5 steps to staying (happily) married forever.
I hate divorce. Literally, my heart hurts when I see a marriage breakdown. It hurts for the children, as I recall all too intimately the road that lies behind me and ahead of them. But, just as much, my heart hurts for the couple. The mom and dad, the husband and wife, the plaintiff and the defendant. I hate it.
The other day I was pondering life and marriage and all that's wrong with the world (I do this often, don't you?) and it occurred to me that when I considered my life at sixty, seventy, or eighty years old, all I knew for certain was that my husband would be there with me. Unless he died, in which case he'll be cremated and put in an urn and I'll be the creepy old lady that carries her dead husband's ashes around in an urn and talks to them. We would probably even still go on dates, me and the Hubster's urn. I would buy two tickets to the movies and he would sit in the seat beside me and I would still make snarky comments about the poor acting or the unoriginal plot, and I would imagine that the urn spoke back to me and shared popcorn and all that good stuff. People would think I was crazy, but that's inevitable I think.
Still, in one form or another, my husband will be with me. We've been married only five years, but it's been a pretty dense five years, with multiple pregnancies and new babies and significant losses and job changes, and mental breakdowns of all shapes and sizes, we have come through a lot. Yet never, at any point, have I stopped envisioning us as little old people (or little urn people) sitting side by side on our front porch.
I know we'll get there. But there is more to a marriage than simply enduring to the end. If all we ever do is "get through", we are not experiencing the fullness of God's gift of marriage. More than survival, or longevity, or co-existence, marriage is a treasure. And I fear that the problem with so many marriages today is that they possess only the lock or only the key, but not both. What I mean is, maybe their goal is simply to stay married until they are dead. Or, maybe their goal is to suck as much happiness and joy and fun out of the other person, and then recycle their vows when the marriage runs dry. Both are missing it.
And so, I decided to survey some of my friends whose marital wisdom far surpasses my own, and see what they thought was the one thing every marriage needed to survive. The answers varied, but there were a few consistent themes. This is not meant to be an easy 1, 2, 3 formula for a great marriage, but rather a list of very difficult things every married person should strive for.
The very first thing you have to have, is a desire. You have to want a great marriage, or at the very least, you have to want to want it. God can work with that. Indifference, pessimism, or desperation are really not good foundations to build a marriage on. Desire is. That means, a desire to be a friend, lover, helpmate, partner, encourager, sidekick, and occasional soft place to land, for the person you're hitching yourself to. You have to want it.
This is pretty basic, right? I mean, any relationship you have, with your parents, with your kids, with your boss, with your pastor, with your neighbor, is going to either suffer or flourish depending on how well you communicate. I will be the first to admit that when it comes to the tough stuff in our marriage I am not a good communicator. I turn into this hostile little clam that doesn't want to speak but really likes to huff and puff and stomp and snort and give dirty looks, I am basically a total brat with sinus problems. I know this. But, luckily, my husband is a grown up, and in spite of my difficulty he pursues me. My advice to you whether you've been married a day, a decade, or a lifetime, is to learn to talk. It is through communication that we learn not just who our spouse is, but how to love them. What makes them feel appreciated and valued, what hurts them, helps them, and gives them what they need. In every facet of your marriage (finances, parenting, life plans, SEX, family struggles) good, open, honest communication is pretty darn helpful.
When my husband and I said, "I do" I thought I was the most "in love" I would ever be. Seriously, I couldn't fathom loving that man any more, so to hear people talking about "hard times" and that time they "almost didn't make it" seemed so foreign and incomprehensible that I just knew we had something they didn't. Turns out, the only difference between us and them was that our bubble hadn't yet been busted. It seems they had once been where we were, and had sense become enlightened to the truth behind married life. You know, all that "what I wish someone had told me before I got married" stuff, that people do in fact tell you but you are just too smitten to hear. Uh huh, it turns out they weren't just miserable married people, they were normal. And now, a few weeks or months or possibly only hours after the honeymoon, you get it. And that's when you choose. Either you determine to make it, to learn to love this person in spite of the morning breath and the sloppiness, and the little quirky things they do that you originally thought were endearing but on second thought are just obnoxious. Yeah, considering all that, you're going to love them, and you're going to stick with them, and you're going to learn to joy in it. Because, after all, you're no peach either.
Ignore the "other side". The only reason the grass is greener over there is because all the time you're putting into your kids, your home, your husband, your Pinterest "to do" list, and God, they're using to fertilize and water their stinkin' grass. I promise, the minute you jump over there and start demanding attention and time, that grass is going to wither and die! If you would, instead, focus on what's beneath your feet, you would realize that it probably should be dead. But it's not. Trampled, sure. A little sparse and patchy, absolutely. But by the grace of God it still has life in it. And all those little things that bug you about your grass, that other yard has them too, you just can't seem them from where you're standing. So focus. Stop (for the love of God STOP) comparing what someone else has to what you have. No good comes from that. Focus, your time and energy and love on what you have been given.
So all of that other stuff is great, but it still doesn't do anything about the "happy" part. And, as I said, this is about more than surviving "til death", this is about discovering the fullness of married life. And I promise, God designed this to be fun. I mean, He gave us sex for crying out loud, he didn't have to make baby-making pleasurable, that's a bonus. So I can't help but feel like joy and happiness and laughter are all supposed to fit into this gig. Sure there's room for frustration and heartache and an occasional homicidal thought as well, but love trumps all that. It is love that enables us to not just "make it", but to treasure every minute of it. Through love we swallow pride, we admit that we're wrong, we say we're sorry, we forgive, we work through the tough times, we hold each other together when we want to crumble, we give more of ourselves than we think we have to give, and we learn that there is joy in the journey, even the bumps. Through love we unlock the treasure that is marriage.
So you're thinking now, "Well who does this chick think she is, what a terrible list, it doesn't even include Jesus, and everyone knows that a marriage without Jesus is a doomed marriage, don't you know that a couple that prays together stays together?!"
Yup, you're right, we do need Jesus. The thing is, all five of these points can exist apart from Him. We see it everyday, little married couples stay together for sixty and seventy years and die side by side, neither of them ever believing in God. So I'm not going to say that a marriage has to have Christ in order to be happy and long-lasting. What I will say, is that He sure does make it a heck of a lot easier.
Isn't that the case with everything though? When you take the creator away, the creation suffers. So it was God who designed this whole marriage thing, and it is only through Him that we can discover the fullness of it. It's kind of like sitting down to play a video game with the guy that designed the game. You could play it all day long on your own, and you might even beat the game and set all sorts of records along the way. You could become the envy of all your friends for your expertise in that game, but when you sit down with the maker, something cool happens. He begins to show you all of these secrets hidden in the game. An extra level here, a secret move and some unknown surprise over there, and suddenly the game unfolds in a whole new way. And you discover, for the first time, how it was intended to be played. You discover what the Maker had in mind when he designed it, and you know that you'll never go back to the old way.
That's marriage. Apart from the maker you can have it, and you'll think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. But the treasure, the missing link, lies with the Maker.
Time for you to chime in. Do you agree with my list? How long have you been married, and what would you add?