Relationships

Can marriage really be a piece of heaven on earth?

Cindy Ling // August 26, 2020, 5:16 pm

SURVIVING EARLY YEARS OF MARRIAGE

All photos courtesy of Cindy Ling.

When I was 15 years old, a pastor shared with me that in marriage, the feeling of being in love is not key – rather, it is kindness and forgiveness. After 8 years of marriage, I can testify that this is true.

My husband, Asher, and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary a few months ago. Including our dating days, we have journeyed 19 years together.

While it was painful to walk through those earlier years as immature youths and young adults, it has also been a privilege and joy to witness each other’s growth into whom God has designed us to be, both individually and as a couple.

We have really seen our wedding verse unfolding in our lives. 

“He has made all things beautiful in His time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) 

Even though we have quarrelled more frequently and intensely in recent times, we have gotten to know one another on a deeper level as well.

We celebrated internal victories more than we cheered for external successes or achievements. As trust grew, we began navigating our darker sides and childhood hurts, and ventured into overcoming them. We also started adjusting ourselves to godly values that often “fought” with our habitual selves. 

As we sought to free ourselves from the ugly parts of our lives, we found ourselves stepping into a realm of happiness beyond words. A feeling of heaven.

DON’T JUST FIGHT HARD, FIGHT WELL

All of this was possible because we knew we would always have each other no matter how much we fought.

After all, the quality of a marriage does not lie in how much sparks are flying, or how passionate we feel towards one another. The quality of a marriage depends on how we fight and how we recover from fights.

Quarrels can feel like “hell”, but when we are able to resolve them and find a positive way forward, they just become stepping stones towards us arriving at “heaven”.

For Asher and I, there are some boundaries we try to keep when we fight.

  • Do not attack personally. When we say, “you are so ….” or “you always….”, this becomes personal. Instead, we use phrases such as “when you…, I feel…”.
  • Do not use harsh words that you will regret. Yes, that includes the mention of “divorce”. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, we may really feel like doing this. So just keep quiet and don’t say it. Words spoken cannot be taken back because the hurts have been caused. If we make effort in phrasing our words with people outside our family, why should we not make effort with those whom we really care about?
  • Allow for time-outs. When one party needs to cool down, give the person time and space.
  • Finish the fight. Do not drag it out into a cold war, or sweep things under the carpet. Talk it out, including all the emotions and thoughts. Don’t keep it in. They will roll forward and accumulate interest. And when it’s payback time, the debt could be huge. Finally, discuss adjustments needed to move forward positively.

We also try to adopt the following attitudes when we fight.

  • No fight will affect our relationship. We always remind each other that the fight will not affect our relationship. Unhappy emotions are for the moment while our relationship is for a lifetime. Having in mind the permanence of the relationship gives security internally and prevents us from being overly harsh with each other.
  • We can try again tomorrow. I really appreciate how Asher has this attitude: “Today, I failed. Okay, I’ll try to be better tomorrow.” I can become fixated on failures. However, I have learnt the beauty of picking ourselves up and trying again. Note: Trying again tomorrow is not about doing the same thing but expecting a different result. It is about learning from the quarrel and adjusting to improve our situation. This gives value to the quarrel. It builds up rather than tears down the relationship.
  • It is often not about right or wrong, but a matter of personal preference. Instead of arguing who is right, we need to ask ourselves how much we want to accommodate to the other person. To be honest, I am thankful for Asher because he is the more easy-going one.
  • We can get help. When things get bad and you feel helpless, seek help. At some points in our relationship, we have gone to professional counsellors. At other times, we have turned to trusted older folks. They have all helped us to see things from different perspectives and given us useful tools to manage our situation.
  • Finally, remember that we always have God as our mediator. Whenever we reach a stalemate on a decision, Asher and I will give ourselves time and seek God for guidance. Interestingly, throughout our nearly 20 years together, we discovered that after some time of prayer, one of us will move our position and we would both be inclined towards one decision. It is amazing! 

BUILD EACH OTHER’S EMOTIONAL BANK ACCOUNTS

Besides fighting well, looking after each other’s emotional bank account is also important.

Every time we do something nice for the other person, we make a deposit into their emotional bank account. But not every action carries the same value, so do what creates the highest value.

Don’t know what action will maximise joy in the other person? Why not ask directly? 

I didn’t want to waste energy doing a lot of things for Asher that didn’t really bring him much joy, so I once asked him: “If I only have 2 hours to do something for you, what action would bring the highest utility? Clean the house, cook for you, write a letter to you, etc.”

Since that conversation, I have tried to cook for Asher whenever I see that he is stressed. 

Similarly, Asher knows that I enjoy acts of service, so he buys me food, drives me to appointments, washes the dishes, etc. Actually, I love every type of expression (service, quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, touch).

While one can aim to show love in each of these ways, choose what would bring greatest joy when you have limited energy. A healthy emotional bank account serves as a cushion during painful moments. In other words, there is “money” in the account for you to “withdraw”.

IT COMES DOWN TO FORGIVENESS & KINDNESS

A little more kindness will build our emotional banks; a little more forgiveness will tide us through storms. There is no obstacle we cannot cross as long as we are willing and patient. No lost spark we cannot rebuild as long as we are willing and intentional.

Everything is possible as long as we still have breath. So let’s not wait until it’s too late to extend a little kindness and a little forgiveness to each other.

Asher and I are still stumbling forward. There are days we fail. But it’s okay – we’ll try again tomorrow.

I recall what our pastor said during our wedding: “Managing a marriage is like cycling. No matter what has happened, just keep stepping on the pedals and look ahead. If you keep turning your head to look back, you will lose your balance.”

Hence, the ending thought of this year’s wedding anniversary is: Looking forward together always.

There is such joy and comfort to be able to do so. My marriage has helped me appreciate more deeply the redemptive love of God. How our mistakes can be forgiven, and how we can always have second chances as long as we are willing and as long as we keep trying.

For soulmates are not found – soulmates are developed. We grow to become soulmates as we weather through joys and storms.

Because Jesus died on the cross for our sins, our sins do not bear a permanent mark. Our sins are redeemed. We have a chance to start again with God, with each other and ourselves. This is redemptive love.

Our lives cannot be without wounds. But I have come to realise that even wounds can be gifts to ourselves and others. While I am not excited about having them, I am exhilarated to see tears turn to joy and become balms for fellow strugglers.

In his anniversary card to me this year, Asher wrote that he believes one of the ministries we are called to as a married couple is to help other young couples.

May our anniversary reflections encourage you to build your marriage, so that you can experience a piece of heaven on earth.

This article was first published on Cindy Ling’s blog and is republished with permission.

THINK + TALK

  1. What attitudes do you have towards conflict?
  2. Do your conflicts build up or tear down your relationships?
  3. What are some practical ways you can show kindness and forgiveness towards someone today?