Today's guest blogger is Jessica Cleveland Thoms. Jessica lives in middle Tennessee where she currently teaches high school English. You can usually find her writing, shopping, attending concerts, laughing at her own jokes, loving on any animal she can find, and purchasing unnecessary items covered in glitter. She and her husband, Tristen, are both members at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Orlinda, TN. You can read more of Jessica's writing at Grace for Sparrows.
Y’all know how much I love writing, and if I can combine that with the ability to entertain people, then I am ecstatic. I totally get why comedians do what they do professionally— for me, there is no better high than making people laugh.
I must warn you that it is a bit awkward for me to write this because I am used to throwing in humor when talking about marriage and navigating the world as a Christian, but the nature of this post is a bit more serious. I know for a fact that I’m not alone on this subject and knew that it was important to share the struggles I’ve encountered and what I’ve learned in the hopes that it may help or encourage someone else.
So without further ado, here it is:
My husband and I are not in love.
Seven years of togetherness and five years of marriage next month, and we both agree that we are no longer in love.
There was no lavish affair, no devastating secrets, no lack of fulfillment of marital duties—nothing that would seemingly “justify” a falling out of love in today’s society.
That is not to say that we don’t care about one another deeply— we most certainly do. But if you ask most people in this day and age, “love, but not IN love” is 100% enough of a reason to walk away from a marriage.
We got married when we were both in bad places in our lives. By our own admission, our motives were extremely selfish. We didn’t know what we were doing, and we didn’t care. We also changed. We grew up a lot. We have very different families and backgrounds and experiences. I realized that I spent my life trying to mold myself after whatever man I was interested in, and when I stopped doing that and became my own person a few years ago, we realized that we were two very different people now more than ever.
Tristin and I have had no shortage of opinions and advice from people on our situation. I can’t speak for him, but I know the advice I have been given has been all over the board. Don’t misunderstand me—I’ve been thankful for the kindness of my friends and family members and co-workers who have known about our struggles and offered their advice; however, I have been occasionally saddened by what I’ve been told as well.
A friend of mine who is an outspoken non-believer told me that I should get divorced immediately, which didn’t surprise me too much. I quote: “You’re still so young, Jess. You are too good of a person and would be too amazing of a mother to stay somewhere where you’re not worshipped every day.” (Yes. Me. Worshipped. More on that later.)
Some told me to fight it out, quite literally, to the death. Counseling, retreats, books—whatever it took to save the marriage, even if I had to do it alone.
A surprising number of people on both sides of the religious aisle told me we should have a baby to occupy our time and energy, going so far as to even say it’s what they did and that it was the perfect distraction. Some even threw in that if we had had kids sooner, we would’ve been too busy to discover or care about any underlying problems. And before you scoff at that suggestion judgmentally, just know that that happens all the time. I know too many divorced parents of toddlers for it to not be a thing that people do.
Many, MANY others, both Christians and flat-out atheists, told me that I should just “let my heart decide.”
I was and am very thankful for the advice I’ve received over the last couple of years. I’m also thankful that I’m secure enough in my beliefs and knowledge to know what biblically sound advice is and what is heartfelt but often misguided.
I think the first fundamental truth you have to know about navigating marriage starts here:
Place your right hand over the left side of your chest.
That thumping you feel is your heart, and it’s a built-in marriage killer—a marital slaughterhouse, if you will.
Your heart is absolutely full of sin. And even someone who is truly transformed by the power and blood of Christ will always, always, ALWAYS be naturally inclined to follow the evil desires of your flesh (heart) if left unchecked and without the Spirit of God. Man is totally deprived of goodness; literally, no one is “good” (Romans 3:23). This is why you have to crucify yourself and YOUR wants and desires daily to be a Christian, and especially to be a married Christian (Matthew 16:24).
