Read Part I here...
Just a few months after Joel came back from Iraq, we were in the midst of a terrible game of tug of war. We were completely out of sync with one another and our marriage was at its lowest point. I felt like I was walking on eggshells in my own home because his mood was so unpredictable. There were some rare moments when Joel was really engaged with Grace and I, but for the most part he was either completely withdrawn or angry. The war had completely changed him.
When I tried to talk to him about how he was doing emotionally and spiritually, he became very guarded. I'm sure he was trying, in his mind, to sort through his feelings and was having a hard time communicating them to me. Most likely, he just wasn't ready to communicate those things with me but I kept pushing him which just made him more withdrawn.
Our marriage was falling apart. We were disconnected, angry at one another, communicating poorly and intimacy wasn't even an option for me, because I didn't feel love, appreciated or respected. Funny thing, because I'm positive Joel was also not feeling loved, appreciated or respect, but it was because there was no intimacy. Like I said, we were totally out of sync.
It was around Christmastime, four months after Joel's homecoming, that I was feeling absolutely hopeless. Joel and I weren't making any progress, and if anything, I thought that our marriage was just getting worse. We were in bad shape and I didn't see any improvement in Joel. I was tired, exhausted really. No one around us knew the struggles that we were dealing with in our relationship, and I was so wiped out from not only having to deal with a marriage that was falling apart, but trying to keep it a secret.
It was around that time that the D Word entered my mind. I didn't see any hope for us at that point, and I was tired of trying to hold it together. I remember sitting with a close friend of mine over lunch and telling her, through my tears, that I wanted out and that divorce had become an option for me. What I appreciated most, was her loving silence. She didn't have any words of advice for me. She knew she couldn't relate. But she offered her love and prayers for both Joel and I. Finally, someone knew our struggle, our hurt and my desperation.
I really struggled with the idea of divorce. Joel wasn't unfaithful. He never hurt me physically. He always provided for our needs. And I knew that he loved me even if he didn't always communicate it and show it well. And I knew in my head, even though I didn't always feel it in my heart... I still loved him. I loved him so much that it hurt my soul to know how hurt he was. But I didn't think love would be able to repair, what I thought, was a hopelessly broken marriage.
I knew part of him was broken and I felt angry toward the military for using him up and just tossing him back home. I've mentioned before how messed-up the system is.... I was advised just a few weeks before Joel came home that if our soldier needed help, the best bet would be for them to find a counselor/psychologist that would accept cash payment. Any sort of paper trail would just hurt their career and reputation. It was because of the broken system that I knew Joel's best bet to getting better was for me to help.
He needed me. I vowed to him and God that I would stand by him for better or worse. I promised him on our wedding day that I would love him tenderly. I knew I had failed him in that regard. I loved him but I was trying to push him to get better - to deal with transition from war to home life. I wasn't always patient, kind or gentle. So, there it was -he needed me. And in order for me to help him, I needed to start with the basics and learn to love him better. I needed to keep my vow to stand by him and to be tender with him. He needed tenderness.
I remember going back and rereading I Corinthians 13, where Paul lists the attributes of love. I knew I was far from loving Joel the way that God wanted me to...
"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends" - I Corinthians 13:4-8
Who Joel was at that time was not the same man I married. Time had changed him. War had changed him. Those were two things that Joel could not control. It's just how it was and it was no one's fault. He needed me to help him. He needed me to stand by him and love him better, purer, deeper and truer than I had loved him before. He had done the hard work for 6 months, now it was my turn to do the hard work and work to heal his wounds. Divorce was not an option. It would not have healed any wounds.
So, I stood by him. I decided, in my heart and before God, to love Joel. He was broken, but I knew God would give me strength and wisdom and I prayed that God would give my husband those things as well. The road to reconciliation had to start with someone, and it started with me.
The road back to a healthy marriage was difficult. It took a lot of hard conversations - but it started with the hardest. I told Joel that I would do what it took to make our marriage work and put it back on track. But I needed him to know how desperate I had become and that the idea of divorce had been on my mind for a while. He was totally shocked that I was hurting that badly. But we decided at that moment to do that hard task to work on ourselves and to love each other better.
We made a decision that night to recommit ourselves to make our marriage work. I think a lot of people experience something similar in their relationships - whether it be a spouse, a parent, a child or a friend. Sometimes you just have to choose that no matter what it takes, you're going to make it work. The work is often hard and long, but both of you are committed.
Our reconciliation wasn't quick or easy. It took many months of rebuilding a strong foundation built on trust, love, commitment and God. We knew that in order to be the best for one another, we needed to start with a right relationship with God first. For us, we knew from past experience, that when the God-relationship was broken, our marriage and family would be broken, too.
I thought for a time that Iraq had shattered our marriage. For a time, Iraq had broken my husband. No one can come out of a war experience the same. And it's true, Iraq did drastically change our marriage. But now, looking back three years later, I know that Iraq ultimately changed our marriage for the better.