It was a Monday afternoon — “Black Monday” as we would refer to it later, half joking, half still stinging from the pain of it all — that I told my husband I was sorry, but I couldn’t marry him.
This is the part of the story we don’t like to tell.
We had argued. Over something dumb, but it always starts with something dumb, doesn’t it? Before we knew it, it had escalated from “something dumb” to cheap shots we were taking at each other, making sure no one person walked away feeling more pain than the other. We drudged up all the good stuff. All the insecurities, all the history, all the previous grievances and baggage. No stone left unturned. No rules. Just ammunition.
And at the end of it all, I just said it. I can’t marry you.
It wasn’t a threat. It wasn’t more ammunition. It was real, genuine concern for what loomed ahead of us the next few weeks, months, years. Our lifetime. It was fear rising up, like last night’s spicy dinner in the back of my throat. Fear that we had misread the signals, that I had mis-stepped somewhere along the way, fear that, if I didn’t hit the breaks, we would spend a lifetime like this.
Fighting. Hating. Taking swings at the person we loved most.
“I give up.” I told him.
These were the words coming out of my mouth, but the thoughts racing through my mind were about the hundreds of invitations that had already been delivered to people all over the country. They were about the dress, made from expensive fabric, that had already been measured to suit my body perfectly. They were about my parents, and his parents, and each of our siblings.
We hadn’t “tied the knot” yet, but our lives were already knotted together, intertwined with memories and loved ones and shared relationships and experiences. If we called it quits now, there would be so much unraveling to do.
In my mind, I was untying all of the knots.
I was peddling backwards, mentally undoing all that had been done.
He wasn’t. He was moving toward me. His expression softened. He reached for my hands. He looked in my eyes. “I’m really sorry,” he said. “I was being really selfish. We can work this out,” he promised. Gently, he grabbed my face in his hands and, as tears streamed down my cheeks, he said,
“Will you please trust me?”
I did. I trusted him enough to go to dinner with him that night, where we sat for hours and talked about what had happened, why we had fought the way that we had, and how we would prevent a fight like that from ever happening again. I trusted him each time he moved forward in humility, enough to follow suit. I apologizing the way he had, offered forgiveness the way he had, softened my expression the way he was, confessed my insecurity, just like him.
Less than a month later, we stood at the altar and said “I do,” and each breathed a sigh of relief because we had made it.
We were married.
What I didn’t know, or at least didn’t think about, was that Black Monday wasn’t the last time we would fight. Not even close. It wasn’t the last time we would drudge up old baggage and hit each other below the belt. It wasn’t the last time we would, almost unknowingly, try untying emotional and physical knots that bound us so securely, beautifully and painfully together.
It wasn’t the last time we would try to protect ourselves before the other.
In fact, it was more the first time than the last.
It was the first time we would choose to stick it out, even when it didn’t feel good. It was the first time we would trust each other enough to humble ourselves in the heat of a moment. It was the first time we would apologize, trusting that if one of us went first, the other would soon follow — or that if they didn’t, it was because they were hurting, not because they were mean.
It was the first time we would give the other space to be imperfect.
Our first chance to practice the art of grace.
Each time we do it we get better, the way an infant learns to walk, first scooting, then crawling, then pulling himself up on the corners of coffee tables. Sometimes he falls, and he hits his face on the edge of the table. When that happens, he cries, because it hurts. But a few minutes later he gets up and tries again, because, well, this is the only way.
It’s the only way to discover all this big, beautiful world has to offer.
“I can’t promise you that we won’t fight,” my husband told me that night at dinner.
“I can’t promise you that I won’t mess up, or that I won’t hurt you, or that I won’t do something to make you really angry. In fact I can promise you that I will do those things. What I can promise you is that you can trust me. I pick you. I won’t ever give up on you.”
And we’ve been learning to walk ever since.
Question: Have you ever kept fighting for a relationship, even when it was hard? Was it worth it? To respond, click HERE.