My sinful heart tells me that, just as my friend said, I deserve to be placed upon a pedestal and worshipped. Our feminist culture makes women feel like failures if they don’t have a significant other who’s a mindless slave and tells them that they’re perfect all day long, which is dangerous on a lot of levels— but that’s for another blog.
My sinful heart tells me that I deserve to be with someone who appreciates the facets of my personality that I find to be the most endearing.
My sinful heart tells me that if I’m not happy, I should jump ship because I deserve to be happy.
This is why I’ve become especially thankful for our church and the elders who have taught me so much over the last several years. I’m thankful that I read books on marriage that taught me about what it is and is not. I am also immensely thankful for a pastor who sat down with us before we got married and told us, in so many words, that marriage is not about your happiness.
I KNOW. The minute some of y’all read that, you went, “WHAT THE WHAT?! IF YOU’RE NOT HAPPY, IT AIN’T WORTH IT! Life is too short, sister!!”
And I’ll be the first to admit, I spent several months and years believing that to be true also.
But I’m here to tell you that:
But I’m here to tell you that:
- Happiness is irrelevant because it is rooted in emotions and feelings.
- Emotions and feelings are fleeting and unstable.
- Being “in love” is circumstantial, as it is based on feelings and emotions.
- Therefore, I cannot break marriage vows over feelings or “unhappiness.”
If I were to listen to some of the people who have offered me advice along with the consensus of the general population in 2018, I would have full permission to get a divorce based upon our lack of being “in love.” Ultimately, we do not personally believe that we have biblical grounds for such a move. Quite honestly, we both have had to get to a place where we decided that we are going to work at it and become transparent and pliable enough to receive and accept help from spiritually-based resources. You’ve heard a thousand times that marriage is work, but I don’t think I ever believed it until I lived it. We are in the process of rebuilding at ground zero, and honestly, it’s not fun. I don’t enjoy being selfless and submitting. There are still many days where we look at one another and are honest enough to say, “I’m struggling to do this today.” We don’t take it personally because we know it doesn’t come from a place of hurt or resentment. It stems from selfishness and sinful hearts, and we just have to pray for the Spirit to break us of our own desires. The bottom line is that we are just two sinners trying to do the best we can through the grace of God. We fail a lot, but we are trying to keep going. God alone gives us the ability to stay. That’s it.
I share this with you for a lot of reasons. One is so that you can pray for God to lead us and for us to be obedient to His will. Another is so that you know that no marriage is or can ever be perfect, despite what the world of social media would have you believe. I’d also advise you to really dig into your own relationships and be proactive in keeping them intact, and for the love of all that is holy, KEEP YOURSELF GUARDED WHEN YOU KNOW YOU ARE DOWN FOR THE COUNT.
Do you know how easy it is to have an affair today? You don’t have to go down to a bar or strip club… affair-starters lie next to our beds each night on a charging cable. It’s wild. I even joined a Christian marriage advice group on Facebook and within two weeks had an unhappily married father of three trying to proposition me. Throw in the weekly fishing Instagram DMs and all of the other apps at our disposal, and it can spiral out of control SO quickly (blocking people is your friend… honestly, staying off of social media is your friend sometimes). It can become a slippery slope if you fail to be discerning. I’ve found that it’s just proof that the enemy hates marriage because he hates what it represents (Christ and His church), and he wants that destroyed by any means possible. While outside temptations can certainly help do that, more often than not, our own hearts—that very thing that we pledge to “give” to a partner for eternity—are often our own undoing.
I wish I could end this on a fluffy note, but honestly, I can’t say with absolute certainty that this will end “happily ever after.” I can’t say with absolute certainty that Tristin and I will be “happy” or “in love.” But I do know for sure that we serve a God Who conquered death and the powers of hell, and that same Spirit is within us.
And so, we press on (Philippians 3:14).
If any of this resonates with you, know that you’re not alone. None of us are alone.
We just have to roll up our sleeves and dig in. It’s work. And it hurts. But we’re not the first ones who’ve struggled.
Keep fighting the fight.