much as I wanted him.  Are we happy?  Absolutely.  Is it perfect?  Absolutely not.  But more and more, it feels like it is headed in that direction.