For many of you, your "big day" probably happened long ago and the nostalgia of those moments is blurred much of the time by crying children, rebellious teens, impending bills, a difficult work environment, and burning chicken strips in the oven. It’s not always easy to remember the tears of joy on your wedding day when the realities of life can bring on so many tears of stress. The decision to get married takes listening to the Spirit – but it also takes guts. There’s no way of knowing as you start your marital journey of the trials you’ll go through, the conflicts that will arise, or the difficult decisions you’ll have to make.
Regardless of whether you decided to take the ultimate step of commitment in your life, one choice remains to be made about your marriage – the choice to truly be married. With the wedding now long over, and the responsibilities of life having encroached on your honeymoon, have you made the decision to commit yourself entirely to making sure that this marriage works?
Understanding Each Other
You are the only person who can determine how much you value the possessions, people, and events in your life, and one of the few ways to demonstrate how much something is valued is through your actions. Sometimes, however, our actions can be misinterpreted and our spouse may misunderstand his or her priority in our life. This is why communication, as well as action, is so crucial.
For example, Mike and Susan had been married more than thirty years. They had raised their family and had finally arrived at the “empty nest” stage of their life. One evening after what was an unemotional discussion, they decided they should divorce.
They thought they should speak with their children about their decision, and after that conversation and the persuasion of their kids, they reluctantly agreed to see a counselor. During the session, Mike said his reason for wanting a divorce was that his wife didn’t love him, and Susan said the same thing about Mike. They agreed that they could no longer deal with being unloved. Curiously absent in their discussion, however, were the phrases, “I don’t love her” and “I don’t love him.” Each agreed to meet with the counselor privately to discuss the pain they were feeling concerning the situation.
Mike was a blue-collar worker who had a job with a local construction company. When the counselor asked him to explain what he and Susan had fought about that led to the decision to divorce, his answer was surprising: “We’ve never really fought much. I know we don’t always agree on everything, but we’re usually able to work things out pretty well.” He continued to explain that Susan was the best woman he’d ever known and described her as a perfect wife for him. The counselor didn’t understand exactly what was going on and asked why’d he be willing to divorce such a great woman. “She just doesn’t love me, and I can’t take it anymore. I love her so much, but she doesn’t love me back.”
”How do you know she doesn’t love you?” asked the counselor. Mike’s explanation was, “We’ve been married for more than thirty years. All that time, I’ve come home from work, we eat dinner, and then I go into one room and she stays where she is. In thirty years she’s never felt the inclination to follow me into the next room to just spend some time with me and maybe watch a little television or talk.”
”Did you ever tell Susan you’d enjoy being able to spend time with her after dinner?”
”No, if she’s not interested in me enough to want to spend time with me, then I’m not about to beg. He then explained how he remembered that after dinner when he was growing up, the whole family would always go straight to the living room and play a game or watch a favorite show together. He said he knew his parents continued doing that together even after all of the kids were out of the house. “I just wish my wife could show the same sort of love for me that my mom showed to my dad by letting him know that she liked having him around.”
”Its not that I think we should be attached at the hip, but she just doesn’t care enough to want to spend some time together, even after we’ve been apart all day long.”
Susan’s appointment was the next day. The same questions brought similar results. She also told the counselor that she had a great love and respect for her husband, but she could not deal with his obvious lack of love for her any longer.
”How do you know Mike doesn’t love you?” the counselor asked. Susan said, “For more than thirty years I’ve made dinner for him every night and not once has he offered to help me with the dishes after we’re through eating. He goes into the living room and just immediately turns on the TV. There I am, stuck in the kitchen with a pile of dishes to wash, after I’ve spent so much time making the meal. Most of the time, I’m so tired by the time I’m done that I just go straight to bed and fall asleep reading a book. If he really loved me he’d want to help me finish up the dishes – plus, we’d be able to spend some more time together after he’s been gone all day working.”
”My father worked our farm when I was growing up. When he came home he was completely exhausted, but I remember he and my mother drying dishes together and talking about their days as they put the dishes away. If Mike really loved me, he’d want to help me out and he’d want to spend some time with me. I love him so much, but, obviously, he doesn’t love me. I just can’t stand feeling unloved and unappreciated anymore.”
