This week is National Marriage Week UK (10-16 May) and the theme is 'What's your secret?'. The 'secret' of my marriage was laid bare a few years ago, when God asked me to write about the most painful part of our lives in my book Taking Off the Mask – and then again when he called us to write a book on marriage, which was published last year.
Both books share aspects of the time in our marriage when things fell apart. But it was in facing the brokenness that new life was birthed.
We were part of a new, small church and on the leadership team, and yet the reality of our married life was a lot of pain, complacency and loneliness. At the time, my husband Steve was a record producer, and I worked in publishing – with hours that never coincided we hardly saw one another so didn't have a chance to build a strong marriage.
We struggled on for nearly a decade, trying to put God first and support one another as best we could, and yet the reality was that I was growing lonelier and lonelier and more and more resentful, and Steve more complacent.
Things came to a head and I eventually said I couldn't go on any longer – and left. While separated, we both had to wrestle before God as to whether our marriage had a future, which, thankfully, we both agreed it did! But it took a lot of humility, forgiveness, grace and mercy – as well as a lot of hard work – to get to a place of rebuilding. And we needed a lot of healing from intense pain.
Today, Steve works full time for the church as our pastor, we are both part of the leadership team and I have a ministry particularly centred on authenticity, which has me speaking, writing and editing.
People may be surprised to learn of our story of brokenness and pain, and yet we are absolutely convinced that we all need to be more honest about the struggles we face in life. Too often churches are full of people desperately needing support and prayer and yet they are too afraid to speak up because everyone else's lives look more 'together' than theirs – that was certainly our experience. And that is why we have been willing to go through the painful process of reliving our worst moments through our writing and speaking in order to encourage others towards vulnerability.
Here are five of the many things that have helped to strengthen our relationship over nearly 30 years of marriage. They are just a few of the 'secrets' we have uncovered:
1. The need for humility and forgiveness
We recognise that we are both imperfect and will get things wrong. It is far too easy for pride to creep into our relationships, and yet being honest about our mistakes and humbly admitting when we need help or need to ask forgiveness is the way to keep short accounts with one another – as long as the other is willing to extend forgiveness.
2. Clear communication is key
When we both have jobs, family or other things that keep us busy day to day, and it is vital to make the time and space to check in with one another. When we do this, we find out what is important to our partner and what challenges and joys they are facing. But it is also far too easy to assume our partner knows something or understands our point of view. If we haven't taken the time to communicate that well, then how can they?
3. Turning towards each other has to be intentional
We are in the midst of a season of deep, ongoing grief. While there are times when we need to give one another space to process before God, it is human nature to turn inwards when we are in pain. And yet that causes a distancing between us, so we have had to learn to intentionally turn towards each other in order to face things together as a team.
4. We can't do this alone
Our mistake early on was to be too ashamed to admit to others that we were struggling. And yet we all need support – that is why church family is modelled to us in scripture. Finding those couples that we can build strong friendship and trust with, will help us to open up and share when we need some extra support – whether practical or prayer.
5. Praying for protection is vital
We know that we are in a spiritual battle every day, but are we in the habit of praying for the protection of our marriage every day? We will never forget walking down a street in south London, where we noticed a multitude of small flags that had been hooked up on ropes hanging between lamp-posts. The friends we were visiting explained that each flag represented a Christian marriage, and that it was local witches who had put up the flags – they were actively seeking ways to destroy them. Our marriages are precious, and vital for the furthering of the gospel – and our enemy knows that! Let's keep covering our marriages in prayer.
Finally, our marriage book, Grace-Filled Marriage has just turned one! As part of our celebrations we are offering a ten per cent discount on single orders as well as free postage – please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to find out more – or to arrange a discount for multiple copies. We have also provided a series of videos to accompany the book, through the Big Church Read, which are perfect to watch and discuss alongside other couples that you trust.
Claire Musters is a writer, speaker and editor who blogs at clairemusters.com. Her most recent books are Every Day Insights: Disappointment and Loss and Grace-Filled Marriage. The latter was written with her husband, and they have provided a series of free videos to accompany the book, which can be accessed on the Big Church Read website. Claire also writes and edits for Premier Woman Alive and Christianity magazines. All her books are available to purchase directly from her; for more information and to get in touch with her, do visit her website.