I was a mere 23 years old, and my wonderful future lay ahead of me as I prepared to marry the man of my dreams. He was a naval flight officer—responsible, smart, steady, driven—and a leader who pursued all the golden ideals I desired to build my exemplary life. Unaware at the time, I wanted to do marriage completely differently than my parents.
As I approached my wedding day, the women in our Navy community blessed me with a bridal shower. My mentor gave me a gift and a handwritten notecard that I held onto for years. She was a wise example of all I hoped to become as a wife and mother, and I often would hang on her every word and action. On the card, she had lovingly inscribed my road map to success:
“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” Proverbs 14:1
As I prepared for my idealized life to come, I remember being unsure how to live out this biblical premise. I planned to do my very best to build a home of care, honor, and delight, and I felt that it was all my responsibility.
I have been married for over three decades now. Building a home isn’t as simplistic as what I had hoped. It has been bumpy and hard. Many times it has been difficult and painful, and at times, it has seemed like I was set up for failure. I wonder—how have I built, and how have I torn down? Am I wise, or am I foolish?
I have worked steadily over the years to build my house.
I have toiled to tear down the horrible foundation I brought into my marriage. Brick by brick, I painfully pulled out the rubble and cleaned out the debris that had been left behind by my parents. I have rebuilt by beginning to execute new ways of engaging. This reconstruction has produced seasons of steady and not-so-steady progress, yet I still have not arrived at the wise woman’s perfection.
Recently, some shingles have been ripped off, and I have found rot and decay in places that go down to the foundation. Sadly, I am just learning what good repair looks like. I have to let down my defenses to say I am sorry and own my role in the harm. I have to humbly name the impact and take time to consider how it was created. This process of excavation is painful. Oh, how I grieve that it has taken so long to learn these lessons. What has it cost those I love? What has it cost me?
One area that I have torn down is in the place where I have carried judgments about my husband’s mistakes. I can be quick to anger and harsh when he misses the mark. I have lacked humility by thinking that my way is best. My building goal is to grow in empathy as I remember to consider what may be going on inside for him. Maybe if I am more kind with my own failings, I will be more patient with him.
Historically, an equally devastating place for me has been in failing to speak my truth for fear of conflict. Having never seen my parents work through a struggle or much less have a meaningful conversation, this is a hard one to learn. I build by choosing to courageously speak my mind, even if this means I disagree with my husband. This transition has been slow. I can be unkind as I get used to the strength of my opinions, so I am working to soften my approach when he doesn’t fully embrace my way of thinking.
I attended a bridal shower this weekend. It was a beautiful event full of hope and the promise of life and love to come. I will always cherish this commitment and all the goodness a thriving marriage can hold. Perhaps for many it isn’t as challenging, but I never would have guessed that tearing down would be so necessary and building would take so much energy when I was head over heels in young love. I still haven’t figured out the blueprint for this complex building project. All I know is that I need God’s wisdom more than ever to continue the endeavor.
Maryhelen Martens has been gathering and connecting with others since she was a young girl growing up in rural Wisconsin. She is a lover of whimsy and play, beauty and depth, all of which she experiences in her relationships. While her emotions and voice were shut down for decades, she is finding them again and using them in healing groups, story coaching, and writing. She’s always been drawn to water and sunsets and more recently to the desert and sunrises. She’s curious about that. Mother to three authentic adults, Maryhelen lives with her steadfast husband Keith on the shore of Lake Michigan.
Every. Single. Word. All of it. I found myself visibly nodding and wanting to let forth an audible, “Amen!!!” (x57) as I read your story, Maryhelen.
Thank you for sharing so honestly about your young visions for the ideals of marriage and home (I admit I can get cynical at times…), but thank you even more for exposing the raw realities of “demolition and reconstruction,” starting with your own courageous vulnerability and ownership. Never had I ever imagined how messy, painful, and deliberate these processes are!
Know that you are not alone on your brave journey. Know, too, that I am rooting for—and participating in from afar—your ongoing soul investment in the rebuild!
Thank you, Lacey! Rebuilding is so worth it! I glad to hear you are on the journey too!
Thank you for sharing so openly. I wonder if you have passed along the wise words you received at your bridal shower to other young wives?
Great idea, Madeline. I do try to share vulnerably. I wish someone had prepared me a bit more realistically.
I love how you express the work that marriage is! May God amply bless you!
Thank you, Claudia!
Maryhelen, as always you make me reflect so deeply. Your honesty is brave and encouraging. I resonate with all that you say. I know how much you love your husband and how hard you have always fought to build a healthy, intimate marriage. You are doing it and sharing with the rest of us how to humbly enter into our role contributing to marital conflict. I have been married 44 years and there is no resting on your laurels. Intentionality, listening well, owning our own stuff, empathy, and kindness must always be cultivated. Thank you.
Mookie, thanks for inspiring me! I’ll continue to cultivate just like you.
Thank you, MaryHelen, for your words around the work and wonder of a marriage. Much of what you said resonated with me — the desire for a marriage with more meaning and depth than that of my own parents. My expectations — voicing those and with clarity, understanding which expectations are unfair or unkind and which deserve to remain “on the table”. Gently. The willingness to see where I have harmed — and to humbly admit that harm — and to repair. To love and care deeply — to listen well. Bless you, dear woman!
Suzann, I love your words, “ the work and wonder of a marriage.” Perhaps we should add “mystery” to the mix.
Beautifully written, Maryhelen. I so appreciate your constant posture of learning. Little is said about the needed “tear down” work while also building a home and marriage. I appreciate you! ~ Natalie