Depending on your life experience, the word “marriage” may conjure blissful images of a white dress, fairy tale honeymoons, and happily ever after. For others, it may bring up hurtful images of fighting and ultimately of dismantling a life that you once built with someone. Perhaps you’re somewhere in between and understand that marriage takes a lot of hard work from both sides. I can’t help but think of this when I think of marriage:
Marriage has been on my mind a lot lately because I’ll be celebrating my 7th anniversary with my husband Justin later this year. We have both been married before and coincidentally, the 7 year mark was the last anniversary that we each had. Lucky for us, we are going strong and have never been happier. I’ve been examining what I learned in my first failed marriage and everything I have learned since then. I also have supported several friends through their own divorces and definitely have sensed a pattern with relationships. I’m no relationship expert but I know what works for me and what doesn’t. So, I thought I’d share.
What Marriage Isn’t
Verbal abuse: I have heard it said that you always hurt the ones you love most. While this may be true, it doesn’t make it right. I have seen people use this as an excuse to treat their spouse like a virtual punching bag (verbal abuse isn’t OK) and take out all of their frustrations on them by spewing hateful words whenever things don’t go their way. If you want a punching bag to help you release some aggression, they sell them at Academy. You don’t treat your spouse that way. Screaming, yelling, name calling, cussing, belittling, etc. are not acceptable in your marriage. Your spouse should be your best friend. Someone that wants to be around you. Treating them like this will do the opposite. They may tolerate it because they made a vow but eventually, it will chip away at the very foundation of your relationship and you’ll be left with no one to scream at but that angry person in the mirror.
Constant criticism: No one wants to be picked on constantly. No one wants to be bullied, told that they aren’t good enough, smart enough, thin enough, talented enough, or successful enough. Most of us have a little voice inside our heads that do a pretty good job of that without any outside help. Who would want to be married to someone who says these things? Never ever break the cardinal rule and ridicule your spouse in front of others. Nothing is more embarrassing for your spouse (or the friends who witness it) than having someone who is supposed to love them make hurtful comments in public. If you truly love someone, shouldn’t you want to make them feel good about themselves instead of tearing them down?
Power Plays: Many men want to marry a woman who remind them in some ways of their mom but that doesn’t mean they want to marry a woman who treats them like she is their mother. While there’s probably a clear leader of the household in some areas, no one needs to be the “boss” of anyone else. You’re both adults and no one needs to be reprimanded like a child. Marriage should not be a power struggle because you’re on the same side.
Suspicious minds: If trust has been an issue in your relationship for any reason, you should be willing to be an open book as that trust is being rebuilt. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. If you’re setting up secret e-mail accounts, erasing internet histories, saving phone numbers under fake names, or erasing text messages, you’re being dishonest.
Stagnantion: Marriage should be full of happiness, joy, good times, growth, learning, and above all enjoying life together. If you’re just going through a routine, like a hamster on a wheel, either because you’re stuck in a rut or you’re just trying to keep the peace, that’s no way to live. Over time, a stagnant existence that’s devoid of joy will suck the life right out of you.
Empty threats: You should never throw around the word “divorce” unless you really mean it. It can be tempting when you’re in the middle of an argument and you want to get a reaction but don’t do it. You’ll probably regret it. You don’t want to make your spouse feel like you have one foot out the door-unless you really do.
The Precious Gift
Pretend for a moment that you’ve been trusted to protect a very precious priceless diamond. Taking care of it could set your family up for life and could make you incredibly happy. You wouldn’t be careless about what happened to it, would you? You’d probably install some kind of high-tech security system complete with cool lasers so that if anyone tried to take it, they would be stopped, right?
Well, marriage can be a precious gift but the problem with many of us is that we don’t truly treat it that way. We often take it for granted. We think it will be easier than it is. We naively think that good marriages just happen. They don’t. Good marriages happen because two people are committed to working through problems, treating each other with love and respect, and communicating over many years of ups and downs. It would be easy if marriage were a diamond that we could lock up in a safe to keep it away from any negative outside influences but it isn’t. It lives between you and your spouse and takes both of you to work well. Now that I’ve set some ground rules for what marriage isn’t, let me tell you what I think it is.
What Marriage Is
Love: When I married my current husband, my friend Holly gave me a book by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs called Love and Respect. I won’t say it’s perfect but the premise is a good one: Women need to feel loved and men need to feel respected. I’ll get to the respect part in a moment but let me start with love. I absolutely believe this is true and I’ll take it one step further-we especially need to feel safe. If we bare our souls to you and tell you that we’ve always been self-conscious about our thighs, please for the love of God, do not decide to start calling us Thunder Thighs in front of your buddies the following week. If we let you see our vulnerability, never, ever, ever, ever use it against us-not even in the most heated argument. Because if you do, we simply will stop trusting you with that information and won’t feel safe being vulnerable with you anymore. Also, don’t turn our vulnerabilities into jokes because they aren’t funny to us. If we don’t feel safe with you, other parts of intimacy will begin to fall apart, too. Your spouse should feel loved all of the time. 100% of the time, even when you are fighting, even when you may not like them at that moment, they should still know that you love them.
