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 Loneliness in Marriage

     I think there are very few things in life, that are as completely absorbing, distracting, and enthralling, as falling in love. That must obviously be the reason for the very term. Everyone who marries, knows in their mind that problems are bound to arise; but in their heart, they are certain that with this partner, this loved one, any problem can be solved.

     Falling in love is like giving birth. Utterly absorbing, giving birth blocks out nearly everything else, until the birth pangs are over, and the baby is born. Also completely absorbing, falling in love brings your loved one's face and being into main focus, causing everything else to be a bit misted over, or perhaps, deeply foggy. Only after a year or so of marriage, does the haze clear enough to be able to see the others you love, and their needs, as you did before.

     A year is enough time for the rush of passion to have slowed a bit, and the all-consuming desire to be together every possible moment, to have eased some. A year is enough time for the two of you to have gotten to know each other's basic differences quite well. Time to figure out what has become irritating, and what is still lovely and wonderful. Time to have worked on adjusting to one another's differences. Time to have begun to search for solutions for frustrations. It is like looking through binoculars, and adjusting the focus until you see clearly.

     It does not occur to many, that even after they marry, they will still be alone. They will still be one person, with a solitary spot within, where only God can reach.

     When young, I remember consciously thinking that I would be happy the rest of my life, once married. I was nearly seventeen, and being intensely wooed by a charming, polite, affectionate, generous older man with a lively sense of humor. He treated me like a queen. I could not imagine ever being sad any more.

     Therefore, marriage was quite a shock to me. I discovered that I knew only a small part of his personality. This is natural, but I was too young to have known. I was deeply upset when I discovered that my husband was going to spend most of his free time watching TV. I had been raised without a TV, and was absolutely bored with his shows. I was a reader. He did not read. I was a writer. He was an entertainer, and an excellent one. I discovered that his spare time was going to be spent on making his weekend and vacation plans, and being with his friends. Our home would be filled with his friends, who frequently spent the night, and many times, lived with us. A very shy girl, fresh from my parent's home, I had no friends of my own. I resented being required to cook and clean for this series of people, year after year. Some he brought home from a bar to live with us, which scared me very much, since he worked nights, and I was alone with strange men. None of them ever did me any harm, thank God. But there was no privacy in our marriage, even on our wedding night.

     I was horribly disappointed to discover that he did not like to cuddle, and I was not going to be held through the night, as I had dreamed. As a matter, of fact, I wasn't even going to be hugged tenderly, unless he was in the mood. The wonderful wooing had ended. As a newlywed, I would hide in the closet and cry in private. I did not even understand at the time, that this was the way he had lived for a long time as an adult, and it was not going to change. He had lived this way, I guess, with his previous wife, as well. I was simply expected to fit in somewhere, as he carried on with his life, the way he wanted to.

     Yet he was a good provider, and supported me steadily, the whole four-and-a-half years of our marriage. He helped me to become a foster mother of disabled babies, and he gave me two precious children by birth. I am sure he loved me, and I loved him. But he continued to carry on with his own evolving life, which had little or nothing to do with me. His life, as it turned out, did not include the concrete reality of babies, which were my own passion, and our marriage dissolved. He died years ago, and I hold only gentle care for this man who unselfishly helped me get started on motherhood, which has meant everything to me. Motherhood is the calling that God gave me as a child. My first husband was the one who made it possible to begin. I continued to adopt, as a single mother, and spent the next three decades doing what I was best at - loving and raising my children.

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     I am now thirty-five years older than I was at my first marriage. I have married again at last. One would think that I would be totally able by now, to accept it peacefully, if I long for a hug, and my husband is too busy, or not in the mood. How could I possibly still be so immature as to STILL grieve at a lack of tenderness? I thought I had grown past that. But no, I see that I've spent these years almost completely on developing the spiritual skills needed for motherhood. And those skills are quite a different set.

     I learned very little the first marriage, being young, and absolutely bewildered. But in my present marriage, these long decades later, I am learning all the time. I take my yearnings to the Lord, and ask Him what to do, to get past them. I know by now, that I cannot change another adult human being. I can only change myself. So I ask that God change me. I ask Him to help me be a pleasant wife, and to please God with what I say and do. I can't always make it, but it is my unalterable goal.

