Before You Drive Your Marriage Off a Cliff, Drive it Down Memory Lane

During my Senior year of High School, I began to talk to a  girl who really had no interest in me. (I mean really!) But the more I talked to her, the more interested I became. So the night of our high school graduation, I asked her to go out after the ceremony. Much to my dismay, she turned me down because her boyfriend was talking her out after the ceremony. (Yes, she already had a boyfriend!)

In a bold, and rather unethical move, I asked her what time her boyfriend was bringing her home. When she told me 11:00 pm, I told her I would pick her up at 11:02. The look she gave me told me she didn’t put much stock in what I was saying, but I assured her I would be there.

Now I’m not suggesting this was an honorable thing to do. It wasn’t. I would like to say I was being galant and romantic, but I was eighteen and thinking more about me than her boyfriend. For that…I’m sorry!

Anyway, back to the story. A little before 11 pm, I parked down the street from her house, turned off my car lights, and waited. At 11pm, they pulled up in front of her house. I watched him let her out and drive away. After he drove around the corner, I pulled up in front of her house. She came out, got in the car, and we drove off on our first (unofficial) date.

We’ve been married nearly forty years now, and every day has been just as story book as that memory. Ok, you know that’s a lie. Not everyday has been that galant and romantic. There probably have been just as many times when we’ve been frustrated and wanted a break from one another. But if, during those times, I go back and remember that story (and many others like it) it puts things back in perspective and makes the aggravation shrink in comparison.

Couples come into my counseling office angry and resentful with one another. They spend a lot of time rehearsing story after story of let-downs, hurts, and frustrations.  But, when I ask them to tell me about how they met, what attracted them to one another, their favorite dating memory, etc….their faces change. Their tone of voice changes. They soften. All because they’re remembering the real reason they came together.

You may not be as young as you once were. Maybe you have kids, and jobs, and responsibilities that side-track you from being as spontaneous, gracious, and flirtatious as you once were. You may even be at that stage of life and marriage where a good time together is sitting quietly in your respective easy chairs. But we all have these memories and stories to remind us of why we’re together.

Those memories alone may not be enough to make your marriage what it needs to be. You may need to add some hard work to those memories, but those memories are an untapped resource and a glue to help hold things together.

So, when you’re facing a time in marriage where you feel like driving the whole thing off a cliff, try driving down memory lane instead. Rehearse those stories, pull out photos, talk about favorite times together. You may find that driving down memory lane takes you to a better destination.

News Flash! Ken and Barbie Aren’t Real!

I went to a wedding recently and I was struck by how perfect the bride and groom looked. They appeared to have it all together. Young, good looking, every hair in place, makeup just right, smiling perfectly. They looked just like Ken and Barbie. (Assuming Ken and Barbie are married.)

Who wouldn’t want to be Ken and Barbie. They have great looks, great bodies, great clothes, a great convertible, and let’s not forget the great dream house!

There’s just one problem…

Read moreNews Flash! Ken and Barbie Aren’t Real!

When You Fight, Point the Fire Extinguisher in the Right Direction

Fred and Alice (not their real names) came into my office because they had been fighting over Fred’s failure to let Alice know when he would be home from work. The fighting was damaging their marriage, so they came in for help in resolving it. By the end of the session, the three of us had agreed on a game plan to fix the problem. Everyone seemed happy with the plan, and Fred was expressing his gratitude and commitment to work the plan. Then, just when I thought everyone was going to leave happy,

Read moreWhen You Fight, Point the Fire Extinguisher in the Right Direction

Things I Would Tell My Newly Married Self

I have done a lot of premarital counseling, and I’ve found it to be both enjoyable and frustrating. Enjoyable, because you get the opportunity to walk with a couple and to speak into their present and future lives. Frustrating, because many of these couples have no frame of reference for what you’re telling them…and they’re often too “in love” to hear it anyway.

Engaged couples mean well and they want to have the best marriage possible. It’s just that the excitement of becoming Mr. and Mrs. makes it hard from them to really imagine the feelings and frustrations they will face down the road. The light in their fiancé’s eyes blinds them to the issues that are there. The blood that rushes to their head (and other places) keeps them from hearing things they need to hear.

