Eight Traits That Will Kill Any Marriage

At the young age of 18, I met my then future husband. I fell madly in love, and he felt the same way about me. Within weeks we were engaged and in less than a year, we were married. We were full time students and quite broke. Even though we stepped into adult roles very suddenly, our youth and immaturity was evident as we tried to manage both college and marriage. We were not very good at it and hurt each other deeply. In fact, we were quite unhappy, and to be honest, the only reason why we didn’t get a divorce was because we both believed in the Bible. We didn’t know many things, but there was one assurance we did have: God hates divorce. So, despite our immaturity, unhappiness, endless fights, and financial instability, the word divorce, never crossed our lips. We would stick together no matter what, because our love for God was stronger than our love for each other.

And so we set off to build a family despite our difficulties. We had babies, we worked in ministry, we explored careers, we grew up, and slowly but surely we learned a thing or two about being married and making each other happy. Our marriage is far from perfect, but Juan and I can honestly say we are the best of friends. We have not only survived an unhappy marriage, but we have learned and experienced true intimacy, deep joy, unconditional acceptance, and fulfilling companionship.

I am not a relationship expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I have learned a few things during my (almost) 29 years of marriage. I certainly understand specific characteristics that have the potential to unequivocally destroy this sacred union. Similarly, I understand the antithetical ones that can build and repair it. So here they are:

Eight Traits That Kill Marriage

  1. Pride. Pride says, your faults are bigger than mine; your sin is nastier than mine. Pride wants to be right. It exalts the action over the person. Pride fails to ask forgiveness and refuses to forgive. Choose humility instead. Acknowledge that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and we are all in equal need of forgiveness. Decide to listen and understand over self-justification. Apologize often, and forgive every single time.
  2. Cynicism. Merriam-Webster describes the word as “believing that people are generally selfish and dishonest”. Cynicism doesn’t give the benefit of the doubt. It is the perfect companion to pride. It encourages defensiveness and discourages honesty. Choose to trust instead. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Co 13:17). Take the other at his word, thus encouraging open communication. Ask God for optimism and hope, trusting your marriage can improve, even thrive.
  3. Silence. Lack of verbal communication sabotages growth. Silence speaks volumes, as it is easily interpreted as indifference and lack of desire to connect intimately. In silence there is no conflict resolution, but only fertile ground for misconceptions and discouragement. Choose to talk, and to do so as much as it’s needed. It is the most effective way to know each other, as well as encourage, confront, correct, and enlighten each other.
  4. Manipulation. Its main goal is to control and get its own way. Whether it is through the use of tears, screaming, lying, scheming, nagging, or overpowering, manipulation will kill intimacy, trust, and friendship, without a doubt. A manipulative spouse is not a friend, but a rival. However, patience allows room for waiting. Wait for your spouse to have a change of heart or action. As you train yourself in humility, trust, and open communication, manipulation should completely disappear from your tactics.
  5. Harshness. It is the opposite of kindness and gentleness. Harshness, plain and simply, destroys. Like beach erosion, each wave breaks down one’s dignity. While kindness protects and builds up, harshness lays one bare and humiliates. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov 15:1) Nothing repairs and assures the other of one’s love better than kind words, soft touch, and gentle smiles. Give them generously and expect miraculous results.
  6. Laziness. It is apathy and negligence. Laziness does not make an effort to improve, change, or love. Laziness is satisfied with status quo and is unwilling to do the hard work of marriage. But marriage requires persevering and hard work. It is not for the faint of heart. Don’t give up! If you fail today, you can succeed tomorrow!
  7. Unfaithfulness. It does not adhere to vows and it breaks promises. It comes in various forms and degrees, but it is always wrong and lethal to the relationship. Unfaithfulness is rejection and it builds walls of mistrust. Your eyes, heart, body, and soul are only for your spouse. Do not allow even a hint of unfaithfulness to go unchecked. Even when nobody knows, God sees. So be quick to repent, for God is faithful to forgive. Confess and make any necessary changes if you want for your marriage to stand a chance. Faithfulness is the blood of the relationship. Don’t take it lightly.
  8. Isolation. The refusal of intimacy hardens hearts. Physical, emotional, and spiritual separation prevents healing and becomes most unsatisfying. So choose to never live apart, if at all possible, or even sleep apart. Physical closeness and intimacy should be constant; emotional connection and friendship should be sought after with creativity and passion; spiritual oneness should be pursued at all cost. In order for marriage to work, two people must be one, in every sense of the word.

