If There’s Something You Want Your Spouse To Know…

 

I’m going to let you in on one of my many failures in marriage. But, I warn you…it’s not pretty! In fact it’s quite embarrassing! (If my wife is reading this, she’s probably pretty nervous at this point.)

Here’s the story…

Read moreIf There’s Something You Want Your Spouse To Know…

If You Want Your Marriage To Work…

Everyone wants their marriage to work. You never hear a couple getting married make vows to love one another “till it just doesn’t work anymore.” They always vow to love one another “till death do us part.”

No one wants their marriage to be difficult. Everyone wants their marriage to just work. But that’s the problem…everyone wants their marriage to just work. We want marriage to just come naturally, without much effort.

I don’t know why we would think this. We don’t have this attitude about anything else in life…except maybe sex, and that’s a completely different post!

No one believes that you’ll just be naturally good at photography, fishing, sewing, woodworking, parenting, public speaking, etc. But when it comes to marriage, we tend to think…

  • Marriage is about the magic.
  • Marriage should just come naturally.
  • Marriage that’s hard is wrong.

Whether it’s a young couple in premarital counseling, or an older couple contemplating divorce, they all come into my office believing that marriage should just work.

But let me let you in on a not-so-gaurded secret…

If you want you marriage to work…you have to work!

I know it doesn’t sound very romantic, and I don’t mean to bust your bubble, but marriage is not about keeping the magic alive. It’s about finding a method of living together well without killing each other. (OK…maybe it about a little more than that.)

I’ve got news for you. Marriage doesn’t come naturally. You can’t put two completely different people under one roof, 24/7, and have it just work…without some work. I know when you were dating, you thought you had so much in common and were just the perfect match. But that was just the attraction talking. The two of you have different upbringings, different experiences, different hormones, different personalities, different anatomies, and different outlooks on many things. It requires work to blend all these differences together.

Which is why, working at your marriage is not a sign that the marriage is wrong. It’s a sign that the marriage is normal and you just need to roll up your sleeves and work on it.

And the need to work on your marriage is a constant requirement. I’m not trying to rain on your parade here, but whether you’ve been married 1 year or 40 years, you will always need to work on your marriage. Just ask my wife of 40 years.

Remember…

Anything worth while is worth work.

So don’t don’t be fearful or defeated when your marriage doesn’t seem to be as smooth as you think it should be. It’s not a signal to pull the plug (or spit in their cornflakes.) It’s a signal to roll up your sleeves and put some work into it. Welcome to the marriage club!

If You Want A Fairytale Marriage…

I raised two daughters, and I have four grandchildren. So I’ve read my fair share of fairytales.

You would think that people would eventually outgrow fairytales, but there’s one fairytale no one seems to outgrow.

Perhaps it’s our early diet of princess and shining knight stories (thank you Disney,) but we still tend to believe that marriage should be like a fairytale.

Read moreIf You Want A Fairytale Marriage…

The Quarantined Marriage

I typically talk about what it means to have a “normal marriage.” But in these days of social distancing, “normal“ has become a thing of the past. We are all operating under a new normal now. And that new normal is…quarantine!

Couples who have typically been franticly busy, running from one obligation too the next, are now forced to shelter in place, under the same roof, 24/7. A sort of forced companionship if you will.

But this forced companionship can be difficult. It can introduce irritations that we were able to avoid, as long as we stayed on the go. But now there’s nowhere to go!

Here are some things that can make the quarantined marriage a challenge:

  • BIG DIFFERENCES – It’s no news flash that couples are usually very different from one another. We have different personalities, different ways of working, different likes, different approaches to children, different stressors, and different triggers. Being together all day, every day, provides a lot of opportunity for those differences to bump into one another. If you can’t allow for your spouse’s differences without feeling disrespected or inconvenienced, then quarantine is going to be an experience that feels more like water boarding than togetherness.
  • POOR COMMUNICATION – Again, most couples are use to staying busy enough they have an excuse for not stopping and communicating with one another. Before the quarantine, we could get by on shallow conversations about our day. But during the quarantine, we can’t talk about our day…because we are both there in the middle of it! Quarantine forces us to talk about other things for longer periods of time. And this often reveals that the communication we used to do so phenomenally when we were dating, now needs a little work.
  • INCREASED ANXIETY – This one is a given. There is much for us to worry about these days. The big worry is whether we and our loved ones will avoid catching the virus. Another big source of anxiety is whether we will have a job and be able to pay our bills. Then, there’s the smaller worries. Before, we had to worry about whether our kids were good students. Now we have to worry about whether we’re good teachers. Before, we had to worry about who was going to the store to get milk. Now we have to worry about whether there will be any milk when we get to the store. These, and a host of other worries, can raise our anxiety, increase our stress, and make marriage more difficult.
  • LACK OF PURPOSE – This one is not so obvious. Before the quarantine, we were able to confuse taking care of business with having a purpose. It felt like our marriage was here to put a roof over our heads and food on the table, to raise and protect children, to build our careers, etc. But with our ability to do these things now on pause, we have to face the question…why are we married and what’s our real purpose for being married?

As you can see, this quarantine can certainly test your marriage. But you can also use the quarantine as a time to train your marriage. Let me encourage you to use this time to do the following:

  • Learn that your spouse’s differences are not about you. Their differences are about them. Your spouse is different from you, not because they’re trying to get your goat, but because that’s the way God and life has made them. They are not out to get you, so stop taking their differences so personally. Begin to think of their differences as more tools that can be added to the marriage tool box.
  • Learn how to talk again. It doesn’t have to be life-changing, gut-wrenching conversations on a Dr. Phil level. Just talk about anything and everything. You use to do this when you were dating. So if you’re having trouble with this, go back and remember those times. The more you talk about little things, the easier it will be to talk about bigger things.
  • Learn to to calm your anxieties. Anxieties are like the warning lights on the dashboard of your car. They tell you something might need attention, but they don’t tell you to drive your car off a bridge! Note your anxieties, but don’t live by them. Some anxiety is natural and even healthy in times like these. But if you find your anxiety is causing you more problems than solutions, you need to learn How to deal with your anxiety. Find a close friend who can talk you off the roof. Read Scriptures than can calm your heart. Pray. And if you can’t find anything to calm your anxiety, you may need to talk to your physician. But use this time of quarantine to train your anxiety.
  • Learn to live for something greater then just the immediate. Surely you got married for more than just raising kids and paying bills. What is it about your marriage that con’t be stopped by a quarantine? What is it you want to accomplish in your marriage and with your marriage? Spend some time together tossing that question around and dreaming about that.

When it comes to marriage, you can look at this time of quarantine as a time of testing or a time of training. What will you choose?

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?