*The following is all written by Wes.
‘In the clearing stands a boxer,
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame,
“I am leaving, I am leaving.”
But the fighter still remains’
– Paul Simon “The Boxer”
Marriage is a paradox in a manner of speaking; it is both life and death. Two personalities, two wills, merge to create one flesh. There is eminent death of our selfish, indulgent natures and we now must prefer our spouse above ourselves, dying to self to serve them. If both are doing this, then a marriage can be successful and healthy, but if it is heavy on one side or the other, the marriage will be dysfunctional. It may last, but it may cause great damage and leave deep wounds.
Nina and I are closing in on 10 years of marriage. Our story reads loosely like a Dickens Novel, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” The first five years it was like treading water while wearing a snow suit. It was only a matter of time until one of us disappeared under the water and didn’t resurface.
I was the first person to throw in the towel during our first five years. Bloodied and beaten, I huddled in my dark, inner corner, until I couldn’t bear it anymore. I could no longer pretend, or go through any routine. So I mustered all the courage I could and disappeared into the night. Like a vapor in the wind I traveled across state lines from South Carolina to Kentucky, leaving a wake of frantic searching for every unthinkable possibility of a missing spouse. That was my final act of defiance. I had gone for the haymaker and landed it squarely on her chin. I had wounded her deeply and left her completely disoriented.
That was my modis operandus, since I was a child. For a moment the knot was gone and I could breathe. Leaving was my defense mechanism against people and things that try to cause me harm. I would allow myself to be a punching bag for a very long time, but suddenly like the unexpected springing back of the punching clown, I would land a devastating blow and disappear…sometimes for good. (I have stories. ha)
I had run from nearly all of my problems. I was aimlessly wandering, and longing for the ever evasive unicorn relationship; equal parts magic and equal part legend. There have been some hard lessons learned about its existence…It only exists in my dysfunctional/skewed mind.
Beautiful Eulogy talks about our expectations of love, “…maybe you’re not finding it because you are not defining it correctly…”. I had unreal expectations. They weren’t unreal because I wanted support, respect, and a doting wife. They were unreal because I didn’t expect to fight for it or to wrestle it into fruition. One can’t think that the joining of two different wills, from two different genders, with two different conflict resolution and problem solving skills were going to just live happily ever after with little or no effort…it is going to cost you something.
What are we willing to sacrifice for our spouse?
It is very simple; we can’t be the same that we were before we enter into covenant. There has to be change, a metamorphoses into one flesh. There are parts of us that have to die off or be altered to fit correctly.
I once told a pastor of mine in a counseling session that our marriage felt like Nina and I jumped into deep waters with no life preservers and she latches her arms around me so that I can use mine to help us stay afloat. Then she wraps her legs around my waist, and squeezes, pushing air out of my gasping lungs. I can’t keep us treading with legs only, she smiles at me as we begin to sink. I desperately try to kick her off. If I can get back to shore (single) I can breathe again. I have to preserve myself. I have to save myself. I know we are going to die if she doesn’t get off me! Then we go under the water…
His reply to me rocked me to the core. He said, “Wes, you have to go under. You have to die.”
We reconciled after the first abandonment, but I left a second time for the same reasons a few years later. Those losses left huge gaping wounds in Nina’s heart. It was an ugly mess. I was perpetually bleeding from her constantly aggravating old wounds, and now she trusted me even less, causing her to prod and goad my wounds even more. I can’t tell you the healing salve that she put on my wounds with her recent post.
It could have been different. We could have worked this out if our circumstances had been different…but we created the circumstances.
I feel that the harshness of our relationship sanded the unrefined edges of my personality and worldview. I am just now filling out the depths to which our relationship stretched me. It was painful, agonizing, and unbearable…but the friendship we have now is amazing. The covenant we share is reinforced, forged by time and struggle.
I can tell you that I spent a lot of time longing for someone else. I committed so many cases of adultery (lusting) that I should be chanting “Unclean” all my waking hours. (Read my poem, “Sweet Tooth.” The Holy Spirit shed some light on my predicament one day. I was thinking about different girls and what it must be like to be their husband. He was so quick to point out the obvious, “Everyone has problems. Everyone has their own issues. Do you really think there is a perfect woman, or a perfect wife? You are just trading one set of issues for another set of issues. One is not better than the other, it’s just different.” It was like a Rocky jab to the skull—sin affects everyone and we are all imperfect, we all have a glass-jaw and can go down like a Rope-a-dope at any given minute.
I was so lucky to have Godly advice from friends and loved ones during this time. I also had other voices, friends and loved ones, telling me that divorce was an option, but I chose to listen to the Holy Spirit and the Godly advice.
I cannot overstate the valuable resource of marital counseling. Over the years I have been to counseling on an individual level and we have gone to couple’s counseling, and I can tell you it helps. Counseling is healthy and should be something that every person does whether you are married or not. It gives us a mirror to see ourselves without our natural filtering devices that hide our imperfections. There will be a choice to change you.
I’ve heard it said that marriage is not about finding the right person but about becoming the right person. There is a lot of truth to that statement. It could have been easier for Nina and I to have morphed into one flesh if we were more like-minded or more willing to sacrifice for each other earlier on, but that didn’t (doesn’t) mean that we couldn’t (can’t) have an amazing marriage. It just meant that we had to find ourselves; we had to die to each other.
The greatest act of love is laying down your life for a friend[i]. Nina is truly my best friend, and I would gladly give my life for her…and continue to give my life for her. I am a fighter now, standing in the center of the ring contently waiting for our next struggle.
*All of the above photos were taken around the time all of this occurred. As you can see, from the looks of these pictures, we were happy, with no problems. We still goofed off and had fun. But beyond these images, and underneath the silliness, lay a world of hurt. Even so, let’s all agree that we are master posers. Hopefully you enjoy our wide array of hairstyles.
[i] Joh 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.