Kay Warren, wife of Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, has opened up about the “miserable” early years of marriage and shared how God used their struggles and failures to “draw us closer to him and to each other.”
“We didn’t even make it to the end of our two-week honeymoon to British Columbia before we knew our relationship was in serious trouble,” Kay recounted in a recent article published in Christianity Today. “We had been warned about five areas of potential conflict all couples have to deal with, and we immediately jumped into all five of them: sex, communication, money, children, and in-laws.”
Married at just 21 after a few years of dating, both Rick and Kay were “young and inexperienced” and would argue about everything – and then argue about the argument.
“…our arguments and began to layer resentment on top of resentment, it was a perfect setup for misery and disenchantment,” she wrote. “What made it worse was that everyone considered us the perfect couple. When we returned from the honeymoon, already miserable and shocked at the depth of our unhappiness, we felt like we had nowhere to go with our wretched pain and marital failures.”
Much of Kay’s pain stemmed from sexual abuse she endured at the hands of a church janitor when she was just four or five years old. In an attempt to deal with the “confusion and internal struggle” she felt, she became addicted to pornography.
“I had told Rick about being molested as a little girl-he was the first person I ever told-but because I was so unemotional about it, he figured it wasn’t that significant an incident to me and basically forgot about it,” she wrote. “I kept my occasional ventures into pornography a complete secret. Between the effects of the unaddressed molestation, the resulting brokenness in my sexuality, and the off-and-on pornography fascination, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that sex didn’t work.”
Nevertheless, the pair “limped through” their first year of marriage, and by the second year were living in “marital hell.” Their misery confused both of them, as they “loved Jesus with all our hearts and we’re committed to the local church.”
“The fact that we were miserable weighed on both of us like a giant boulder, but we didn’t see any way out,” Kay wrote “I think we hoped that one morning we would just wake up and find it was all a bad dream and that somehow all our problems would simply vanish. We wanted to honor the sacred wedding vows we had made before God and our loved ones, so divorce wasn’t on our radar. But neither could we visualize living in such pain for the rest of our lives. We just didn’t know what to do or how to create a healthy marriage out of the shattered pieces of conflict, disappointment, dysfunction, and resentment.”
Eventually, Rick and Kay decided to seek out counseling, and soon began to experience healing in their marriage. Over four decades later, the two pastors have not only stayed together, they’ve weathered devastating circumstances, including Kay’s cancer diagnosis and the mental illness and suicide of their son.
“God has worked in our life together-and he’s used our marriage struggles and failures to draw us closer to him and to each other,” she wrote. “We know we are the best thing that has ever happened to each other. I am in love with the man God brought into my life so many years ago.”
“Each of us is not who the other was looking for, but each of us is who the other desperately needed to become the person we each are today,” she concluded. “I’m a better Christian, a better woman, a better mother, a better friend, and a better minister because of Rick. He says he’s a better Christian, a better man, a better father, a better friend, and a better minister because of me. The shrieks of iron sharpening iron have often sounded like gears grinding on bare metal, but the result has been profound personal growth in both of us.”
In 2014, Rick and Kay shared weighed in on how to to fight for an awesome marriage in a society that continually pulls against it – based on their own experience.
“During your marriage, you will undergo enormous kinds of change. Through them, you will grow and change as well, and your marriage will succeed or fail by your ability to deal with change,” said Kay.
As you and your spouse grow and change, choose to love one another through it instead of using “incompatibility” as an excuse for divorce.
“Make a commitment to say, ‘Divorce is not an option,'” Rick Warren advised. “Truth is, you’re not compatible with anybody because no one agrees with anything you do. If you choose to love, you can fall in love and stay in love with anybody. Love is a choice, not a feeling. Love creates that feeling.”
Continuing to love someone even though there are parts of them that you may not like requires acceptance and forgiveness and reliance on the Lord.
“A great marriage is the union of two great forgivers,” said Rick.
The Warrens encouraged couples to remember that marriage is the greatest expression of God’s love for us; a tangible expression of Christ’s love for His Church.
“Let your marriage be a witness,” said Rick. “Don’t be afraid of marriage, be willing to do the hard part, because the good part is so much better when you do the hard part and don’t just give up.”