A friend from high school asked me to write a piece for her non-profit’s newsletter about healthy marriage relationships. She and I haven’t seen each other since high school, but because of the fabulous world of social media, we’ve been able to “keep in touch”. She noticed some interactions between my husband and I on our Facebook pages, and she asked if I would write. When my husband came home that evening, I told him about it, and I have to admit we giggled for a minute. “Us? The crazies who just had three babies in less than four years? Us? The one’s with the gigantic dog who slobbers all over everything and wants to go outside five times a night? Us? The one’s who both have big dreams and goals for our family and our careers and are currently ravenously sleep-deprived?”
Don’t get me wrong. I was flattered.
But then I thought about it. It’s easy to see snippets of people’s lives on a social media platform and believe that that is all there is to their relationship. The happy love notes and funny gestures, I mean. And it’s true, we have our fair share of those in this house; we really are in love with each other and we really do laugh a lot. But on the other side of that love and laughter, there has been a lot of hard work. And a lot of ugly.
I’d say when we got married (right out of college) that we were both very selfish and broken people. Who isn’t? We had a very sweet college experience and love story, and when we got married, we were totally infatuated with each other and all kind of mushy stuff like that.
And then a few days into being married, we both had thoughts like “Oh-my-gosh. This person I married is crazy. Wait a minute, I’M crazy.” But even with that, when we got married, we committed to one thing that was for sure. And that was this:
This marriage is going to last forever. No backing out, no breaking up. We are gonna stick this thing out through the happy and the sad and the ugly and the sleep-deprived.
And so far, we are on 10 years plus, and I think we’ve done pretty well. We’ve fought a lot, made up a lot, moved a lot, changed jobs a lot, experienced loss, and gained joy. And if I can attribute any wisdom to this experience, aside from the obvious of the absolute Grace of God, it would be these three things:
1. Promise each other that you’re going to stick it out. Make your marriage a covenant. Breaking up isn’t optional. So many times in our society, we’ve seen “commitment” mean nothing. People cheat, people leave, our favorite bands break up. You get the idea. This has done a number on all of us if we want to be honest. So, David and I decided that we were bringing old school back. This marriage was the “Grande Finale” for both of us. Because we said those vows in front of our friends and family, we have what feels like a “promise umbrella”. And in that promise umbrella, we can have freedom with one another to be real, to be vulnerable, and to be honest. The other person isn’t going anywhere, so we can put all the cards on the table. We’re living this life to-geth-er. It creates safety and intimacy—and the perfect breeding ground for a lot of really hyper kids. (And it’s important to make that promise before the kids come around, because that’s the perfect time for you to possibly reconsider if you really like one another.)
With this umbrella, there are a few ground rules though. No one needs a promise umbrella full of abuse. So, in order for everyone to have a voice in this forever love, we do gently call one another out on bad behavior. We also listen to each other for understanding and not for debate, and we put one another’s needs in front of our own. We also are honest with one another (unless it involves a surprise party)–even if we might feel ashamed. Because in honesty, we have the ability to let go and to move forward.
2. Always look for and assume the best in each other. If he comes home and our house is a disaster, he’s learned to assume that the kids were tornadoes that day instead of that I sat on the couch and ate bons bons. Likewise, if he doesn’t answer my text for several hours when he’s at work, I assume he’s in an important meeting or has a busy agenda and not that he doesn’t make time for my voice. Even though we are committed as a single unit (the two become one), we still have independent work days. And in addition to the work day, we also have our own history of life, and woundings, and process. So in choosing to assume the best in each other, we can stop an argument before it even starts. That means, as we see lack in the other’s attitude or environment, then we first look at why that could be. He didn’t get sleep last night? Check. The kids are teething? Check. Our St. Bernard did the “Beethoven shake” on our bed upstairs? Check. Check. This is life. Sometimes our environments reek chaos, and we have to give one another grace. But if it’s a continual problem, then we also have to give one another a different type of grace, which is asking if there is something that should be discussed. Are there underlying issues as to why his attitude is bad? Are there underlying issues as to why I can’t keep a clean kitchen? This is all important because it leads us back to the foundation in number 1. A promise has been made to one another. Yet inside that, bad behavior is manifesting. So, it’s time to be honest and real about the facts. With that, we can then create some space for a process, and we hopefully can work toward a better solution. Guaranteed, this is way better than nagging, badgering, or passive-aggressive comments to one another. It’s also better than saying nothing and allowing resentment to take root.
3. Be willing to own your stuff. Honestly, I think this has been our biggest ally of all. Somehow or another, both of us have been born with an innate conviction wiring. When one of us knows we’re wrong, we apologize. Maybe not right away, but eventually it happens (usually within a few minutes to a full day). Sometimes people just need some space to think. We both have realized that an apology isn’t really genuine if it is forced or if it is being used as a band-aid (which will manifest as an explosive hand grenade later). So, we give ourselves some time to work through what the other said if needed, and then we offer an apology when we are in full understanding. Likewise, sometimes we can demand an apology when it really isn’t warranted. So, boundaries are also good. Knowing what isn’t your stuff is often as critical as owning what is. Old wounds of rejection and hurt can be triggered in confrontations, and what one person may think demands an apology could really be a need for comfort from a past wound. So, we can comfort one another’s wounds while not taking responsibility for a previous wrong that is being stirred up. Being aware of ourselves, our previous history, and our partner’s previous history can be the roadmap to great communication and a really enjoyable relationship.
With all this being said, I realize that when we got married, we really didn’t know much about how to be married. But because we have such a fervor for making our lives more happy and efficient, we really were able to put the effort into creating a great marriage through a lot of trial and error. And it has really become quite beautiful as we look back at where we started.
I know that everyone is in a different situation and everyone has a different starting point. But no matter where you are, there is hope! Perhaps you’re reading this, and you’re divorced. That’s ok! It is possible to pick up and start over. If you choose to find another husband or wife, you have the opportunity to find one who will complement your forever promise. If you are in a marriage where communication is really difficult, maybe just start by reading this article together. Choose to listen to one another in order to see each other’s vantage points–not to win–but to receive a full scope of what is possibly going on. If you’ve made some mistakes, apologize. An apology is always good–even if it’s way late. And if your promise umbrella is full of abuse, you can get help from a professional outlet. There are so many great churches and counselors with tons of experience and grace to support you in your journey.
The point is, love and marriage is a great gift that we each have the privilege of stewarding. This is not only for ourselves but also for the children that will come down the line, and the children that are already present (whether they are small children or adult children). It’s never too late to make strides from a fresh start. And if your partner doesn’t want to change, you can always be responsible for yourself. Sometimes it’s a good example that starts a revolution. People often respond to purity and genuine love, even if it takes some time.
And that is it! Our not-so-secret secrets about a healthy marriage.
Enjoy the gift of loving one another–through the good, the bad, the ugly, and the sleep-deprived. It will be one of the most blessed walks of life if you do!
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