Marriage isn’t always pap ’n vleis

Mo & Phindi are relationship strategists, radio contributors and co-authors of the book Love Isn’t For Cowards. Today they look at the challenges (and rewards) of marriage

Sunday we celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. The greatest blessing about it is that we are truly happy together. Not only were we intent on finding our rhythm early in our relationship, but we are growing into each other and as such are becoming more alike.

But wait! Before you summarise us as just another naïve couple that’s in-love with the idea of a romanticised and trouble-free marriage, understand our story.

Unfortunately, space would not allow us to do it justice trying to articulate it in 900 words.

Mo was born and raised in a farm near Port Elizabeth. He was abandoned not only by his biological father at birth, but also by his mother as a pre-teen. He was raised by three different relatives, who each had differing concepts of family and especially marriage.

Phindi on the other hand was raised by both her mother and father at her birth city, Durban. Yes, she’s Zulu and Mo is Xhosa. Although her parents divorced when she was around 10 years old, she distinctly remembers the severe influence of alcohol in her, now late, father. She’s the youngest of four children, while Mo is the eldest in with two (step) sisters behind him.

Marriage isn’t always pap ’n vleis

The key defining moments of our relationship can be summarised into four landmarks.

  1. Mo has a son outside marriage
  2. Our relationship survived infidelity due to Mo’s indiscretions
  3. We come from totally different family and cultural backgrounds
  4. Our relationship survived one of the nastiest financial meltdowns where at one point we both literally had no monthly income for four years, despite the fact that we had three school-going kids and other household responsibilities.

So, married life hasn’t been pap ’n vleis for us.

We’ve had a million reasonable opportunities to throw in the towel in our relationship. And admittedly we may have even thought about it on occasions. But we’ve never contemplated nor even brought the “D” word up at any stage of our relationship … even during the most emotionally charged periods. We’ve had to consciously make a series of life-changing decisions to achieve our level and depth of happiness together.

Truth is, it does get really hard in marriage sometimes. It’s proof that we’re all imperfect, and that for any relationship to thrive, it’ll take some deliberate work from both of you as well as constant recollection of the commitment you’ve made to each other as you both focus on the positive aspects of your relationship.

Couples who make it, aren’t ones who never had reasons to throw in the towel but ones who simply decided early that their commitment to one another was always going to be bigger than their differences and flaws.

When challenges occur, the first or second response shouldn’t be to call it quits. Yes, we know, it sometimes seems too difficult to try to work things out given the severity and amount of pain.

But love isn’t for cowards! Sometimes during conflict, couples are tempted to throw in the towel because “I just don’t have any more energy left” or “my partner has hurt me so many times, I’m actually numb and I want to take my life back” or “I just can’t live like this anymore”.

But how much stronger would your marriage be if both of you consciously resolved to fight to keep your relationship together?

We certainly believe it’s worth it. It takes both parties to work things out but sometimes just one person needs to take that first step that could motivate the other into pulling in the same direction.

Never grovel

But: never grovel. Never allow yourself to stay in a relationship with someone that clearly doesn’t want you in their life. Grovelling not only cheapens your cause, but gives your power away thus leaving you vulnerable to being somebody’s toy.

When you grovel you become manipulative and unfairly cajole your partner into staying with you against their will. Not even God would force you to choose Him, if you don’t want to.

Before you throw in the towel, we suggest you first consider the reasons. Secondly, is there willingness to resolve issues? Are you also to blame for the state of the relationship? Is what drew you together much weaker than what’s pulling you apart? Could it be that you are just emotional? Are you not hastily jumping into conclusions? Are you really ready for the consequences of divorce and life apart? Have you exhausted every resource to rescue the relationship?

If you feel your partner is pulling to the opposite direction, instead of jumping the gun, assess your rationality in the situation perhaps by involving a neutral third party you can both trust. It could be that you’re the one going the opposite direction or contributing to your partner going the opposite direction. It’s very easy to misjudge issues when you’re highly involved in them yourself.

But still, never be quick to bail. You have the power to wrestle your relationship out of the clutches of all that is working against it. There exists no difference that’s irreconcilable. Resolve conflicts, swallow your pride, forgive, build a friendship, accept your partner’s personality, agree to disagree, involve God and move on. All of this is deliberate and is done by couples that understand love as a verb and as such involves work.

The covenant of marriage is worth fighting for. Even the happiest couples, sharply disagree sometimes. Marriage isn’t primarily about your happiness.

Fight for the relationship you both want. It may take a couple of rounds in the ring, but the win at the end will be worth it all.

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