Why do some couples manage to have a thriving, healthy marriage while others barely survive or fail?
Not too long ago we converted our seldom-used living room into a library of sorts. In it there is a desk that I use most of the time as my work station. What’s nice about it is that instead of feeling like I’m banished to my other office in the basement, I can sit upstairs with the rest of the world and actually see daylight and other stuff that’s happening outside.
The other day I noticed a young man walking a neighbor’s dog and upon further investigation realized it was our neighbor’s new son-in-law, a kid who went to school and played baseball with our son. Seeing him gave me a good reason to take a break from work to step outside to chat with him for a bit.
I’ve always liked this kid – well, actually he’s a young man now. He’s definitely the type of guy that every parent would want their daughter to marry. He’s good-looking, courteous, friendly, has a good sense of humor and has a strong moral and religious foundation.
He in fact recently got married to a daughter of one of our neighbors and they have been busy for the first few months of their marriage establishing a new home, new jobs and new lives.
Of course I asked him how married life was treating him and was not too surprised with his response that it was great. He then went on to say that marriage was also tough. Very true. Then he said something that sort of surprised me…He said, “I’ve learned that I’m very selfish and have always only had to think about myself, and now I have to think about someone else all the time. But I’m learning.”
Being used to the other knuckleheads my son hangs out with, this wasn’t exactly something I would expect a 22-year-old man to say and I thought it was pretty honest and insightful for him to do so.
I got to thinking about it and what he said was probably quite true of most couples as they enter the wonderful world of marriage – especially at a young age. They’re clueless. I know we were..well, at least I was.
We got married when we were 23. In my book that’s pretty young. We went through the pre-marital counseling sessions with a priest that the Catholic Church requires you to do and I remember thinking at the time how dumb it was to get marital education from a person who has never been married. (Did I ever mention I’m Protestant?) So I didn’t exactly take the priest’s wisdom and advice to heart.
Besides, I was a young know-it-all and felt that we’re in love and that’s all that really mattered. I didn’t need to learn anything about relationships or marriage as I thought that was enough and we’d figure things out as we went along.
I don’t think that we were too different than many other couples either. I think that many of us think we know it all or just learn what we feel we need to (or just fake it) and stop there. We don’t do anything else to increase our marital skill level.
How many of us come to the point where we’re distracted by other pursuits in life and simply leave our marriages to deteriorate over time?
For many of us, that eventually catches up to us and results in various relationship difficulties including infidelity.
Instead, we need to treat our marriages from day one as if we’re an elite athlete – constantly training and practicing to achieve higher levels of performance and skill. We need to be like the surgeon who broadens and increases his knowledge through continuing education and training.
They are intentional in their learning. They recognize there’s not only room for improvement, but a need to be committed to deliberate and continual growth. For us then, mastering relationships and marriage should be the ultimate goal.
But that ain’t the easy road, either. And that’s what holds many of us back.
How many times have you started an exercise or workout program and for a while you go all out and very quickly you start to see some good results, then for some reason, you quit and your body reverts back to the way it was? Very quickly too, I might add. The same holds true when working on your marriage.
Marriage mastery requires continual practice even when you feel nothing is changing or if you feel you want to stop. It takes commitment and it takes both of you working together and striving for the best marriage possible.
Hell, I can be as lazy at times as anyone and it’s very easy to put marriage “practice” on the back burner. If this blog has done nothing else – especially over the last several months – it has served Linda and me as a tool to “exercise and workout” our relationship virtually every day.
It has lead us to complete programs like Marriage Fitness, to read countless relationship books, websites and articles, and it has lead us to be exposed to many, many wise and supportive people (You guys!). The cumulative effect has been nothing short of life-changing for us.
Practice Tips for a Healthy Marriage
So what are some of the things that couples must practice in their efforts to master their marriages? I would think things like communication, respect, patience, conflict resolution, and intimacy to name a few. Then, it’s imperative that they become adept at analyzing things on a continual basis to determine areas that need improvement.
Easier said than done, I know. So how does a couple master a marriage?
First, find good teachers. This can be a mentor, a counselor or therapist, or perhaps good friends that have a healthy marriage. You can also research or take courses from the marriage experts, read books, listen to audio tapes, etc. The key is to not become paralyzed by over analysis. Learn the processes and put them into action.
Have a purpose. When you workout with weights for instance, you typically have a goal in mind. You visualize your ideal body. You isolate the areas where you are the weakest and work to strengthen them. Use this same philosophy and apply it to your relationship.
Make your relationship practice a routine. Make it an on-going part of your life. Set aside time regularly for your marriage “workout.” Be committed to doing it and don’t let life’s hassles get in the way.
Evaluate your progress regularly. Assess the state of your marriage and your practice routines and work to do things better the next time. Always search for ways to learn how to improve.
Maintain some balance. You should not and cannot workout your body every day, all day without injuring yourself and/or getting burned out. Likewise, you don’t have to spend every waking moment thinking about or working towards a healthy marriage. Take time to pursue other stuff you both enjoy.
Like the young man I spoke of earlier, Linda and I now have a healthy marriage but we are certainly nowhere near masters at it, but we know we’re headed in the right direction. We hope that some of what we write not only helps you to overcome infidelity but can give you some things to think about as you try to rebuild your marriage into something great.
Note: In case you’re wondering where Linda has been and why you’ve had to read my ramblings for the last week or so…She actually has to start back to school tomorrow! Consequently, since returning from our vacation, she’s been busting her butt to get ready for the new school year and 26 wonderful new third graders. She’s thrilled to death! 🙁