The M word. Marriage….. til death do us part. According to your experience and exposure, you may cringe at the word, or be excited by it. I actually think it is the most wonderful concept. And yes, it may be because I have had a positive experience but I am also old enough, wise enough and observant enough that it can also be the cause of so much pain.
I also think that the most beautiful part of marriage is that you are taking the risk on giving yourself entirely to another, with little to no control on whether your best efforts and intentions will be received and reciprocated. My number one advice to those looking to marry is to make sure you are marrying for the right reasons. Many marry because it’s a solution to loneliness….. or they are infatuated….. or they believe it means that they will be loved well for the rest of their lives. They believe it will be their main source of happiness and completion. My advice would be to marry because you want to truly love another, a nitty gritty love and not just because you want to be loved.
Like any kind of real love it takes intentionality, perseverance and resolve. This blog post has been on my heart for a while but I just needed a few moments for it to surface into my mind. And I am finding it hard to find moments these days. I am actually using an appointment day for babe number 8 to write it, as it’s the only time my other little appendages aren’t around! It comes from a few podcasts that I have listened to from Focus On The Family in the last 5 years, but despite my endless search I cannot relocate them. So it will just have to be written from my memory and experience.
The advice I want to pass comes from two different ‘can do’ women who were on a quest for the keys to a happy marriage…… because they believed a truly happy, fulfilling marriage can exist, although it seemed rare. Both being hard working perfectionists, they travelled around the world interviewing couples who were married 30 years or more in an effort to find out if there was a common thread. Almost all cultures, religions and backgrounds were covered.
There were many things that came out of the study like daily shared time/rituals, time away together, shared core beliefs etc. However there were a top two that stood out to me the most. It came at just the right time for me, as we were undergoing extreme financial pressure that could either be the making of us, or the breaking.
Sime and I have always, I believe, had a healthy marriage. We had a great foundation coming from two families who revered marriage highly and stuck out the tough stuff, both now married for 40-50 years. Both families were supportive and excited about our union, probably because we both came out of a string of less healthy ones. I realise many couples don’t have this luxury and have to really work at figuring out their own way in marriage. I was a pimply faced 22 year old straight out of uni, of which I partied my way through. Sime had a few years on me but extremely young at heart, having spent the last 10 years in what you would call prolonged teenage years; playing in bands and living a life of relative freedom from responsibility. Both of us, along the way, hurt people in relationships in our own selfish agendas. We met after what some might call a spiritual awakening and we just knew we were meant to tackle life together.
However, I still don’t think I fully understood what marriage was. I think I considered it just the next obvious step in life, and I suppose so did Sime. And we were pretty smitten with each other. We thought we were so in love, but in retrospect it was probably infatuation and I am happy to say its grown into a deep, intimate love. Despite my youthful ignorance, I do believe it was the best decision I ever made. I put a lot of it down to our shared faith being our glue, but also that I just happened to marry a man with a kind heart. He is not perfect, and is the first to admit it, and neither am I……but his kindness is a beautiful quality. He truly wants those around him to be happy, and I just happen to be the one around him the most.
Kindness is one of the keys I will touch on, but I first have to preface the rest of this post with clarifying that this advice is mainly for couples who have a good marriage, but experience periods of ‘clunkiness’ and have the desire to have a great marriage. One where they are flowing in unity and intimacy together. One where they feel fully on the same page a majority of the time. It is not so much for couples where one or both are dealing with trauma, abuse, betrayal and other deep-seated issues which may require outside help.
So I asked Sime, when describing the blog topic, what he believed the key to a happy marriage was, his immediate response was ‘communication’. I completely agree. As I believe misunderstanding is the cause of most pain, disunity and bitterness. The old Chinese proverb of ‘first seek to understand then to be understood’ is a great piece of advice in diffusing misunderstanding. However, I also believe, for healthy communication to take place, a space for complete trust and safety needs to be fostered. An environment where love and honesty exists without the threat of rejection or judgement. A place where your spouse is resolved to be your biggest fan, and you theirs, despite the ugly bits.
