Want some secrets for a good marriage?
So do I. I haven’t found any. I don’t think there is a secret ingredient or hidden key to making a marriage work. But twenty-six years of marriage has taught me a lot. I thought I would share some of the things I have been learning over the last two and a half decades.
Marriage is work. It is not easy. Anyone who says marriage is easy is selling something you don’t want to buy. Bumps and bruises, headaches, heartaches, and heartbreaks are part of the deal. Don’t be surprised when they happen. In fact, I would be worried if there are none. Marriage remember, is about learning to love as Christ loves the church. If the Gospels’ show us anything about that, they teach us that there were days when loving Peter, James, and John and the rest of “the gang” took a lot of patience, compassion, understanding, and commitment.
And that leads me to another important thing I’ve been learning. And that is being gracious and forgiving. If there is anything I have been learning its that no matter how I hurt Jesus, He forgives me. His love doesn’t stop, His commitment doesn’t waiver. His patience doesn’t dry up. And His kindness doesn’t cease. And a day doesn’t go by when I don’t hurt Him by what I do or don’t do. If He doesn’t ever give up on me, how could I give up on her? Grace is one of the things God wants us learning, and marriage is one of the prime places He uses to teach us.
Marriage is not about waiting for your spouse to change. It is doing whatever it takes, much as it depends on you. You can’t wait for your spouse to pony up, fess up, or ask for help. You need to be the one who takes that step. I’d doesn’t matter that your spouse should. If they don’t, you need to. Marriage is giving 100% not 50/50.
I have also been learning that sometimes the shoe is on the other foot. Sometimes it is you that did the hurting. Sometimes it may be intentional. Sometimes unintentional. But when it comes to light that your spouse has something against you, it is up to you to come forward and make it right.
I have also been learning that few things are as important to marriage than communication. Taking to each other takes time. You need to take the time. You also need to be honest, transparent, and venerable. That takes trust. Not only trust that your spouse is being honest, but trust that it is safe to be honest. That is crucial. If you do not feel like it is safe to share what is in your heart, you are not going to be able to be honest with one an other. Cultivating an atmosphere where that is safe is crucial. A big part of that is learning to listen. By that I mean listening to understand, not just listening to respond. You know what I mean. How often are we thinking about what we are going to say before the other person has even finished communicating what they want to say? When we listen like that, we miss things, misunderstand, and often come to the wrong conclusion about how to respond. Take the time to listen, reflect back what you heard to make sure you got it right. Ask questions to clarify and deepen your understanding. Follow that with questions to find out how your spouse wants you to respond. For instance:
Maybe they are just looking to share and not wanting help or counsel.
Maybe they are looking for your take on things.
Maybe they need you to do something.
Maybe they just need encouragement.
Maybe the best thing to do is pray together about it.
The better you get at listening to hear and understand and letting him or her direct how they need you to respond, the safer they will feel about opening up and being honest about what is on their mind and in their heart.
And that leads to my last lesson–I have been learning how important it is to take time to be together. And by that I mean quality time. As in dating. Sitting in front of the TV doesn’t count. I don’t mean you have to go out for a night on the town or go on a cruise. I mean you need to spend time together where it is just the two of you focused on the two of you. Having three kids makes that a real challenge for us at times. Sometimes it is hard to getaway. One of the things Mandi and I have done to help with that is to have what we call “date night in.” We will make a simple dinner the girls like for them and then while Mandi does the bedtime routine, I will make a really nice dinner for two. You can make a really nice meal at home for a lot less than going out and then you don’t have to pay for a sitter either. That has been a big thing for us.
I love my wife. She is freakishly awesome in every way. We love being together. And I can honestly say that we are more in love with each other now than we ever have been. It is just betting better and sweeter for us. That doesn’t mean that there are not bad days, weeks, or even months! But we are committed to learning to be humble, to be patient, to be gracious, and to be listening to each other. And the truth is, God has been working in us through those lessons to deepen our love and joy for one another. I am sure He will do the same for you too.