Remember when you first realized that marriage wasn’t what you thought it would be? Maybe it was the first time you realized those quirky parts of your spouse’s personality weren’t going to change like you thought/hoped they would. Perhaps it was when you discovered that their approach to money felt less like pulling together and more like tug-of-war. Maybe it was when you realized the sexual tension and excitement you felt during the honeymoon phase had morphed into a dull predictability that was just a notch above doing the laundry.

We’ve all encountered things in marriage and found ourselves thinking, “I wish someone had told me about this.” So I’ve thought about it, and here are some things I would tell my newly married self:

  • You don’t need to be right all the time…even if you think you are.
  • Dirty clothes go in the hamper, not on the floor beside the hamper.
  • Just because they say they’re fine, doesn’t mean they are.
  • “I wish we were closer” probably means something different to them than it does for you.
  • When they say, “There’s nothing in this house to eat,” it doesn’t they want to go get groceries.
  • They can criticize their parents. You cannot!
  • People’s standards for cleanliness vary greatly.
  • Just because their personality is different from yours doesn’t mean they are brain damaged.
  • Your sex life will occasionally ebb and flow, but it will always take work.
  • If you don’t look at them, you’re not really listening to them.
  • It’s ok to disagree on how to raise children. They will grow up anyway.
  • Compromise is not surrender.
  • It won’t hurt you to watch what they like to watch. (I’m still learning this one.)
  • The more you’re willing to release, the more you’re able to receive.
  • When you say, “Where do you want to eat,” and they say, “Anywhere’s fine,” DON’T BELIEVE IT!

These are just a few of the things I would tell my newly married self. I’ll bet you could add to the list. What would you tell your newly married self? Leave your ideas in the comments and let’s see how many of these we can collect…for all those people who don’t know what they’re getting into!

If You Love Them, Prove It

When the couple walked into my counseling office, it was obvious things were not good between them. Their heads were down, there were very little pleasantries offered, they chose opposite sofas on which to sit, and neither wanted to be the first to talk. When they finally started opening up, each told story after story about how the other had overlooked them, stopped spending time with them, and failed to act lovingly toward them. And each confirmed that they had been acting that way toward the other!

Now, here’s the kicker…when I asked them why they were still in the marriage, each said, “Because I love them!” It was at that point, I wanted to say, “Prove it.”

Read moreIf You Love Them, Prove It

Has Your Marriage Lost the Magic?

It was late at night, and I was sick. It felt like someone had poured concrete in my head and chest. I had a sharp, hacking cough that sounded like a hammer on a tin roof. And though I had elevated my head in the bed, I was still tossing and turning.

My wife was in the bed, but was unable to sleep. (Gee, I wonder why.) She had spent most of the night lying in bed reading, but early in the morning she put down the book, turned off the light, and laid her head down facing me. (You can almost guess where this is going.) Unbeknownst to me, I rolled over facing her and coughed…one of those forceful, spraying coughs…right in her face!

Read moreHas Your Marriage Lost the Magic?

Take A Stand In Your Marriage.

I was listening to a Willie Nelson CD on the way to work the other day. The CD is entitled “To All The Girls.” (I highly recommend it, if you’re a Willie fan.) There’s a song on that CD called “Walkin’.” It’s about the demise of a marriage. Listen to the words of the chorus:

After carefully considering the whole situation
I stand with my back to the wall
Walking is better than running away
And crawling ain’t no good at all

I was struck by these words, because they sounded like things I’ve heard in my counseling office. As I listened to this song, I found myself asking out loud, “Why are walking, running, and crawling the only options for a tough marriage?”

Read moreTake A Stand In Your Marriage.

Night Owls, Morning Glories, and Minding the Gap

I’m a morning glory. Apart from the bed-head and stiff joints, mornings are the best part of my day. In the morning, I’m rested, my mind is clear, things are quiet, and I can get my most productive work and planning done.

My wife, on the other hand, is a night owl. The nighttime is the best part of her day. At night, things are settling down for her. The demands of the day are over and she can begin to focus on the things that are important to her.

It’s like we’re on two different teams. When I’m ready to greet the day, she’s ready to pull the covers over her head. And when I’m ready to end the day she’s just getting started.  She doesn’t like being woke up in the morning, and I don’t like staying up late at night.  We live life with this big gap between us.

