When Marriage Gets Too Heavy

Dearest couples,

Catherine Cansler Photography

Have you ever felt like you bit off more than you can chew? Like you can no longer handle what you agreed to? I have felt that way once in a gym when I decided to try weight-lifting for the first time. I walked in uncomfortably in my Under Armor leggings and cute workout shirt, trying to dress the part. To give you perspective, my body resembles a noodle. And my arms, angel-hair pasta. With this awkward build and limited experience in weight-lifting, I tossed a few ten pound weights onto the bar and laid down on the bench.

Do you want to know what happened next? I think you can guess. Considering I’m writing this letter, I didn’t die. A kind man on the bench across from me saw me struggling (and maybe heard me yelling for help), lifted the bar back onto the stand, and gave me a few tips for starting out. He spotted me a few reps with just the bar (a whole 45 pounds, baby), and I pretended like I was going to take the advice and come back to the gym one day. You better believe when no one was looking, I packed my bag and slid out of the gym as fast as I could!

That day in the gym, I agreed to WAY more weight than I thought I was getting. I said, “yes” to something that I could not carry on my own. And for the first few seconds of holding that bar, I saw my whole life flash before my eyes.

Admittedly, there have been moments in my marriage when I’ve felt the pressure of holding a weight like this. When I’ve felt unprepared to handle the baggage, history, and pain of another human.

Catherine Cansler Photography

In the thick of all that weight, I see my life and what I thought it should be flash before my eyes, and the only thing I want to do is pack my bag and run out of the gym.

Whether you’ve been married thirty minutes or thirty years, there’s a chance you’ve felt a little of this pressure. You might have felt the weight after an argument that still somehow left you going to bed angry. Maybe it came when you noticed something irritating your spouse does. Perhaps the weight was tossed on you unexpectedly, and the out-of-nowhere news was nothing short of heart-shattering. But, you’ve said, “I do.” And you’ve vowed to stay through adversity and in prosperity.

So…what now?

I am writing this based on an entry in my journal written in July of 2018. When, a little over two years into my marriage, my world began to shake after the blissful period died down. When I realized where the root of our tension came from, when our deepest feelings and baggage were released like a shaken Coke bottle, and everything felt like it was was splattering out of control.

I wondered if I had agreed to more weight than I could carry.

I wondered if I would be okay carrying it alone.

Catherine Cansler Photography

That summer night in July is one I will never forget. It is the night that I thought would crush me forever. As I stood, staring at myself in the mirror, dry eyes and messy pajamas, I asked myself how I was going to handle this weight that I have taken on through my covenant commitment. Was I going to pack my gym bag? Or was I going to pick up the weight and fight through the pain?

I’m reminded of Timothy Keller’s words when I share this story. He writes about how in a covenant commitment, you will surely go through dry spells where you cannot FEEL the love. He writes,

“So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, or easy to please, but in your actions you must BE [those things]…And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep…This is what can happen if you decide to love.”

Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

That moment in the mirror was a turning point in my marriage and in my story. It is a spiritual marker for me, where I silenced all the inner critics voicing their opinions about my next steps. Without a tear, I picked up the bar and chose to keep lifting. To be tender, forgiving, and sympathetic, even when those feelings weren’t all there.

And day by day, I found my heart changing. I was able to stop thinking about the weight I was carrying and started sympathizing for the weight my spouse was carrying. I started grieving not for my own hurt, but for his. A tenderness began developing for him, for our love, and for what it is capable of enduring. Because my spouse chose to be vulnerable with the weight he was carrying and I chose to be loving, our marriage was able to become deeper, more meaningful, more beautiful. We were able to hold the weight together.

Maybe you feel like the one who is in the midst of the pain in your marriage, the one who thinks the weight is too heavy to carry anymore, the one who is packing your gym bag, ready to leave. If you are, I hope you know that you are not alone in feeling distant from your partner. You are not alone in feeling at a loss for what to do next. You are not alone in feeling unpleasantly surprised, unsupported, defensive, stressed, exhausted, unattached, and maybe a little forgotten.

Most importantly, you are not alone in carrying your weight. The weight that we take on as humans on this earth is exhausting, but God tells us to take on his burden.

“My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Matthew 11:30, NLT

He will help you overcome the weight even when it seems impossible to carry. He overcomes. Period.

How can anyone overcome your spouse losing a job? With the security God gives in his steadfast provision.

How can anyone overcome dealing with a spouse’s self-esteem issues? With a reminder that God’s perfect love and adoration for you has held you in the past, and now you can freely show it to your hurting spouse.

How can anyone overcome hearing about a spouse’s abuse as a child? By knowing that a broken past does not have to make for a broken future.

How can anyone overcome hearing that your spouse has an addiction? With the assurance that God can free every captive enslaved to sin.

How can anyone overcome infidelity? With the reminder that through your covenant ‘I do,’ God also made the same commitment to His church and to you. That you would be held, kept, and fought for.

Catherine Cansler Photography

Will ‘I do’ keep every covenant commitment together? No. Does God honor those who fight through the pain and give it all they have before leaving? Absolutely. And in those moments, I believe God whispers to us, perhaps through our sobbing tears and angry prayers, that He has something beautiful in store. And He will carry us through each and every storm in our way until there is a rainbow.

But for you, hurting spouse, I am praying through whatever your marriage brings you…whether it be a spouse who can’t load the dishwasher right or a spouse who proves to be unfaithful…that God would bring absolute beauty out of your covenant. That He would use you to bring restoration to your spouse. That your marriage would give hope to another couple who is fighting just like you are. Above all, I pray that your marriage would grow deeper, more beautiful, and more meaningful as you choose to be loving no matter what.

And in all the weight that you may be carrying, I hope you can find rest in the One who is strong enough to hold every ounce.

Sincerely fighting,

Becca