Twenty years ago, at the end of a white carpeted aisle at church, I joined hands and heart with the man of my dreams. We sang together, “Amazing Grace” to honor God and His grace in our lives. We promised to love each other, and honor God in our marriage. We began our lives as a married couple. We began the work of marriage…. to learn real-life marriage lessons together.
Marriage is not a formula. It’s a moment by moment experience filled with the shifting tides of life that ebbs and flows and clashes with personal expectations and our own flawed character. That’s why when I see titles like, “Five Easy Steps to an Amazing Marriage” I shake my head in disbelief. If anyone is selling you that notion, get the promise in writing! Rather than give you easy fixes, I will share the lessons we have learned through marital friction and the ups and downs of life, and how the lessons have become part of the fabric of our marriage.
Welcome to Our Collection of Real-Life Marriage Lessons
Don’t Panic in Conflict We love the song and the scene entitled,”Married Life” in the opening to the movie “Up”. In just under three minutes, Pixar beautifully captures Carl and Ellie’s married life with all the joys, hardships, and sorrows of marriage. When Forrest and I first watched the scene while snuggled on our living room couch, we quickly became emotional heaps. At the end, Carl walks into his home all alone, Forrest whispered to me while choking back tears, “Marry me?” Tears flowed down my cheeks, “Yes, I’ll marry you again…. and again.” There is something special about marital love that outlasts all life’s ups and downs. However, omitted from the “Married Life” scene was Carl and Ellie’s marital discord. How do I know Carl and Ellie had marital friction? Everyone who is married experiences disharmony. After all, Paul warns us in1 Corinthians 7:28 that married couples will have trouble. Not many have that marriage scripture embossed on their wedding invitations or cross-stitched on a home decoration. And yet, it is a promised feature of marriage. Why should we be shocked when disagreements and conflict come our way?
During our pre- marriage counseling, our pastor’s wife gave us the best analogy about weathering the storms of marital friction. She said, “You know what it feels like to have the flu? You feel miserable, and it feels like it will never go away. It may even feel permanent. But it’s not. You do get better if you apply the right medicine and give yourself time to heal. It’s the same with conflict in marriage. You may feel it’s going to last forever, but it doesn’t, not if you apply the right medicine and just give it time. I know you two are in love, but there will be days when you really don’t like each other. I just want you to know it’s normal.” Happily ever after includes times of conflict. Don’t panic.
Don’t Go to Bed Angry This lesson is personal, and it is foundational to our marriage. Forrest’s first wife and he held fast this principle. They agreed never to go to bed with unresolved conflict. Their code words were; I love you before they went to sleep. If they both said it, it meant that there were no outstanding conflicts. He will tell you there were a few long nights that they spent working things out before exchanging the words, “I love You.” Seven years into their wonderful marriage, his first wife unexpectedly passed away in her sleep from an undetected heart anomaly. Her last words were- I love you. He treasured those words, knowing that there were no conflicts between them. I can’t tell you how this helped Forrest through his journey of grief. Forrest and I adopted this principle in our own marriage. Yes, we have had some long nights too. Love is caring enough to bring up matters that divide us, no matter how large or how small. In fact, it’s usually the smaller matters which stack up that cause more trouble than the larger matters. We really do try to attend to all of them. And every night we say, “I love you” and follow it up with a good night kiss.
Make Enjoyable Memories Sometimes life has a way of making sour memories. We learned to override the bitter situations in life with wonderful memories. I guess this also stems from Forrest’s first wife passing. Memories are what survives. We pass our love to the next generation through the memories we create. It’s those memories that bind us closer as a couple and as a family. Years ago, Forrest and I were walking through one of the toughest trials of our lives. For weeks, we lived and breathed unrelenting distress. We made daily visits to a hospital located an hour from our home. On one occasion, unbeknownst to me, Forrest packed a picnic dinner. After the nightly hospital visit, he brought me to one of our favorite lakes and we shared the picnic dinner. From what I can remember, we sat in grief-filled silence and watched the sunset together. When I look back on that trial, do you know what memory comes to mind first? Yes, that picnic dinner. The memory he created replaced the heartache of the trial. “What can we do to create a memory?” is a prime question in our relationship.
Put it to the “Rocking Chair Test” Forrest and I have learned to put our decisions to the Rocking Chair Test. The Rocking Chair Test goes like this…We fast forward our lives to when we are old and without strength, to a time when we are sitting in our rocking chairs reflecting on life. Then we ask ourselves, will we regret doing or not doing ___________? (You fill in the blank). This lesson came about from my experience as a nurse listening to the heart of a patient who was near the end of his life. He poured out regret after regret just days before his passing. The sound of his voice filled with anger and bitterness has never left me. I never want to be filled with that kind of regret. This test has led us to great conversations as we try to sort out priorities in different situations. It has enabled us to see each other’s heart and has deepened our understanding of each other’s passions. “How would you answer the Rocking Chair Test question?” is another question we often ask each other.
