If You’re Married and (Sometimes) Lonely

There’s this one thing I still expect my husband to fix.

Years ago, as the practical outcome of an epic fight, I wrote my husband a not-so-epic poem. In it, I released him from the pressure to be God, to read my thoughts, to make perfectly nuanced romantic gestures on time, to protect my inner and outer world, keeping it safe and happy. It was a relief to both of us when I did this. He could love me as himself, not some propped up version of perfect.

Monumental transactions like this don’t become part of your soul overnight. Yes, I relinquished my unrealistic expectation for my husband to be my everything, but relinquishing something does not kill it. You slay it on an altar, but it still twitches and bleeds and sits upright like something very much alive. You forget you stuck a knife in it, and from time to time it reminds you it’s still there by attacking your emotional nerve endings like a case of shingles. In marriage, expectations do not go gently into that good night suddenly or all by themselves. You have to show them the exit to your heart in increments.

So this one thing I still expect Bill to fix: loneliness.

I remember a conversation with my very desirable, available, single sister in which I told her there were lonely moments in my marriage. I think she already knew this—academically at least—but hearing me say it out loud was a shock to us both. It is true. I am sometimes lonely when my husband is right there in the same room. I imagine he is, too, but the difference between the two of us is that he likes the loneliness at first. And even when he misses me, the me right there in the same room, he tolerates my absence for longer than I tolerate his.

You may think I’m going to say you should go to God when you’re lonely, and I do believe that’s right. But after you do that, you still have a living, breathing husband. And you still have all those living, breathing emotions about his temporary, existential absence. So what do you do in the meantime, when you feel all those attendant feelings that go along with loneliness, and they don’t go away by telling yourself you shouldn’t feel them? Oswald Chambers said moods don’t go away by praying; they go away by kicking. Well, here’s a little kick—a formula—I’ve learned along the way for those times when my prevailing mood is lonely.

You learn to wait.

The other day I asked Bill if he ever felt bullied by my bottom-line, do-it-now, immediacy-at-all-costs personality. He thought for a moment and said, “Noooo, I haven’t. But I have felt rushed by you.”

No argument from me there. Waiting couldn’t be more contrary to my nature than singing opera. I am perhaps the most impatient person I know. So now that I am thinking about a little formula I learned to use long ago in the lonely times, I’m kind of proud of myself. I won’t even mind if you are just a tiny bit impressed.

Here’s what you do: You decide to wait for 48 hours. 48 hours feels like eons to impatient people who are also lonely. When I feel the loneliness setting in, I give myself two full days before I say anything to Bill. Within that time, one of three things will happen. First, it will go away on its own, because it was something I ate or read or saw in a movie. It was the weather or hormones. It was a vapor, and odds are I won’t even remember deciding to wait.

Second, the loneliness will become clearer and probably more intense, and I will go to Bill and talk with him about it. During the 48 hours, by talking to God about it, I’ve gathered a kind of sane grace to talk to Bill about it.

Or, third, Bill will notice the gap between us and move toward me to fill it.

Formulas never work all the time. But I’ve found this one works most of the time. “It” works, not us. That’s what I like about good marriage habits, even the ones I don’t practice consistently. Formulas work for you, creating healthy rhythms in their wake. And those rhythms, over time, become the music you hear as you sway or hop or jiggle through life together. Your dance may not look like much to anyone else, but who cares who’s looking when you’re cheek to cheek on the dance floor? When the distance between you, until next time, is almost non-existent.

How Many Values Can One Marriage Hold?

One morning not too long ago, in a natural response these words at the end of Psalm 13—I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me—I grabbed my iPhone, tapped on the app Bill installed and taught me to navigate, and within seconds began whisper-singing to God with masterful help from Phil Wickham. (Download The Ascension today. You can thank me later.)

The sound quality was rich and glorious and the volume exactly modulated to early morning in a house where other people were sleeping.

Yes, God has dealt bountifully with me.

He has given me a husband with a value system that is not the same as mine. There are tests to prove this, tests we sometimes administer to new couples who are just beginning a life together. After all these years, we don’t really need the tests though.

We already know that I care about correct bath-towel-folding technique, about lighting, about what food looks like on a plate, about not being on time to someone’s house for dinner, about buying gifts, and about making sure there’s enough party in my week. Bill cares about looking a select few people in the eye regularly and letting them talk as long as they need to, about keeping up with football scores however he can, about categorizing every dollar we spend on mint.com, about never, ever imposing on others when he could do whatever needs doing himself. These are the things, some of them banal, that we’re willing to spend time and money and energy on. They are the things we notice if they are out of place. What we care about.

If you are married, there are most likely some values your spouse holds to rather fiercely that you do not. And some of these values—like form and function or spending and saving—can create incessant tug of war in your marriage. But what if his insistence on a certain value could add value to your life? What if her commitment to her values could enrich your home?

