It’s unfortunate that celebrating a day like today is seemingly becoming more and more rare. I’ve found that for Theresa and I, there have been some crucial, hard lessons we’ve had to learn as a couple that have helped us get to where we’re at today. There are certain things in a marriage relationship that are unique to the individuals, but I think there are things that are universal, if you ever expect to spend the rest of your life with someone. This is what I’ve learned over 15 years. Let it be said, though, that some of the things I’ve learned continue to be struggles, continue to be worked on, and take constant, proactive effort. This is by no means a “I’ve figured it all out” list.
1. Communication. One of the most vital things we’ve learned is to communicate. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about menial day-to-day catching up, or discussing major decisions and events in our lives. If you do not communicate with your spouse, you do not succeed.
2. Compromise. Give and take has to occur if you’re going to thrive in the closest interpersonal relationship you will have with another human on this earth. And I’m not talking about wives who act like Stepford Wives, or guys who are so spineless they do everything their wife demands without question. Either of those scenarios do NOT lead to a healthy marriage, they lead to resentment. They lead to grumbling, complaining, and eventually, a volcano eruption that stifles #1. Furthermore, expecting either a Stepford Wife, or an unquestioning, always accomodating husband is unrealistic and unhealthy. By doing so, you’re stealing away a little bit of who that person is by the demand you put on them.
3. Patience. Face it, it’s going to take patience to deal with the idiosyncrasies in your spouse after Cupid goes away, the dust settles, the honeymoon ends, and it’s just the two of you. One of the worst things dating couples do in a relationship is to only reveal their best side. Doing so is a disservice to you significant other, and unfair. It shows them nothing of who you are in the good and bad times, it only shows what you want them to see. And if there’s one things we as people are good at, it’s hiding who we really are, and giving others only the perception of who we want them to think we are. When that fades away (and it WILL fade away), you’re going to need patience and grace. God knows Theresa has needed it in spades with me over the years.
4. Understanding. If your relationship is going to work, you’re going to need to try understanding their side, even when you don’t want to. This kinda goes along with communicating well, but in my estimation, relationships that work are such that each person understands and is pliable enough to entertain a perspective that is not their own.
5. Be Selfless. Something I’ve said for years now, is that the primary cause of any any ANY divorce or seperation is selfishness on one, but more often than not, both sides. One person’s selfishness often precipitates it, but at the core, it’s a selfish attitude on the part of both. We live in a selfish society, and selfishness is ingrained in us as part of the “American Dream” (the part few want to acknowledge exists). So it’s no surprise that a selfish attitude pervades in our relationships. Pride is a marriage killer, and it’s rampant. You’re a team, not an island.
6. Faith. I have found, for Theresa and I, that our shared faith in God has been a sustaining force in our marriage being what it is today. Knowing that not everyone shares our set of beliefs, I will say that at the very least, you should be on common ground with your spouse theologically. If you are not, you’re fighting an uphill battle. It will be difficult, especially if/when children come into the picture, to maintain commonality if a shared faith isn’t present. When kids hit the scene, suddenly the questions of “how are we going to raise this child?” come into play. It happened with Theresa and I, but we were on somewhat common ground throughout (even though our upbringings were different), and much of our spiritual journey happened in unison. I know that’s not the case with everyone though.
7. Realistic Expectations Another one that dovetails with a few previously listed. It’s amazing to me how relationships are so strained and broken apart as a result of unrealistic expectations put on the other person. Here’s a newsflash: At least to a certain degree, you KNEW what you were getting into when you got married. If you didn’t, then you’re silly for going in with unrealistic expectations. If you did know, then you have the responsibility to work at it, and MAKE it work. If that means you drop some of what you think the other person should be, or your “perfect” idea of what you want them to be, then drop it. It’s unfair to them, and again, it’s a resentment-builder for you. Don’t set unrealistic expectations. By doing so, you’re just giving yourself less room to be let down, and you’re operating in a little more of the grace you need just as much as the other person.
8. Apologize. If you’re never willing to admit you’re wrong (another selfish trait), you’re never going to have strong relationships with anyone, let alone a spouse. And while both sides need to know how to apologize, this one’s especially for the guys. Guys, have that macho pride thing going that women don’t deal with (at least not in the same ways, or to the same extent). So guys, when you say, “I’m sorry, but…” you’ve already disqualified your apology. Use any counterpoint or perspective to argue that, but I assure you, you’re wrong. I have found, over and over and over and…….that the times I’ve ONLY said, “I’m sorry”, are the times I didn’t have to worry about Theresa’s response or if she would “fess up” to her side of things. Trying to qualify your actions puts up a wall between you and your spouse. When you show that you are sorry, without trying to explain yourself away, your spouse will do the same (or at least should). Think of it as killing them with kindness. There are times I had to say sorry and leave it at that. There are times Theresa did as well. Do yourself a favor: Say you’re sorry. Then SHUT. UP.
I’ve told people for years now, that I know for a fact that my wife and I will never, ever separate, except by death. The response has always been, “Oh man, don’t say that. You never know what might happen.” If I can be frank, the people who most often say that to me are the ones who have failed at a marriage. I know that we won’t, because we both have practiced the things above. I know that we won’t because after 15 years, the last thing I would ever, ever do would be to intentionally hurt her or do something idiotic and selfish to damage our relationship. And I know the same can be said by her. THAT is what marriage is about, and that’s what a self-less, two-way, successful relationship is about. And I know that the truth of that will never, ever change with us.
Marriage is tough, no doubt. Another thing I think anyone who’s made it any length of time can authoritatively say is that if you can make it through the early years, you can make it. I think much of what I’m talking about here is most vital in the early (first 7-8) years of marriage. When we had issues early on (and believe me, we DID have issues) we resolved that we could either split, seek counseling, or sit down, drop the gloves, and put everything out on the table in an attempt to work through our issues, find reconciliation, grow, learn, and move forward together. So we did. We worked hard at it, had arguments, didn’t always agree, but worked through it and were better for it. If you don’t put in the work, you’re not going to get the result. It’s simple, but it’s true. An NBA player doesn’t become so by not practicing, and a marriage isn’t successful without endless, tiring but rewarding effort. Again, not saying this is some end-all, be-all list of how to make it work. But being married means you’re going to become a statistic. It’s just a matter of what kind of statistic you’re going to be.
I’m thankful for my wife. I’m thankful for the trials, the arguments, the rough patches, the fun, the joy, and the happiness she brings. And I’m thankful that she puts up with all the same with me.