Truth is, all marriages have gaps in them. One spouse may want to save for a rainy day, while the other wants to spend to make the day brighter. One spouse might want to hang out with people, while the other wants to hide out from people. One spouse may see the glass as half full while the other is not even sure there is a class. Gaps!

At first, we try to overlook the gaps in our marriage. We want to believe they’re just a fluke. A glitch in the program. But when these gaps become glaring and unavoidable, then we tend to default to one of three approaches:

  • Rescue our spouse by showing them the error of their ways.
  • Convince ourselves that we have chosen poorly, look for a different model.
  • Resign ourselves to a life of unhappiness as we gaze at each other from across the gap.

These options make marital gaps perilous. So, if we are going to navigate the perilous gaps in marriage, we need to have some different options. On the London underground, you often hear the warning, “Mind the gap.” Let me suggest four ways you can “mind the gaps” in your marriage:

G – Give up. I’m not talking about giving up your marriage. I’m talking about giving up your need/desire to change your spouse or control what they do. If you haven’t figured it out already, telling your spouse how they should be, what they should do, and why they should do it is not a way to win their heart. It’s more of a way to catch their heat. You’re not their parent, and you’re not God. You don’t like it when they try to change you, so give up trying to change them.

A – Accept. Accept that your spouse is different from you by design. They are a unique individual in their own right..just like you. The differences that are aggravating each of you are the differences that originally attracted you to one another. So accept them for who and how they are. Nothing is more attractive and life changing than that. (Note – I am not talking about accepting abusive or immoral behavior. That should never be tolerated, and must be dealt with before a relationship can proceed.)

P – Praise. Learn to praise your spouse for the strengths that are a part of their nature…even if they are on the other side of your gap. Because it’s their strengths that balance out yours. My wife is a very detailed person who dots all the I’s, crosses all the T’s, and likes to have a plan before doing something. I, on the other hand, am a big picture person who hates to be bothered with details, paperwork, and plans. Yes, we drive each other crazy with our natural bents, but we need each other’s strengths. So, instead of complaining about the differences, we should be celebrating them.

S – Step. As I said, there will always be some gaps in your marriage. But if you want to close the gaps some, then you have to take a step of faith in their direction…

  • If you’re a morning glory, take occasion to stay up a little later with your spouse.
  • If you’re a night owl, try getting up a little earlier to be with your spouse.
  • If you’re an introvert, take your extraverted spouse out with people.
  • If you’re an extrovert, spend a quiet evening at home…just you and your spouse.
  • If you’re a saver, buy your spouse something…just because.
  • If you’re a spender, make an effort to adhere to the budget.
  • If you’re an optimist, acknowledge all the things that could go wrong with a decision.
  • If you’re a pessimist, acknowledge all the things that could go right with a decision.

A good marriage is not about getting your spouse to be more like you. It’s about successfully minding the gaps between the two of you so they become positive rather than perilous. This week, take one step to celebrate a gap in your marriage. Then, take one step to bridge a gap in your marriage. Here’s to minding the gap!

What if Marriage Were Simpler?

Marriage starts off so simple. There’s you, your spouse, a place to live, a job to go to, and free time together. But as time goes on, marriage gets more complicated.  Kids come along. Bills increase. Your job gets more demanding. Your kids get more demanding. The house gets bigger. There’s more upkeep. Your mortgage increases. There are more health issues, higher taxes, and less time.

But what if marriage were simpler? I know…it sounds unrealistic, but stick with me for a minute. I didn’t say, “What if marriage were simple.” I said, “What if marriage were simpler. What if it were possible to declutter and simplify your marriage, even a little? Wouldn’t you want to?

Read moreWhat if Marriage Were Simpler?

The Crowded Marriage.

Let’s start by stating the obvious…it’s been a little over 8 months since I have posted to Normal Marriage. I realized this when, on a trip back home, I ran into a niece who asked me if I had kicked her off my Normal Marriage mailing list, because she hadn’t gotten a new post in “forever.”

I could give you a lot of detailed reasons for why it’s been so long, but the long and the short of it is life crept in and crowded Normal Marriage out.

Ever had that happen? Ever had the demands of life crowd out your marriage? The demands of life come in all shapes and sizes…

Read moreThe Crowded Marriage.