For the most part - I intend to avoid using "Christianese" in telling our story, but this first paragraph has to be an exception. If you aren't a Christian - please stick around.
It's going to be difficult for me to share our story because it exposes bits of both of us that bring us shame. There are only two good reasons for us to agree to this exposure. First - Joe and I both know (as do a few of our friends) that our marriage experienced a genuine miracle. I am dead serious - and so I hope to shed some insight into the grace and love of our glorious God so that His love may be known to more people. And second - to offer hope to anyone else still in the trenches of where we were. So, here we go.
I've never met a better man than Joe - and that has never stopped being true for me. He has the gentlest spirit and a constant undercurrent of kindness. He is a poet - no, really, and a painter. He will always lean toward the beat-up truck, old gray dog and the song sung out of key. You can have his shirt and his money, his time and attention. You can have it all. He will bring it to you or do it for you. He is so many good things. The two things he can't do are...
dance (so tragic) and build/fix complex things. What he lacks on the dance floor (God, no) - he more than makes up for in the kitchen. His artistic abilities carry over to the saute pan. And finally, Joe is funny. Damn funny. His wit is unmatched. People who've spent any amount of time with him will testify - Joe doesn't say much, but when he does, it most likely will shock you and bust your gut. His mind connects dots that I didn't even realize could be connected. Like bizarre flavor pairings on a meticulously crafted menu, he is sweet and savory all at once, with a tart sense of humor. I can tell you this... I have always loved him.
18 years ago, we decided on a Sunday to get married on Wednesday. It was that fast and most perfect. We bought rings, new shirts, ordered a cake topper from Beckers Bakery and drove to the courthouse. But there was most definitely a hard conversation that got us to that point - the Sunday talk. We had each been married before, and each of us got left high and dry. Our fears were the same ..... he was afraid I would leave him and I was afraid he would leave me. It was the first time I recall that he spoke to me from the deepest and most genuine place of gut-wrenching painful truth. We had two choices right then - believe each other, or not.
Joe and I have just experienced our best year of marriage, the 18th year. Years 1-5 were very good. Maybe even great. Years 6-17 we were hanging on by a thread.
This is the part the scares me the most - it is what exposes Joe. I have always wanted - and still want to protect him, but he has agreed for me to share. His goals are the same as mine, glorify God and serve others. After Shawn was born, I discovered that Joe had been looking at images of naked women on his laptop. I say "images" because thankfully this was discovered early and he hadn't quite graduated yet to video, but we both know that he would have. Now, reader - if you feel a tendency right now to think "what, is that all?" just take a sec to google "effects of porn on marriage" and you'll find alarming statistics. Porn negatively effects marital intimacy, is the "silent" marriage killer, and has been dubbed "virtual infidelity".
Porn, boobie bars and infidelity were my deal-breakers. Not because I couldn't forgive - but because I couldn't measure up. The images Joe had saved on his laptop were of exotic, younger women. Olive skin. Thin. Large breasts. Long black hair. I couldn't be any of those things. Also - our bedroom was not boring. So - if our bedroom wasn't boring and he still felt drawn to these images...... I could only draw one conclusion. I wasn't enough.
Joe confessed, apologized, got rid of his laptop and assured me I was more than enough - but the damage to my soul had been done. I was devastated and broken. And I could no longer be intimate.
We waited a long while and then began a series of counseling sessions. It was such a great benefit to us for many reasons - I'll skip over that because it would take too long and this is already promising to be a book - but counseling was great. The good news is that our counselor gave us homework. If she told Joe to do it, he did it. He held my hand and took me on dates. I could see that he was genuinely happy to be rebuilding us, and I loved holding his hand. What he had lacked was courage. He was so afraid to try to help me heal that he just let me go. But with permission from a counselor, he was brave. The bad news is that as soon as we were released from counseling, Joe reverted back to his core fear - that I would reject him, so he never held my hand again. Crushed me all over.
For the next 12 years we were roommates.
I had the ability to fix this. I am a fixer. Joe is not a fixer. When things break, he lets them be broken. When things break, I either fix them or call someone who can. Joe isn't wired to fix. He is wired to do without. At any point in those 12 years, I could have fixed our marriage. It would have taken less than an hour, maybe even less than a minute. I knew that he loved me. I knew that he was genuinely sorry. I knew that he was living in fear. I knew all of this. He knew I had forgiven him - but what he didn't know was that I would not have rejected him. If he had kissed me once - we would have been better. I could have kissed him, but I didn't want to be the fixer. I wanted him to be brave. I wanted him to fight for me. Broken things aren't supposed to fix themselves.
Joe and I rarely fight, and when we do fight, it is me fighting and him listening. He is no fun to fight with. He just doesn't get mad. But God truly knew that I needed a man just like Joe. Just.like.Joe. I recall one recurring incident in our house that used to make me explode. As a chef, Joe loves good knives and cookware. He so prized his cookware that he took exceptional care of it. Exceptional. He made a case for its value and worth. He tended to it. I got so fuming angry with him over that cookware - and eventually I blew up and spewed my disdain for him taking far better care of his cookware than of me. All I needed was a little tending to.
(Okay now that I've shared this much, I'm exhausted. I will share more over the next few days.)