Marriage is the Beautiful Hard

Four recent college graduates sat around my IKEA dining room table. A long crack ran down the center, Djibouti had long ago scarred the cheap wood. Humidity, heat, pressure, and later, scalding hot cookie sheets, kids finger-painting, and egg-dyeing projects would leave their marks.

“What has marriage brought to your life?” one of the young women asked.

They were in Djibouti for five weeks, part of a training program, and were nearing the end. We had talked through culture shock, poverty and justice, teaching English, developing relationships with their first-ever-Muslim friends, and now they wanted to talk about marriage. I didn’t know why they asked this particular question but I started talking.

Marriage brought laughter and comfort, a little bit of romance, someone to fix my broken toilets and change tires. Marriage brought a partner, someone to beat at Scrabble and someone to beat me at cribbage. It brought adventure – I have done things with or for my husband I would never have done alone – and with that adventure, courage and confidence. Marriage brought someone to be with me, who understands my wild history of low-income housing and Somalia and evacuation and giving birth to twins and Djibouti. Marriage brought spiritual depth and fresh insights into a faith almost too-familiar. Marriage brought three children. And sex.

Marriage brought anger and impatience and a man with an annoying tendency to tease just that much too far. It brought fights and stinky soccer clothes and revealed selfishness and pride. It brought the need to compromise and not seek after my own interests. Humility. The need to ask and offer forgiveness.

Before long, I noticed all of the girls were crying.

“What’s wrong?” I said. “What did I say?”

The girl who asked the question spoke. “I’ve been doing an informal study. I asked almost twenty couples this question, all of them believers.” She paused. “Yours is the only answer that makes me actually want to get married. The others said all negative things and I’ve started to lose hope that marriage is good.”

Now I felt like crying. I was sad for these girls who hadn’t heard the beautiful about marriage, had only heard the hard. And I was sad for these Christian couples who could only speak of the hard and not the beautiful. I still remember the advice of a man from our church to Tom, the week before we got married. He said, “You have seven days to run. Run.” He was married.

I’ve been married fourteen years and there are days I punch my pillow and think ‘who is this crazy stranger strutting around my house like he owns the place?’ Because yes, there are hard things about marriage. This other person has desires and needs. Deep ones, like what continent to live on and how to raise children. Lighter ones like ribs instead of salad for dinner and how to discard coffee grounds. These desires conflict with my own but I didn’t get married so I could always have my own way.

I don’t know what our marriage would look like if we had never moved to a Muslim country but I believe living overseas has fundamentally affected us. We were married three years in the US and now eleven in the Horn of Africa. We don’t hold hands or exhibit public displays of affections, not even at the airport. We don’t hang out with couple friends. We don’t volunteer together at church or school.

But we share inside jokes in Somali. We both remember the time our daughter pooped on the floor in a restaurant in Somalia. We know what it means if one of us rubs the other’s chin. I have seen Tom at his culture-shocked and jet-lagged worst. He has seen me. We know our specific, intimate heartaches.

And we know that someone has our back. Someone believes in us, even when we make no sense to anyone else. Even when we mess up the grammar and use our left hand and are taunted by street kids and receive a ‘no’ on a project proposal and a friend tells us to stop visiting. There is someone at home who will listen to me vent, pray for me and hold me and restore my sense of dignity and will make me laugh and then will wipe the slobber from the shoulder of his t-shirt.

Being married is hard and it is beautiful and married people become, whether they live overseas or not, like the scarred table with the crack down the center. The hard parts brought on by pressure and sin and personality leave their mark. But I don’t stare at the scar when I sit down to the table. I remember the holidays, the late-night conversations, the epic Settlers of Catan games, the Chinese takeout on Christmas, the people who have shared this table and then scattered all over the world. I remember the man who has shared this table and never scattered anywhere except with me.

Yes, the table is scarred but the table is beautiful because people have been together here, celebrating and loving and living. What has marriage brought to my life? Scars, beautiful and hard things. But even in the hard things, they are our hard things and Tom and I bear the marks together. Part of building a marriage is choosing to sit at the scarred table and see the beautiful.

Photo Credit: smilla4 via Compfight cc


  1. Elizabeth May 18, 2014

    Good grief, this is beautiful. And sad. We’ve been married almost 14 years, and they have been good years for us. But we rarely meet anyone else who would say the same. Especially hard on us is what happened to my husband’s (much) younger sisters. They have never seen a single marriage, up close, that works, and they are scared to death of getting married. They watched their parents having a very different kind of marriage than my husband watched his parents having (long story). And then there are the other close family members for whom marriage has been so difficult it has led to divorce. And though we have wholeheartedly enjoyed marriage, we have never lived near enough for them to witness what it looks like for us. It breaks ours hearts, because marriage was God’s idea, and the followers of God should not have to walk around thinking it’s such an awful one.

