The Weight of Perfection in Marriage


Have you struggled to be perfect in your relationships, rather than accepting unconditional love?

My husband and I celebrated our sixteenth anniversary a few weeks ago. I couldn't sleep that night, so I thought I'd take advantage of a chance to write. My thoughts were swirling, mostly around him and us.

We celebrated both our anniversary and his birthday with a big date. Large steaks were involved. We're in the sweet spot right now where our firstborn is old enough to stay home with his brothers while we galavant about town like twenty-one year olds.

Crumbling Under the Weight of Perfection

One of my favorite things about anniversary dates with Daniel is the occasion always lends itself to reminiscing. That Saturday was no different. We remembered the days when we were first married and fought about housework and sex and who was going to do what—and who got to decide it.

Then kids came along, and we certainly didn't know what to do with all that commotion. My tendency toward fear rolled me down the mountain like an avalanche, and there wasn't a thing anyone in the world could do about it. I just had to walk through years and years of thinking my children's entire future and well-being depended on ME, and that didn't exactly turn me into the most pleasant company. So who walked right beside me through those good times? That man who was asleep in the other room while I wrote this.

Then, there were the out-of-control years and the driving between the dry cleaners and the grocery store with tears streaming down my face because I couldn't make my son, whom we now know has autism, control his temper. He was spewing like a pressure cooker valve all day every day, and I didn't know why. I didn't know what to do, so I just turned into a pressure cooker, too.

All the while, I was homeschooling my other two sons and felt secretly certain that every one of my seams was tearing apart. I would weep it out on the bathroom floor, leaving it all there in the hands of God—day after day.

And then three positive pregnancy tests and three losses got sprinkled on top of all that.

Thriving Because of Love's Promise

And somewhere in the course of all of those years I started to put my weight down on this man's love for me—maybe out of growing trust, maybe out of exhaustion. I'm never quite sure of my own motives.

Over time, I stopped trying to perform for his approval—stopped trying to keep up the appearance of the best cook, best housekeeper, best mother, best editor, smartest, prettiest woman in the history of the universe. Somewhere along the way, I started unclenching my fingers and letting this illusion of myself go—an illusion really designed for me and my own thin skin and clenched teeth and squinted eyes. At some point in all of those years, I realized this man loved the real me, not my imaginary version of me. He always had.

And that changed everything.

As we replayed our story on that date night, this newfound realization came pouring out of me. Out came the confession that for years I had tried to earn what he had already given me. My attempts to earn it had simply cheapened it; I somehow took what was his to give and tried to make it mine to deserve.

The daily suffering that had driven me to my knees on the bathroom floor gradually sanded away that rusty idea that there was some better version of myself waiting inside of me to be uncovered. Beneath the layers of fear and anxiety and control, there were simply more layers of fear and anxiety and control. At some point I realized that there was no better version of myself—not in there anyway. That's why all of those 300-page self-help books didn't really help.

Through days and years, the water evaporated and the truth simmered, and this man kept walking beside me, never changing his pace. And that's the grace that has changed my heart somehow. To realize that he loves me—the real me. And yes, he works hard to show his love for me. And yes, I work hard to show my love for him. Love is, by definition, sacrificial. We both set aside our rights, and there's nuance in that and wisdom required. But fear and pressure to perform never give you wings to fly; only grace and love can do that.

How Jesus Changes Everything

If you were to ask Daniel how he loves me so well, he'd tell you it's because that's the way Jesus loves him. Our beautiful Savior laid aside His own rights and absorbed all of our sin into Himself so we can be beautiful. His love makes us lovely. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

It's the love of Christ in my husband that is washing away my fear as it pours into him and through him and all over me. And so, it seems the only place we're going is Together. For God's glory.

There's nowhere I'd rather be.

Have you struggled to be perfect in your relationships, rather than accepting unconditional love?

Written by Jennifer Case Cortez

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