I do a lot of premarital counseling. I enjoy poking and prodding to find red flags, current issues and potential hurdles. I often find myself pushing through the normal rosy veneer of romantic idealism and fairytale expectations. This plays itself out in the belief that the marriage will be as perfect as the wedding because of the deep love they have for one another.
Not quite as often but every now and then I do marriage counseling for couples in crisis. Some are ready to throw in the towel, others are shocked that things are heading toward the cliff, and the very newly married are surprised by the challenges they have already faced. In any case, they need help. The issues are endless from respect to roles, fidelity to finances.
I know none of these couples walked down the aisle thinking “I am going to cheat on my spouse in a few years,” or “I am looking forward to going off the emotional deep end and creating havoc for years to come,” or “Won’t it be great to do this again when this doesn’t work out.” They all said “I do” with the belief that they would live happily ever after.
So where did things go awry?
I wonder if they locked into the idea that their love for one another and hope for a bright future is all they needed. Though important, a great marriage takes more than strong feelings and good intentions. It requires work.
Jossie and I have been married for thirteen years and have an incredible relationship. We love being married and entered our wedding day with the same rose colored glasses as everyone else (just ask our premarital counselor). That doesn’t mean our relationship has always been a stroll in the park. We have continually chosen to invest energy and effort into our marriage.
Here are a few big ideas which we incorporated early on that have proven extremely helpful in establishing a strong, lasting relationship.
Always be Learning and Growing. Just because the wedding bells have rung, the bouquet has been tossed and sex is a reality doesn’t mean all hills have been climbed. Never think there is nothing new to learn about your spouse or that you have the marriage thing down. With the pressing nature of family, jobs, finances and the “honey do” list, the enrichment of marriage can easily take a back seat. Read books, go to marriage conferences, attend a marriage retreat – there are loads of ways to learn how to be a better spouse. The opportunities to serve, love and communicate are always there.
Invest Your Energy in the Right Places. Our natural tendency often is to spend energy on scrutinizing your spouse rather than taking responsibility for what you have control over. Look at what you can change, where you might be wrong and how you can apologize (you can always say sorry for something!). Doing so takes humility. It is easier to find the reasons why my spouse’s actions make my response justifiable. Stop playing the victim and pointing the finger -- be the change you want to see.
Deal with the Issues. Don’t deny them, brush them under the rug, avoid them or use them against each other. Face them head on. When there is a problem, go after it like it could destroy your marriage…because it could. Problems that don’t get addressed will fester and can eventually undermine the foundations of love, trust and commitment upon which your relationship is built. I am a “do whatever it takes kind of guy” and I have the same attitude towards issues that arise in our marriage whether it be conflict, different expectations or complacency. Talk it through, pray, seek wise counsel, read a book on the subject, go to counseling -- do whatever it takes! Did you know that 70% of couples who go to marriage counseling find solutions but only 30% of couples having marital problems ever make it to a counselor’s office?
Play Together. Life can be stressful and overwhelming so get away and enjoy time with each other. Do something that will make you laugh. It is important to zoom out from the daily grind and remember how much you enjoy being together and why you fell in love in the first place.
These ideas take time, intentionality and sometimes money but the benefits far outweigh the cost. Any other ideas that have been keys for you? Leave a comment and join with me in the hope that this generation can break the trend of broken marriages.