I understand these negative traits because at one point or another, I have displayed every single one of them and have experienced their destructive power. Dear reader, my hope is that you understand the love and fulfillment that can be possible in a good marriage.

The Secret to a Good Marriage:

GRACE

It’s easy to write about what we, as spouses, should or shouldn’t be doing. It’s much harder to live it. They key ingredient is grace, defined as “unmerited favor”. Grace is the character trait that is willing to hit the reset button, to start again, to give second, third, and one hundredth chances. Grace is willing to forgive and not hold on to resentment. Grace understands that we all wrong others and that we are all in equal need of pardon. At its very core, grace is self-sacrifice. Without it, it is impossible to mend a broken relationship. But with it, all things are possible.

In my own marriage, I have learned to give grace and to receive it. No matter how much I have hurt my husband or how much he has wronged me, we have chosen grace, time and time again. But this grace is impossible to manufacture. You don’t order it in the mail or press the ON button to activate it. You cannot even will it into existence. Rather, grace is formed and matured in adversity and need, when we give it a chance. The truth is that grace is a part of God’s character, and only He imparts it. And He gives it generously and in a timely manner. So if you need it (and you do), ask Him for it. He is not only able to give you the grace needed to love a spouse, but willing and joyfully desirous to do so. It is in the power of grace that your marriage will flourish and be a fountain of life rather than mutual discouragement.

Please let me know if I can pray for you as well. It would be my privilege.

Letting Go

We give birth to them, enduring discomfort and suffering after months of pregnancy and the pains of labor. We lose sleep and rise up early, cry when they cry, pray for them like we’ve never prayed before, and our entire lives change: priorities, schedules, activities, choices. Children redirect our thinking and cause us to learn how to love passionately and live for others. As we lay ourselves down and sacrifice our own wants and needs, we grow in affection and appreciation of these little people who come to mean the world to us. The more they grow, the heavier our trunk of memories and mementos.  We crave their well-being and happiness; we strive to raise them well and teach them the lessons we ourselves have learned. Our hearts latch on to theirs. We would do anything for them.

I believe it pleases God to give us children. The Bible says they are God’s gift to us. If He, God, has shown us unconditional love and care for us, his children, then it also brings him much joy and honor when we learn to love by having children. God transforms us more and more into his image as we learn repentance, forgiveness, mercy, and grace through relating to our kids.

So here is the conundrum: These people whom we love and die for, need also to be let go of, and often times I find myself feeling like I can never be whole again.

I remember the first time I left Gabriel, my autistic son, in preschool. He was three. We knew he needed to be in that program. But we also knew he had no ability to communicate with us and that if anything happened to him, there were good chances we would never find out. I could not protect him if he needed me. What fear I felt. What heart-wrenching pain. I watched him through the classroom door for a good 40 minutes before I was able to peel myself out of there. I sobbed all the way home.

About a week or so ago I was talking to my friend whose son just left for college. She told me she’s been crying every day since his departure. When I asked her what the biggest source of grief was, she said that she feared he would forget her, very much the way she forgot about her parents when she left home. That fear rang true with me. We might not completely “forget” our parents when we grow into adulthood, but we certainly do not suffer their absence as much as they suffer ours. So here we are left with a heart full of love and commitment and a life given over to our children, just to have to let them go.

Of course, I think growing up is healthy and leaving your parents is natural and actually a good thing. But despite the reason, the age, or the manner and degree in which children leave their parents, it is still a heart-wrenching transition for us. Sometimes the “leaving” comes in the form of the joyous occasion of their marriage, but sometimes it comes in the fearful departure to the military, or in the moving overseas, or in a child who leaves home prematurely, when we fully know they are not ready for it, or losing a child in a custody battle.  And what about when a child dies? How does one go on? How does a shattered heart continue beating? Not all of us experience the tragedy of the death of a child, but most of us do have to live through the letting go, to one degree or another, more than once.

