Thomas Edison, prone to distraction in his early childhood, couldn’t sit still. His elementary school teacher contacted his parents after only a few weeks, stating he was a “difficult” child. Struggling to concentrate in the classroom, his mother withdrew him. With a voracious appetite for knowledge, the boy read anything he could. Mom could hardly keep up with him.
This “difficult” child held 1,093 patents in his lifetime. Thomas Edison fought through hyperactivity to become one of the best-known inventors in the United States.
Edison’s parents could have bought the teacher’s tale that he wouldn’t amount to much.
Aren’t you glad they didn’t?
In your mind are you fighting for your marriage or have you labeled it “difficult”?
When it comes to marriage troubles, there are times when you have to take a second look.
What advice or label do you need to rethink? Or what advice do you need to heed to fight for your marriage?
If your marriage suffers from habitual addiction with promises to change, it may be time to separate for a bit, which may be the most loving thing you can do. According to Dr. Gary Chapman, “separation may be the valley of restoration, and the pain you feel may be the labor pains that will give rebirth to your marriage.” Sometimes the separation creates enough discomfort to seek help that has previously been ignored. Pray that way! But if the habitually addicted spouse will not change, then divorce may be your option. You cannot control the other person, but you can protect yourself and your children from the devastating effects of the addiction.
Even though I don’t believe in divorce, there are times when it is the only option.
A friend of mine would tell you that a marriage suffering from abuse is not worth fighting for. And she would know—she’s a survivor who helps others find the way to safety. When staying in a marriage simply to avoid divorce means you have a high probability of murder, then it’s time to get to safety. If this is your situation, please reach out to a few carefully, selected safe people to help you escape the abuse. Your life and your children’s lives are worth saving today.
However, for most of us, marriage gets bumpy, we are let down, and we become disillusioned. And we stop fighting for our marriage.
Our happily-ever-after took a quick turn sideways into rarely-happy-anymore. We don’t feel the love we see portrayed in the movies or even the love they talk about at church, so we believe it is easier to walk away than confront the issues.
What if you chose not to believe the dire assessment? What is an Edison in your marriage? A bright idea underneath the difficulty? What if you could double down, dig in, and wage war to save your marriage?
Think of how you would handle your child’s kidnapping. Shocking. Horrific. Unthinkable.
Most parents would do whatever necessary to rescue that child. You’d exhaust your money, every emotion, and time. Finding that precious one would be your focus. You wouldn’t stop until he or she was found. You’d dig deep—employ any and all resources, expert help, and advice. Right?
Dr. Joe Martin says the #1 reason people divorce is selective hearing.
“We hear what we want to hear, not actually what is being said. In other words, we choose to love each other until instead of in spite of.”
Like in the case of Edison we selectively hear “difficult child” instead of “curiously challenging” because this isn’t your everyday, average child.
How do we avoid the destruction caused by selective hearing or labeling of your marriage?
How do you fight for your marriage?
Several years ago, Vice President Pence got lambasted on social media for certain rules he’s put into place to protect his marriage. (Disclaimer: I’m not endorsing or promoting Mr. Pence. This is an observation of one of his personal boundaries.) Today’s culture considers archaic the concept that a man or woman should curtail their innocent public behavior to respect and preserve their marriage. One of these archaic hedges: He refuses to travel alone with a woman if they aren’t accompanied by another.
I love how Jerry Jenkins, author of the book Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It, explained respecting your spouse, “[you] have to plant hedges to protect yourself, to protect your hands, protect your heart, protect your eyes, protect the reputation of your spouse, of yourself, of your Lord, your church.”
Not everyone needs the same hedges. For instance, when my husband travels without me, he unplugs the television in his room. Why? Then he’s not tempted to look at the myriad of cable channels that contain inappropriate programming. Instead of flirting with the inappropriate viewing line, he stands way back.
I love to give and receive hugs. But, I’m judicious with how I give those hugs to a man who is not a member of my family. Even then, depending on the relationship, I’m careful. It may be a side hug instead of a full-on hug. Do I mean anything inappropriate if I give a full-on hug? No. But I don’t know what might be going on in the other person’s life and emotions. Perhaps he’s struggling in his marriage. My hug may cause temptation. Not because I’m tempting, but because he’s hurting and vulnerable.
On your next date night, discuss with your spouse or “hedges” you feel are necessary or would benefit your marriage.
When you said “I do,” you meant every word. But, like Dr. Joe Martin, says, we all have selective memory. We hear all the good stuff, the Disney fairy tale stuff, and we believe with every fiber of our being that we are in this for the long haul.
Then, life happens. You’ve got three children under four-years-old, bills pile up, work may not be what you dreamed, and suddenly the one who should be your greatest supporter isn’t there for you. That person you thought you could depend on is exhausted as well. Two tired humans, living in close proximity, juggling typical life. This is when you need to breathe in, exhale, and remember why you married that person in the first place.
One of the ways to do this is to set aside regular time for a marriage checkup. Having a list of questions ahead of time helps start the conversation. During our recovery, I researched some standard questions which I’ve compiled into a free resource.
Spend an hour or so reviewing it with your spouse and strengthen that hedge!
State your expectations.
Are you a mind reader? Nope. Me either. Then, why do we expect our spouse to be one? Sometimes, the reason our marriage struggles is because we demand the other person to do something impossible—read our minds.
When working with our restoration team, I realized I didn’t state my expectations clearly because I was afraid of my husband’s anger. There wasn’t any history to back up this irrational fear.
But, in my mind, if he loved me, he’d know what I want.
Seriously? Did I always know what he wanted? No. Then why did I demand something different from him?