So how to create a relationship where complete trust and safely is created? I believe there are two main keys that came out of the studies of these two women……
KEY 1; The first is kindness……let every action, thought and word be processed first through a filter of kindness. Kindness is a word that is bandied around a lot and in turn can lose it’s importance and meaning. It is different to just being nice. Being nice can be born out of the selfish motivation of wanting to be liked and to avoid conflict. Sime and I don’t often fight and I had to soul search as to whether that is because I avoid conflict…… as I have always been the “good girl”, often dissolving if I am not approved of. Kindness actually requires you to have some tough conversations at times, to put up healthy boundaries and to call some things out that will benefit the other. We have had a few moments like those with each other. Kindness is actually truly wanting the best for each other, even if its not the easiest path. For some it might involve tears and speaking hard truths in love. It may involve making some tough decisions. But even hard truths can be wrapped in words of goodness, kindness and honour….that is, still honouring the person they are and your marriage vows. Easier said than done in the heat of the moment. My strategy has always been a combination of allowing time to process and allow any stress hormones to settle. I suppose its taking a moment to seek to understand first. Finally, along the questions……Are the words wrapped in kindness? Is it is the best interest for him or am I just reacting to something in myself? Would I speak to my best girlfriend like that? Am I holding him to greater account than I am holding myself? Basically if its not born out of a kind intent, then I must let it go. Kindness isn’t always about being right, it is about wanting the best for another.
I have to mention that every couple have their own language. Some are fiestier and more direct. They are happy with it that way. They are built that way. I actually admire people who have the bravery to be so forward and expressive. Even direct words can be wrapped in kindness, and only that couple knows when it crosses over to disrespecting the other person and attacking their very being. No one wants to open up to someone if there is a threat or chance of attack. It goes against our natural design for survival.
Thankfully, Sime identified early that I was a bit on the sensitive side. A role of the eye, a sigh or someone honking me in traffic is enough to turn me into a teary mess. I am not spineless, I can stand firm when the chips are down, but I do care what people think. And I am sensitive to how they respond. People like me can default to shaming themselves so much that they don’t need a partner to jump in on the action. So that’s part of our language. Sime has gotten very good at biting his tongue when I have dinted the car yet again…… or a myriad of other things. He’s a good man that one. Kindness can not be underestimated. It unlocks people. It encourages growth. It promotes safety. It is the pathway to intimacy.
KEY 2; This is probably the one that impacted me and helped me the most. It is consciously, daily and intentionally choosing to assume the best of your spouse. Life is so busy and noisy these days. We are so focussed on what we have to get through, then we come together at the end of the day….. exhausted. It is so easy to focus on your own exhaustion and then start thinking about what your partner didn’t do to help you out. You mightn’t mention it, you may push it to the back of your mind. Mainly because you can’t be bothered bringing it up. But it festers and it comes out in all sorts of unconscious ways. The unwarm greeting, the slight irritation between you, the short responses, the negative thoughts.
It might have started with a simple thing like your partner forgot to pick up milk for you on the way home….. which leads to the thought of “I have to do everything” to “He (or she!) doesn’t ever think of my needs” to “He is just a selfish …..!” And there you go, intimacy, and the warmth of it, has vanished. Not to mention the chance of physical intimacy! And your partner has no idea just what happened. He might just assume you are in a mood. The alternate in the same situation is choosing to think “He has obviously had a busy day”, “How many things do I forget in a day?” or “I am sure if I tell him how tired I am and what it would to mean to me, he will nick down later”. Assuming the best, even if he is guilty of the former, allows room for grace and human fault to be absorbed before those yucky thoughts and feelings can take affect. If he doesn’t feel under constant criticism and neither do you, true communication is often the result. A relationship where you both feel safe to be imperfect, often leads to you wanting to be and do more for each other.
