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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

As Good As It Gets

Stacey and I watch very little television, but the two shows we follow appear back to back on Thursdays: The Office and Parks and Recreation. The Office has only a few episodes left, and the show is getting climactic. As it was ending this past week, and as Parks and Rec was just beginning, I leaned over to Stacey and said, “You know, TV won’t be this good again in a long while.”

The central storyline of The Office has always been Jim and Pam’s romantic relationship—from flirting, to dating, to marriage and children, we’ve seen that relationship grow up over the past nine seasons.

For most of this season, Jim and Pam’s marriage has been on the rocks. Jim has decided, without the full support of Pam, to join a business venture in another city, which has asked a lot of their family and marriage. While Jim thinks he is doing it for the good of their family, Pam is not so sure it will work out for the best. Jim’s poor communication and Pam’s resentment have both been easy to see. The normal joy and spirit that marked their marriage is gone, too—their growth together has stalled, and they have been growing apart.

In this past episode, they started couples counseling. They had been trained, among other things, to “speak their truth” with one another. While their conversation is very stilted and wooden, each of them does, in fact, speak their truth and they finally start to get to the bottom of how they are each feeling. Finally, conflict in their marriage takes on flesh and bone—it had been lurking for weeks, unseen but stifling. It felt like progress for them each to be able to speak with honesty about what hurts.

Stacey has found it difficult to watch this season because she is not so sure that Jim and Pam will work things out. It is difficult for her to watch this kind of struggle and uncertainty, especially in a relationship that has given viewers like us a lot of joy over the years. I’m more of a thinker than a feeler, so I have no trouble watching, and I tried to reassure Stacey that they would never let Jim and Pam sink. Still, it was hard to see a way through for them.

At the conclusion of their “speak my truth” conversation, Jim acknowledged that working on their marriage is tough, but that he thinks it is worth it. Pam gave a dismissive response, and later candidly told the camera that her heart felt “walled up.”

At the end of the day, Jim grabbed Pam in an unexpected hug. She stood there, with her arms out wide, not reciprocating. Still he hugged her. It was a long, long moment before she moved—long enough to make it entirely credible to think that she might not hug him back. But she did, finally, and the viewers were given a flashback to their wedding day, and the reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians about love.

There is a lot to be seen yet about how Jim and Pam make this work. It was just a hug, but that marriage had been starving for a real connection for a long time. We will be watching to see if, in the remaining three episodes, they can turn that connection into a sustained campaign for intimacy and honesty. It is going to take some work.

The vulnerability that love demands carries a real risk of pain and hurt. We are not perfect, and we inevitably wound each other, despite our best intentions. In Christian marriage, the way through that pain is the way of Jesus—a way of self-emptying faithfulness, even to death. This is the way to new and abundant life.

We’ve seen it over and over in our own marriage. We fall victim to dry spells and cycles of selfishness happen in spite of ourselves. The only antidote is a commitment to conversion—to seeking the truth with one another and transcending our limited love by joining it with God’s boundless and utterly selfless, perfect love.