I’ve had to let go many times. Having four living children, most of them now adults, and three miscarriages, the letting go has felt extensive. And there is a lot more coming! So how  will I do this? How does any parent let go of years of recitals or afternoons at the playground, or driving kids to soccer practice? HOW? Where is the switch that turns off the yearning and desire to spend time, to physically touch, or to feel our love reciprocated?

I do not have any answers. I just feel empathy. I feel for my friend whose son has left for college and for another dear friend who is a single mother and recently gave both of her kids in marriage, the same year. While these are great circumstances and blessed events, they also feel heavy and hard on their hearts. I feel for a couple I know who left their son at rehab on the other side of the country and for the parents I know who will be driving their son to boot camp at the end of the summer. I empathize. I understand.

If I were to be fatalistic about this whole thing, I would come to the conclusion that having children is not recommended, or that allowing oneself to love so intensely will only lead to pain and suffering, so why do it? But I do not see having children and loving your children as bad or destructive. I see it as a gift from God, a good thing. Yes, the more we love, the more we will hurt. So if we don’t hurt much it means that we have not loved much. I’d rather love and suffer than not to know such love. Besides, love for children doesn’t only produce suffering, but it also produces great, unimaginable joy. When I understand such love and happiness, I get a glimpse at what God’s love for me must be like. This is good.

While I don’t have answers, I do have hope. All of us, in this world of parenting, CAN have hope. This I know: If we put our hope in the outcome of our parenting, we might come to be sorely disappointed and wounded. In order to make it in one piece, I have found that my hope needs to be elsewhere. So even though my life will be wrapped around the lives of my children for a period of time, my hope for love, fulfillment, even companionship should lie outside the confines of those relationships. If it’s not, then I will cling to my children for dear life, and create a mess in the process. The love I feel for my children must have no strings attached and it should be truly selfless (not that I come close to achieving this but I strive for it’s approximation).

For one, I know that if I am a married woman, the love for my children should never surpass (in essence or in form) the love for my spouse. Practically, this is hard to do, since children tend to be more needy than spouses. But it is important to remember that the relationship with my children will change over time, while the relationship with my spouse is meant to be until death parts us. I can have a close friend and lover always, even when my children are gone. I can expect and hope companionship and equal partnership in a spouse until the very end, therefore I must treat this marital union with the utmost of priority, always.

But we live in a broken world, a world where people fail us, where loved ones die, where we push others away. So there are no guarantees in life: no surety of a lasting marriage, no certainty of faithful friends or financial security. Everything in life is temporary and changing. So even if I focus on my marriage and foster good, lasting friendships, and raise my children well, my hope cannot possibly be firmly placed on those things, because by nature, they could shift or cease to exist altogether. Only one does not change or fade. Only GOD is a rock, which cannot be moved. Therefore I know that as I prioritize my relationship with him, above the one I have with any human being, then I can rest assured that I will be OK, in the end.

I honestly do not have a grasp on how to let go of my kids. So this hope I cling to: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” – (1st Pet 5:10). Suffering “for a little while” might last my life time, which in the scope of eternity is definitely a short time. The strength the Lord gives me comes in pieces and waves. As I need it, He gives it, mercifully. But the suffering, in one way or another, will continue until the day I am fully restored in His presence. What a hope! I do not labor in vain. I do not love and give and cry and pray for momentary happiness. I live through the bad things and the good things, and the great things of this life, with a much bigger calling: To see him, to be trained by him, and to love him more and more. Peter also says in vs. 4: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” Yes! Yes, yes, yes! So even though the letting go of my children remains a daunting task and the loving of others will prove to be both a blessing and a source of pain in this life, there is an unfading hope of never ending happiness and steadfast fellowship with the one who knows me and loves me more intimately than any human being can possibly do. So maybe, just maybe, if I cling to this hope while going through this life, I can then not only “make it”, but rejoice in ALL my circumstances, even in the letting go.

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Where is Home?