Bill is a newly-minted audiophile. He cares about sound. I barely know how to turn the volume up or down on any of the soundmaking contraptions in our house. The other day as Bill rhapsodized about our evolving sound system and his saving and spending plan for it, I found myself wanting to question him, to wonder out loud if this techie, expensive, extravagant (to me) outlay of cash was wise. I’m glad I stopped myself. Just because he values something that I don’t doesn’t mean I should judge.

And then today I danced to the lovely resonance of a value system that is totally different from my own.

And I realized how bountifully God has dealt with me. He gave me a husband whose different values give me experiences I would never have if the only set of values in this house were mine. Now that, I value.




Husbands: Preach the Gospel to Your Wives

There was this time, about a year into our marriage, when I stood with my hands on my hips in the narrow galley kitchen of our apartment and told Bill: “I don’t need Sermon Number 57 right now.”

Bill is one of the most objective thinkers I know. His objectivity softens the edges of my subjectivity. Over the years, I’ve learned to think what is true from him. To think it even when I don’t feel it. But sometimes I don’t welcome these lessons in logic, divine or otherwise. I’ve done some pretty immature things in response to Bill’s sermons, the ones directed, however kindly and softly, just to me. I’ve stuck out my tongue. I’ve thrown my Quiet Time journal. I’ve dug in my heels. (Literally, like every single time we ran up the last steep hill of a run in our old neighborhood, he’d take off and say to the wind at his back (and me), “Let your mind tell your body who’s the boss.” You’d stop too.)

But sometimes I’ve needed these little sermons from him. And sometimes I’ve needed the ultimate sermon: The Gospel.  I’m here to tell you, he has been faithful to deliver it to me right on time.

Colossians 2:6 tells me the Gospel is a relevant sermon for an everyday life. “As you have received Christ Jesus, so walk in him.”

I walked down an aisle at a stadium at Vanderbilt University the first time I received Jesus and the new life he had to offer. I walked down that aisle, keenly aware that my church youth group buddies were most likely laughing at me and got all I could get of Jesus, which was more than I deserved. I don’t put great stock in literal aisle-walking, but this particular trip took me straight to Christ, so I how can I be too skeptical? I walk an aisle in some form or another most days. This is how I am made new day after day. So, yes, if I am going to be continually remade, I might need my husband to preach me a Gospel sermon from time to time. (Come to think of it, I wonder if “continually remade” isn’t a good description of sanctification.)

There was the time in the car on the way to Blockbuster when Bill yelled at me (I’ve written about that night here), because there was no other way I’d hear what he had to say. He told me he was not capable of meeting my every need (which I’d implied was actually possible) nor was this his purpose in life. This is the un-message of the Gospel if I’ve ever heard it. Nobody can do what Jesus can do. Not even husbands. “Kitti,” he implored, “you need to look inside your own heart and give God full access to what you find that’s wounded there.”

I did. Not overnight or without mess, because the Gospel is not a quick fix. Most of Bill’s homilies have not been that loud or that dramatic, but that sermon, it stuck with me. And then he did it again a few weeks ago.

One Friday night we decided to turn an errand to the coffee roaster in Griffin, Georgia, into a date. It had been one of those weeks that takes a one-hour drive to shed.

After a full hour of randomly sorting out what had been important to each of us that week, I still could not focus. I made a valiant effort to pay attention, to enter Bill’s world. I love him and I love his world, the one I’m not directly involved in, but I am usually interested in. But my mind felt taken hostage by worry and doubt and fear about what was going on in my world. Finally Bill said, “Kitti, I haven’t known what you need lately.

“I don’t know what I need.”

But what I needed wasn’t complicated or hard. I just hadn’t gotten quite enough of it yet. I needed a car ride in a little British-racing-green Mini Cooper with my husband. I needed the illusion of travel, to get one full hour away from home and drive a full hour to get back. I needed to listen to my husband’s life, to pour mine out as crazy as it was. I needed our interlude of prayer in that car as we rolled away from the worries I’d let plague me. I needed the good, solid restaurant, the glass of wine, the dinner, and the soft lights. I needed to hold hands with my husband and walk down a sidewalk in the cold.

And I needed a sermon.

Husbands, observe a man who’s learned to preach the gospel to his wife:

That night, after the drive and the dinner and the walk and the wine and the talk had worn away the hard edges of a hard week, Bill took my hand in the casual way he has of claiming it with his own, and mentioned, in the same casual way, some truths about Jesus that had captured his imagination afresh just that morning. Had I thought about the cross lately? What it meant to the Father’s heart? What it meant about his love for us? Bill leaned toward me, and it just spilled out of him. He couldn’t help it. He was smitten. A man awed. This was a higher love than his love for me, and it drew me up to it.

If pressed, I’d describe this sermon in rather shocking terms. Nonchalant. Accidental. Normal. Not really a sermon at all. More like simply a life.

So, husbands… it’ll take time, but let yourselves be awed by the God who remakes you day after day, and you’ll get there. The sermon will write itself on your hearts. And when your wife needs to hear it from you, she most likely will, whether she knows it or not.

Let your roots grow down deeply in Him, and let Him build you up on a firm foundation. Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always spill over with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:7)