Bull Riding and Marriage

I often tell people that marriage can be like a bull ride. Here’s what I mean by that…

In the beginning, when the bull rider gets on the bull, they look good, feel confident, and are surrounded by a lot of supporters. Those supporters speak words of encouragement, slap them on the back, and tell them, “You can do this!”

All this is like a bride and groom on their wedding day.

Then the gate opens and the bull takes off…taking the rider with it. The bull moves in directions the rider never expected. Sometimes the bull spins so fast the rider loses their bearings. Then the bull pitches and bucks, trying to throw the rider off. The only thing the rider can do is hang onto the rope, try to stay on the bull, and wait for the bell to ring.

There are times when marriage feels like this.

If you’re newly married, you may dismiss this word picture as the dark, pessimistic whining of a disgruntled spouse. But if you have been married for a while, you get it. You’ve been on that ride.

I hope your marriage is like an easy ride on a gentle steed through a pleasant meadow. But if your marriage feels more like you’re being launched at bullet speed from a bucking bull that would like nothing more than to throw you to the dirt and stomp on your head, then I have three words of instruction for you.

Hold onto the rope. The rope is what keeps the rider anchored to the bull. That’s why the rider wraps his hand around the rope in a death grip. In marriage, holding onto the rope is about remembering. Remembering what brought the two of you together in the first place. Remembering the good times you’ve already had. Remembering the dreams you’ve shared. Remembering what you still like about each other. Remembering the vows you’ve made. This remembering will tether you to your marriage.

Stay on the bull. The moment the rider falls off the bull, the ride is over. They will never know what could have been. So when the ride gets more difficult, the rider tightens their grip on the bull even more. When the marriage ride gets difficult, it’s not your feelings that keep you on the ride. It’s the grit-your-teeth grip of commitment that keeps you in the marriage. We would all like marriage to feel good all the time, but it doesn’t. That’s why you’re marriage can’t rest on your feelings. It must rest on your commitment.

Wait for the bell. A bull rider must stay on the bull for a full eight seconds. Eight seconds doesn’t seem long if you’re watching from the stands, but it can seem like an eternity if you’re riding a four-legged tornado that wants to separate your head from your spine. Sometimes the rough rides of marriage can feel like they will go on forever. It takes persistence to stay in all the way to the end of the ride. Persistence is the key to marriage, especially when it feels like everything is trying to throw you off.

I know some readers might be thinking, “But my spouse is abusive.” “But my spouse continues to be unfaithful.” “But my spouse has already abandoned me.” “But my spouse has addictions that are tearing us apart.” If you’re one of those people, my heart goes out to you. I want you to remember that you can only do your part to stay on the ride. All you can do is make sure you can say, “I did everything possible to make this a successful ride.” But sometimes, despite how hard you work, the ride ends sooner than you want. At that point, you will need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and learn from the experience…before the next ride.

But the truth still remains. Like a bull rider in the rodeo, the husband and wife who want the prize of a long and happy marriage have to hold onto their memories, stay committed to their marriage, and persist to the end.

If your marriage currently feels like a bull ride, on which of the above three instructions do you most need to focus? Is there an older couple around you who models that? Could you spend some time with them to find out what they’ve learned about marriage? If your marriage currently feels more like an easy ride, think of a couple who’s having a difficult time and find ways to encourage them.

Copyright © 2017 Bret Legg

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