Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What makes a marriage work? And how do you work on your marriage? Part 2

Sorry for yesterday's cliff hanger. I really don't like when people do that on their blogs, but sometimes it's necessary. Anyway, here are the rest of my key points of a lasting, happy marriage. Just a brief note, another disclaimer, if you will. As I'm addressing these key points of marriage, I am not addressing marriages that have recent "deal-breaker" actions. I'm not talking to those who are going through the aftermath of betrayal or abuse. I'm talking about your average, every day marriage where the couple is simply drifting apart or feeling like you're falling out of love. These things can LEAD TO deal-breakers, and they can help overcome those things, but these things are much more minor than actions that must be taken if a huge betrayal has taken over your marriage.

2) Strong communication skills. If you don't communicate with your spouse, your marriage will likely be doomed from the very beginning. Bad feelings and hurts will build up until you feel like you'll explode. Then you'll either blow up and say things you don't mean, or you'll just walk away, believing that there is nothing left to your marriage than a compilation of slights and hurts that maybe could have been corrected. If you don't tell your spouse that you take it personally when they never help you with the dishes when you've both worked all day, how would they know? Bring your issues up in a polite, kind way. Do not beat someone over the head with your anger. This is ALWAYS counter-productive. If you instantly make your spouse defensive, they are less likely to hear what you have to say. 

3) See the person you love as just that. Remember why you fell in love with your spouse? Remember those hundreds of thousands of tiny things that made you think, "This person is made for me?" Those little things can go a long way to getting you through the difficult times. If you can hold tight to even one or two of those things you love about your spouse, they'll help you get through a rough patch. Maybe it's something as outwardly small as you appreciate the way they always kiss you before they leave for work, no matter what - if it's meaningful, it isn't a small thing to you. If you can, think of these things when you're angry at your spouse. You may even want to tell them some things you love about them from time to time. It is always nice to hear what you're doing right, instead of what you're doing wrong. 

4) Share the bad times as well as the good. Let your spouse in when you've had a bad day. Just asking that they spend a little time with you, helping you unwind, can be huge. Likewise, you must do the same for your spouse. If they come home and tell you they've had an awful day, truly and completely listen to what they have to say. Be present. Ask them to do the same for you. 

5) Understand that you are not the same person. You might feel like your spouse doesn't love you anymore simply because they don't send you flowers on your birthday. Where's the root of that issue? Have you ever told your spouse how much you'd love to get flowers on your birthday? Don't expect your spouse to read your mind, or even not-so-subtle hints. If you think that flowers on your birthday would be lovely, let your spouse know. It may be that they really thought you would far more enjoy and cherish that new book they bought you from your favorite author, that you thought was an unromantic gift. We all show our love in different ways, and yours and your spouses may just not be the same. It's good to discuss this, and figure out how to work through it. (Please note, Brian, if you read this, this isn't a subtle hint for flowers on my birthday. Please do not buy me flowers on my birthday.) There also may be more at the root of this issue than you think, when you delve in. Maybe it bothers you that your spouse goes out with friends once a month... but do you actually cherish your alone time once it is upon you? Don't make your spouse suffer because you think your time is more valuable than theirs. Sometimes time apart is really vital for time together. Maybe it bothers you that your spouse goes out, but yet you yourself enjoy getting out without your spouse. Think of where you're creating a no-win situation for your marriage. 

6) Settle the money issue. I said above that the number one cause of struggles in marriages is money. This is likely due in part to the fact that communicating about money makes people feel acutely uncomfortable. Understand that when you get married, you will likely be sharing bills, even if you're not sharing a checking account. Learn to talk with your spouse openly and in a helpful (non-accusatory) manner about any issues you may have with money. It's not always easy - I'm still uncomfortable talking about money, but it is so necessary. You can't be a team if you're adversaries in any arena that counts (unless you're competing at a video game or other such frivolous competition) and expect to stay happily married. If you're not on the same team, you are definitely competing. 

7) Spend some time together just goofing off, having fun, being together. Maybe you happened to fall in love with someone who really doesn't have the same interests as you. I got lucky here. Brian and I like a lot of the same music, movies, games, cars, Android phones, etc. So we relate well in a lot of different arenas. It is fun for us to customize our Droids, talk cars, watch movies, talk music, etc. But if you don't have that with your spouse, all hope is not lost. First, figure out what you DO have in common. Maybe you like to read romance novels (I'm sorry) and your spouse like to read Westerns. You can enjoy your books together and even discuss what you're reading. Your spouse may not love to hear about your book, but it's an area you can relate on, and I bet if you give it a try you'll find they like hearing about what you like. And I bet you'll find you enjoy hearing about their book, too. This is also a good area to find compromise. If your idea of a perfect Saturday afternoon is going to a movie, and your spouse would rather be hiking, make a compromise. Get up early, go on a beautiful hike somewhere close by. Then head back home, get cleaned up, and head out to see a movie. It doesn't have to be an either-or proposition. 

8) If it really feels like you just butt heads about everything, consider the areas that you're each being too stubborn on. Is that area more important than your marriage? In some cases, it may be. For example, if Brian came home tomorrow and said, "I've decided God doesn't exist and I can't live with a Christian," I would obviously be crushed. There wouldn't really be a whole lot of room for compromise there, unless we could work out the complete 180 in his belief system. But I wouldn't give up my faith. That is an area I wouldn't compromise. (That would never happen, by the way, that he would say something like that.) Maybe the argument is a little different, though. Maybe it's more like... "I've always had my dishes in the cupboard above the stove to the left. There is no other place I will allow my dishes to be put away at." And your spouse says, "I refuse to have the dishes anywhere but to the right of the sink and there is no other way of doing it." Is that a fight that you would rather  have than enjoy the bounty of compromise on? Maybe you can concede this time, and ask your spouse if they can consider concession next time. Of put your dishes in a different cabinet altogether! If it isn't something that you'd stake your marriage on, it probably isn't worth the fight. Maybe it's time to just sit down with your spouse and hash out why you just can't come to agreements on the basic stuff. Where can you and your spouse give a little to get a lot? Just keep in mind, I'm not saying here that you should always give in, or you should be a doormat. But you'd be surprised to see how much you get in return when you give a little.

9) Pray! Pray like crazy for your spouse, for yourself, for your marriage. Ask for the strength to get through the rough patches and the knowledge to know where you need to work on yourself. Ask for your spouse to know where they need to work on themselves. You can't change someone, don't even try. Only God can. 

I think that's all I have for now. Do you see a theme there? The thread that runs through all of these things is being able to talk openly with your spouse. If you can't talk, and you can't relate, you really need to seek some kind of qualified counselling. If you're a Christian, it is very important that you seek out Godly counsel as secular therapists aren't quite as qualified to speak to the important biblical aspects of marriage. If you're a little bit before counselling but you're not sure of where you could implement these keys into your marriage, shoot me an email. Maybe I can point you in the right direction (despite my non-expert status.)

I'd just like to point out that these principles apply to people who are parents, or are not parents. I will add that parental discord can be damaging to children who live with it day in, day out. If you have kids and you feel like your marriage is going down a bad road, please seek help. Chances are good that even if you don't think they notice, your kids are seeing every bit of your displeasure with your spouse. 

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