The big surprise I found in my marriage — after nine years

I had been sitting on the edge of my bed for about 20 minutes when my wife, Raquel, walked in. I didn’t even look up.

“I can’t do this,” I said. “I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.”

Raquel walked over and sat next to me.

“I’m sorry,” she said, putting her hand on my back. “I hate to see you going through this.”

We sat in silence together for 20 minutes and then she added: “You’re on a journey, honey – God’s doing a work in you.”

It gave me a glimmer of hope in the midst of an unexpected battle with depression. If I was on a journey, then maybe it would finally end at some point.

Ironically, my battle with depression began with me trying to get healthier. I started an intense medical treatment for a chronic illness, which I knew would be physically challenging. But I’m fairly self-disciplined, so I assured my doctor I would be fine. I had no idea.

For the first couple of months of treatment I did well, but the side effects began to wear on me. I felt weak and lethargic. My appetite was gone, and day by day there was a growing sense of low-grade sadness. Even so, I kept telling myself and others that I was doing fine. My wife knew better.

Raquel did everything she could to keep my spirits up. She texted scripture verses to me, prayed for me and God only knows how many times she said: “You’ve got this, honey.” And the more I struggled, the harder I leaned on her strength, which was quite a departure from our early years of marriage.

Nine years before, we started out with a lot of passion but we also had a lot of room to grow. We frequently argued over the most minor decisions, bickered in front of others and criticized each other incessantly. But along the way our marriage began growing into something better, and the most effective fertilizer seemed to be the hard times we went through.

Sometimes I was the strong one; sometimes it was Raquel. Generally speaking, though, I was the one who bounced back more easily – until this past year. I had met my match and I couldn’t work up the strength to be OK.

I needed Raquel to be at the front lines in my battle against depression. By the grace of God, she rose to the occasion and fought alongside me until the treatment ended and I finally began to emerge from the fog of despair. I didn’t know she had it in her.

A lot of young couples have no idea what a gift they have in each other. They’re too busy wrestling for control over who’s supposed to do the dishes, where to go to for Christmas or how much they can afford to pay for a house. Some of those frustrated couples are going to be pleasantly surprised one day when they discover things in their spouse that only time and grace could bring out.

An immature, easily offended husband may end up being the one who shows unconditional forgiveness to his wife. A selfish, demanding wife may grow into a woman who will love her husband as Alzheimer’s disease ravages his mind. Becoming a person like that takes time.

We’ve got to give each other a chance – over and over again – for our spouse to exceed our expectations and grow into the person we hoped we married. In doing so we risk disappointment, but the only alternative is to give up on each other. That’s no way to love.

Scripture tells us that love ‘always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” – that real love “never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Real love is truly in it “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” And real love knows there’s only one way to discover the good things hidden inside our spouse: We’ve got to believe the best, no matter how long it takes to see it.

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