In a time when the average American marriage lasts only eight years, I am delighted today to be celebrating 28 wonderful years with my beautiful wife Teri. It hasn’t always been easy, but every day, good and not-so-good, serves a sacred memory of the vows we made to each other nearly three decades ago. Through thick and thin, we have grown closer and more in love over the years. In fact, the bad times probably did more to strengthen our marriage and resolve than the good ones. I can honestly say that I am more deeply in love and more committed to Teri than ever before.
Do I have any regrets? You betcha! I wish I had known so much more about what it takes to make a great marriage long before I got into it. Our experiences are a huge part of what drives me today as I coach young couples about to take the dive. I want to do for them what no one did for me. In that spirit, I thought I would dedicate this week’s blogs to eight things I have learned about marriage over the past twenty-eight years.
Love is NOT all you need
With all due respect to John Lennon, it takes a lot more than love – at least as the world knows it – to make a marriage work. Googley eyes and heart palpitations are wonderful things, but eventually you need to eat, find shelter, deal with other people in the world and possibly even raise children. This requires commitment and resilience to do what needs to be done over-and-over again, ESPECIALLY when you don’t feel like it. Then again if we do love God’s way (1 Corinthians 13), and love our spouse as Christ loves the church and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25,) then perhaps love is all you need after all.
The Marriage Journey Includes Baggage
For all the romantic notions of starting life fresh and new, we always carry stuff with us. All the hurts and pains of the past WILL affect our future until we give them over to God and learn to allow our past to inform us, rather than control us. Broken relationships, abandonment, primal fears and even positive expectations will derail a potentially wonderful marriage very quickly. We must learn to recognize our emotional responses, communicate our feelings in a healthy way, and learn to manage them when we try to control our spouse rather than loving them.
Sometimes You Should Go To Bed Angry
Despite traditional wisdom, not everything can be resolved in an instant. Mature partners recognize when they are being driven by their emotions and can live with that realization without feeling that the marriage has come to an end. The grown-up mind knows that anger is not hate. The Bible says “be angry and sin not.” (Ephesians 4:26) It goes on to say, “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” The dictionary defines anger as “a strong feeling of displeasure” it defines wrath as an anger that has become fierce with deep resentment and planned vengeance.” These definitions are consistent with the original biblical language. I think it is easy to see that these are very different. If you are planning revenge on your spouse, deal with that BEFORE you go to bed. Otherwise, a good night sleep has a way of making you realize that the relationship is more important than the offense.
Know the Rules of Engagement
Anyone that has ever seen a boxing match has heard the phrase, “no hitting below the belt.” I encourage every couple I coach to formalize their “Rules of Engagement”. Yes, you are going to fight from time to time. Get over it. If you think that you should never fight, then when it inevitably happens, you will feel as if your marriage is tarnished beyond repair. It is not realistic. Conflict happens in the space between expectation and reality. Once you know and are comfortable with the fact that fighting can be Okay – and even healthy – you need to establish ground rules. The goal is to prevent the fight from leaving lasting scars that will continue to affect the relationship in the future. A few quick and universal rules are:
● Leave Mom out of it: Nobody likes it when their family is attacked even when what you say is true.
● Always begin by assuming the love and best intentions of your spouse. Just because you are hurt doesn’t mean they meant to hurt you.
● Don’t use phrases like, “You always…” or “You never…”
● Do say, “I know you don’t mean it this way, but I feel ________ when you __________”. e.g. “I feel diminished when you pick on me in front of your friends.”
● Do say, “I feel _________ when you _________.” e.g. I feel like a princess when I overhear you saying good things about me to your family.
I hope at least one of these have been helpful in your relationship. I would like to encourage you to pick one and focus on for it a few weeks, until you get it mastered and then move on to another.
Next time we will look at four more things that I have learned in twenty-eight blissful years of marriage.