Respect: Both men and women need to feel respected by their spouse but this one is especially important for men. If their wife is constantly belittling them, they cease to feel like a man. While you may be a strong woman, don’t emasculate your husband. It is important to let your spouse know that you’re proud of them on a regular basis. While I mentioned earlier that you should never criticize your spouse in public, I highly recommend praising them in public as much as possible. It’s nice for them to see that you are proud of them. Let him or her know that you appreciate how hard they are working for your family and all of the great ways they are contributing. Men also like to feel needed so when you see that spider run across the living room, be sure to let him squish it (or put it outside, if you prefer).
God: These are in no particular order but if they were, this one would certainly be first. When we first got married, we didn’t go to church, although we were both Christians. Since we have joined a church, our relationship has grown even deeper as we have grown closer to God. It is such a blessing to me to have a husband that will go to church with me. I literally thank God for that every day. We joined a small group at church where we fellowship with other couples and that has enhanced our relationship in so many other ways. By surrounding ourselves with so many other couple who are 100% supportive of our marriage and our walk with God makes any problems we face seem a lot more manageable.
Friendship: Before I found my husband, I always said that I just wanted someone who loved me like my friends love me. I have been blessed with the most amazing, kind, caring, wonderful, supportive group of friends. They believe that I can do anything! If I announced that I wanted to be an astronaut, they’d ask when I start training. Was it too much to ask to find that in a husband? Apparently, it wasn’t but I just hadn’t found him yet. Thank God, I did! We love to spend time together whether it’s travelling, watching movies, or just talking. He is truly my best friend and I know I can tell him anything and he won’t use it against me later.
Communication: No marriage is without disagreements but I have found most of ours happen because we just aren’t communicating effectively. Once we sit down and talk things through, we always come to a solution. It’s important to just ask for what you want and say what you mean instead of expecting your spouse to be a mind reader. It’s also important not to fill in any blanks or make assumptions about what you think they may mean because you could be completely wrong.
Partnership: So many couples fight because they’re jockeying for power or because one person is spending too much money so the other decides to retaliate by spending more. You must realize that you are on the same side. If you’re in competition with each other, you both lose. Only by working together will your marriage thrive. When you get married, you are saying that you want to face anything that life throws at you with your spouse by your side. Always picture yourselves as a team. That line from “Drops of Jupiter” by Train comes to mind, “Your best friend always sticking up for you, even when I know you’re wrong.”
Authenticity: Your spouse should know, love, and accept the real you. You should be able to be exactly who you are and not feel like you should try to be anything else. Even when I’m being a total nerd, my husband just laughs along with me instead of trying to make me feel stupid. Having someone know every part of me and love me for it is the ultimate dream come true for me. That’s not to say that he isn’t always encouraging me to grow and try new things if I want to but he supports me 100%.
Selflessness: You aren’t always going to get your way. In fact, you’ll often not get your way but selfishness really has no place in marriage. You gave up only being concerned about yourself when you said, “I do.” If zombies are coming for you, long gone are the days when you can just make a solo break for it. Nope, you have to also make sure your spouse gets out alive, too. But, here’s the weird thing about marriage: I have found that if I try to put my husband’s needs ahead of mine and he does the same, we are both happier. Isn’t that weird? But, I promise you, it works. It might mean that I do a load of dishes when it’s actually his turn because he’s been working a lot that week. Then, I’ll come home to a load of my laundry that he’s done without me asking. He may go play golf with his buddies while I stay home with the kids. But the next week, he’ll hand me money from one of his band gigs and tells me to go shoe shopping while he stays home with the kids. See how that works? You give freely and you are repaid in kindness. Good stuff!
Sacrifice: Sometimes, you just have to do what needs to be done in order to make your household run. My husband works two jobs and is gone some evenings. My job sometimes takes me out of state for several days at a time. We adjust and work together because we are a team and that’s what we need to do. We are in this together and we just tackle anything that comes at us with that attitude.
While marriage isn’t something you can lock away, a good marriage is rare and must be protected. I have written before about staying happily in a relationship in Love in the Bullseye and you have to be willing to fight for your marriage. I think it’s dangerous to open the door (even a little bit) to anything that could harm it. Sometimes I picture Justin and I as two warriors, standing back to back, swords drawn, ready to strike down anyone or anything that tries to attack our marriage. If you’re doing anything that you wouldn’t do or say in front of your spouse, it probably isn’t right. If you’re involved in any kind of vice that could be harmful to your relationship, please stop before it is too late. If you have people in your life that don’t support your marriage 100% or encourage behavior that is contrary to its success, they have to go. There’s no room for grey. A good marriage is a beautiful gift and must be protected at all costs.