It seems that everyone had a lot of advice about marriage before and even after we were first wed. I received comments like, “it’s better to be happy than to win every argument” and “no one said marriage is easy.” I despise the last one, why else would I choose it as a focus for my blog post? “Marriage problems“… not a topic people like to talk about out in the open.
No, marriage isn’t easy. Throughout the bible men are urged to stick with the brides of their “youth.” It seems wondering eyes were a problem in biblical times, some men in those days liked to “upgrade” their ladies too.
Women are urged in the bible to do their chores without grumbling. Unhappy martyrdom was a problem then as well.
But what ultimately leads to unhappiness? Why do people tend to think that marriage is hard or that it will be unhappy (for an unending amount of time)?
I am not a fan of people honoring long-lasting marriages simply on the basis of the years the couple have under their belt. That is not the measurement of success. Show me a couple who’s been married for 50 years and I’ll show you a couple who’s been married that long who have not exuded a model of a loving marriage to their children.
In all honesty, out of ALL of the marriages that I know intimately, only a select few have I stored in my heart as a model for what I wanted in my marriage. A very select few have made it into their golden anniversary and others are closer to their silver anniversary. So how are those marriages successful? What makes them different?
This list is not an all-inclusive but just some important highlights from my observation and personal experience. As always, take what you like and leave the rest. I’m no authority, I’m simply an observer in the world called to share.
1. Displays of Affection (sometimes public)
… otherwise known as PDA. I have witnessed couples with varying compatibility in this, old and young. One spouse is a very affectionate one and the other one is not. It’s a very common theme. I’m lucky in that my husband and I are both touchy-feely people. I feel love from him when he grabs my hand as he’s driving the car, when we are in church or when we are walking in a store and vise versa.
The problem is that when people are mismatched here, the person who feels love this way can feel deprived if they are not receiving it from the other. I’ve written before about human beings NEEDING connection and part of connection, for some of us, is physical touch. Sexual intimacy isn’t the only act of physicalness in a marriage, tender affection also is.
One couple that I just adored as a teenager and young adult had no problem in this area. They were not all over each other but they just showed that they desired each other, they were in COMMUNION with each other. Often the husband would just touch the small of her back or she would just grab his hand for a minute at dinner, but it was touch and it was beautiful.
If you read Song of Songs, how could the author keep his hands off of his lady in between what he wanted to do with her in private? He desires her not only in the bedroom but the moments inbetween.
2. Fix Your Own Head
Focus on the Family has a list of “10 Secrets to a Successful Marriage.” They put “marriage is often about fighting the battle between your own ears” at number nine. I think this deserves a much greater emphasis. If we aren’t right in our own head then how can we be right for our spouses? Furthermore, if one of the two of you is battling something (or has been for quite some time) the other is likely in their own hell as well.
For example, if one spouse is battling depression and often pulling away from the other this will eventually take it’s toll on the “well” spouse. The “well” spouse may need to resort to tools or coping mechanisms in order to keep the marriage together but those tools are not capable for the long run toward a successful marriage.
One older couple I knew, man that husband was quite sick in the head. As he struggled with his last years he became even meaner than he was when he was “well.” That wife endured so much their entire marriage, any other “options” in dealing with him not being options to her at all. During the last YEARS of the man’s life he often spat on her and called her names. Examples like this are why I’m such a huge advocate for mental health. Mental health issues don’t just affect the individual who has them but they affect the family too, especially the spouse. The sooner we look at pandora’s box, the less likely we will be one of those crazy old people losing our mind to our old traumas.
3. Fight Fair
My husband and I used to fight very poorly. One of us was very concerned with “winning” the argument to extreme measures and the other was so afraid of confrontation that they would bail, sometimes up and leave, and not return to the topic.
“Misattunement” is what psychologists call this. See, when a couple is attuned they don’t think of themselves as “you” and “me.” There is a true understanding of an “us.” Arguments can divide “us” into “you” and “me.”