Keep My Side of the Street Clean I love this phrase. It was given to us by some very dear friends who, early in their marriage, survived an adulterous affair. Now they thrive in marriage ministry leadership, teaching and serving hundreds of couples. It was a privilege to sit under their teaching. They taught us to keep my side of the street clean, which means to work on yourself and not your spouse. They openly shared how each contributed to the adulterous sin and how victory came through each of them personally submitting to the Lord and taking responsibility to keep their side of the street clean. Listening to their story made us realize that our character, our personal anxieties, our expectations, and our issues have a huge impact on our marriage, more than we care to realize. Forrest and I are different, and we grow at different rates. There are some things that he is stronger in and I am weaker and vice versa. We allow each other the grace to grow in the Lord. We help each other out with exchanging prayer requests and offering a listening ear. We respect each other’s personal journey of transformation into the image of Christ.
Laugh…A Lot As I am writing this, Forrest is chasing our Basset Hound (AKA: Captain Knucklehead) around the table like a little boy! He makes me laugh. We make each other laugh. Sometimes we laugh instead of cry. We laugh at the smallest things. We laugh with each other and even at each other. Like the time I was diapering our beautiful infant daughter, and she blasted poop all over me and the wall. I yelled for help. My husband came running into the room, took one look and left. “Where are you going? I need a washcloth! ” I shouted. He returned with a tape measure, not a washcloth,…. a tape measure. While I was still covered with infant poop and trying to prevent a wiggly baby from making more of a mess, my darling husband began measuring the poop-distance and bragging about his amazing daughter’s skill set. We still laugh about that one. Laughter is a wonderful stress reliever! It helps us weather some pretty tough storms as well as get through the average day.
Learn From Great Marriages Forrest and I have been blessed with wonderful marriage mentors through the years. Both sets of parents have each celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversaries and continue to add their golden years. We are also blessed to be surrounded by other marriage ministry leaders that we dearly call our friends. Each couple’s marriage offers our marriage a different viewpoint. We have greatly benefited from watching their examples. Hearing how others solved marital issues has really helped us shape our own style of conflict resolution.
Cultivate Great Marital Sex When we married, we agreed that no one else in the world will meet this need but each other. We defined our marital purity. Sexual thoughts are reserved for each other. Emotional needs for love and affection are met in each other’s arms. We protect our marriage with a fortified wall against temptation that includes refraining from movies, books, magazines, music that could harm our marriage. We will not be alone with another man or woman, not even for ministry. We each have complete access to each other’s social media, email, personal computer history, and phone accounts. Sadly, we have witnessed first-hand the devastating effects that occur when couples don’t dedicate themselves to marital purity. Serving in marriage ministry opened our eyes to pay very close attention to this part of our relationship. Over the years, our commitment to marital purity has created a beautiful space to enjoy sex as God intended. We bring our sexy selves to our marriage bed and make sure we enjoy each other’s pleasure often. As the lady of this relationship, there are times I may not “feel” like it, but I have learned that I always feel better after saying yes. (wink -wink)
Collect Marriage Tools We have been so blessed with excellent marriage education. Every pin on the HTHL Marriage Helps Pinterest Board is a class, curriculum, book, or conference that gave us many great marriage tools. Some of the pins are excellent resources for troubled marriages that we have used to help other couples in marriage ministry. We have also been blessed to learn from some of the most influential teachers of our generation, such as James Dobson, Dennis Rainey, and Emerson Eggerich. We both agree; we can’t have too many tools! In all honesty, I don’t know where we would be without this wealth of marriage teaching. Each year, we continue to stock our marriage tool chest with solid Biblical marriage teaching. Our latest is a study we just started called, Marriage: Built to Last by Chip Ingram. Can’t wait!
Get Away When we don’t have time together, you can set your watch; we will be arguing very soon. Dating each other once a week and going away for a personal marriage retreat weekend has been invaluable to us. When the children were young, our dates were in front of a fireplace with a bowl of popcorn after the kids went to bed. When we were strapped financially, our dates were at McDonald’s splitting a Diet Coke. Yes, we have had to say no to other things in order to make date night a priority. Regularly removing ourselves from the routines of life, and spending unhurried time with each other has cut down on squabbles.
Pray During Conflict We will never forget the day we learned this lesson. We were at a stalemate, and we both were holding to our positions strongly. The tension and hurt feelings were mounting like an ever growing snowball rolling down a hill. We stood on opposite sides of our bedroom with arms folded. Forrest walked over to me and confessed, “I don’t know what to do, but I do know I love you. Let’s pray.” You could feel the strain of our relationship in our clasped hands. At first, the hurts intensified as we began to pray. And then as we continued to take turns placing our anxieties, and concerns before our heavenly Father’s throne, the tightness in both our stances relaxed. We did not have immediate answers to our conflict. God needed our hearts united before He could give us answers. These days, we are quicker to go to the Prince of Peace in matters of conflict.
There is no “Best-Ever Marriage” recipe, do these five steps and presto, and you will have a perfect marriage. We are all so different, and life is filled with too many variables to put marriage advice into a “quick and easy” recipe. Successful marriages need a husband and wife who are patient enough to learn and grow together over time. They are willing to remain teachable. They don’t jump ship when it gets hard, but they realize treasures await when they grab each other’s hands and say to each other before God, “Let’s learn together.”
The tagline for Here to Help Learning is “The love of learning starts at home.” Maybe our marriage tagline should say “Our love in marriage grows when we are willing to learn.”
From Our Home to Yours,