Falling in love can be terrifying.
When Nick and I were dating and our relationship was becoming more serious, my doubts battled my love for him in a serious way. We were talking about marriage only a few months into our relationship, because we had been friends for over two years and had already dated once before.
As I thought about the future, of committing the rest of my life to one person, it almost made me want to hyperventilating. Almost every long-term relationship I had been in before had crashed and burned badly. After years of investment, they ended with glaringly obvious lists of each other’s flaws and all the ways we would never work. Those break ups made me wonder if I would ever find someone who loved me for who actually I was instead of some other version they had fabricated in their minds. I did not want to repeat that process ever again, and the thought of it exhausted me.
These doubts would creep out from my soul in the midst of conversations with Nick as each month passed. I would slowly begin to panic and tell him, “You don’t really know me.”
He would reply, “I know everything I need to know.”
But I knew there were deeper layers we had yet to uncover.
I wanted Nick to know my past and present and be able to understand the lens through which I saw the future. I wanted him to hear my favorite childhood stories of mischief and the harder ones of teenage heartbreak. When he had seen my wounds and my triumphs, all my strengths and weaknesses, then I would feel known.
I wanted a guarantee. I wanted to be fully known and loved to my very core and never, ever left.
I’m slowly realizing now, four years in to marriage, what a large demand that was to put on a dating relationship. Sure, had we extended our dating relationship more than six months and actually lived in the same city before getting engaged, I might have felt less precarious. But I know myself, and I am positive that I would have had to battle the demons of my former heart breaks regardless.
Whether intentional or not, my expectations for my marriage are still getting in the way. I used to think marriage would be my golden ticket to happily ever after. I thought once I got married, I would gain a best friend, experience no more “ungodly” physical temptation ever again, and I would be set! But thankfully, God’s intervention and the wisdom of those who have gone before (Thanks Sacred Marriage!) shook up my unrealistic ideas and began to open my eyes to the reality of the commitment of marriage beyond the cultural pictures of storybook romance.
Through the invaluable assistance of counseling, I am finding beliefs and patterns and ways of being that even I, self-aware Erika, did not quite realize I was living out of. There are fears I thought I had left in the past, habits I am living out of unconsciously.
I am starting to realize that I may have been selling our relationship short.
So I do not believe that marriage is constant wedded bliss to your perfect soul mate. But is it merely a partnership where we live parallel lives, experiencing joys and challenges together, or is it meant to be more?
A healthy marriage relationship, for me, means identifying the fears that threaten to claw their way out from the recesses of my soul and suffocate my ability to tell the truth. It means I can speak openly, and honestly, even boldly, expressing what I need. Our marriage needs to be my safest place to lay my heart bare and honestly express my greatest hopes and fears.
To my surprise, I have found that there are still some defense barriers put up around my heart. I have been unconsciously trying to protect myself. Too often that kind of vulnerability feels too risky, so I go to what I know: I journal those things, I talk about them with trusted girl friends, but I do not always bring them to my husband. My tender heart still fears the pain of rejection, of being shut down or dismissed. The only healthy way to grow as a couple is to lay all that stuff out, and take a good look at it together. Fear thrives in darkness, it cannot survive the light. This is the only way to be known.
Five years ago on a supremely windy, sunny spring day in New York, Nick asked me to marry him. And despite any lingering fears, instead I chose hope and said yes. In that moment, I said yes not only to what I knew, but to all of the unknowns – to moving to a brand new city, diving into a new faith community, to job changes and struggles, and the family we would one day fight to build. But here’s the incredible thing. We are only seven years (give or take!) into writing our love story. We have only just begun and have so much to look forward to.
It is in the security of a healthy marriage that we are free to be who we really are. Because this is what marriage is – it is for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in joy and sorrow. There are no guarantees, but there is deep love, fierce commitment, and dedicated efforts to grow together into the kind of couple you have always dreamed you might become.
What does it mean to be known? How do you deal with fear in relationships?
img src: Amanky, Creative Commons