viii. Climate Change

“Today’s forecast is sunshine and showers”.

I often think my day-to-day married life is a bit like the weather. Sometimes the sun is shining – HF and I are gelling happily, marriage is fun and we feel like serving and make sacrifices for each other.

And then sometimes, often without warning, it rains. In fact sometimes the clouds part and it absolutely lobs it down, and all I can see ahead is the rumbles of thunderstorms and sudden strikes of disagreement-fuelled lightening.

Like the climate, my feelings – and subsequently the forecast ahead – fluctuate throughout the day and can change from one extreme to the other, often seemingly for little or no reason. I’m constantly astonished at how things can be going so swimmingly one moment and turn so easily to frustration or resentment the next.

This, a quick poll of my friends tells me, appears to be a pretty normal experience of married life. Daily stresses, strains, worries and – I’m sorry to say it, ladies – hormones, coupled with the closeness of marriage can create the perfect environment for an unintended marital storm.

For those of us more anxious-inclined, the stormy weathers that marriage can bring can be particularly distressing. If you’re already struggling with intrusive thoughts and anxious wonderings, the less sunny times are likely to be seriously spikey moments.

So, what do you with feelings like that? How do we ride the waves of marriage through both the calm and turbulent times?

As a marriage-amateur, this is something I’m still learning. But I think the key might lie in the way we respond to the inevitable good and bad times. When HF is driving me up the wall, I could fall down the rabbit-hole and interpret it as a sign that my anxieties were correct – that maybe we weren’t meant to be after all. OR, I can insist on banishing those lies from my mind and acknowledge that all marriages have ups and down, sunshine and clouds. I could get angry and rack up a mental list of things that annoy me about my husband, or I can decide to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. I can follow Jesus’s example: grace.

So even when the storms brew, which they inevitably will, I’m thankful that God’s grace is sufficient – enough for me, and enough for my marriage.

vii. Greener Grass

The other day I had a small epiphany – that I am a chronic sufferer of Greener Grass Syndrome.

‘GGS’ is one of those sneaky conditions, so subtle in its symptoms that you don’t even know you have it until something knocks you off course. That something happened to me a couple of weeks ago; we had guests staying, and I found myself getting increasingly frustrated with HF. Being quieter in character than me, I started to get annoyed at his shyness around them; why was he being so reserved? Couldn’t he make an effort and show more interest in them? Didn’t he know I wanted to be part of a fun, chatty, popular couple?! Before I knew it, this little thought had crept into my mind: “I should’ve married someone more outgoing”.

The instant I thought it, I’d let GGS creep in. Forget about all the special things HF and I have in common, all the ways I’m daily blessed by him, and all the beautiful things in The Love List – that very second, Greener Grass Syndrome displaced my joy with the desire for more.

How easy it is to fall into this trap! The snare of GGS had once again lured me into thinking that something else, someone else, a different path, would be better than God’s choices for me.

It’s not just relationships and marriages that fall victim to this crafty syndrome. Jobs, friendships, things we see of the lives of others; in all of these areas and beyond, we can find ourselves feeling dissatisfied with the current blessings in our lives.

All the while, the Bible tells us that God already has us on his pre-plotted path; he has individually tailored everything in our lives to our unique needs and personalities: “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11, verse 36). All we have is from above, and he has already given us everything we need.

There is, therefore, no ‘better’ waiting for us on the other side of the fence.

A few days after our guests left, I went round to a friend’s to tell her about my latest GGS encounter. As her husband is particularly extroverted, I told her about how I’d wished HF could have more of his outgoing nature. She smiled, and then told me about how she often wished her husband was better at DIY and more interested in fixing things around the house; “like yours does”, she added.

We laughed together. Perhaps that other grass isn’t much greener after all. And thank the Lord for our different, individual, hand-picked plots.

vi. The Choice

Many years ago when my brother got engaged, I remember him telling me that he didn’t always feel in love with his fiancé. “Love isn’t a feeling, but a choice”, he told me.

At the time, I thought it was the most unromantic thing I’d ever heard. I distinctly remember thinking that, unlike him, love for me would be so absolutely blindingly obvious that it’d never have to be a ‘choice’. Love would choose me.

Years later, and it’s ironic to find myself repeating my brother’s words as advice to an engaged friend. Only now, after years of my own marriage, I can see what he meant.

There are times when feelings of love rise up easily; when things are going well, when you’re gelling happily with your partner, or life is generally good and that positivity spills over into your relationship. And then there are times when, sometimes with no seemingly obvious explanation at all, you just do not feel it.

Now I know that I love HF, but I can promise you that knowledge is not based on a barometer of my consistent feelings towards him. Yes, a lot of the time I feel happily ‘in love’ and all is well. But there are also many times when my love-radar is on holiday, and I don’t feel particularly enamored at all; indeed sometimes my dominant emotion towards him is more along the lines of irritation than anything else.

At those times, choosing to love someone feels hard. It can also lead to all kinds of anxious thoughts, questioning whether it’s time to throw in the towel, or taking it as a sign that you made the wrong choice in your partner. So what do you do when, in the words of Top Gun, “you’ve lost that loving feeling”?

Well, let’s consider another area of life where feelings come and go: faith.

There are times when we feel fired up for God, willing to go the extra mile for the gospel and to lay down our lives for it. At other times we don’t feel it so much; life plods along and we might continue on in our prayers and church-life through more of a sleepy haze. But we still choose – we choose to persevere in our faith even when we’re not spiritually on fire, when we’re tired or sick, and even when we don’t feel like God is near. We choose to believe, to know, that he is there and worth pursuing. Faith, like love, is a choice. 

Probably one of the most destructive modern concepts is that falling in love just happens to you; like falling into a puddle. Films and novels can have us believe that unless we’re constantly skipping along together hand-in-hand and goey-eyed, that there’s something wrong. ‘Love shouldn’t be hard’, culture tells us; ‘it’s easy when it’s right’.

But that is utter nonsense. Like with faith, we have to keep choosing love – especially when we don’t feel like it. That’s what makes a relationship, whether with a partner or with God, go the distance. It’s when we stop choosing it that it stops working.

Ironically, I think this is when we see love at its most beautiful. When it’s difficult to love someone; when it doesn’t seem like there’s much in it for us, but we choose to love the other person anyway despite them being tired, stressed, grumpy, or ill – that’s the gritty, hard, beautiful love that Jesus is all about.

And even more ironically it’s usually when we show love, in spite of our feelings, that it really blooms. Loving actions often lead to loving feelings; a joyful side effect.

It turns out that my brother is quite the romantic after all.