Do You Remember When We….?

Have you ever shared a time of reminiscing with your spouse about your courtship years, or your engagement?  Perhaps you have thought back to the deliveries of children, or hard times like being unemployed, moving, and problems with relatives.  Or maybe you are a young couple who doesn’t have a lot of shared history yet.

Turns out, these times of recalling shared memories can be a part of a successful and close marriage.  John Gottman in his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail…and How You Can Make Yours Last calls it “finding the glory” in your marriage.  It is worth doing, helps strengthen our bond with our spouse, and gives hope for the future.

In my own marriage reminiscing played a key role in keeping us together during our desert years when we were committed but not close.  Many times we tried to work through the issues.  At times we’d even have understanding of each other, but somehow it didn’t translate into action or growth.  But that’s another story…  For now, know that we took care of responsibilities, but not each other.  When I look back and realize the state we were in it is amazing that we made it to the great marriage we have now.  Many things contributed to our longevity, like our stubborn commitment to our vows, but reminiscing is the thing that brought us back to the oasis where we could find joy together now and then.

Taking time together was a priority for us.  Every three or four months we’d take off overnight to the beach.  We’d go out for special occasions.  We started celebrating the anniversary of our first date and our engagement (which happens to be my birthday!)  All these celebrations gave us time to remember our beginnings, the romance, getting to know each other, and happy carefree times.  It was time to connect again with what we loved in each other.

As time passed we weathered many storms together.  There were periods of unemployment, difficult childbirths, sick children, stressful family times.  All the usual life difficulties.  But we’d look back at those and see how the Lord brought us through together.  It gave us a sense of camaraderie and confirmation that we were still right for each other after all.  As Dr. Gottman would say, we were “glorifying our struggles” and remembering them in a positive way that gave us hope for a bright future.

When we finally did work through those long-standing issues we realized what a role those times of reminiscing played.  They really did give us little oases of positive feelings to hold on to through the next desert trek!

I hope this story encourages you to take time with your spouse to remember back to your beginnings, to happy times, and even sad or stressful times.  Share the joy and blessings together.  Find meaning and growth in the hard times.  Just don’t forget your past.  Lessons from your history together may be just what you need to get to a soul mate marriage.

Share some of YOUR special memories in the Comment Box below.

Why Settle for Less?

I knew a couple who had been married for over forty years.  They had a comfortable home, no real financial worries, and their children were all married. But they had baggage. Their “shop” was severely cluttered with boxes of issues.  Some of the boxes of deep hurts were buried and marked with the labels “DO NOT TOUCH – CAUSES TOO MUCH PAIN”.  They lived at opposite ends of the shop, careful not to disturb the status quo.  They would share some meals together, the bills got paid, the clothes got washed and the day to day things got done because they had learned to co-exist in a standing truce.  They shared their house; how sad they didn’t share their lives.

 We can all visualize that perfect “10” relationship; we’d call them soul mates, best friends and lovers.  There is a giddy euphoria and joy in their lives and they just love being together.  For some of us that perfect “10” is a lofty ideal, something you read about in fairy tales. It’s not reality, not for us, not now, maybe never.  And for others, it seems we’re almost there; no major problems have cluttered our lives and we experience the joy of being together almost every day.

 Several years ago I reflected on the state of my relationship with Darleen.  I knew on a scale of 1 – 10 our relationship was at maybe a three.  Oh, there were good days that we could get to a 5 or 6, but those were few and far between.  The “Oasis Days” is what I called them.  When you live day to day in a desert, being in the oasis is like being able to breathe and get a fresh drink of water. The desert years were awful.  I tried to deal with the pain by telling myself the lie that “I just don’t care”.  I tried to cope using apathy.

 Being a “passive-aggressive” temperament, I never really faced the baggage and issues that we had in “our shop”.  I would either ignore the issues, or I would attack them.  Ignoring them was simply immature stupidity, and attacking them alienated Darleen and made her withdraw further into a protective shell.  Since I didn’t face the issues, I stayed in the desert.  Here’s a bit of Common Sense:  If you ignore the problems, they don’t go away and if you attack the problems and your spouse, you just create a whole new layer of problems.  Think:  Personal Growth.

 After seriously reflecting on the couple who settled into a “coexisting marriage”, I knew I was tired of being in the desert and I did not believe the lie that I just don’t care.  I woke up to the pressing reality that at my core I didn’t want to settle for a lifeless loveless marriage.  I did care and I deeply and truly loved my wife.  I wanted that soul mate relationship.  I wanted to live in that “Oasis”.

