Category Archives: marriage

Some good magic for all us valentines

This week romance and love are taking on a redder hue than usual! Hallmark and the local florist appreciate it. So do all of us valentines.

Showing that we like each other fuels our relationships. Instead of taking the other for granted, we take the effort to be aware of the other, to notice. (Ever watch the eyes of a couple in love? They’re always looking at each other!) We listen, we touch. We give flowers, chocolates.

Don’t follow the husband who told his wife: valentine roses “I said I loved you the day we got married, and if I change my mind I’ll tell you.” Compliment each other—the more specific the better. Recount some strength or typical act in the other that is satisfying, that makes you want to be with him or her.

Much good magic happens when we affirm someone and tell them we like them. First, they like us more. All of us enjoy being around those who like us, who appreciate us. Second, when we affirm another, now we like them more. We live with whichever aspect of the people around us we choose to emphasize. Third, when we affirm another, they tend to repeat the behavior we affirmed!

Not all days, though, is the red glow in relationships from valentines and roses. Sometimes it’s anger. What about the days when the warmth of love is replaced with feelings of frustration or bitterness?

Loss of closeness is a signal that there is something in the relationship that needs attention. Give it attention. Be assertive; tell the other what your needs are. As Jesus instructed, “if your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you” (Matt. 18:15).

Often when we try to be assertive, we demand that the other change their actions. Or we make statements judging their motives and personality traits. Both of those tend to provoke argument or defensiveness in the other.

But there is a way to be assertive that does not provoke a negative response: we can describe our feelings and pain at the other’s behavior. “When you do…, this is what happens to me.” “I feel… when you… because….” Look at the good magic that happens when we describe our feelings. First, the other can’t argue about our description of our feelings because we are the expert on that. Second, we have given the other an opportunity to feel our pain, to empathize with us. Third, often when we ask or demand that a person change their behavior, they resist; whereas when they see why they should change, they do. And we’ve weathered another crisis on our way to being valentines forever.

In this fallen world, some relationships are so stuck in destructive responses to each other that the above practices of affirming the other or describing our pain fail to work their magic. But in most relationships the magic can be there for the trying. It sure has in mine! valentine roses Here’s to you, Karen: my favorite person to be with and favorite consultant. One loved by our kids, grand-kids, the Sunday School children, the women’s groups you lead—and most of all by me.

Marriage we’re willing to die for

There’s a marriage stat I’ve told many people.

In 2002 a research team based at the University of Chicago presented an analysis of data on 5,232 married adults from the National Survey of Families and Households. That sample included 645 who said they were unhappy in their marriage. These persons were interviewed again five years later. Those who divorced were on average still unhappy or even less happy. But two-thirds of those who stayed in their marriages reported that their marriages were happy five years later. As the USA Today headline put it: “Unhappily wed? Put off getting that divorce.” The odds are that divorce will not bring happiness, but that toughing it out in an unhappy marriage until it turns around just might deliver.

There are always seasons in married life when our spouse is not serving us, being attentive to us. Perhaps they’re sick, discouraged, or absorbed in their own problems. Can we choose to love our spouse during times when we are getting very little, if any, love back?

Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage points out that we parents do this with our children. We give and give to a child, forgoing much of our freedom and life for the child. Sometimes we get hugs or thanks in return; but by and large we give and the child gives very little in return. Even when we don’t feel any love for the child, we choose to give to them—we come home, we sacrifice for the child.

In contrast, what happens when our spouse is not loving us? We tend to think, “You’re not being the spouse you used to be, so I won’t be the spouse I used to be.” We pull back, risking a loveless, downward spiral. At the end of 18 years, even if our child is a mess, we still love the kid. But with our spouse, after years of choosing to not love when we don’t feel them loving us, there’s no love left. The child goes off to college and the marriage falls apart. And it’s our fault. What we practiced with our child, we didn’t practice with our spouse: during the times of not receiving love, we didn’t choose to give love anyway.

So let’s cherish each other—even when the other doesn’t signal love to us. And more than just on Valentine’s Day. Every day let’s do things like prioritize the first four minutes together after work: listen to the other, observe them, ask specific questions about their day, show affection. The potential return is huge every time we invest time and energy into an act of love toward our spouse. Be willing to die for our marriage—and we just might get a marriage to die for!

Olympic training–and glory–for marriage

I love my wife—she’s my best friend, the one I like to talk with the most. But I can easily hurt her with yet another manifestation of something that bugs her about me.

At times married couples find it difficult to communicate, to make decisions mutually, to forgive as they need the other to forgive them, or to show kindness and consideration instead of taking the other for granted. And in some situations the difficulties pile up and the marriage becomes excruciatingly difficult.

But while watching the Olympics these weeks I realize that there are many seemingly impossible tasks that the human spirit and body can rise to accomplish. Perhaps we need some Olympic-style training for marriage!

Those athletes decide that “going for the gold” is of higher value than anything else. So they eliminate anything from their lifestyle that hinders their chances.

What would happen if a couple struggling in their marriage chose to ruthlessly eliminate anything hindering them, denying themselves many legitimate pleasures for the sake of this greater goal?

Olympic training includes activities which seem to have nothing in common with the athlete’s event. For instance, swimmers do weigh-lifting to increase endurance. So also prayer and worship may seem removed from marriage skills, but when authentically done, they help us get self out of the center of our existence—something our spouses all wish upon us! Prayer gets me attuned to a Being who is interested in the highest and best aspirations for both me and my spouse.

We laud Olympic athletes who expend years in training; we don’t expect their performances to come easy. The pay-off for maintaining our marriages is even higher than for an Olympic medal! If only the ecstasy and glory of happily married couples were also captured on NBC prime time!

Marriages that defy society’s expectations

A young man whom we at Trissels know told me that, as his wedding approached, his co-workers’ comments showed a very negative view of marriage. They talked about it as a trap to be avoided, an unnecessary loss of freedom.

Go to any web collection of quotes and glance through their page on marriage. Unless it is a Christian site, the sentiments are predominately sour and even bitter: “A wedding is a funeral where you smell your own flowers.” “All marriages are happy. It’s the living together afterward that causes all the trouble.”

Too many in our culture have seen and personally experienced changes for the worse after a wedding. Instead of husbands and wives continuing to woo each other with compliments and kindnesses, they begin fixating on ways the other makes them unhappy, showing criticism and even contempt. Soon it’s a downward spiral: the more he snips, the more she snips, the more…

I’m confident that the young man’s marriage will defy this pattern! He and his new wife are solidly committed to God’s instructions for relationships. When they become unhappy with the other (something that is inevitable) they will seek to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and to make allowance for the other’s faults and forgive them (Col. 3:12-13). So instead of falling into a negative spiral, liking less and less to be with each other, their acts of kindness and consideration and graciousness will continue to be draw each other ever more tightly together, enjoying each other.

Some persons view forgiveness and forbearance as mere foolishness, sticking our head in the sand and ignoring reality. But it’s a way of wisdom. (God tends to have insight!)

One of the most dramatic marriage stats that I’ve run across is this: studies demonstrate that two-thirds of those who say they are unhappy in their marriage will within five years — if they forgive each other and stay with each other — become happy in that marriage. Rather than God’s way being idealistic, it’s ideal!