One of my favorite books in the world is Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. It changed the way I live - no exaggeration there. I think it has a little something for everyone and I pick it up often when I need a reminder on a certain topic.
I don't remember where it is in the book, but at one point, she says there will be moments in marriage when you are so frustrated with your spouse that you look at him and think: I don't even know you. I'm butchering the quote, but the idea holds. It's the moment when frustration takes hold of you so fully that you can't comprehend how or why you got to this place.
I'm not sure I've been married long enough to experience the exact sentiment, but in the moments when I am frustrated with Chris, her words pop into my head, reminding me that in every relationship, at some point, your paths might veer in different directions, making it more difficult to reach one another. It becomes harder to recognize, understand and empathize with one another.
A few months ago, Chris and I were the most distant we'd been in our entire relationship. We've had a lot going on - from the move to our renovation to our baby. It has felt like we've been bogged down and weighed down and it's easy, in those seasons, to forget to pursue one another. To forget to hold hands and laugh about nothing and stay in bed cuddling 15 minutes longer just because. It's easy to talk only about logistics and work, as opposed to making time to be intentional or have real conversation.
It hit us one day that immediately before our first baby's due date was certainly no time to drift apart.
We both started praying, then, to be less selfish and to serve one another more. We started putting one another's needs above our own - not because we always wanted to, but because that's how marriages stay strong. We tried to be more thoughtful and diligent.
We remembered to make eye contact, to touch one another and, by gosh, keep our phones out of the bed. We remembered, most importantly, I think, to say thank you for everything. Thank you for emptying the dishwasher. Thank you for going to the grocery store. Thank you for planning such a fun date night.
No more than two weeks after we'd begun these efforts, we were tangled up on the couch one night, laughing at Parks & Rec, when it hit me: I've never felt closer to him and just two weeks ago, there was a gap between us.
I understand that some gaps cannot be filled so quickly. Sometimes you're dealing with a crack in the sidewalk; other times you're dealing with the Grand Canyon. But I believe, so fully, that the gap always looks bigger before we begin to mend it.
The small efforts might feel worthless in the moment, but, when we pursue one another day in and day out, those little things are like rocks in a bucket. They seem insignificant at first, but slowly they pile up and, before you know it, the container is overflowing.
I also believe that there are no wasted efforts in marriage. Any notion of kindness from Chris - whether it is exactly what I need or not - softens me. Any expression of love makes me gentler. Marriage is not about perfection or performance, but about connection and compassion.
When I burn the pancakes, Chris doesn't mind the brown edges; he's grateful for the delicious breakfast. When he surprises me with a date night, I care so little about where we go, but feel loved that he took the time to plan something.
So if you're in a sticky spot in your marriage - one where you don't quite recognize your spouse - know that I am rooting for you. I believe in you. The cavern isn't as big as it seems. You may not be able to get back to where you were, but, with a little effort, you might just end up somewhere better than before. Press on.