I think back to a post I once wrote about how I got so mad with my husband one time that I broke some dishes as I hastily stacked them out of the dishwasher. I felt such pain and anger. If we were attuned as a couple, he and I both would have taken each other’s feelings and thoughts on whatever topic it was that we were fussing about and we wouldn’t have become so angry… and I wouldn’t have lost a couple of plates.
I see people out in public, at gatherings even, having disagreements. One will passive aggressively put the other spouse down in mixed company. My thoughts on this are, if people are willing to act that that in public, only the Lord knows what’s happening in the home. I once called the cops on a couple having an argument in a car on a secluded sidestreet. The woman was hitting the man and he was in her face and hollering.
Even “adults” sometimes need a time out… sometimes those time outs need to last longer than 5 minutes, 5 hours or 5 days.
4. Putting Christ First
That whole “families that pray together stay together,” there might be something to it. We started praying together right when we got married and even read the bible together sporadically. After we had kids we included them in the ritual and we still do it to this day. I can tell you it didn’t mean that we evaded hard times, we didn’t escape them. The simple act of praying together and reading the bible isn’t fully putting Him first, but it is a step in the right direction at the very least.
In addition to being a member of a church’s “small group,” which has done something wonderful for us (because isolationism is killer), we also do bible studies aimed at marriages and talk about our goals as they relate to our service in the world. … things we did not do 5 or 10 years ago.
The most gentle old couples I see, the ones you can tell that are genuinely happy, I see them at churches. Holding hands. Smiling. Singing loudly and proudly. Sometimes I see one of them dropping tears and the other reaches for a kleenex and they embrace. No sign of embarrassment, only tender care and love. THAT, my friends, is true love.
The act of putting Him first may look differently in our lives than in your lives. We each had our own “gods” that we served before Him and we needed to get our worlds straight. Once the correct order was established, everything else has gone so much smoother.
5. We are Individuals
It is fair to say that I have zero desire to go see “Rogue One” for the second, third or fourth time with my husband. Once was enough. Yet, who am I to deprive my Star Wars nerd of his fix? That’s his thing and he needn’t be judged nor kept from it. He didn’t press me to go with him when I said no after my one time and I didn’t judge him for taking someone else along, in fact I encourage him to have a great time. Again.
Likewise, if I want to go to a concert of music that’s REALLY not his taste, he doesn’t judge nor try and stop me. On the contrary, he encourages me to go and have fun. He knows I need my time and he needs his time. We are two people that are joined together but both unique individuals with different tastes.
For women, especially, we get this wild idea that we have to drop things in order to please or keep a man (this is why I suggested “Loving Him without Losing You” in my book list). Most women feel like we have to cater to our men. Women will become sports fanatics when they weren’t previously and men become antique warriors when they really would rather just wait in the car. There is some give and take in order to keep marriages going, yes, but there is no reason to go over the top and lose ourselves to the other person. Self-differentiation are important in the success of marriages.
My favorite example of this was the last run I did, a half marathon. I ran part of the way with a run/walk group that included one of these old ladies I see at all the races. On the run was this little old man at one of the volunteer stations. She went up to him and they had a beautiful embrace. He kissed her and returned to handing out gatorade to the rest of us with his quivering old man voice. Ugh, my eyes are watering again…
6. The Marriage comes before ALL other Relationships
With #5, this needs to be said. Some couples fight over not being able to spend enough time together – one spouse spends a tremendous amount with their “guys” or “girls,” leaving the other one behind. OR one spouse is on their phone texting all night with one of their friends while they are “spending time” with their spouse watching TV or eating a meal.
I, myself, witnessed my mom and her best friend and believed that I should have a friendship like that when I grew up.
Now, in my mom’s defense, my dad was gone the majority of my childhood. He was a railroader and was gone more days when he was home and when we was home, he was catching up on sleep for a large portion of the time. So, my mom was likely lonely and took care of this need for connection through her girlfriends. Being young and not being able to realize the difference the way my parents’ marriage functioned versus everyone else’s, I thought I was supposed to have a BFF to spend a lot of time on the telephone with.