    Now, funny story, my husband has been taking an informal story too. Every time we meet newlyweds, he asks them what is one thing they’ve learned so far. Almost without exception, the man speaks right away, and he says, “I’ve learned how selfish I am.” The wife may or may not say anything, but it’s never anything about selfishness. The phenomenon is so consistent that it cracks me up each time I hear a man say that. Interestingly, no one ever asks that question back at us. Not that I have a one sentence answer. One of the things I’ve learned in 14 years is that every marriage is SO individual, that I’m not sure my advice would be any good anyway. But I still think it’s funny.

    1. Rachel Pieh Jones May 19, 2014

      For me the selfishness really came out when we had kids! I’m sure it reared its head before that too, but boy I remember realizing my selfishness once the twins were born.

      Both my husband and I have good examples of marriages in our parents and I have tried to never take that for granted. I am so thankful for the path they have shown us – not that it is always easy but that the effort is worth it. I’m glad you are able to show that in your marriage too, Elizabeth. It is a beautiful thing and we are learning to celebrate it more and more.

    2. Wendy May 19, 2014

      “Selfishness” is the first answer I give when someone asked what moving abroad has taught me, but when I look back I realize I first started learning about my selfishness when I got married, and then again when I had kids… it’s just that I didn’t actually “wake up” to the true depth of my selfishness until I was immersed in another culture so far from home.

      Thanks for your post! I loved the reminder to tell the good and the bad…

  2. M'Lynn May 18, 2014

    This is beautiful!  Thank you for taking the time to share with us here at Velvet Ashes!  It’s also a timely subject for me as my husband and I are about to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.  I’ve been reflecting a lot about our journey together thus far, and I’m excited to enrich my reflection this week through posts on marriage.

    “Marriage brought someone to be with me, who understands my wild history of low-income housing and Somalia and evacuation and giving birth to twins and Djibouti. ”

    I love the thought of my husband being that one person who really understands me, especially in this overseas life we have going here.  When no one else gets me anymore because I’m part Texan, part Chinese, part Jeremy’s wife, etc. etc. etc…he gets it!  What a blessed woman I am to be married to my best friend!

    1. Rachel Pieh Jones May 19, 2014

      I remember our ten year anniversary well because we had both lost our rings (he in Somaliland 7 years before and me in Minnesota 9 years before). As we watched marriages struggle around us and knew it wasn’t always easy but it was good, we decided to celebrate and bought new rings together. The ring places thought we were nuts for taking so long to buy new ones but the wait and then the reasons for getting them then made it really special. Happy 10!

  3. Bethany May 19, 2014

    God’s timing is perfect!  So needed this post!  My hubby and I (and our 3 little girlies) have survived our first year in South Asia.  It has been the hardest year by far for our marriage.  And as we wade through this crazy life together, I am so stinkin’ glad that I get to do it by his side.  Even in the ugly.  Even when we’re ugly.  I found that marrying my husband 10 years ago, freed me up to be who God intended me to be.  Only in relationship with this amazing man am I free to be amazing ME!

  4. MaDonna May 19, 2014

    Rachel, this was beautiful!

    My husband loves our beat up IKEA table for the very same reasons you mentioned. He wants to make sure it goes with us where ever we go in life so that in 50 years we can look back and remember the beauty. Love this post.

    1. MaDonna May 19, 2014

      Please delete the pic…I didn’t mean for THAT to happen. YIKES… Hope you got a big laugh out of that mess up and embarrassment on my part. *sigh*  *red face*

      1. Rachel Pieh Jones May 19, 2014

        Oh, your lovely face! No worries, I’ll see if they can get it removed. I love our crazy table that has fork stabs from when our youngest that was okay to do…all the memories burned (literally) into it.

  5. Adriana Zoder May 19, 2014

    Lovely post. My husband and I met later in life and we treasure each other. We will celebrate our ninth anniversary this week. Such a great illustration of the table.

  6. Jessica Hoover May 19, 2014

    Oh how I ache that those young women have only heard the ugly from other Christian couples. Seriously, it makes me so sad , but doesn’t surprise me which makes me even sadder. Your words are light and life and I can only hope that God would have filled me with the same grace-filled story to tell those young women.