Our first autumn

Our first autumn

Today marks 2 years since Gabriel and I relocated to VA. Juan had already moved since the previous January and Elise came a month after I did, followed by Daniel and my mom who joined us in September, and Lizette about a year later. It was a time of family separation; a time of tears and goodbyes; so many friends being left behind; so many memories. The weeks leading up to our move were packed and busy and stressful, making arrangements to vacate and sell things and pack vans. Where would the kids stay? How long until I saw them again? I missed my husband, I feared the unknown, I longed for permanence, and I shed many tears and said many prayers.

Then we drove: 1,000 miles north, to start a new life in new surroundings, new climate, new church, new job, and new possibilities. I had a lot more questions than I had answers, and I felt disoriented. We stayed with friends for three months. Even though I knew God was mercifully providing for us and our time with dear TC and Patti was full of grace and love, I constantly felt as if the ground beneath me was shaking and cracking. I longed for the days when our family could be united in a house of our own. Of course, the time came, we moved again, we emptied our storage unit, slept in our own beds and ate from our own dishes. Life was slowly coming together. After 9 months of separation, we were a family again! It felt wonderful. It felt scary too. Inside our house was comfort and stability, but outside were the unfamiliar and the unknown. It seemed like everywhere we turned we were reminded we were not “from around here”. Who knew street names could change every 10 blocks? I had never fathomed that fallen leaves could cover my yard up to my hips! How long would it take for those around us to include us as friends? Outside our four walls, we were just names and faces, without connections or recommendations or people who knew people who knew us. Isolation.

So it’s been two years. And I enter into a self-evaluation kind of mood. How am I feeling? What has God taught me? How is my family doing? Have we grown or benefited from this experience? As I recall my feelings and expectations from two years ago, and I compare them to today, I notice a few things:

  1. I miss my family and Miami friends just as much, if not more, than I did when I first came. There is a deep sadness for not seeing my nieces’ flamenco dance recitals, and for not being able to visit my uncle who is very sick in the hospital. There is a longing to sit down over coffee or soup with my friends. Phone calls or text messages are not enough to satisfy my need to hug a hurting family member. How I miss those Telefunken Sundays with my loud, Cuban friends, and chicken-dances with my brother. I am so grateful I live in an era of facebook and skype and mobile phones, because I feel like the distance is a little closer than it actually is.

  2. I miss Miami: Just the city and the things I loved about it; even the things I hated about it (well, only sometimes. I definitely do not miss the traffic or the constant road construction.) I never knew I would get so many Pollo Tropical cravings! And there have been days, especially during this last winter, that I ached for humidity and heat and beach and salty air. Yes, I complained many a time of the heat when I lived there, but now I miss it.

  3. I can now find my way to River Rd. without a GPS (and without getting lost.) I have been to Charlottesville, Virginia Beach, Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Jamestown and am falling in love with this state little by little. I appreciate that everything is close! As opposed to Miami which is far from everything and everybody, we are driving distance from many other states. We have mountains, we have water, and who knew I would ever spend the 4th of July in Washington DC? I feel blessed to see new things and walk through such old streets and enter buildings which are rich in history and heritage. And seasons! The falling of leaves and the dusting of snow and the springing of flowers and sudden appearance of leaves making everything yellow-green… these make life exciting. If I hate cold days, I know I’ll eventually have hot ones, REALLY hot ones. No same-ole same-ole. And I have so much to learn and visit! It will take me a while, but I have actually considered that VA could feel like my home, hopefully in the not-so-distant future. Maybe it never will, at least not fully, but if it were to depend on my attitude and disposition towards it, it could happen. Only time will tell.

  4. The church. No matter where I live, I know one thing for certain: Finding believers in Christ means I have found my spiritual family. There is a bond I share with the body of Christ that is different, and in one sense, stronger than that of blood related family (how sweet when both blood and spirit unites me to others). The thought of finding a spiritual family here gave me great hope when I first moved. In fact, it was such a powerful force in my thinking and feeling, that it allowed me to take the step to relocate. And so it has been that God has surrounded us with like-minded people who have served us and loved on us since the first day. I have to admit there were many times when I felt disappointed. Perhaps I had unrealistic dreams about what my bond would be with my new family after I arrived. Relationships did not develop at the pace I had envisioned, which contributed to my sense of isolation. But despite the bumps on the road, God has shown himself faithful in providing for us through his children. He has given encouragement and wisdom and laughter, and even Telefunken friends who embrace the bilingual lingo and all. Deep friendships are being fostered in some cases and started in others, and our family feels accepted and embraced. God is good to us.

