When you are lonely and unfulfilled in your marriage

Learning to see things differently as I encounter my first love

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I could barely contain my excitement as I headed to a conference with some of my girlfriends. I was about to experience two of my favorite things - extended girl time and extended God time. As a mother and a career woman, undistracted time with friends and God were rare and precious gifts. For weeks I anticipated opening these gifts, knowing the process of driving to the conference would be just as enjoyable as the destination itself. In the past we would laugh and cut up in the car, or share our secrets and struggles (often shedding tears in the process), and other times we would worship together or pray for each other. Nothing brings me to life more than engaging in authentic relationship with others, where both people’s hearts are giving and receiving. Something beautiful, even spiritual, happens in this exchange . . . and once you experience this kind of community - there is no going back. You are forever ruined for superficial or worldly relationships.

But this car ride was different. The conversation turned to spouses and boyfriends, and the ladies were sharing stories about the thoughtfulness and romantic gestures from the men in their lives. I listened, but my mind started to wander . . . and this ache rose up from deep within, reminding me of my forgotten longings. I could not remember the last time Bob reached for my hand, initiated an embrace, or told me he thought I was beautiful. I know I have a good marriage and a good man, but . . .

I tossed these thoughts aside and turned my focus toward the weekend ahead. We arrived at the conference and I soaked up every bit of the experience. The times of extended worship were particularly powerful - God’s tangible presence penetrated the atmosphere, ushering Heaven into our hearts. My awareness of everything else faded away as I got lost in His embrace. During this time, I heard a voice in my heart tenderly say, “Carey, you are so beautiful . . . inside and out.” I recognized it as the voice of my heavenly Father and I immediately began crying - His words were like a healing waterfall. I rested in this place, allowing the Lord to touch my innermost parts and drench me to the core. I knew what the Bible said about me being the bride of Christ, but this encounter taught me what it meant to actually return to my first love. A few minutes later, I flashed back to the car ride with my friends, and I realized the ache from those unfulfilled longings had vanished . . . washed away in the flood of His affection.

I then heard, “Bob is my gift to you too . . . he has more integrity than most of my children.” These particular words carried great significance, because after enduring years of fertility treatments, I refer to my son Connor as my “gift from God.” But the message now was another one – God wanted to turn my attention to the other gift He had given me, and the miracle of this gift was no less significant, or less worthy of my gratitude.

I have always known my husband to be a man of utmost integrity – it is one of the things I initially found so attractive. He strives to do the “right thing,” and seems to discern what those things are quite well (even when they come at a personal cost). I have never once doubted his loyalty or faithfulness, and I know He values the same things I do in the long run. Suddenly I felt this incredible wave of gratitude for the man Bob is, and honored that he was entrusted to me as my partner in life.

I meditated on what God was speaking to my heart, welcoming both His affection and His redirection. He then spoke one last thing, “Carey, it’s not good for you to get everything you want.” I’m not sure I would have heard those words the same way if He had not bathed me in His love first, but when He spoke them, I understood exactly what He was saying. God designed the disappointments in life (when we don’t get what we want) to drive us into His arms. He uses our discontent as a tool to point us in the right direction. Bob was never supposed to meet all my needs, and only when I realized this, could I discover there was a better fulfillment waiting for me in God. I was learning the lesson of Augustine’s prayer, “God make us restless until we find our rest in You” (Psalms 73:25-26).

Like in the movie “Jerry Maguire,” culture had taught me to put my hope in a man, and to believe my husband would “complete me.” I thought marriage and family was my destination in life, and I grew up dreaming of this fairy tale ending. God clearly designed marriage to be fulfilling, but I am learning that it was never meant to be ultimately fulfilling. As Tim Keller teaches, “Idolatry occurs when you turn a good thing into an ultimate thing.” Every time I looked to my husband to meet a need that God was supposed to meet, I made an idol out of him . . . and idols will never satisfy our heart’s longings.

Flash back to the conference – during soaking prayer. If you don’t know, soaking prayer is when you gather to sit in God’s presence and just receive what He has for you (it is not a time to bring Him all our requests and concerns). So, I sat in the pew and opened my heart to God’s touch. A prayer minister walked over to me and quietly touched my shoulder. She said, “The word lonely comes to mind. Are you feeling lonely?” Something stirred deep within me and I began to tear up. Initially I had no idea why, because I have lots of friends, but something in my spirit was moved by her words. As I prayed, I realized I was feeling lonely in my marriage. I did not have a bad marriage by any means, but I was not feeling intimately connected with my husband – we were so busy that at times it felt like we functioned in parallel worlds. Wake – attend to Connor – work – make dinner - attend to Connor - sleep – repeat. Remember that heartfelt exchange I talked about with my girlfriends (the thing that brings me to life more than anything else?) Well I longed for this connection with my husband too . . . a merging of our hearts, not just our schedules.

Later that evening, a different woman got on stage and said she had been praying for the ladies at the conference. She said the Lord impressed upon her heart that many people were struggling with loneliness, and she invited those women to come forward for prayer. Droves of women came out of the pews and marched forward, including me. I shared what I was feeling with a prayer minister and this woman put her arms around me and began to cry with me. She compassionately petitioned the Father to touch this area in my life, and as she was praying, a tremendous peace flooded my heart. God was filling this void with His companionship – a void I did not even know was there.

Looking back, I wondered if it was wrong to long for that type of companionship with my husband - had I put it above my desire for deep companionship with God? I wrestled through this idea and realized an important distinction. It is not a sin to feel lonely, or to even long for intimate companionship with my spouse, but those feelings can lead us to sin when we place our ultimate happiness in a person – this is what makes it an idol. In fact, my lonliness was never my enemy; it was instead an invitation to discover true intimacy.

God designed us to function and thrive in community (Genesis 2:18), so it is a beautiful thing when we experience God’s love and affirmation through other people in our life. He created us in His image, the image of love, and He intended from the very beginning for us to be His hands and feet . . . for us to partner with Him to accomplish His purposes here on earth. However, we are imperfect vessels, so our efforts (however grand or meager) will never be enough without God. (1 John 4:19) It can be beautiful when we love each other in our respective “love languages,” but we aren’t responsible (or designed) to meet all these needs on our own. I see now that Bob was never the problem, and my longings were never the problem - I had simply placed my hopes and expectations in the wrong source.  In reality, I did not need Bob to love me perfectly because I was already perfectly loved.

Gift JarFast-forward. It is Christmas and my husband hands me a gift to open from him (and he has a certain gleam in his eye as he does this). I open it and can hardly believe what I am looking at. Bob put together a jar of 365 pieces of paper with handwritten notes of things he likes about me, precious memories we shared together, scriptures, and heart-felt quotes. It is the most loving and thoughtful gift I have ever received in my life and I am deeply moved. I think back to my transformation at the conference and I sense God's timing in this gift, like it was okay now for me to now have it. Since I did not depend on Bob's affirmation anymore, I could finally receive it for the gift God always meant it to be.

I am thankful that God invited me into my pain at that conference – into the loneliness and unfulfilled longings that were hiding in the margins of my life. Though God loved me just the way I was, He loved me too much to leave me that way – He wanted to take my broken pieces and make me whole (Psalm 147:3). Thankfully, when He brings these hidden things into the light, He also dispels every ounce of darkness attached to the pain.  

Bob married me because he thought I was beautiful, the inner part way more than the outer. I know this with certainty, but even if this were not true, our first love will always affirm and call out the beauty within us. So if that is you, the one whose heart is aching with unfulfilled longings, all you need is just one moment in His chambers.

He is waiting for you (Hosea 2:14).

Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

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