One evening not too long ago, a married couple close to my husband and me invited us over for dinner, telling us they wanted our advice. Over glasses of wine after the meal, they confessed to us that they were stuck in a difficult time in their marriage, reliving the same fights and disagreements over and over and struggling to have sympathy for each other’s viewpoints.
My mouth was dry, and I shifted uncomfortably as they asked my husband and me what advice we’d give to them to work through their issues. As a young married couple ourselves, it was humbling and a little intimidating to try to help them.
In the days that followed, I thought about that evening, and why it had felt so awkward and strange to be let in behind the scenes of our friends’ marriage like that. There’s some unwritten rule that friends aren’t supposed to see the dirty laundry of our marriage struggles, at least not in such an open, honest way. Sure, on the side maybe we complain to our friends about our spouses and our frustrations with them as a way of letting off steam. But somehow, it seems socially unacceptable for a husband and wife to admit to others that their marriage is on the rocks and they need help. Isn’t that, after all, what licensed therapists are for?
But I think this kind of thinking is a big reason why marriage, the most intimate relationship imaginable, can feel so deeply lonely sometimes. There’s tremendous pressure to keep up appearances from the outside, to smile and tell others everything is fine, even when you feel stuck or the relationship is crumbling. And the greatest absurdity is that everyone’s marriage sees hard times and dry spells; it’s just a fact.
A little more than a year into our marriage, we experienced a time like that. I don’t even know if we were fighting about anything specific. It just felt like we had lost interest in each other and a lot of the joy was gone. We toughed that time out and things got better, but it would have been so helpful and reassuring to know there were friends we could pour out our hearts to when we didn’t see a way out.
I have always been a huge proponent of marriage counseling. And I think the counseling we received before we got to the altar helped us to understand each other and saved us from a lot of fighting, miscommunication, and heartbreak. I’d still be happy to go back to the two couples who counseled us to ask for advice and guidance. But I also want to live in a community where we can let trusted friends in on our struggles and just ask for love and support, like our friends did with us. Sometimes, what you need most is to know you’re not alone when things look bleak.
I’m not sure what help we were able to give our friends who came to us. We offered what advice we had, and told them we cared for them and would be praying for them. A few weeks later, we were able to celebrate with them as they shared they had experienced a breakthrough in their marriage—they were able to understand each other’s viewpoints better and felt less exhausted and frustrated as they worked on their relationship.
Since that evening, we’ve become closer friends with that couple. They took a risk, knowing their honesty could have scared us off, but it didn’t. We feel more invested in supporting and caring for them. And next time our marriage hits a speed bump—because, let’s face it, it will happen—we know we can count on them to help us make it through.