To my utter delight, when I simply stated my needs, my husband did his best to meet them. This freed him up to state his needs as well, which I did my best to meet. Added bonus? I felt more secure in our marriage too.
More often than you think is necessary.
Nobody has the corner on forgiveness—except Jesus. He sacrificed His life so you and I could live eternally free. We all need to practice forgiveness.
Holding grudges hurts you more than the offender. When you marry the love of your life, you merge two families, cultures, preferences, upbringings, belief systems, and expectations. Any of those combinations carries the potential for conflict. And the conflict will happen. When it does, if you haven’t communicated your feelings or needs to your spouse, they can’t know they’ve hurt or offended you. They probably responded out of their upbringing and have moved on from the incident while you are stuck in a puddle of pain.
In our marriage, our upbringings regularly provide an opportunity to give and receive forgiveness. A few days ago, while discussing a particularly sticky issue, I responded with a quick burst of frustration, told my husband exactly what I thought needed to happen, and then moved on to something else. About five minutes later, after he’d quietly gone out to work on a project, I felt a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit. “Go apologize. You didn’t respond respectfully or with love.” So, I found my husband and asked for his forgiveness. At that moment, he acknowledged the hurt I inflicted and forgave me. We re-opened the discussion. This time I listened to him all the way through and thanked him for honestly telling me his thoughts and feelings. My upbringing taught me to state it and move on. Dave’s upbringing taught him to stuff it and not cause waves.
We still work at the communication that allows us to get to a resolution. We’re making progress.
Holding onto the grudge only increases the pain level. Each subsequent misunderstanding adds another layer to that pain until one day it explodes. Garbage and angst shrapnel cover both. If you have trouble finding ways to communicate, get help. Most couples wait six years before they admit to a problem. Don’t be part of that crowd! Your marriage is worth the fight.
In his article, “The Number One Reasons Most Marriages Fail,” psychologist Neil Lavender says, believe that marital failure between two relatively intact people is due to what I call a “failure to wed.” Lavender goes on to say that though we experience a wedding, too often we fail to WE-dding. Is he being clever? In a way, yes. But, he makes a valid point.
When we decide to marry our beloved, we find their quirks and differences endearing. But a few months or years into the marriage, when she wants to spend a quiet evening at home and he wants to hang out with friends, we are disappointed or sparks fly. She loved his bookishness at college, but now she’s desperate to get his nose out of his most recent book to have more than a two-minute conversation. She’s starved for affection. He’s frustrated by her demands.
Lavender encourages these two people who’ve pledged their lives to each other to find something that is WE. He defines a healthy marriage as: Two separate and uniquely different people come together to form a whole whose essence is greater than the sum of its parts and not two individuals who are constantly “hijacking the we” by trying to make their partner become more like them.
Instead of expecting one or the other of you to change your preferences, find something totally unique to do together. Think outside the box. Throw away the box, and look for something new.
Set aside time over the next month to brainstorm possible ideas. The key to brainstorming? NOTHING is too weird or wrong. Everything is up for discussion. Have fun with this. Then, once you’ve got these ideas, narrow down the list to those you agree sound interesting. Try one. If it doesn’t work, try something else. The point is to develop activities to do together that energize, encourage, and strengthen your relationship. By doing so, you develop WE.
One way we’ve done this is in our travel plans. I’m more spontaneous about where we spend the night. My husband not so much. We’ve discovered we enjoy the trip more when we book our lodging in the same place for several nights and explore an area. I get to be spontaneous in what we see during the day. He enjoys the comfort of knowing we have a place to sleep each night. The power of WE.
Talk about everything.
In-laws. Children. Finances. Sex. Habits. Desires. Dreams. Interactions with friends. Student loans. Passions. Employment options and opportunities. Date nights. Girls nights. Guys nights. Budgets. Disciplining the kids. This list is endless. You won’t run out of things to discuss.
Set aside a regular time to talk without interruption. Turn off the television, radio, Pandora, Spotify, Siri, Alexa, and your phones—all of it. You need time to focus on each other, to practice active listening skills, and reconnect. The world tries to pull you apart constantly. Get your revenge and spend unhurried time together. You made time for this before you were married. It’s more critical after you marry because that’s when you and I tend to take each other for granted.
This is not a time to air your grievances. This is a time to nurture your relationship. If you have something hurtful to discuss, deal with it as soon as possible so you can forgive and not stuff.
Once you marry, you don’t lose your individuality. Two becoming one sometimes gets interpreted as setting aside who you are. That’s not healthy.
Your marriage needs the uniqueness you each bring to the marriage. It’s what makes your marriage strong. Don’t expect your spouse to think and behave exactly as you do. Celebrate the differences between the sexes. God created male and female and called it good. So should we.
A healthy marriage allows both husband and wife to grow in their personhood and relationship to the other. One doesn’t overshadow the other. If you find that happening, it’s time to get some outside help. Register for a marriage retreat, contact a counselor, or reach out to a coach.
The truth is no one will fight for your marriage but you.
If you’re struggling, and every marriage does from time to time, stop and assess what’s happening. And get help. Don’t wait.
- Determine to treat your spouse with respect, whether or not it’s reciprocated at this time.
- Choose to fight for your marriage. It is possible to save it.
- Look for what’s positive in your marriage.
- Practice gratitude.
I never would have believed this when we were in crisis, but the best days of your marriage are ahead.
If your marriage is wounded and unhappy now, dealing with it WILL NOT make it worse. It will improve it.
Will it be all rainbows and sunshine? No. But not dealing with it won’t improve it. Find someone to help turn your “difficult” situation around. Your marriage is one-of-a-kind and worth it. If you need help, please reach out. I promise to listen without judgment and help you take the next step.