Before Dan and I got married almost 15 years ago we met with a couple in our church who volunteered to meet with engaged couples to just talk about what makes a successful marriage, answer questions, etc. I'll never forget 3 really important pieces of advice that they offerred us - 3 things that I came to understand as absolutely critical for any couple who hopes to survive. I dedicate this blog post to several friends who have over the years and especially recently come to me to discuss some of their marriage issues and problems. My hope is that everyone understands that when you step back and look at any situation from the outside that ANYTHING (bar some forms of abuse - which I am not addressing in this post) can be worked out - if both people are willing.
One of the first pieces of advice that the married couple gave us was to make friends with other married couples. As newlyweds many of our friends would still be single. Of course, we weren't supposed to just throw out the old friends, but they explained to us that it's very dangerous for couples to try and live "married-single" lives. In other words, if Dan went out with his buddies every Friday or more, and if I went off with my girlfriends to bars or dance clubs as I always did before, then it's not hard for that to transition into others thinking that you're still available...and it's not that much harder for a married person to act as if they are still single as well. Dangerous territory. It's important for married couples to have friends who have good marriages and like to do the same things that they like. (I still love you my single friends!!!) Actually my single friends have become more a part of my family now - it's not a seperate life - but I do enjoy a girl's night out once or twice a year with both married and single friends!
The second piece of advice we were given was to ALWAYS speak positively of our partner. Everyone knows that's not always easy. And I have to admit I always, always, always, had that advice in the back of my head even at moments in our marriage when I wasn't following it. When I hear other people tear their partner apart to pieces over this thing, and that thing, and every little move he or she takes, and, and, and...I can actually feel their frustration - I wish I could help them to understand that the complaining and frustration only makes it WORSE. Now, not that people shouldn't be able to vent, but in venting, by the end the rule should be for the one venting to think of 5 great and endearing things about their spouse and SAY THOSE!! The only way to get over all the frustrating things about a partner is to concentrate your energy on all the GREAT AND ENDEARING things about your partner!! Not the things you look back on and say "that's what I fell in love with" - NO - the things about him or her NOW that are GREAT!! Always look for the good things or you will end up feeling like you're going no where...and others will think your marriage is really in trouble! And you may decide that your marriage is really in trouble...it's a spiraling effect. Compliment your spouse on a regular basis...and make it your practice to tell others just how awesome your partner is!! (I'll tell you right now that my husband ROCKS - and there are so many reasons why...including the fact that he does dishes!!)
The third thing they told us was more a fact than a piece of advice and it was this: Love is a choice. How romantic, right?? Give you goosebumps too?? Riiiiiiight!! Well listen, let me go on to explain here. In a world where movies, t.v. shows like the Bachelor (I'm sort of a closet watcher - guess I'm out now!), and other media (including the Disney Princesses) try to make us believe that love is your heart skipping, and butterflies in your stomach, and tripping over your words, and candle light on the beach, and long walks at night, and slow dancing...it sure leaves out the day to day just living and being together. It leaves out the whole toothpaste tube phenominon, the shoes in the middle of the floor, the cupboard doors always being open, the newspapers flung around, the stacks of papers, the wife or husband who doesn't care about finances, who does which chores, he or she doesn't value me and all the things I do...all those things that people end up letting get under their skin! As I said before, those things can really spiral into a big messy constant struggle! And what it all comes down to is this: LOVE IS A CHOICE!! I'll say it again, love is a choice. You need to decide if this is the person you want to love, and if it is, then you need to treat them like you love them. How do you treat someone like you love them? You thank them for the things they do (instead of screaming about the things they don't do); You compliment them; You help them with things that they struggle with; You go the extra mile (or inch) for them; If they are the ones causing a problem in your marriage then you honestly discuss it with them without accusing - maybe you have to get a third party to help you (again I'm not addressing abuse in this post); You choose to forgive them and let go of your grudge (or pain you're holding on to inside); You tell them that you love them, respect them, admire them, adore them, think that they are the best, value them. You choose to do these things because love is a choice - and choosing to love EVERYDAY is how you make a miracle marriage.