Till Death Do Us Part

T&J toes This life is wonderful and difficult.  Along the journey we will most likely experience mountain-top highs and deep valley lows.  We will enjoy times of joy and contentment and times of grief and pain.  We will bound through exciting times and yawn our way through tedious times.   Knowing this truth about life…deciding who to travel with is of utmost importance don’t you think?

Cultivating healthy relationships is a huge portion of a healthy lifestyle.  We are always growing and changing and so our relationships are constantly changing too.  This is important to understand.  As our circumstances change and life happens, we must respond and react in healthy ways to maintain a healthy relationship or it will crumble and be lost.  Just as a plant needs consistent watering, any relationship needs constant attention and maintenance.  Maybe you have suffered a lost marriage/relationship.  This information can apply to any relationships you are currently in with friends and family too.  Remember each circumstance is unique and each person is unique.  Sometimes the other people in a relationship are not interested in being healthy.  Sometimes we aren’t interested in being healthy!   No judging, no getting stuck in the past, let’s just journey together and keep learning!  Striving for healthy relationships and communication is a good thing whether it is in a marriage or not.

One of my most-treasured places to be is at my husband’s side, whatever we may be doing.  We will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary on July 29th.  In many ways it seems like it can’t possibly be that long that we’ve been married, but in so many ways it also seems like we’ve just always been together.  One of my biggest pet-peeves is when people look at us and say, “oh you’re so lucky”.  Let me clue ya’, luck has nothing to do with it!  Tom and I have not always had a healthy relationship.  When we got married I was 19 and he was 20.  I was idealistic and co-dependent, Tom lacked direction and perspective, but we of course thought we were so grown up.   I remember sitting in front of our pre-marriage counselor and having him say to us, “with the possible exception of infidelity, you two will likely face everything that people get divorced over.”  I proudly thought, “well, he doesn’t know us very well!”  Turns out, he was very wise!  Over the years there have been financial arguments, depression, dysfunctional communication patterns, hurtful actions, conflicts over parenting, and I could go on and on.  We have basically grown up together .  It could have gone horribly wrong at several points.  So, why are we together  now and happier and healthier than ever?  Here are a few of the key components to a healthy relationship that we have learned over the years.

Be Kind and Polite

Common courtesy tends to fly out the window once we step through our front doors.  Tom and I have determined over the years that we shouldn’t be nicer to strangers than we are to each other!  Please and thank you go a long way after a long day.  Kindness is also contagious.  As you begin to show kindness to each other, others will watch and be influenced by your behavior…like you kids, your neighbors, your friends, and then those relationships in your life will become healthier too.  Plus it just feels better to be kind.  It isn’t always easy and it requires you to step outside your own emotions and view a situation from another perspective, but the benefits are enormous.

Next phone call with your spouse, try this out.  Be kind, gentle, and supportive.  Use a tone that is friendly.  Stop the biting tongue that just blurts out thoughts without filtering them first.  And do this because you love them, not so that they will think you are great or give you something in return.  Tell them you love them/miss them/are eager to see them/enjoy talking with them, it is uplifting to them and to you to hear these words.

Trust God  Hands down this is the most valuable point.  Without Christ, Tom and I would not be together, I guarantee it.  As people, we are just really good at hurting each other.  Tom and I have not had a free pass on this, we are completely and totally human and that means sinful.  Over the years, there have been many times when crying out to the Lord and accepting His guidance was all we knew to do.  But God was and is faithful.  God has directed us and taught us how to forgive and extend grace to each other and our families.  God has worked in our hearts to bind us together spiritually, emotionally, and mentally so that we can enjoy marriage as He designed it.  I give Him all the praise and I’m so thankful!  My marriage is one of the biggest blessings in my life, and I would have missed it if I had just given up and gone my own way.

We were blessed to grow up in homes where our families were intact and based in faith in Christ.  Not flawless, but we are blessed with a legacy of commitment and faith for sure!  I do not take this for granted and I know it is not everyone’s story.  God’s love is big enough to heal you and guide you to a relationship with Him that will radically change your heart no matter what your story is though, so take heart!  God knows how difficult it is to love people.  He understands each heart because He created it.  God is into relationships!  Seek Him first and trust His plan because it is perfect.

