In this past season of life, as I've done pre-marital counseling with younger couples, I've often made a statement along these lines:
"Ash and I have been fighting more and more in our marriage, and it has been great."
When I say that, I usually see a look of shock or concern in the couple. I imagine they are wondering silently, "Why did we pick this guy to do our counseling? We've made a huge mistake..." Here is what I mean by it.
In the first few years of my marriage, I would shut down at the first sign of disagreement. I'd give Ashley the silent treatment. Stonewall her. Play dead. Sometimes I still do. It's my default defense. When I'm tired or overwhelmed, I still want to retreat into my inner sanctum. But I'm doing it less and less. We are getting better at staying in the tension and having hard conversations. In my opinion, our marriage is flourishing.
In Jordan Peterson's podcast, he compares the marriage relationship to the Creation account in Genesis 1. Much like when God spoke to the chaos and created order, we speak into the chaos of a new relationship and create something of substance. Look at Genesis 1:1-5
"The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night." And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day."
Christians often refer to the Creation event as "ex nihilo." Out of nothing, something. "Formless" and "empty" sound like two great descriptors for the early years of marriage. You both come in with optimism and expectation but nothing has been established yet. Once you realize you have conflicting expectations, tensions arise and the real challenge of marriage begins.
"You make your marriage out of the arguments. (In the beginning,) no one has been able to formulate a habitable order... through dialogue, you construct a structure that's a house that you both can live in."
Don't shy away from difficult conversations. Don't shy away from conversations that you think are dull or tedious. They are often necessary components, building blocks for a substantial relationship. The inability or the unwillingness to live in tension and have an honest conversation is a death nail on intimacy.
Do the hard work. Hover over the deep. Speak into the chaos. Build a home worth living in. And it's not like the work is ever done. Life is constantly moving, evolving, changing. You often have to take stock, come to the table again, have more conversations. Keep giving form to the chaos of life.