My dad officiated my wedding. I vividly remember him sharing a story about an older couple who had lots of disagreements. He used the story as an illustration that there would be days when Blake and I didn’t see eye to eye. He explained that storms would come our way, and he challenged us to make a habit of getting on our knees together to pray because that’s the best way to see eye to eye. As a smitten young couple, we couldn’t even imagine storms. All we could see were clear skies and sunny days.
We started our married life in Blake’s hometown in North Alabama, both working extremely low-paying jobs, but looking for better opportunities. That summer, I received an incredible job offer to work in pharmaceutical sales. The job required us to move to Auburn, a town we both loved. Blake and I weighed our options and decided to go for it. So, we put our house on the market, moved most of our stuff to storage, and started a new adventure in a tiny apartment in Auburn while we waited for our house to sell. We loved life in Auburn, but there was one small problem. By the time I accepted the job, it was too late in the summer for Blake to find a teaching job.
We spent the next year of our marriage supporting ourselves on my income plus any substitute teaching jobs Blake could get. It was hard for him to work odd jobs after leaving a job that he truly loved. As excited as we were about our new home, we had no idea how dark and hard the next year would be. Our house sat on the market for nine months before it sold. We watched the savings account we had worked so hard to build slowly and surely whittle away to nothing. To say we were stressed would be putting it mildly.
I wish I could say that we remembered my dad’s wedding day advice and proactively treated each other with grace and empathy and kindness. But, instead, we let bitterness enter our marriage. It started out small but built nasty homes in our hearts over that year. Blake’s bitterness grew because he’d left a job he loved, even though he truly believed the move was for the best. He hated not being able to contribute much to our income. Meanwhile, the stress of being the family breadwinner in a brand-new job got to me. I needed to put in the time to really learn, and when I’d come home, exhausted, and Blake asked me about dinner plans or left his laundry piled up when he’d had the whole day off, it left me feeling resentful and angry. Little by little, bitterness sunk its roots deep into our hearts. In the spring of that year, Blake started looking for teaching jobs, which became a source of many, many fights for us because I didn’t think he was doing it right or trying hard enough, and he wanted the space to do it his way.
Instead of leaning in with grace and loving each other through these challenges, we’d almost let those challenges steal our love altogether.
I remember sitting in my car outside a doctor’s office in a random town in Georgia, needing to go in for a sales call. Instead, I sat there for way too long sobbing because Blake and I had just a fight that felt marriage-shattering. We could not get on the same page no matter how many times we talked. I resented him for things I’d never shared. He resented me for things he’d never shared. We needed help. We could have given up right then, but instead, we sought counseling. We learned that we hadn’t been communicating well. We’d both been trying so hard to change each other that we had stopped really seeing each other. Instead of leaning in with grace and loving each other through these challenges, we’d almost let those challenges steal our love altogether. Boy, was that a wake-up call!
I wish I could say that Blake and I learned our lesson about letting bitterness into our marriage, but nothing could have prepared us for the marathon that is caring for newborn twins. We had five years together as just us before the boys arrived, and we had made it through the ups and downs of IVF as a unified team, so I was overly confident that we would have no issues parenting. But when you have a hormonal, sleep-deprived new mother in close quarters with an overworked, overtired father plus two babies, well, that’s a recipe for disaster.
I have to admit that in the first year of our boys’ lives, bitterness not only set up a home in my heart, but I am pretty sure it built a whole village in there. And it was all directed toward Blake. I remember deliriously scrolling through social media seeing all of these smiling, happy pictures and roman-tic gestures by other new dads, and it made me so jealous. Nothing Blake did was good enough. He didn’t walk into the house happy enough. He didn’t smile when I asked him for help changing diapers. (I mean, c’mon! Who does smile at the thought of changing a stinky one?) He didn’t offer to help me fast enough. I was holding him to ridiculous standards because I was comparing his actions to a few photos on Instagram about other dads.
Once I got a little caught up on sleep and communicated how I was feeling, I realized I was being ridiculous and terribly unfair to Blake. He’s a man of few words and literally no one ever would describe him as a romantic. But he shows his love through faithful acts of service, daily check-ins and “I love yous,” and being a committed partner to me who values my input and opinions. We will never have an Instagram marriage with emotional comments to each other, grand gestures to be used as content, or romantic, staged photos and stories, and I will gladly take our healthy, real marriage any day of the week! But I had to refocus my heart and mind to recognize and appreciate what made Blake special and our marriage work. As I remembered, recognized, and began to cherish the things I loved most about Blake, the bitterness faded quickly.
When I feel bitterness and resentment creeping into my heart towards Blake (or a friend or family member), I know it’s time to cover that person in grace and love. Here’s how I do it:
- Identify the source of the bitterness. Is it really something he’s done, or are my friend’s stories about things her husband does making me jealous?
- Look at how I’m treating him. Is something I’m doing (or not doing) likely to cause resentment? If I’m feeling resentful, he probably is as well.
- Write out what’s bothering me and then clearly communicate it to him so I can erase my mental scoreboard and we can get on the same page.
- Make a list of all the ways that he gives me grace and love.
- Make a list of everything I love about him.
- Write him a letter or card expressing how much I love him and why, and sneak it into his car or bag for a surprise.
- Do something kind for him without expecting anything in return.
In marriage and in life, it’s so important to focus our time and energy on watering our own grass. If someone else’s grass looks greener, it might be simply because they are watering and caring for it consistently. One of the ways that Blake and I do this in our marriage is to take time away from the kids to observe each other in our element.
I knew I wanted to marry Blake when I went to watch him during his student teaching. Watching him pour his heart out for those kids, I knew he’d be the best dad. And he is. So, even now, my favorite thing to do is to go watch Blake coach his basketball team. Watching him in his element doing what he was created to do ignites my love for him all over again. It reminds me that the work he is doing outside of our home matters so much.
Water the grass you are standing on with grace. Pluck the weeds. Mow faithfully. Meticulously trim the edges so there is room for love and gratitude to grow. Be faithful where God has you. Whatever is causing the seeds of discontentment and bitterness to bloom in your heart, root it out so that you can spend time making your own grass extra green.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Megan Smalley —Used with permission. Adapted from Give Grace, published by HarperCollins Christian.