It wasn't your intention. When you and your spouse first got married, both of you felt so good about coming together. It might take a bit of work, but life was going to get better after marriage than it was before, when you were single. But somewhere down the line, after a few years or so, things started to get tough. It happened without your meaning it to. But somehow, you've now found yourself married to a very… difficult person. Was he or she that way when you first married?? The details are fuzzy. But that initial attraction, the delightful romance, the commitment to one another to become an everlasting couple in the ecstasy of marriage – all of that seems very, very far behind now.
You may feel lost and confused. You may think that there's something wrong with your marriage. You may even wonder if your marriage is abnormal, or feel too embarrassed to admit that you have such difficulties with your spouse.
My friend, you are not alone. In fact, being in a difficult marriage is more common than you think.
In these following three posts, I'll share my most helpful tips for navigating marriage when things get tough. We're in this together!
What's In It For Me?
Many of us, up until our marriage, lived for ourselves. Our lives revolved around ourselves, and everything we did was for the benefit of yours truly. So when we started to develop a relationship with our future wife or husband, we naturally fell into that old habit of thinking, "What's in it for me?" Yes, we even applied it to that loving relationship where we promised to give our all for this special person. We thought of the love, comfort, security, happiness, companionship, and enjoyment that we ourselves would gain. We thought, "Wow, a person who would do all for me in the name of love! And since I love them too, it'd be easy for me to reciprocate the same for them. I could sacrifice myself for them with almost no effort on my end at all, because I'm so in love with them. What a win-win situation."
Little did you know, just how much (how little) that initial love feeling would do to power the boat of your relationship. Little did you know how soon that boat would sputter and run out of gas.
The fact is, once you say "I do", your relationship is no longer about you anymore. It is about a new entity, an "us" – which is more than the sum of its parts. The phenomenon of the "us" is a little mysterious, because you two now effectively function as a "unit" with its own qualities and quirks, which may not necessarily match up with how the two of you are individually. Now, in order for this "us" to succeed, you need to do something a little different from revolving your life around yourself. Adjust that paradigm slightly: revolve your life around the "us". And I mean that. Take ALL the work and the thoughts and the efforts that you previously put into benefitting yourself, and now channel it ALL into benefitting "us". In a sense, forget about yourself. Let your marriage become the thing you always watch out for, the thing you always take care of at the end of the day. If some person or activity strains your marriage (maybe you have some toxic friends you still hang out with, or maybe your spouse keeps constantly inviting your in-laws over), draw the line, put your foot down, and say, "Sorry. That doesn't work for us." Taking care of your marriage just as carefully as you would take care of yourself will cause it to thrive and flourish.
That's how much work it takes to have a good marriage. See, it's not so easy is it? It takes an enormous amount of conscious effort to change that old habit of watching out for yourself only. It's tough! But, don't worry. I tell you that having a good marriage is worth every ounce of work you put into it.
Is The Glass Half Full Or Half Empty? Answer: It's Completely Full
In order to live properly and successfully with your spouse, you need to answer this question correctly: Is the glass half full or half empty? And the correct answer is (with an absolutely earnest face and 100% sincerity from you), "It is completely full, honey. I don't see anything missing from it at all."
I once heard a wise man say this: before you enter into marriage, have your eyes completely open. But after you get married, close your eyes completely. Before you decide to marry someone, don't let love blind you to who they are. Look at them fully, impartially, honestly, and ask yourself: knowing that he is like THIS, am I still willing to marry him? Am I ready to commit myself to him for life? Keep your eyes open as much as you can during this critical decision period. However, once you tie the knot, it's time to close your eyes. No longer should we look for the faults of our spouses. No longer should we try to find all the chips and blemishes in the person we already married. We may treat the clothes we buy this way ("I can always return it if I find a problem") or the meals we order at restaurants ("I did not order that, take it back please"). But this is not the way we treat our spouse. Instead, consider this: we can now enjoy all the positive, delightful, outstanding attributes of our husband/wife, of which there are too many to count.
Wives, instead of criticizing your husband for making a mess every time he gets home from work, or for needing too much "time to himself" to unwind, consider how good it is that your husband faithfully and reliably gets up to go to work, day in and day out. Regardless of bad weather or mood or job uncertainty or ridiculous coworkers. (Forget about the one or two times he didn't make it, those are exceptions to the rule.) It takes a lot of courage and responsibility to do what he does! Now, add in this concession: "Honestly, I couldn't do that myself. That's not my strong point at all. This attribute is something I depend on in you, dear husband. Because I am married to you, I can enjoy this aspect of you freely and continually."
Husbands, instead of wondering why your wives constantly change their plans without telling you, or why she always seems to be flying by the seat of her pants, look at it this way: "My wife is incredibly versatile. She knows how to keep up with every new situation that comes her way. She was up once every few hours last night with the baby, and today she's still going strong in her care for everyone in the house. She's simultaneously preparing the meals, keeping things tidy (our house looks lived in, but she takes care of all the priority chores), getting the kids to each activity on time, making sure they stay healthy and active, and maintaining relationships with relatives, neighbors, teachers and other parents. She juggles more things than I can even remember to recall. I could never do that, no way! I depend on my wife, and I am proud of her."
These are just examples of what your daily life might look life. Fill in the blanks for yourself for what good attributes and deeds your spouse brings to you that haven't gotten enough appreciation – even admiration. Completely turn around those things that you used to find fault with. The enemy is not your spouse. The enemy is anything that tries to stumble or upset the "us". So, don't even wait for your husband or wife to start behaving better first. If you take the initiative and extend your hand, I guarantee that they will notice, and things will start to change. Just like that, the atmosphere in your marriage can go from sour to sweet. So my friend, since I also need to practice this daily, let's together continue to appreciate (and show appreciation to) our husbands and wives until that glass becomes completely full.
A verse from the Scriptures comes to mind: "You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you." (S.S. 4:7)
Coming up in Part 2: Understanding Your Job Description, and The Power of Your Opinions
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