Clark and I, like most engaged couples with responsible parents, were encouraged to go to pre-marital counseling before our big day. I remember taking that test that diagnoses problem areas within the relationship — a way to pinpoint what needs to be discussed during each session. We had one problem area: that we had no problem areas.
Our counselor told us that we had something of a utopian complex, a “rose-colored glasses” syndrome. He feared we might naively skip into our marriage thinking it would be a lot easier than it actually would be. We assured him that we were prepared, that we knew this was going to be very hard, that just because we got along really well right now didn’t mean we always would. We weren’t unrealistic about the difficulty of marriage. We understood. Seriously. We were good.
But it ended up actually being perfect. We never had any problems.
“Stop. Just stop. Shut the H up. No you don’t.” Surely that would have been the appropriate thing for the counselor to say to us in that moment. Surely that’s what he wanted to say. Why didn’t he say that?
Because it wouldn’t have mattered. It is impossible to understand marriage before you are married. It is impossible to watch funny YouTube parodies on what couples fight about, to experience the ebbs and flow of your parents’ relationship, to walk through divorce with friends or family members, to see the tears of desperation from an unhappy spouse, and understand. Because no matter what, “We are different.” Or so you think.
I remember when we were dating, thinking, “Oh my gosh. We are SO similar. It’s crazy how alike we are.”
Then we got married, and I was like, “Um. He tricked me.”
Here’s the truth. When you get married, you are entering a battlefield. But you are up against an adversary much greater than your spouse.
Satan hates marriage. If he can destroy a healthy marriage, all the collateral damage is his to watch and smirk at. The effects of a failed marriage are much more far-reaching than just the spouses, or even the children. Its crumbled ruins tumble onto communities and schools and friends and faiths. From its ashes rise the lesser known Fruits of the Serpent: resentment, discontentment, anger, bitterness. It destroys faith in people, faith in marriage, faith in healthy relationships, and most importantly, faith in God.
This marriage deal sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? That’s the kicker. It totally is. All The Hard — the not-getting-your-own-way, the “intense discussions,” the crying, the pit in your stomach — it’s worth it. Because The Hard ends up being the heartbeat of your marriage. It’s the part that restores your faith in changed hearts and transformed people — and I’m not talking about my spouse, I’m talking about me. God turns The Hard into grace, compassion, patience, understanding. He turns “This is impossible” into “I am so thankful for him.”
So it’s hard. Don’t do it if you aren’t determined to make it work from the beginning. Because, did I mention it’s hard? But there are ways to help it function a little better. These are a few principles I wish I’d realized a long time ago.
You have to care more about your spouse (and your spouse’s needs) than you do about yourself (and your own needs). Deny yourself. Deny yourself. Deny yourself. This works really well when you both put this into practice.
Your spouse is not your enemy. So stick it to the real enemy by not giving up on your spouse.
If you keep complaining about what he/she is or is not doing, check yo self before you wreck yo self. Maybe you could change a few habits or do a few nice things first.
He wants respect. She wants to be taken care of. If there’s a vicious cycle of not offering respect because he won’t show affection (or vice versa) … find a way out. Quickly.
Prioritize. Your relationship with your spouse should be numero dos, only behind that with your heavenly father. Not your kids, not your parents, not your friends. Did I mention, not your kids? Your honey always, always comes first.
Pray like your marriage is ending, even before it is. Like, right now.
Marriage counseling is not a last-ditch effort. There is no marriage that is too healthy or too dysfunctional for a third-party. Best thing we ever did.
I hesitate to even post this because it might lead you to believe that I know a lot (or THINK I know a lot) about this topic. Trust me, I know I don’t. I’m still a rookie.
Obviously, we haven’t been married for 50 years, and we probably haven’t hit the biggest bumps in our road. The only think I know is that the warfare against marriage is unrelenting. BUT, “…BUT thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 15:57-58.