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Marriage is a lifelong venture. You pick one person out of the 7 billion on the planet, stand in front of your friends and family, and commit yourselves to one another for the mutuality of your lives. At the beginning of your relationship, it is all bliss. As time goes on though, many find themselves struggling to love their spouse, and the “til death do us part” quickly becomes “til death or divorce do us part.” Happily ever after becomes a lot shorter than it sounds, and the idea of “The One” seems childlike.
The problem with this line of thinking is that mindset creates a problem with the other person. We quickly think there is something wrong with our spouse, and blame a lot of our issues on them changing, that they aren’t the same person we married. The thing is, neither are you. You have to choose to grow and change together, rather than apart. It is just that: choosing. You have to choose to love each other every day. To choose to see the effort they are putting in rather than the results you want to see. And to choose to change yourself for the better, expecting nothing in return but to love them where they are at. The beginning of Paul’s section on marriage to the Ephesians says “submit to one another.” We are called to love as Christ did: with self-sacrifice. If we want to save our marriage from becoming another divorce statistic then we must engage in our marriages as God intended.
Coming from someone who has only been married 4 months, you may ask where I got the audacity to write about a topic many of you have been living for decades. I felt compelled to write this, as I am seeing my middle school students begin to take an interest in boys. I want to see them embark on a successful journey to finding a husband, not just a boyfriend. I want them to start now in building skills for a successful marriage so that they are prepared for a beautiful relationship with their future spouse. Yet there are so many things the world shows them is acceptable, that creates bad habits for their marital relationships. So I am sharing three areas for them to grow in now, that will benefit them not only in their future marriage, but all of their relationships. My husband and I, though young, have the most solid, strong, growing, intimate, and loving relationship of anyone I know. In fact we haven’t had one single fight in the almost 2 years we have been together. There are always going to be things we disagree on, and sometimes life and each other can leave us frustrated and worn, but 90% of our relationship is spent laughing, talking, in deep conversation, working together and yes some flirting in there too. We keep our priorities straight, and I hope that we can be an example, in good and bad times, not only to my students, but to those around us too.
Here are three key factors in our relationship in order of importance.
1.Put God at the Forefront of your Relationship
There is a reason the first commandment is “you shall have no other gods before me.” God is the creator of all things, and He is to be put first in everything we do, including our marriage. Russell and I try to make time to read our Bible and study it together. We each have our own individual relationship with God, aside from our relationship with Him together. We pray before we make any big decision, and search our hearts for His will. We trust each other to follow the Holy Spirit’s guiding, and what the Spirit is guiding us to do. There are a lot of deeper factors that go along with this: trust, faith, discipline, and many more. Being willing to put the Lord’s will above our own is what grants us favor and success. Everyone is at a different place in their faith journey. There is no expectation that you have to be the most diligent reader of the word and the most frequent prayer warrior. There is, however, an expectation that God comes first and you rely on Him in individual and mutual decisions.
2. Put Each Other Before Yourself.
This one can actually be harder than the first one. While the concept is simple, pride can get in the way of truly allowing yourself to put your spouse first. The first part is learning about your significant other. What are their hobbies? What are their greatest strengths and weaknesses? What fuels them and what drains them? Unfortunately there isn’t an easy, quick way to do this. Sometimes you learn by asking, and sometimes you learn the hard way. Once you begin the lifelong process of learning about your partner (they are going to change over the years, and adapting to the change really saves stress in the long run), then you have to be one step ahead. Your wife isn’t a morning person? Spend a few extra minutes with her talking until she feels awake and ready for the day. Your fiancee is stressed out with the wedding plans? Stop for an evening and enjoy dinner at you favorite restaurant (tip for wedding planning: while the girl may take on the responsibility of most of it, she probably wants her beau to help out to, maybe with an opinion or decision, or maybe organizing the limo. Be involved.)
I think one thing that is easy to forget is often times, we just want to be heard. And that goes both ways. It isn’t always about wrong or right, it’s about feeling valued. Feeling that our opinions, stories, and words are genuinely listened to. It is really worth it to listen to what your spouse is saying. Hear what they aren’t saying too. Maybe the point of the story isn’t that they want advice from you, but they just want you to hear how hard they are trying and feel validated. You first thought should always be taking care of your partner. Physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, if you are looking out for your husband or wife, they will at the same time be looking out for you. There is something beautiful in holding one another up, instead of ourselves. It creates a far more intimate and loving relationship. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). By doing so, we are seeking that union that God created marriage to be: a reflection of God’s love for us.
3. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
While this is last on the list, I cannot stress the importance of this one enough. I think the biggest thing (with context of the last point) is to talk through problems before they are an issue. Russell and I talk about every little thing ( I mean he’s married to me so what do you expect). He knows every detail about me, from my eating habits to my deepest, darkest secret. That kind of intimate knowledge of each other builds trust and helps us to understand how each other works so much more. As soon as one of us is bothered by something, our chemistry and dynamic changes. We can sense when something is off, and we make a point to talk about it immediately. These kinds of talks can be hard to have, because often we are finding flaws in each other and ourselves. Discussing what exactly triggered that emotion, trying to identify why we feel that way (maybe something in our past, or how we define something differently), and talking about how to fix it solves a lot of our issues. I have learned that I am more emotional, and take criticism personally. I need him to be careful in how he words issues pertaining to me, and to affirm me. Russell is more black and white. The best thing for him is to tell him my problem plainly and bluntly and what I want him to do to fix it.
You see, we couldn’t learn how to solve our problem without knowing how the other person operates (which we learned from experiences together and talking and asking questions). Sometimes its difficult to bring up an issue. It makes me feel icky inside, and my gut is telling me I need to say how I feel now before I let it build into a bigger problem. Our talks are often lengthy. We sit for hours in a parking lot sharing our hearts. How we feel, why we feel that way, how to fix it. It takes a lot of energy and emotion to talk about what weighs on our hearts. We don’t stop until we have reached a good point, where our spirits and hearts feel lifted. Sometimes we leave with a great solution, and sometimes just a peace knowing that we will be looking out for each other in a specific area in the future. But we always leave stronger than when we started. I think of the scripture verse “Do not let the sun go down when you are angry” (Eph 4:26), and how good it feels once we have pushed through and gotten to the core of our issues. It takes a lot of patience, compassion, willingness to listen, putting one another first, and keeping our mindset of God to keep our relationship strong. We concluded by praying, hands held and thanking God for growing us together. Asking him to make our selfishness and sin go away. And then we leave looking to fix our self rather than wishing each other would change.
I know that is a whole lot of stuff I’m throwing at you. I can’t promise if you do all of this that it will magically solve your problems. The key is to try. Work on one aspect of your marriage at a time.Always give 100% effort, and God will help you grow into a stronger person. And if you and your spouse are pushing yourselves to always grow, your relationship will never be perfect, but you will find true love in each other if you are willing to choose to never give up and love them for who they are. Not who they were yesterday, not for the person you want them to be tomorrow, but for the person the are today.
Food for thought: the more you laugh together, the happier you will find yourselves together.
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Courtney, tears ran down my face as I read this post. I don’t know where you learned this because daddy and I have never really been a good example of what you described. In fact, we were pretty much the opposite. We never prayed together or put God first in our decisions. Rarely do we even talk about big decisions until they are about to happen, and often we blame each other for our problems instead of fixing ourselves first without expectation that the other will change. I am so proud of you and Russell and the maturity in which you handle your relationship! I wish we had been a better example of all you have described here! Love you so much!