Communicate Honestly and Listen   Learning to communicate with each other effectively is so important! This is not something you can gloss over and have a healthy relationship.  Most couples bring different communication styles and backgrounds into a relationship so it is important to talk about how you want to communicate and continue to talk about it.  If you are like I was when we first got married and don’t know how you like to communicate because you have been so wrapped up in just not disappointing anyone, this process can be long and difficult.  It takes time to learn how to be married and work together.  Just as a new business partnership takes work and time to develop trust and effective teamwork, a marriage is the same way.  One of the reasons that Tom and I are so close is because we stuck it out and kept talking even when it wasn’t fun or didn’t even seem productive. We just kept talking and listening to each other, asking questions and listening, taking time and learning.

Communicating openly and honestly needs to be a priority.  If you did not grow up in a home where this was modeled in front of you, then this will be a challenge; but it is a learned behavior so you are not trapped or branded because of someone else’s lack of communication skills.  It is important to set aside a time to debrief and visit about household and daily grind kind of stuff, but also about personal accomplishments or struggles that happened that day.  You have to make time or it won’t happen.  If you are part of the typical busy household you may be laughing at me right now and thinking it just isn’t possible.  I hear you, it is a choice and an investment.  This is why I make a point to say that communication needs to be a priority.  You may need to rearrange schedules or change habits to become effective in your communication, but it is worth the effort!

Respect  “A feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way”, this is the definition of respect from Webster’s Dictionary.  It seems to me that respect is losing ground in our society.  The attitude of entitlement kind of sweeps respect onto the floor to be hidden among the dust-bunnies.  Respecting your mate means believing and treating them as valued and worthy of attention and acceptance.  This creates a space of safety and intimacy.  Have you ever been out with friends and heard one spouse throw the other spouse under the bus and observed the change in body language that occurs?  Have you ever heard one spouse make fun of the other spouse and watched the hurt expression that follows?  Usually it is palpable and it is always sad.  Respect your mate.  You chose them!  If you want a relationship that will encourage each person to be their best, there has to be respect.

Be Fiercely Protective  There is a song by Dido that is precious to me.  It is called “White Flag”.  When I hear it, it still brings tears to my eyes.  My husband sent it to me after a really rough phase in our relationship.  He told me that he was committed for the long haul if I would be too.  Here is the chorus:

“I will go down with this ship
And I won’t put my hands up and surrender
There will be no white flag above my door
I’m in love and always will be”.

From this point on in our marriage, we both agreed to be fiercely protective of our relationship, of our family, and of each other. This means that if one of us needs time to talk, we re-arrange schedules to make it happen.  If one of us needs to be alone, we respect that request and help make it happen.   If one of us is uncomfortable with a situation, we change it.  If there is a disagreement, we resolve it.  We decided to live more simply and focus on our relationship and the other relationships in our lives.  The payoff has been huge.  It is a challenge because other people may not understand at times, but that is ok, they don’t have too.  We continue to talk about choices as they come up and ensure that we are sticking to the priorities we have decided are important to us.

I’m proud of my marriage.  I’m proud because we have fought to hang onto something that has turned out to be a priceless treasure and joy.  The things we have learned will continue to help us grow together and support a stronger and deeper love for as many years as we have together.  I’m also proud of the example we have put in front of our kids.  They have had a front seat to the growing pains and have learned a lot about commitment and relationships along the way.  There have been lots of interesting conversations and teaching moments and I’m thankful for God’s wisdom in those times.  I’m also happy to blog about this today and encourage you guys to fight for healthy relationships in your own lives.  This life can be so much fun and fulfilling if we focus on people and not stuff.  If we stretch our arms out to support instead of judge.  If we keep learning and growing instead of determining that we know everything.  Stay healthy my friends!




One Response

  1. Reblogged this on Night Songs and commented:
    Profound and helpful hints from a marriage survivor of over 25 years.

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