Twenty years ago, Ava and I were heading to Williamsburg for our annual fall weekend away. We’d been doing this ever since we got married. We did it for five years before the kids were born and kept doing it after they arrived. We always got a babysitter so we could enjoy 48 hours as a couple. It was the highlight of my year. Seriously. I would look forward to this weekend months in advance. And, every year the feeling of exhilaration as we pulled away from the house was beyond sweet.
Except this year.
That autumn our relationship was tense. It had been that way for months. There was nothing specific, just the wear and tear of raising five children, homeschooling them in a house that was feeling smaller and smaller, and the increasing need for some breathing space.
Ava and I were both feeling it and we were living in a state of growing irritation. The usual Williamsburg exhilaration was replaced by a sense of relief as we left our kids with their weekend babysitter. Sadly, the relief faded and irritation became the dominant emotion as we got closer to Williamsburg.
If you’re married, perhaps you’ve experienced this. Actually, there’s no “perhaps” about it. You have. Every comment, question, and reaction drives the irritation level ever higher. It’s painful. And, this is where the hard work of marriage kicks in.
Before I go further I must acknowledge the marriages struggling with issues far deeper than irritation. Infidelity, addiction, and abuse cause deep pain, and I don’t want to minimize the struggle of those going through this right now.
But, those weren’t our issues. We were not on the same page, and most of what we said and did annoyed the other. I was ready to turn the car around and head home. This was not shaping up to be a fun weekend away. At all.
And, then something remarkable happened.
I’ve often said the hard work of marriage isn’t staying in love. It’s staying in like. At that moment, in that car on that road, I didn’t like my wife. At all. But, an idea gently passed through my brain. “Tell Ava something about her you like!” My reaction was not good, but thankfully, those were inside words that stayed put. The idea wouldn’t leave though. I’m convinced it was the still small voice of God whispering to my heart.
So, I did it. I’ve always loved how strong Ava is. Her emotional and physical pain tolerance is incredible. I told her so. And then…nothing. No little smile. Not even a thank you. I was really irritated. I gave her a compliment and got nothing in return. She probably thought I was being sarcastic so I gave her some examples. Her mood softened a bit so I kept going. I love how Ava cares for people. I told her that and gave her examples.
This continued for the rest of the drive to Williamsburg. When we arrived, the people who got out of my car weren’t the same two who got in several hours earlier. We had a great weekend and even better, we were on the same page for a long time after that trip. It actually became one of the golden seasons of our relationship.
And… it was a lesson about marriage I’ll never forget. It takes work staying in like. And, it’s worth the effort.