     I understand only too well now, what it means to sleep alone year after year, decade after decade. That alone, is enough to keep me appreciating the strong warmth of my dear husband, sleeping beside me. I can reach out and hold him, or just let my hand lightly feel his chest moving, as he breathes. There is enormous comfort in that. I hated the lonely nights. Now, I am not alone.

     But of course, there is the inner me, which is always alone. God designed us all with an inner self. We are each one person. Some people are very content with that. Most people long for a soul-mate, to share life with, to love and be loved by.

     Each baby travels that painful, frightening birth canal alone, and each person travels that sometimes painful, strange inner corridor to death, alone. Babies are born into loving arms. After a Christian dies, they are received into Christ's loving arms. Their spirit safe on the other side. But the point is, there are countless times during life, between the arrival and the departure, when each of us finds ourselves alone in a most disappointing way.

     What can we, as Christians do about those lonely times? Well, I found Elisabeth Elliot's books, just last spring. Her startling viewpoints and beliefs on accepting each experience of life as a gift from God, has had my brain spinning for months. I'm amazed at the way she thinks. The more I read some parts over, the better I understand. I want to be more like that.

     I've always thought of loneliness as a scourge, or, at best, a trial that God had allowed, to help me become a better person, somehow. But a gift given by God? This sounds like the God who loves me, has PLANNED empty, lonely, miserable spots for me to endure, for my good. How could this make any sense?

     Well, the following are thoughts that have sprung from these new ideas and concepts that I have learned from her books.

     Without some "down time" spent alone, with yearnings unfulfilled, when would we take time to communicate WITH God. Not just talk TO Him, but LISTEN for His guidance. It is fascinating to me that our great, omnipotent God, does not speak by thundering from the clouds, as He could. (Would we, in our human immaturity, rebel against that powerful, resounding voice, call it 'bossy', and reject it?) Well, God created us, complete with immaturity and everything. And the fact is, He has chosen to speak in a still, small voice. That forces us to be quiet, and listen, in order to hear. In other words, we can't hear, unless we want to, and try to. We hear best, when in a quiet place, undisturbed.

     I have learned much about forced isolation, since this present marriage. This is a good marriage; my husband a good man, and a good father. He is usually deeply absorbed in his own work, and emotionally unavailable; but is a steady, calm, and pleasant husband, with a rich sense of humor. I absolutely love his laughter! I long to be a godly and pleasant wife. When I yearn for attention or affection, and the time is not right, I go straight to God, searching for grace. I'm on a mission for peace in my own heart. I want to be able to accept that my husband's desires are not always going to match up with mine; and be satisfied and happy with that. It's much harder than it sounds. It takes a lot of prayer, humility, and "dying to self."

     One thing is plain for me to see. God has put me here, in a marriage that I wanted to be in, and am glad to be in. He knew I was going to experience loneliness in a new way. Therefore, He clearly sees this as being good for me. It might not always be this way, but right now, it is. I am able to leave the future in God's hands, and not worry about it. It is the present that I must deal with. It is minutes, hours, and days, when I have to again pray for grace, acceptance, and the absence of resentment or bitterness.

     Forced isolation sends me straight to my Heavenly Father. And much spiritual growth has been happening, which is different than the spiritual growth I prayed for, and was given in single motherhood. It's like a new branch of wisdom sprouting on the old tree. A new branch that has never blossomed before, fruitful and healthy. Perhaps a new graft that God has put there. God is working on new parts of me. And I do thank Him for loving me so much that He sees it as worth while to help me improve. But I pray for help. Oh, I do. And He gives it. Yes, He does.

     Perhaps loneliness IS a gift. Like the place we prepare to plant seeds for a garden. That ground must be weeded, and plowed, and made quite empty and bare, before newly planted seeds can grow. Yes. Loneliness can be a gift. A place where new growth can bloom.

2004 Rosemary Gwaltney