Why do we think other peoples’ marriages are perfect? I mean, we may not think they are literally perfect, but…
“They’re so great together. They’re so patient, and never seem to argue. They’ve been married for a long time and make it look easy. They must have something we don’t have.“
Maybe you’ve experienced the way these seemingly harmless assumptions can morph into feelings of sadness, discontentment, jealousy, loneliness, resignation, anxiety and even shame. Shame is one of the most powerful emotions in relation to how we perceive ourselves, and how we feel others perceive us. My husband (Jonathan) and I know from experience how exhausting it feels to be perceived as the “perfect” ministry couple. That’s in quotes because people said those words to us. As a pastor, Jonathan was propped up onto a moral pedestal by some people, and the pressure was palpable for both of us.
Imperfect Marriage In Small-Town Ministry
Living in small towns can mean frequent 45-minute treks to the grocery store, not because there are no local options, but because we sometimes just need to be anonymous – to feel the freedom of being a “regular” person wearing sloppy clothes and ugly flip flops. Now, of course it is an honor to be the “pastor’s family;” of course it’s reasonable and Biblical for faith leaders to be moral examples; of course we felt loved by our churches and communities. But when marriages experience rough patches while bearing the weight of others’ expectations, shame can creep in. Thoughts like…
“Why can’t we pull it together? We’re in ministry. People look up to us. If the congregation really knew how much we are struggling right now, I wonder if they would think less of us.“
In ministry, especially in small communities, there is an ever-present challenge (and call) to allow others to see our authentic human-ness. After all, we all desire to know and be known. God made us that way. But for some, being too human is a risk not worth taking.
Being vulnerable in conversation about our rocky marriage could open us up to judgment or misunderstanding. We don’t want to disappoint that person who looks to us as role models. And what if our honesty discourages someone who is already disillusioned about marriage?
So often Jonathan and I had to rely on God’s Spirit for discernment in those moments of ministry and in the building of relationships. We feel blessed by the authentic relationships that were forged, but we know that so many couples are not given the same kind of respect, grace and “permission” to be less than perfect.
If just the thought of trying to “fix” your marriage exhausts you, you’re not alone. Marriage takes a lot of work. Jonathan and I realize that everyday, and feel privileged to experience the peaks and valleys that come with being married. We dated for 4 years in college and have been married almost 16 years. We have an amazing proposal story (coming soon!), and to some it may seem that we have the “perfect” marriage with the “perfect” kids… But we don’t. We really don’t.
We argue and cry and feel frustrated with each other. We unknowingly make really annoying noises, have irritating habits, change the thermostat behind each other’s backs, say hurtful things, disagree passionately at times about how to discipline our 3 (amazing) children, get defensive, don’t always give grace or listen well or say “thank you”… the list goes on and on because we are human. We praise God for unending grace, and for the best example of love we could ever have in Jesus. We thank God for strength to endure the hardships, and even the uncomfortable lessons in humility that result in healing.
William Shakespeare once said “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” Not expecting a perfect marriage, and even embracing the imperfections can bring a sense of freedom; but, those things don’t let us off the hook. We have to be intentional in making our marriages healthy.
There is a story about an old married couple who was asked “What is the secret to a long and happy marriage?” The wife looked up and matter-of-factly stated, “You gotta be a little deaf and a little blind.” Since that method won’t work for most of us, at least not immediately, stay tuned for Part 2 of this series where we will start exploring the 5 Ways to Embrace Your Imperfect Marriage.
(And by the way, that marriage isn’t perfect.)