Monday, June 27, 2011

What makes a marriage work? And how do you work on your marriage? Part 1

I will start this post off with a disclaimer. I have been married a whopping 4 years (just recently had an anniversary) and so I don't claim to be any sort of an expert. What I can say I feel confident about is having grown up in a home where my parents stayed married throughout much adversity. Some of that adversity was directly related to raising my brother and I, so I have insider knowledge that they went through a lot of hard times. They have stayed married for coming up on 40 years. I can also speak to the fact that Brian and I have stayed together for nine and half years, so there is something to that. You may or may not agree with co-habitation, (biblically, it is definitely a no-no; for some it fits a need,) but it worked for us. We worked out a lot of issues that we had both together and as single adults. There was nothing keeping us together except the desire to stay together. So, I will give you a little history on our relationship, then I will tell you why I think our marriage works, and how we work at marriage. I'm going to split this into two posts because it is really long for one.

We met when we worked together at a Nissan dealership; I've told you we started out as friends. We spent a lot of time together as friends. When we started dating, it was not super-serious, but we did decide to move in together after only a few months of dating. At the time we signed our lease, we had not even told each other "I love you." This is important to note because we moved in together as mainly a monetary arrangement. Yes, we were dating by then, but it was best for both of us financially. I was having issues with my apartment complex crediting my rent to me, and Brian lived with a terrible roommate. We made lots of rules on how things would go if we broke up, and we both kept ALL of our belongings, not condensing down plates, TVs, etc. So we had a lot of stuff between the two of us! You may know that we bought a house together in Castle Rock after living together for a year. You might not know that my credit was so poor that it was only Brian who technically "bought" the house. More rules were made about how he needed to give me notice if he was going to kick me out, etc. We both still kept all of our things in case our relationship didn't work out. A few years later, we decided to move to Albuquerque. We sold the house and prepared to move. At that time, I guess it seemed like we were finally pretty serious. Each of us got rid of a lot of things that were duplicates. We didn't make any rules about what would happen if we broke up after our move. Within a year of moving to Albuquerque, we were engaged. Eight months later, we got married.

It may seem weird and detached to some that we were so cautious about our relationship, but if you were there with us, you'd know it wasn't weird at all. We had our fair share (or more) of ups and downs, and we loved each other enough to make our relationship work, in spite of the things working against us. I really wanted to get married for many years before we became engaged. And I was moving way to fast, but I didn't know it then. I thought Brian was just dragging his feet. After our wedding, he told me that he had wanted to be sure that I had gotten my finances and credit issues worked out before he would commit to marrying me. That might sound cold, but if you've ever dated/married someone who plays fast and loose with your (joint) money, you know it is a very important factor. Many couples fight and even break up over money. It made total sense to me that he wanted to be sure we were on the same page before we signed on the marriage certificate. Of course, if he had told me that BEFORE we had gotten engaged, when my fervor for marriage had been at its peak, I may not have been quite so understanding because for a few years, I just wanted to GET MARRIED NOW, DANG IT!!!!

I won't go into detail on what the issues we had were; they are water under the bridge. Nothing was huge or unworkable, but knowing that we cared enough for each other to work through it was huge as we progressed into marriage. We had this couple friend in Albuquerque (they are no longer friends of ours for some good reasons) who told us to be ready, because marriage would change our whole relationship, and everything we thought we knew about being together would be turned upside down. They told us being married is not that great and that they sometimes regretted getting married. Of course, the female half of that couple also told me that I should keep my maiden name because it started with A, and that was good for going back to school, so you can see maybe her advise is a little skewed. As a side note, it was important to both Brian and I that we start our family sharing a last name. Anyway, we had some heavy discussions while planning our wedding about keeping our relationship the same. We didn't want to start taking each other for granted, or thinking that we were married now so we could forget being friends. This goes to the ROOT of a good marriage - we talked about it. We hashed it out again and again, how we didn't want to be married and let our relationship go down the tubes. A conclusion was reached, that basically we felt as though we were getting rings and a piece of paper to just declare what we already knew - we are together, and we love each other. Nothing more, nothing less. I recently told Brian's cousin's fiance (whew) that the ring and the paper only told the world what they themselves already know - how much they love each other. And that was definitely true for Brian and I.

Brian's dad was to officiate our wedding, and he asked that since we could not live apart for the duration of our engagement that we sleep separately. We did so for our whole engagement and it was totally, 100% worth it. He also asked that we undergo Christian marriage counselling, which was a very nice experience, especially when the counselors told us that we really didn't have many issues together and that we seemed to be on the right track to a successful marriage.

I can tell you that at the time of our wedding, my faith was not very strong. I can't speak as to why this was, it could have been 1,000 different reasons, but nothing huge or concrete. So I didn't have the distinct feeling that we were declaring our love to God, although I now know that He was an integral and deep part of our getting married. We did our vows, enjoyed our reception, and spent our first night together as a married couple. God was certainly present in every aspect of our wedding, even if I wasn't totally on board with Him at that time. Funny how that works!

We had a week off to spend together after our wedding, and we enjoyed some relaxing time at home. Suddenly, the wedding I'd been planning for eight months was over, and we were thrust back into work, life, and the mundane aspects of everything. We talked about being married quite a bit, and how we both didn't feel any different... except for a new sense of closeness that we had never had before. Can I tell you I still feel that closeness? Four years and a baby later, sometimes I still look at my husband and think I could not be closer to another human being. Well, I'm pretty close to my kiddo, but of course in a totally different way.

Brian has seen me in good times and bad. He's seen me at my best, and he has definitely seen me at my worst. He has never judged me, but he has held my hand and helped me walk through it. I try to support him in the same way. Our marriage is far from perfect, but we seem to be on fairly smooth waters these days. While I don't believe that we'll never have problems (someday we'll have teenagers, and then... yike, who knows,) I do believe that we'll be able to work through the issues. So here are the things that I think are key to a strong marriage.

1) A desire to work through the bad times. If you feel like when things get rough you just want to throw in the towel, there is no way your marriage will last. It is so important to get through the bad times. Just remember that the good times were there before, and they can be there again. Now, I'm not saying there aren't circumstances that dictate walking away. Abuse is definitely one. Adultery is another, and the Bible even offers you an out in the case of adultery that you just can't overcome. But if you have small issues that seem to be compounding, then it's time to get down to work. No one ever said marriage would be easy just because you love someone. Which leads me to my next key...

... which I'll tell you about in a separate post. I'm sorry to do that and I don't love it when people do, but I also don't want to make you read a novel. If I post it all at once, chances are good you won't read the whole post and I feel strongly about this topic. So check here tomorrow morning... more to come.

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