Marriage and Fighting Fair

03/05/2017 .
Nebai Cherrick  .  Saddleback Central Marketing Manager

As we dig into Pastor Rick's message about the God of our valleys, it seemed fitting that today we invite Nebai to the SBW Blog to share what she has learned in the early years of marriage about fighting fair, curbing pride, and connecting with her spouse.

We were sitting in our pastor’s office for one of our final pre-marital counseling sessions. I remember eagerly awaiting what he was about to say. We had taken a compatibility test and as a person who loves information, I was almost giddy with anticipation.

“Well, I have good news and bad news,” he said. “Good news- You guys are the most brutally honest couple I’ve seen in a while, there are no rose colored glasses in your relationship. Bad news- you guys are going to have fireworks and not the good kind. You both tested 90% in hostility for conflict resolution and 10% in mercy.”

In retrospect, I guess I should have taken that as a warning. But instead, I took it as a factoid to be filed away, as trivia. How funny, we were total opposites in everything else but this. Wasn’t that fascinating? Application of this information was totally lost on me. We were getting married in a few months and I had details that actually mattered- a wedding to plan, honor’s thesis to write and finals to take so I could graduate from college.

Fast forward to our honeymoon. I can’t remember why, but we were fighting. It was epic. But we were on our honeymoon. And I was devastated. Wasn’t this literally supposed to be the honeymoon phase? No fights. Only heart eye emojis, right?

In that moment doubt creeped in. Had I made a mistake? Had I bought a bill of goods that this was supposed to be happily ever after? Was I now stuck in a wrong choice….forever?

Upon returning from our honeymoon, my husband and I moved to Southern California for his job and we knew no one. Without community and people to turn to, my doubts about my marriage turned to resentment and resentment turned to anger. I found myself fighting to be right over everything. I wasn’t sure if I was right to have gotten married but darn it, I was going to be right about everything else.

Our fights grew longer and more intense. One night, after a fight, I found myself alone in my bathroom, sobbing, ashamed at how I had lost control and said vicious things, how I had thrown things and slammed things and now we were apart and I was crying and he didn’t care. I’d always taken pride in being a logical person, not controlled by emotions yet I found myself unable to deal with my anger. I sought God, prayed for relief, prayed for a breakthrough and prayed for a change of heart in my own stubbornness.

I wish I could say that it was instantly better. That after that moment, magic happened and we were all better all the time. But that’s not true. What is true is that we went to counseling. We started to face and then tackle our issues, we learned how to fight fair and then we tried (and failed) at fighting fair. There were times I wanted to give up, days we didn’t talk because we just couldn't figure out how not to fight. God became my constant companion- he heard all the things I wasn’t saying to my husband during our bouts of silence.

Looking back I honestly can’t believe we made it. In the midst of our struggles, we both made the decision that ultimately saved our marriage- we committed to digging in and doubling down on fighting for our marriage. We refused to allow unhealthy fighting to end our marriage and we removed the word divorce from our vocabulary. It wasn’t easy and by year 5 we were basically professional counselees- having racked up so many counseling hours we’d probably have gotten a prize if that was something people did. And slowly, at a glacial pace really, we started to make headway. Our time between fights grew longer. And then one day, we realized that we couldn’t remember the last time we’d had a blow up fight.

After experiencing that season of fighting and marital turmoil, my best advice to couples is:

SEEK HELP- and don’t wait until you don’t want to sit next to each other on the couch. Go while you still like each other.

CUT YOUR MARRIAGE SOME SLACK. Fighting doesn’t mean your relationship is a failure. But do the hard work and learn to fight fair- don’t destroy your marriage by saying things you really don’t mean.

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR THE IDOLS OF BEING RIGHT AND PRIDE. Ladies, needing to be right in marriage will leave you lonely. And, if you’ve been wronged, the temptation to set up shop in your castle of “rightness” and await your much deserved apology can be strong. But, let me just tell you, there is healing in humility. There is a level of love that is achieved when you reach out and say, hey, I was awful to you and I’m sorry and I love you, this is how I am committing to doing my part to make it better. There is peace in letting go of your arsenal of past examples.

DON’T GIVE UP.  Dig in, pray through it, seek help and share your story with others.

Marriage is HARD, and that’s ok. God is a redeemer, a restorer and a transformer. Bring him your mess and watch him make something beautiful.

Photos by Alyson Rabago, Saddleback Women Volunteer