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No one I loved had ever wounded me so deeply

Grieving the Reality of a Marriage

Published on:
October 15, 2018
Read time:
4 min.
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Before my husband and I were married people told us, “Marriage is hard.” Along with these people, another camp kept telling us about how wonderful it was too. So, which was it? We got along so well, had so many common interests and tastes, and we wanted to be together all the time. We were in love. But reality slowly brought the darkness. A few days before our wedding, my soon-to-be husband began displaying a level of anger I had never witnessed before. I stayed quiet, though, taking comfort in the fact that I at least was not the object of wrath. But on the way to our honeymoon destination, I forgot an important item of ours on the plane only to realize I’d left it behind when we arrived at the honeymoon suite. 

I didn’t want anyone to know the real man I married. I didn’t want anyone to think badly of him.

A slow subtle stream of passive-aggressive anger began to invade my husband and permeate the air. As I sensed the anger in the heavy silence I felt afraid and confused. I sat on the bed crying as he silently sunk deeper into the bubble bath across the room from me. Later he came over and held me, but there was no explanation or resolution to the incident. Even after a month of being back home, there was no resolution when I asked him what happened. I felt deep shame and kept the incident a secret. I didn’t want anyone to know the real man I married. I didn’t want anyone to think badly of him. So I buried it.

I expected my past to be my future.

At that point in my life, no one I loved had ever wounded me so deeply. I grew up with a father who never hurt me or disappointed me. He rarely showed any form of anger to me, and even at the slightest bit of discord he would confess his sin and ask my forgiveness. My mom and dad had a generally healthy relationship. I would hear the occasional argument from my room, but none threatened the unity of their marriage. 

I grew up in the church and my dad led me to the Lord at the age of twelve. I had times of rebellion, but my life never seemed to spiral out of control too much. I stayed in the church and remained strong in my faith. My family valued our relationship with one another and honest communication. My parents were not just physically present, but spiritually and emotionally involved with me as well. My family roots were strong and stable, and this formed my expectations for my husband and our marriage. 

I expected my husband to talk with me, share his struggles, and even confess his sins. I expected my past family experience to be our foundation at the outset, instead of it being a process we worked towards together. But I was naive. I didn’t know about how my husband’s background and family experience would affect our marriage. I didn’t take his past baggage into account as we started our life together. And it left me confused. 

How Two Pasts Affect One Future

My husband had his own dark past of hurt, struggle, disappointment, and sin. His life radically changed when he met Christ in his early twenties. But he didn’t know how much emotional and spiritual healing still needed to take place in his life until I pointed it out in our marriage. 

Though the Lord delivered him, he still had not talked about the psychological, emotional, and spiritual roots of his addiction. The substance was gone, but ingrained habits remained.

I considered my husband’s past forgiven—and it was—but even forgiven sins have consequences and affect future relationships. My husband had a vastly different background than me. As a way of coping with family hurt, he developed a habit of self-protection and would withdraw from close relationships. He never learned how to go deep with loved ones and share his innermost thoughts, desires, and emotions. He longed to be known but also had an acute fear of being known. He feared many things and experienced deep struggles with anxiety, depression, and sexual lust.

Not only did my husband grow up with family dysfunction, but during his adolescence, he was a drug addict. This was a world that would embrace him, accept him, and love him. He felt in control, powerful, and confident. The illusion of security wrapped around him like a comforter. What was lacking in his family was made up for in the drug culture. Then at age twenty-three, through a series of events over time, my husband was rescued from his dependency on drugs. 

Though all was forgiven and in the past, he retained some patterns of behavior from his addiction. Drugs helped him deny reality. He couldn’t experience normal personal growth, because he was not engaging with life on life’s terms. Drugs were his coping mechanism—the god that got him through life. In addition, his emotional growth was stunted from drug use. So when he got sober he was left engaging life and relationships without his coping mechanism and with stunted emotional development. Though the Lord delivered him, he still had not talked about the psychological, emotional, and spiritual roots of his addiction. The substance was gone, but ingrained habits remained. And it took the sanctifying process of marriage to weed it out. 

Where Life Meets Death

I entered marriage in ignorance and didn’t understand at the time how all this would impact me. My past collided with my husband’s. And I found he was like a dam, blocking the strong current of water behind him. But over the course of our marriage I would spot leaks. When I would try to talk about what I saw, he would shut down, get defensive, or just be unresponsive. But there came a point in our marriage when the dam broke and the water rushed over me. He was opening up more, letting me in on his thoughts, not hiding sinful actions, and was letting himself be known by me. Fear and shame were fading as he stepped into the light again, but this time with his wife. When my husband unveiled his real self to me, the ideal I had in mind was swallowed up by my reality. 

My marriage wasn’t dead and my husband wasn’t dead—though it felt like it. It was me who had died.

Something died the day my fairytale dream vanished and was replaced with reality. My husband wasn’t who I thought he was. He seemed like someone else to me. He had hidden things from me for five years of our marriage. I was devastated and broken; my trust in him was shattered. My marriage wasn’t dead and my husband wasn’t dead—though it felt like it. It was me who had died. I came to the end of myself, and I knew I wasn’t good enough nor strong enough to get through this on my own. I was mourning the loss of the marriage I wanted and the man I thought I had married, but all along God knew the reality and he was there to pick me up when I came face to face with it myself. 

This was where my suffering gave way to a new and better path for my marriage. Our five year wedding anniversary began with a dark season, but hope was hiding underneath, bursting at the seams, and ready to shine. This was where life met my death. 

Liz Wann
Liz Wann lives in Philadelphia with her husband and three children. She is a regular contributor for Desiring God, ERLC, Christ and Pop Culture, and Think Christian. She is editor in chief of Morning by Morning and writes at lizwann.com. Follow her on Twitter.

Cover photo by Annie Spratt.

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