    We were at a conference back in January when a college girl (who I hardly knew) plopped herself down next to me an wanted me to share about my marriage with her. She was single and disillusioned with the guys her age. I told her the good and the hard and I pray I filled her with hope- but the kind of hope that is grounded in the reality of being a broken-redeemed person in a broken world.

    I so appreciate your words here and hope that they reach far and that we can all sit around scarred tables and plunge our hands deep into the scars of Jesus to find grace to give our marriages and those watching from the outside. So blessed you came by today to share this gorgeous grace story.

    1. Rachel Pieh Jones May 20, 2014

      So true that it was sad they hadn’t heard good things. I’m glad you had a chance to share with this young woman. Expectations can get so skewed and we do live in a broken world but there can be so much joy, it is easy to forget we have to sometimes fight for it. I am always thankful for the good example I had in my family – my parents. 41 years and counting…

  7. Colleen Mitchell May 19, 2014

    I do love me some Rachel Jones and this is no exception! Lovely and beautiful Rachel and so very reflective of what I have lived in my nearly 17 years of marriage. It has been so very hard at times. And it has often made me not like myself very much. But in the end, the struggling through and the knowing that we’re in this together has been an incredibly beautiful gift.

    1. Rachel Pieh Jones May 20, 2014

      Aw, thanks Colleen! The day before this went up was a hard one for me – totally my fault, acting like a child instead of an adult woman – toward my husband. *sigh* I guess we won’t ever be perfect, will we? But I am so thankful to know that we are in this together, he and I.

  8. Liz Schouten May 20, 2014

    I, too, am so very thankful that he and I are in this together. Fifteen years this summer, and they have been good years. Not always easy, in fact not easy fairly often, but good. Even good now, at this moment, as we wait to find out what the heck we’ll be doing next semester…what continent we’ll be on…the wait is not easy, but looking forward and knowing that wherever we’re going, whatever we’ll be doing, we’ll tackle it together…that is good.

    I hope we get to keep doing the job we’re doing now, because it puts us in a unique position to let young believers watch us do marriage and family, do it well, and do so in Asia. So, our challenge is to keep working at it, to be intentional about doing this beautiful, hard thing well.

  9. Angie Washington May 20, 2014

    Rachel, you write such beautiful pieces. We have 17 years of marriage. Thanks for the encouragement to dwell on the good memories and precious parts.

  10. Emily March May 20, 2014

    Yes, beautiful is the way to describe what has been written, and it is also the way to describe marriage!  I’m very thankful for this discussion, and that so many married and single girls will be reading it.  We are still in the beginning of our journey as we will celebrate our 5th anniversary next month, but I can already see so many beautiful things that God has developed in each of us.  For me, He has been working on teaching me about my selfishness and anger, and is freeing me from those chains.  He had shown me true gentleness and compassion that I never new before.  And forgiveness and grace are so abounding I don’t even know where to start!  It’s been all through the wonderful boundaries of marriage and becoming one with another person who is completely different in almost every way!  Of course that’s tough…but it has given me a whole new perspective on what our Father really wants for us, and who He really made me to be.  Let us keep our eyes looking up, so the beautiful can really shine through!

  11. John MT May 21, 2014

    Fuel for the fire: many of the well-rehearsed and alarming statistics about American divorce rates are at best misleading and generally wrong.

  12. The-best-ones-in-May | between worlds May 30, 2014

    […] Marriage is the beautiful hard by Rachel Pieh Jones.  “I’ve been married fourteen years and there are days I punch my pillow and think ‘who is this crazy stranger strutting around my house like he owns the place?’ Because yes, there are hard things about marriage. This other person has desires and needs. Deep ones, like what continent to live on and how to raise children. Lighter ones like ribs instead of salad for dinner and how to discard coffee grounds. These desires conflict with my own but I didn’t get married so I could always have my own way.” […]

  13. Sarah March 10, 2020

    Reading this brought me peace and joy and a deeper reality of what a Christ centered Marriage should look like. I will be getting married in 6 months, and I know that marriage is probably going to be one of the hardest things in life and in my life as a M worker, but I also know that marriage will be one of the greatest gifts from the Father. For a good while, I wanted to serve long term overseas single, but I felt the Lord ask and tell me that I once I left the field (I just got back after a year and a half in SE Asia single) that I when I return overseas it would be with my husband. At first I fought this because I was afraid of not finding a man who would be willing and called to go overseas. But then the Lord sweetly reminded me that He would not give me a calling and then ask me to compromise it. now I and my fiancé are preparing to get married and then we will move lord willing somewhere in Asia. Thank you for your advice, story and your example of Jesus In your marriage. It gives me hope, peace, joy and excitement. Thank you.

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