Have you ever struggled in your relationship with your spouse? How about with your boyfriend, girlfriend, parents, siblings, or friends? Most people will face relationship challenges at some point in their lives.
What about your relationship with Christ? Finding the perfect balance between loving the Lord and loving someone else can be difficult. Sometimes, it can feel impossible to love someone when you’re fighting with them or when their way of showing love is different than yours.
For Joe and Tara Buchanan, married couple of 25 years and hosts of the Behind Our Smiles podcast, it’s an ongoing process to overcome struggles and love each other the way Christ intends.
The goal of the Behind Our Smiles podcast is to normalize the idea that relationships—marriages especially—face struggles and hardships. The title of the podcast is meant to let listeners know that while Joe and Tara are very happy people, they still encounter challenges in their relationship.
“There’s more to our story than people think,” Joe explained. Even though the couple has had their fair share of problems, Joe said they always try to “smile in the face of that struggle.”
Joe and Tara often describe their relationship as a work in progress. It’s never going to be perfect, but they continually try to love each other the way God commands. “This is something we’re still learning,” Joe said. “Without growth in our relationship with Christ, our marriage doesn’t grow.”
Even after they were married, Joe and Tara needed to learn what love really looked like for them. In their early years, a time of new experiences and a binding commitment to each other, the couple had to lean on God and learn how to truly love each other.
Joe described: “In the beginning, I don’t even know if I knew what love was. Love is a stubborn preoccupation with the needs of another. And when I was married, I could never have told you that. I thought it was more based on the feeling.”
Tara explained, “When [the] rubber hits the road, you realize, ‘I don’t have enough love for him. I just don’t.’” She said that at some point, she had to pray, “‘Okay God, I need Christ to be the center there… You need to teach me how to love and how to be that source because I don’t have enough on my own.’”
Tara emphasizes that your “security and significance” need to come from Christ when you’re learning to love someone because your partner will always disappoint you. Joe admitted that without realizing it, he sometimes “put Tara … in an unfair spot.” He continued, “I wanted her to be my God” and to “meet needs only God could meet for me.”
Ultimately, the couple realized these were unrealistic expectations, and they had to humble themselves so that God could take their marriage and make it what He wanted it to be. Even hosting this podcast has come with a new set of challenges for Joe and Tara.
Each week, the couple picks a new topic to discuss, and the further they go, the more they realize they need to practice what they preach. They are regularly reminded of the strengths and the weaknesses of their marriage.
In their 25 years of marriage, the Lord has helped them become quick to forgive and serve each other in love. Like the Bible commands in Philippians 2:3–4, Joe and Tara strive to put each other’s needs first.
Joe believes that loving someone else more than yourself is perhaps the greatest challenge of being married. As for Tara, she struggles with the ways Joe is different from her. However, she said that those differences make her a better person and partner to Joe. She jokes, “We don’t want two of me in this marriage.”
For newly married couples especially, Joe and Tara hope their podcast can help them avoid and overcome some of the same issues they faced. If there’s anything Joe wants new couples to take away, it’s for them to “keep Jesus first to the best of your ability, work on this stubborn preoccupation with the other’s needs, laugh a lot, have fun to the best of your ability,” and remember that “there’s nothing wrong with you if you struggle.”
As Joe and Tara have progressed in their marriage and in hosting their podcast, they’ve found that their problems are not unique. Many other couples can relate to their everyday struggles. They encourage couples at all stages to be open and share what’s on their hearts.
Looking back, Tara wishes they would have “talked more about what was going on at the heart level,” unloading their “heart baggage,” to get help where they needed it. Joe, who comes from a family of abuse and trauma, needed help working toward intimacy. Tara warns that people can get bitter if couples don’t honestly share what bothers them.
To this day, Joe and Tara are still unpacking what happened in Joe’s childhood. Joe is actively “breaking the chains” from his past and deciding he’s “not going to carry that into [his] marriage.” However, this often requires him to be brutally honest about when he’s struggling.
Episode 5 of Behind Our Smiles centers on his past, with Tara asking the question, “Why is it always your past?” Even an innocent or well-meaning statement from Tara can sometimes trigger those past experiences for Joe, and it’s something the couple struggles with often.
In these times, Joe reminds himself that Tara isn’t perfect and that there are days when she’ll say or do things that hurt him. The same goes for Tara, who tries to be understanding and quick to forgive, especially when Joe reacts out of hurt from his past.
The couple wants their listeners to know that “every single marriage brings something in … the best of childhoods are going to have scars.” In facing these scars, the couple encourages a steadfast reliance on Jesus Christ. Joe admits he is “not capable of loving Tara the way God wants me to love her without God; I am not capable of being the husband that God wants me to be without God… I cannot be the father that God wants me to be without God.”
However, Joe’s shortcomings don’t make him a failure. For everything Joe is lacking, he believes God makes up the difference. Joe and Tara hope that those who have experienced any sort of trauma can relate to Joe and learn what it’s like to love after abuse.
Joe has seen his entire life transformed in his marriage, in his love for Tara, and in raising their kids together, and he marvels at his own transformation: “Here’s someone who grew up never knowing they were loved, and now, they’re able to love.”
Ultimately, Joe and Tara want Christian couples, or Christians in any sort of relationship, to know that they’re not alone. No marriage, no relationship, no human being is problem free. They want to offer hope to those struggling and show others how to “pursue connection with God and each other and to find joy in the struggle.”
But Joe and Tara’s hearts don’t just go out to married couples. They feel their podcast is for anyone who wants to strengthen their relationships and put Christ at the center. They want to present the message: “We all struggle, and there is hope. And that’s the crux of what we’re trying to do with each episode.”
Joe and Tara have now released over 50 episodes of their podcast. Listen to Behind Our Smiles to learn how Joe and Tara’s relationship has grown with the love of Christ—and how what they have learned can help you strengthen your own relationships.