Easier to say than do (again?). What about bigger issues than forgetting milk? Of course, serious cases of abuse and trauma need professional help. However, fostering a safe and loving relationship allows your spouse to see the areas they struggle. For example, what if your partner admits to having a hidden gambling problem, or porn addiction? Whether they admitted it to you and you found out yourself, the usual response would be disgust and offense. How could they? How could they do it to me? To us? He mustn’t love me enough? But what if, once adjusted to the shock, you assumed that your partner is probably more disgusted and disappointed with himself than you could ever be? That the reason he has kept it hidden is because he knows the pain it would cause….. but he just can’t quite kick the habit on his own. Who knows, maybe something happened while he was young to send him down this path and he hates himself for it. Maybe…. just maybe, he needs the one, who knows him the most deeply, to enter the struggle with him and help him find his way out.
Yes maybe the reality is that he is unremorseful and resolved not to change, but isn’t it better to assume the best first, preventing bitterness from taking root and tearing you apart? Like any wound, it is natural to want to keep it covered so no one can bump it and cause more pain. It is the same with emotional pain (and often addiction). People will only show you their pain and allow you to assess the damage, if they trust you implicitly. And who better to trust with your life and pain, than your spouse?
There was a time I needed this advice more than ever. We were going through so many business and financial challenges, that Sime felt stripped bare. All he wanted to do was provide for his family and it seemed the harder he tried, the more impossible it seemed. His identity was under fire, not to mention his purpose. I was hurting too. I would know from the moment he walked in the door, what his day had been like. His eyes said it all. They lost their vibrancy, their light. I couldn’t help him or the situation. I did, for a time, slip into self pity mode. I felt I had lost my helpmate. We had 5-6 kids then and family life was busy and tiring, yet when he came home it was almost as if there was no energy or hope left in his limbs. I initially went to the internal dialogue of “I am hurting too but I can’t stop….. we have to keep going…”. It seemed unfair. But I remember where I was standing in the kitchen, after putting the last child in bed when I had what could only be called a spiritual experience. I had a huge flood or insight into what he was actually feeling in this period in our lives. I was overwhelmed with it. I wept. My earlier thoughts dissipated into compassion. I immediately went to bed and spooned him and said “we are in this together. Whatever happens, it’s you and me together”. Makes me sound like a saint, but I am not. I am just so thankful I had that insight into his pain, otherwise my self-righteous soap box may very well have hurt our relationship.
It was roles reversed in the last year when I went through some stuff that shook me to the core. I questioned myself and who I thought I was. He could have become frustrated at my weakness. Telling me to toughen up, that it’s no big deal. But he didn’t. He didn’t trivialise how I felt. He entered in and assured me that “we are in this together” and he didn’t rush my healing process. He actually spoke words over me to restore me and my self belief, even if I didn’t see it yet myself. He was choosing to be my biggest fan when I was at my worst.
It was particularly at this time that I fully experienced what a safe relationship feels like. And now, in retrospect I wouldn’t swap those painful times, because of what they brought about in our relationship. But I do have these two key pieces of advice to thank for part of it. They were placed in my hand at the right time.
Now I am not naive. I know there could be more painful times to come. Many people have been through SO much more than us, and pulled through. I will glean from them as much as I can. After all, we have 8 children to raise yet! It’s hard to avoid heartache, when your heart is in 8 sets of little hands. And it doesn’t stop at adulthood. However, I hope and pray that “we are in this together” will always be our mantra. And that kindness and assuming the best in each other will continue to lead us out of those clunky moments in this whole death-do-us-part thing.
I hope this speaks to the heart of someone. I may have shed a few hormonal tears writing it! For those who married and it didn’t work, I admire you for taking that chance on loving another. The beauty and pain is the risk we take when we “I do” and having no control on the choices of the other. No one chooses to go through separation and divorce unless they have to. And I am inspired by the strength and bravery of those loved ones around us that have had to go down that painful road, yet still believe in true love and marriage.
For those who are wanting to find your special one, I hope you find the perfect person to grow, thrive and flourish under the nourishment of your unconditional love…… and look for the ones whose kindness is their strength! A little bit of a
kindness goes a loooooong way, a lifetime in fact. And thank you to my hubster, who keeps choosing to love me everyday…. the big sook I am, and allowing me to air our life on the internet!
Much love, Greta… the Butcher’s Wife xx