 Choices:  We all have choices.  My next step was to face the issues and begin the work of dealing with them.  And that took personal growth on my part and understanding the need for me to love Darleen through selfless serving.

How Much Patience is Enough?

I cannot tell you how to keep being patient with your spouse when there seems to be no movement on his or her part in a direction that brings you closer.  I can only tell you that patience may be what will turn a cold or bitter spouse warm.   You see, I was the recipient of my husband’s patience for many years while I dealt with hurts and some of the baggage I carried into our marriage.

We have been married for 35 years and in the middle years 3 children, church and school activities, and other things I volunteered for caused us to drift apart.  Then there was a hard issue and a comment made to me that was particularly hurtful.  I pulled further away. We were on parallel roads, still cooperating to do all we committed to, but we were not close.  Alan calls these “The Desert Years.”  For almost 10 years I was not responsive to his needs although I did what needed to be done around the house and the children were cared for.

Once in a while, Alan would open a discussion about it and attempt to talk it out.  I would speak of the hurt I felt and admit that I was neglecting him.  We had long, emotional discussions and I’d forgive him but I would go back to the same behavior.  His patience was seriously challenged during those years!

Don’t get the idea that he was a saint through it all though.  We had all the usual daily stresses and blow-ups.  He had his baggage and he’d rub me the wrong way too.  With the up and down of neglect, promises of change, and then neglect again he would grow apathetic.  When his needs welled up again he’d open a discussion again.  10 long years this crazy cycle went on!

This morning at church we were reminded that God’s love for us will outlast every time we turn away from him in rebellion.  He will patiently be waiting for us to turn back to our relationship with him.  When we do, there is nothing but love and acceptance.  God holds no grudge; He does not condemn.  There is no need to fear returning to his loving arms.  It was years of that kind of love and patience, coming from my husband, that turned me around inside.  He was the instrument of God that started the healing and refining in my soul.

You can see we are not perfect people and that is just the point.  He did not have to be perfect in all areas to do this and neither do you.  Even his patience grew thin at times.  But over and over and over  again I was accepted back and patiently loved in spite of my failings, and this started the healing.   As I grew personally, we grew together and now have a close relationship I never thought possible.

I encourage you to greater patience and anticipation of how your marriage relationship will grow!

Cleaning up the Mess

Last time we talked about your relationship being like a shop. Over time it gets cluttered with boxes of “stuff.” Hurt feelings and unmet needs hinder a relationship from being close. Some of us begin our marriage with baggage that we carry from when we grew up. We seldom begin with a “clean shop” so to speak. Before we come back from the honeymoon our shop is already piled with clutter.

So how do we apply common sense to clean up the clutter in our relationship?

First, honestly assess the quality of your relationship. Both spouses should independently score themselves from 1 to 10 on the following:

  • overall quality of our relationship
  • time together
  • communication
  • finances
  • physical health
  • free time
  • relatives
  • kids
  • romance
  • sex life
  • mutual trust
  • household chores
  • handling problems and decisions
  • spiritual life
  • church involvement
  • goals
  • dreams
  • desires

Add additional items if you feel they are needed.

Now, each should list about 10 items that you really appreciate about your spouse and any items that are a struggle. Honesty is important. Hiding issues lets “boxes of stuff” remain covered.

Now list four things that you feel would help your relationship grow closer.

And finally, list anything that has really hurt you. This can be difficult. It requires that you dig deep. Often when we have been hurt, we bury our feelings because they are too hurtful to talk about. But these particular “clutter boxes” can be the very issues that keep us from being truly close. We can easily overlook socks left on the floor, but deeply felt wounds are like invisible forces that keep us from being close. (More on Hurt and Forgiveness in a future blog.)

Completing the assessment above is merely a first step to let you know if you have clutter in your relationship. The list and your answers will help you to begin a discussion on how to take a particular area and begin the process of making it a 9 or a 10.

Here are some helpful tips:

  1. The shop is “our shop.” It isn’t “your box of junk.” Both must realize that in order to have a close relationship you both need to be responsible to work on getting it healthy. Look at an area of concern in this light: What can “we” do together to work at making this issue less of a hindrance to us having a close relationship.
  2. Patience should guide your actions. It took us a week to clean up our messy shop. Relationships are much more complex and patience is needed to allow time to resolve issues. We bring issues into our relationships that have been issues since we were young children. They take time to work through. Don’t try to resolve them all at once. Take a few steps and be thankful for your progress. Be patient and gracious with each other.
  3. Communicate with each other in a kind, loving, and non-demanding manner. Remember that you are working at cleaning issues up so you can enjoy the richness of a soul mate relationship.