In a world where a BFF has such significant importance, one will put the BFF’s opinion about things ahead of a spouse. If my BFF thinks I need to put my kids in a certain school and my husband disagrees, I’m likely to fight for my BFF’s opinion rather than become attuned with my husband and realize that HE and I are on the same team, not my BFF and I. Teaming up with someone other than my spouse will undoubtedly cause marriage problems.
Still, others struggle about family member’s opinions in their lives.
…at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. – Matthew 19:4-6
Some versions read “cleave to his wife.” In Hebrew, the word “cleave” means to “stick like glue.” Bonded. Stuck.
There’s no disrespect in the “cleaving” philosophy. Yes, I imagine it feels weird as a parent and out of all of the things I don’t look forward to as a parent, the day when my children “leave” are at the top. However, the better we understand the role of marriage in the Christian world, the more we can embrace this philosophy.
This also means that our marriage comes in front of our relationship with our children. There’s a natural alpha order in a home and it requires us putting our children in second place. Not only is this good for the marriage, this is good for the children to witness and learn from.
7. Get Help When Needed
The spouse who declines marital therapy when the other is begging for it is headed toward a dark area. See, sometimes we hit walls as a couple. The record has a deep gouge in it and skips so badly that the music doesn’t play well anymore. The record needs replaced, it’s broken.
Declining help for marriage problems because of “pride” or “fear” aren’t good enough reasons at all. There are other options, of course… your spouse may decide that the broken record is tearing him/her up so badly that they can’t take it anymore and they have to make a decision for their own sanity. No one wants that, of course.
If you are unsure if you and your spouse would benefit from such a thing, here is an excellent article on the matter.
Side note here… if your spouse declines help who’s to keep you from getting your own counselor?
8. Healthy Sexual Intimacy is Important
On top of our natural problems of mismatched libidos, we have the world in which we live in telling us certain things are okay. Men (and some women), Christians even, believe that they can conduct themselves in a world where having a separateness from their spouse with pornography will not and does not affect the marriage. More and more studies, Christian and secular, disagree – proving how pornography (and anything beyond that) justifiably causes marriage problems.
I remember listening to someone on NPR some years ago. She spoke about how when a couple comes together to have sex, the chemicals that are released work as a “binding agent” to the other person. Funny, the secular world again backing up what is already stated in the bible.
Oxytocin may have been the drug discussed on the radio. When we make love to our spouse, that chemical is released and BINDS us to them. A memory is created in our brain about the euphoria we felt during sex with that person. So, if a spouse is masterbating to pornography, are they then binding themselves to a real (or unreal) person? Is that infidelity?
When one chooses porn over having sex with their spouse, they are avoiding sexual intimacy. That’s the bottom line.
The bottom line in a “happy” marriage, in my opinion, is an intimate marriage. I never really knew what intimacy was until a year ago. Intimacy isn’t just physical intimacy, although that’s part of it. Intimacy in marriage is when you have full trust in your spouse… not just trust that they aren’t cheating on you or anything like that but trust that they care just as much about you as they do themselves. Intimacy is attunement. Intimacy is deep care. Intimacy in marriage is oneness. Intimacy is wanting to fill the other person up. Intimacy is serving each other, and being happy to do so. Our aims in marriages should be for true intimacy.
Intimacy in marriage doesn’t mean we still won’t have some marriage problems, but when we are rightly attuned we know that we both are working for the good of the marriage.
Yes, marriage has hard spots. It’s a given. God is gluing two different people together, sometimes of mismatched material, so it is difficult. There are peaks and valleys in marriage. It shouldn’t, however, always be difficult. Marriage, in and of itself, shouldn’t be hard. LIFE is hard and we have ourselves a mate to grab onto and walk through it together with. Enjoy your spouse. Get help when you need it. Don’t lose your mind.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. – Proverbs 3:5-6