  5. I am slow to learn, especially the really important things, such as humility and patience. But God who is great in kindness and mercy towards me, teaches me in little bits and chunks. God has been molding my character and showing me who I really am as people and things have been stripped away. I guess this is a really good thing, even though it doesn’t always feel good. If at the end of my life I trust him as much as I can trust him and love him and rely on him as much as I possibly can, then all this and every other difficult and wonderful experience in life will have been worth going through. I want to be trained by every moment, easy or hard. Like I said, I am slow to learn, so more often than not, it’s in the hard things where I learn the most. I think I may have grown in the past two years. I don’t see the growth, necessarily, but I feel the growing pains, so I must have grown. I continue to grow, still.

 

We went from a family of 5 to a family of 7! Our house is always (yes, always) full of noise and laughter and fighting (in good, Cuban style), and sitting around the dining room table telling stories and jokes. More often than not, there is an additional teenager, or three or four, hanging around here. We drive a big conversion van spacious enough to fit all of us and our friends, and are now, officially, the dorkiest family in Chesterfield county. The kids are in school, we have jobs, we serve at church, and we meet new people all the time. There are people we consider sweet friends. I work with precious kids, teaching them songs about pigs and spiders, and I feel happy doing so. Despite the difficulties, we are abundantly blessed and loved by God who understands our deepest needs and desires.

So where is home? That is a question I cannot answer. My heart is here. My heart is there. I guess this is what it should always feel like, in regards to God and his kingdom, shouldn’t it? Living as strangers in a foreign land, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

Roots

The thing about roots is that they are designed, not only to nourish the plant, but also to hold it firmly in place. Without roots, plants would be carried away by the wind. The older the plant, the deeper and wider the roots grow. Try pulling the root of a big old tree!

So this morning as I worked on a part of my yard I had neglected for a while, I set out to prepare the ground to plant new shrubs and flowers.

As I was digging and pulling roots and weeds, I came across some pretty big roots that had been silently tucked away in the soil for a good long while. Mind you there was no living plant connected to these roots. The plants died long ago. But the roots stayed firmly in the dark, without being noticed. These roots nourish no more. They don’t hold any living thing in place. They’re just there. Quietly. Secretly.

Until I came along.

How can a dead thing be so difficult to pull! I pulled so hard, one of those yanks sent me flying backwards only to land on my rear end a couple of feet away (thankfully I have built in cushions).

I had to pull those stubborn roots! If I didn’t, I would not be able to clear the ground for these new beautiful plants I just purchased. So I yanked and yanked, using muscles I haven’t used in a while (I’ll be in pain tomorrow, I know).

As I reflected on what I was doing, I realized that in my own heart, there are roots that have been firmly established. Roots of wrong thinking, lack of trust, deeply seeded fears, and iinsecurities from long ago. Most of the time, I don’t even know they’re there. Until the garden keeper decides to yank them out.
“Ouch!!! Don’t take those out! I was perfectly OK with them there!”
“But I’m getting ready to replace the dead things with new living things”, says the keeper.
“NO! No, no, no! You are removing too many things! Stop!” I cry as I struggle to hold on to the roots I’ve been accustomed to for such a long time.
“But don’t you see this is good for you”?

Good for me. It is good for me to be shaken and moved in order for the hand of the keeper of the garden to pull the dead and make room for the new. I guess my heart can’t hold all of it at once.

So roots are being yanked now. And I didn’t even know they were there! But as much as it hurts, I’m deciding not to fight it. I know I’ll resist tomorrow, but today, I am trusting my keeper. Can’t wait to make room for more fertile soil, and to be adorned with fruit producing plants.

My yard is looking so much better! But I’m not done yanking. As I bring more plants from the store, I’ll have to dig again. But I’ll make sure I water the garden and keep it free of weeds, because it’s hard work doing this gardening! It’s my garden, so I’ll tend to it as faithfully as I’m able.

My garden keeper will do the same with me.

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