Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Very Worst Marriage Advice I Ever Received...

The conversation comes up more than I'm comfortable with to tell you the truth...lately, I'm finding myself in groups of women large and small when the topic of marriage comes up. Most of the ladies I am around are either divorced or are in about their 15th year of marriage, give or take a few years. It's the age of my kids that put me in the bracket I guess...that's all I can figure.

Usually it starts off with a simple joke cracked about someone's man doing something just really stupid, as men do, like farting loudly and then asking if you are in the mood for sex. (Really? Um, no thanks I'll pass) or, leaving the toilet seat up AND forgetting to flush...two sins that should end in death. You know, just stuff that gets us all laughing.

But then, recently on more than a dozen occasions, it ends with someone sharing a deep intimate detail of pain and hurt that is coming from a life lived in a marriage they don't want to be in anymore. The group always looks surprised because, we were all just teasing and being light hearted right? And now we can see the tide has changed and you are actually seriously unhappy.

Now we are all uncomfortable. And you are wide open and vulnerable. AWKWARD.

Several cliche's get tossed in; most people give a quick hug and walk away as fast as they can. But I have zero ability to leave someone in the dust. Mainly because I count on people standing by me when I need help. But like I said before, this topic makes me uncomfortable because who am I to give marriage advice? I mean yes, I am married. But it is only by the grace of God that this is still a fact.

And then it hit me. THAT is my marriage advice. God is putting me in front of woman after woman after woman after woman after woman (should I go on or do you get the point) who are desperate to know why I am still happy with my husband after 15 years to show them His grace.

 People are tired of *fake* they want to live a life that is real and whole and true. I love the term organic (although it is over used) because it really does describe what we are hungry for...no add ins or fillers.

Here is my "advice" (take it or leave it, no refunds) on staying happy and for that matter...staying married. 

I really do not want to tell you this because it’s like I am inviting my husband to walk through the door tonight and have the biggest fight of our life. You know what I mean? The moment you say "I have the answer!" You fall on your face. It's awesome. My kids do it to me all the time. I mention to a friend that we have conquered a behavior issue and then they get off the bus with a note from the teacher describing in grand detail the proof that my previous statement was a fraud.

But anyway, I have learned that when God asks me to speak up about something...better to obey.

First of all, I think it’s a really good thing to admit that you aren’t happy. Men don't know these things on their own. They aren’t picking up on all our clever hints. Let me clarify, admit it to HIM. Not to all your 150 Facebook friends. Men don't know what you aren’t saying out loud, calmly and directly into their eyes...without the TV on. I don't know WHY it takes such direct communication, it just does. Don’t fight it, just start speaking up.

For years I would walk up stairs and slam the bedroom door when Chad said something that made me mad. I would crawl in the bed and wait for him to come up after me and ask me what he had done wrong. I don’t think I need to tell you how many times that didn’t work. Mostly, the next day he would say something like, "I think the door hinge is off because it doesn't shut easily, its loud when you go to bed." Bless. Him.

Now, I don't leave the room....I address it immediately. And you know what, it works. Communication right now, not days from now, works for my marriage. No time for festering... It’s like I say to my kids all the time, “Use your words.”  Chad and I argue, sure we do. It’s why we understand each other. But we say our peace and move on. Look, at some point you MUST let the other person off the hook, or live in misery. 

Second (and this will only apply to Christians), I pray for him....A LOT. It softens my heart towards him. For example, when he gets up in the morning and I hear the shower turn on, I start asking God to give him favor. I ask for protection on the road. I ask for everyone he encounters that day to be kind to him and helpful. I ask God to give him intense focus at work and that his boss would see his efforts and he would be rewarded.

For me, it's hard to carry a grudge about minor irritations in my marriage when I am busy filling my mind requesting blessings upon him. And let’s face it, there have been days when all I filled my mind with were his imperfections, the things he didn’t say or do that I wanted him too, or WORSE, the things he did say or do that made me irate. When I do that, instead of walking into his home, he walks into a landmine, and we spend the evening fighting or in silence, both suck.

Third, when I notice I'm unhappy, I make a list. I know what you are thinking, and no, it's not a list I hand to him of things he needs to fix. It's a list of things I need to fix. A me list. One that I never share with him...it’s between me and God. I write down my insecurities, my fears, my faults, my dreams, my goals...and I work on the list. 99% of the time I find that although I would have SWORN it was his fault I was so miserable...it was really me. And Chad can’t “fix” me, it’s not his role. He can support me and help me and love me and all that awesome stuff but the “fixin” is mine.

Fourth and this one is going to hurt. But come on, admit it with me... you have higher standards for the way HE must treat you than the way YOU must treat him. Hey, maybe you are a much better person than I am and this is not an issue for you (Yay you! I'm clapping for you!) But for the rest of us, when you are feeling a little ignored because the flower delivery man didn’t bring you roses or the Every Kiss Begins with Kay commercial makes you roll your eyes....Ask yourself this. "When was the last time I made a romantic gesture towards my man, unexpected and out of the blue, for no reason at all?" If the answer starts with 1999, you have yourself a double standard. Just a thought.

The very worse marriage advice I ever got was from a lady who listened to my problems and said, “Honey, always remember, you have options. These days, no one stays married for ever. No one will judge you if you leave.”   Enter the red bag phase….