Mike and Susan were good people who loved each other. They had missed out on years of feeling that love simply because they had never taken time to understand what love meant to the other.
Fortunately, once they started to understand what was going on, they were able to get rid of the notion of divorce and reach a compromise. Unfortunately, that doesn’t bring back the years of joy that were missed because they didn’t take the time to understand each other’s needs.
Misunderstandings regarding where certain values or priorities have been placed is something that frequently leads to conflict in any marriage. One spouse may look at the activities that fill the other’s day, and feel unappreciated and undervalued because not enough attention is being given to him or her, or to the marriage in general. We often pay more attention to how long our car goes between oil changes than to how long it’s been since we spent meaningful time alone with out spouse. Paying attention to a person is important in expressing how much we care.
The Marital Score Card
Keeping track of how many times you’ve taken her car to the mechanic, or how many times you picked up his dirty socks, is a no-win contest. Marking your tally sheet whenever there’s a marital misstep (in 1993, he told me my mother’s cooking tasted like cafeteria food! – that’s much worse than just forgetting to write down my checks in the register!) might help you win a battle or two, but if this is your line of action, you’ll never win the war. More importantly, it won’t help you improve your relationship or strengthen your bonds as husband and wife.
Successful relationships typically exhibit a tremendous amount of sacrifice – from both members. One example of that selfless attitude is demonstrated in the relationship of an elderly couple who had lived in a big city for most of their lives. They raised their family there, went to plays, took walks in the park, and lived a very urban life. One day the wife announced that she wanted to leave the city and spend her remaining days in the peace of the country, where she had grown up as a child. Immediately, the husband thought to himself, “I’ll never move to the country. I’ve lived my life to the rhythm of the city and there’s no way I’m going to pack up everything I’ve gathered for the past 50 years to move to the middle of nowhere.”
Then he started to look around at the city home he’d come to love so much. He began to realize that most of the things he liked so much about his home were decorations and mementos that his wife had created. He couldn’t deny that the parts of his home he most admired were the parts she had worked so hard to make pleasant. He then thought, “I love her so much. She’s given me such a wonderful home.” Today, they live in a little house in the country. They take walks along the stream that runs though their backyard as they reminisce about their life in the city.
Adjusting Your Perspective
Daily routines and the monotonous patterns of everyday life can sometimes result in tunnel vision when it comes to your marriage. It’s important to remember your relationship with a broader perspective and move past the nit picky annoyances of the moment so that you’re able to remember why you fell in love and decided to marry in the first place.
Remember the good times. Memories are powerful ties to emotion. Think back to your first date, your first “I love you’s,” and your fist kiss. Remember your Christmases together, your trips to the delivery room, and the emotion you felt on your wedding day. Often, these memories are so powerful and so joyful, that they can give hope in difficult moment and heighten your desire to improve your situation so that more of the wonderful memories can occur.
Remember how crazy you were for each other. Falling in love is fun, it’s powerful, it’s emotional, and it’s memorable. It you’re like most people, these memories can’t help but bring a smile to your face. Recommit yourself to remembering your spouse in that love struck light and treat him with the same enthusiasm you once did.
Remember your spouse’s needs and feelings. We learn that through service we are able to forget many of our own troubles. This concept holds true within a marriage as equally as it does for anyone else. Putting our partner’s needs first and going out of our way to find out what her needs and feelings are will help you better understand her daily struggles and have more compassion and charity toward her. She, in turn will want to reciprocate those feelings through her own acts of service.
Remember you’re not always easy to live with. You do things that probably drive your spouse crazy at times. For every complaint you have about him, he also has one about you. Not every problem in a marriage can be blamed on the other person. In fact, it’s not until you start placing some of the responsibility on yourself – looking at how you can improve – that progress will be made.
The Decision is Yours
Deciding to be fully committed to your marriage, once and for all, and giving that commitment all you can, is the single most important factor in having a successful marriage. Abraham Lincoln once said, “People are about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” That principle can be easily applied to marriage by saying, “People are about as happily married as they make up their minds to be.”
Choose to be fully committed to making your marriage live up to its potential – making it a relationship lived with eternal covenants, consequences, and rewards in mind. The reward here on earth, as well as in eternity, is well worth the price!