In keeping with my desire to pursue and look for truth in my marriage this week during Lent I thought I would share some “truth” I’ve learned about marriage over the past few years. I admittedly haven’t been married very long and I have a long way to go in figuring out marriage and what it means to commit to loving someone for the rest of your life. But, I have learned a few small things in my first 2.5 years of marriage and I’d like to share a few of those things with you all today as they have been valuable lessons for me and it’s good for me to take a second to remember them.
When Bryan (my husband) and I were dating (well, I think actually engaged at this point) there was a time when I was feeling really neglected by him. I felt like he wasn’t spending time with me and wasn’t sharing his life and his thoughts with me. I remember calling my mom one night crying and having a long talk with her about it and I remember she shared a story about her relationship with my dad and about what God taught her through a difficult time they had. I remember her challenging me to “encourage the positive”. Basically she told me stop nagging Bryan, stop complaining about what he’s not and instead focus on what he is. Focus on and encourage and praise the good things about him as a unique creation of God. Instead of pointing out the things he is doing wrong (or the things he is not doing right) point out to him and praise him for the things he is doing right, the good things that he does. She told me that if you treat a man like a man then he will act like a man. If you respect them and praise them and encourage the good things they are and the good things they do then they will do the good things more and more and the other things less and less. But, if you nag them and complain about the things they do that you don’t like then they will feel defeated and emancipated and will start to with draw from you. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe put it well, “If you treat a man as he is, he will stay as he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become the bigger and better man.” I’ve tried to never forget that lesson and I can’t tell you how many times remembering that pearl of wisdom that my mom passed down to me has helped me to step back and mend brokenness in my marriage.
Love is a choice. Love is not a feeling. Some days I feel love for my husband and other days I don’t. Some periods of time in our relationship I feel close and connected to him and all is right with the world…and other times I don’t. But, love is not just a feeling, love is an action. It is choosing to act as if I did love Bryan even when I don’t feel love for Bryan. It took me a while to realize that this acting isn’t fakeness and isn’t hypocrisy… it is love. But, it didn’t take me long to realize that the miracle is that in acting like you love someone the feelings often follow close behind. “You can act your way into a new way of feeling quicker than you can feel your way into a new way of acting.”
After many years of watching and talking with couples who have been married much longer than I have I have come to learn that marriages go through seasons. There are good seasons and there are bad seasons and neither lasts. Well, I guess bad seasons can last for a long time sometimes and if you give up trying then they may last forever, but as long as you continue to stick it out and continue to at least try to love each other through whatever season comes then the bad seasons don’t last. The moon is not always full and it’s not always thin either, the tide is not always out and it’s not always up. Marriage is not always good, but it’s not always bad either. And neither season lasts forever. “More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse” (Doug Larson). “One advantage of marriage is that, when you fall out of love with him or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until you fall in again” (Judith Viorst).
Men and women are different. I’m sure your saying to yourself, no duh, Beth! Of course men and women are different! But, really, I don’t think I realized HOW DIFFERENT men and women really are until I got married. Bryan is NOTHING like my girl friends (and that’s a really good thing) and he is (for all our commonalities) NOTHING like me. Learning to deal with these differences is I’m sure a lifelong process but I guess the first step is to recognize how truly different we are. “What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility” (George Levinger). Recognizing that Bryan is not like me can free me up to allow him to be the unique man that God made him to be and it can free me up to admit that I may not always understand him and that is ok.
Anne Taylor Fleming said that “A long marriage is two people trying to dance a duet and two solos at the same time.” This struck me and I think that another thing I’ve learned or started to learn about marriage is that there is always going to be a tension between the needs of the individual and the needs of the couple. We are each unique and uniquely different creations of God and we each have our own desires and dreams and gifts and passions – sometimes those things might overlap, but they won’t always. And I’m realizing that part of marriage is learning to allow each other to dance a solo while also together dancing a duet. We are unique individuals but we are also one in marriage through Christ. “And the two will become one flesh.” We need to be united and connected as one being, dancing one dance for our creator. But, I’m starting to realize that we also need to allow each other to follow the unique and individual callings and dreams that God places on our hearts – we need to let each other dance our solos sometimes. And support each other through those solos. This is a newer realization for me and something I’m still wrestling with. What does it look like to be truly two unique individuals and yet also truly “one flesh”…?? I’m not sure yet but it’s another thing I’m learning about marriage.
Lord, continue to teach me and stretch me. Show me what you desire marriage to look like and continue to transform my own marriage into a thing of beauty for your glory.
Rejoicing in the journey –
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