Fifth, put away the red bag. Let me explain. I used to keep a red overnight bag under my bed. Every time he made me mad, which was A LOT because for us marriage was hard for many many years; I would say some really nasty words that I won’t put on this blog (you are welcome) and start packing that bag. I would threaten him with walking out the door. I was always busy letting him know I had PLENTY of other options and I was going to go take a vacation without him so he could see just how horrible life would be without me. (He never said it but looking back I bet he was secretly wishing I would have just left for a few days so he could stop listening to me rant)

The point is, the moment I decided that leaving wasn’t an option, our lives settled. If either spouse feels like the other is always one foot out the door, it breeds an insecure heart. You build a wall because you know they will one day do what they say and leave... and you don’t want them taking your soul with them.

I looked at Chad years ago and said “I’m not going anywhere. Ever. You can take that to the bank. You have my word." He held me in his arms so tight and I wept because I was scared to death ya’ll. Scared to death. Until that moment I don’t think I actually fully trusted him. Not for any reason except I hadn’t allowed him into that space. I'm just like you...I see all the divorce, I see the affairs, the destruction of lives and I think by acting all tough and all "You aren’t my only option" I was trying to protect myself. Biggest mistake of my life to this point. I wasted years of intimacy with him, out of fear. Never again. Decide that No. Matter. What. You are staying.

*Interjection* If your spouse ever raises and hand to you or has an affair or abuses you in any way, this blog post is not for you. My advice would look VERY different and it would start with, leave right this second and go to a safe place. I am speaking about marriage issues that do not include this kind of harm.

Sixth, look for the good. Sounds simple but after YEARS of marriage it can be hard. Look, YOU PICKED HIM. What are his best qualities? Focus on those when you are going through a rut. For me, when Chad is on my nerves, all I have to do is watch him interact with our children. The way he fathers them shines a light back onto the man I fell in love with. My girl’s lives are rich because of his faithfulness to show them how much he loves them. For this reason alone, many many faults are forgiven.

Seventh, go on dates. I can’t stress this enough. Even when you don't have a dime. Even when you aren’t getting along and he is the last person you want to look at. Do it anyway. Go on a walk together, ride bikes, take a hike through the woods, get your blood pumping. DO SOMETHING. A movie, dinner, couples massage, just be together. Watching TV and playing on the computer every night is not spending time together. The point of this is to connect. Hold hands, steal a kiss, and share a spoon during dessert. Without this, I promise you, each of you will find something or someone else to bond too. And you will rob your marriage of newness. And you will wonder why you feel lonely as you scroll through YouTube.

My favorite part of falling in love with Chad was the spontaneity and frequency of our dates. Every time I turned around there he was...we made adventures together. My loneliest times in marriage have been when we both decided everything else was more important and we were going to put our dates on hold. The ones we never went on are the only ones I regret.

Eighth and final one. This one will most likely ruffle some feathers. It has long been debated the roles of men and women in marriage. In the Christian realm, people love to say "Men want respect and women want love." They also say "Women submit to your husband." That one realllllly upsets people. There are PLENTY of Scriptures to back all this up and plenty more to argue it. I'm not interested in the debate. All I can tell you is what works for us.

We both need respect. He needs it from me and I need it from him. We both need love... Big gushy doses of it. He needs it from me and I need it from him. We choose to submit to one another...on a daily basis. I submit to him, he submits to me. We honor each other; one gender does not need this more than the other. I am always about the business of bending my will towards him and he returns the favor.

It is like two children on a seesaw on the play ground. When you are on the ground and I'm soaring high, share in my thrill and push with all your might to get yourself up there and I will squeal with you as we take turns launching each other up and down. But don’t get off and walk away when I'm up, I need your weight to keep me there...I need your anchor. Or I will come crashing down. And you need mine…we are in this together or someone is going to be in pain.

It’s a beautiful balance.

Chad and I bend the knee first to Jesus Christ...He is the Authority in our home. Then we turn and bend the knee to each other… not out of worship, but out of service. He knows I have his back. And I know he has mine. Not servant to master, rather servant to servant.

I don't have a number nine. Real life doesn’t end on a clean number. Maybe in another 15 years I will have a number nine. I just know that the first eight things I shared with you are why I can say with a confident voice, "My marriage is not perfect, but it is alive."  And I’m no fool, we will hit rough waters again, no one is immune to hard times...but when that happens I will rinse and repeat all the things I mentioned above.

I’m writing a story, I am the co-author of these people that live under my roof. My actions and choices directly affect their next chapter. I will not give up because I need my girls to know love wins. Because it does. I won’t willingly tear apart their foundation. Not on my watch. I would rather be removed from this earth then set a path of destruction for the very children I begged The Lord to give me. Sounds dramatic…but it’s that important to me.

 I'm looking ahead, always forward. Trying to remember that when I am old and wrinkly, I want to rock grand babies with the man I started the journey with. The one who holds my secrets whispered in the night.

It's hard. Marriage is h-a-r-d. When people admit that, don’t judge them. Love them. Pray for them. Listen to them. Don't repeat their confidences. Encourage your friends to stay and fight for it. Be real and willing to share your experiences. What worked and what didn’t. And grace…give lavish grace, after all it’s the only reason any of us are still breathing.

Lord, give. Give us one more ounce of forgiveness, when we feel we have none. Give us passion when we are dull, give us faithfulness in temptation, give us hope in sadness. Just give. Most of us are in need.