I am so excited to introduce our newest guest writer, Pastor Sonya. She is a woman of few words, but when she does speak, her words carry a powerful punch and are full of godly wisdom. Every time I am counseled by her, I feel like I have experienced mini-surgery on my heart and I am so happy that you get to experience a taste of this. Let God bring healing and encouragement into your relationships as you read about Sonya’s decision to choose love instead of fear in her own marriage.

Recently my nineteen-year-old son asked me: “If you were single and there were forty men in a room, how many do you think you’d go on a date with? (No, he doesn’t watch The Bachelorette!) It was an odd, random question (which is not unusual for him), but I love having these types of conversations with him that can take me deeper into his mind.

To answer his question I thought back to when I was single, in my first year of university. I said, “I’d probably choose to date only one out of forty. Even though I met so many new people when I started university, it was only when I saw your dad that I was instantly drawn to someone. I knew then that he was someone I wanted to meet and get to know.” It’s funny, because my son is now the same age my husband, Steve, and I were when we first met. This was almost twenty-seven years ago and since that day on campus, Steve has been the only one who has taken hold of my heart.

Steve and I have been married almost twenty-three years now and sometimes I’m still amazed at how an extremely shy, fearful, introverted, virtually silent small-town girl like me married a very loud, outgoing, fearless, extroverted “bad boy.” I guess opposites do attract.

Marriage has definitely been an adventure. Our first ten years often felt like a roller-coaster ride as as we adjusted to being married, having kids, and then planting a church. Unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to go through premarital counselling and we didn’t yet have the Love After Marriage program at our church. We lacked healthy communication skills and felt as though we were on our own, with no one to talk to about our issues. Our communication styles reflected our personalities; Steve always tried to fix the problem, whereas I shut down and wanted to sweep everything under the rug. We were frustrated and unhappy and what made everything worse was having to put on a good face for our church. One time, I felt like a complete hypocrite when Steve and I were doing premarital counselling with a couple in our church. It was very difficult to give godly marriage advice when we ourselves weren’t following it. This of course deepened our feelings of resentment as we focused only on our pain.

We became controlling, trying to change each other to be the kind of spouse that we thought the other should be. Through the busy-ness of life and putting our own needs and expectations ahead of everything else, we became disconnected from each other. I felt like a single mother and he felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Our home was filled with tension and both of us were saying to God, “How am I going to stay married to this person for the rest of my life?” We felt stuck because we didn’t want to give in to each other. 

Dr. Harville Hendrix, an expert in marriage relationships, says, “Connecting is our deepest desire, and to lose it is our deepest fear.” He explains that when we are not connecting, we become scared and anxious. We do defensive things to protect ourselves, such as withdrawing and isolating ourselves, and becoming passive-aggressive and judgmental, and this is what was happening in our marriage.

Did you know that when you focus on the negative aspects of a person, that person’s blood chemistry changes from releasing endorphins (“feel-good” hormones) to releasing cortisol (a stress hormone) and they go into “fight or flight” mode? The same thing happens to you, with your body going from releasing endorphins to releasing cortisol, and you also go into fear mode. What you do to another person, you also do to yourself. If you judge, criticize, withdraw from, or yell at another person, you’re causing them, as well as yourself, to release cortisol. If you bless, encourage, and affirm another person, you’re causing them and yourself to release endorphins. Both your immune systems will be affected. 

I desperately wanted Steve to change and I prayed for weeks that God would change him. But the more I prayed and surrendered my control to God, the more I ended up praying for myself. God would gently nudge me and say, “Stop focusing on Steve and think about what you need to change.” It wasn’t easy, because I was scared that Steve would never change, but I could feel God softening my heart and showing me the areas where I had been prideful, selfish, and stubborn. It’s so true that His kindness leads to repentance.

“I cried to God in my distress and He answered me! He freed me from all my fears! Gaze upon him, join your life with his, and joy will come”

~Psalm 34:4

“He strengthened me deep within my soul, and breathed fresh courage into me”

~Psalm 138:3

So what was our turning point? Steve is always ready to talk and being the introvert that I am, I knew that I had to be the one to initiate a conversation to restore connection. So I sat him down and spoke from my heart with no judgment and no accusations (“A gentle answer turns away wrath.” – Proverbs 15:1). I apologized for the way I had behaved and I asked for forgiveness. I could see that Steve had also been talking to God because his face and the tone of his voice were soft.  We forgave each other and our walls came down.

Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxious fear brings depression, but a life-giving word of encouragement can do wonders to restore joy to the heart.” We invited God into our marriage and He reconnected us. But I first had to have hope and risk being vulnerable. I had to speak with a loving tone, listen with an open heart, and remember and be thankful for who Steve is—a wonderful husband and loving dad, who works hard and takes care of us, who makes us laugh, who is usually the first to say sorry, and who is always reaching out to hold my hand. Even though it’s painful or scary at times, Scripture says, “Eyes that focus on what is beautiful bring joy to the heart, and hearing a good report refreshes and strengthens the inner being” (Prov.15:30).

We don’t have the perfect marriage and we definitely don’t always do it right, but we are constantly learning how to communicate better and to love one another better, and I can truly say that our marriage has never been stronger. God has given us friends and community along the way to help us in our journey, and we are so grateful, because we are not meant to do these things on our own.