Is 'Happily Ever After' Possible?
- Monday, August 25, 2008
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Robert S. Paul's book, Finding Ever After: A Romantic Adventure for Her, an Adventurous Romance for Him, (Bethany House Publishers, 2007).
You dream of an adventurous and romantic life with your spouse, where the two of you live happily ever after together. But is that dream coming true? If, in reality, your marriage makes you restless and bored, it may feel more like a nightmare than a dream.
No matter how depleted your marriage is of the adventure and romance you crave, you can rejuvenate your marriage and start living your dream. You and your spouse can be the stars of a great love story – one in which you both live happily ever after. Here’s how:
Stop settling for less than the best. Don’t let your responsibilities and routines choke your dreams anymore. Decide that you will pursue your dreams of a fulfilling marriage, no matter what. Ask God to inspire you in fresh ways so that you start to feel vibrantly alive again. Tell God that you want to keep learning and growing, and ask Him to use your marriage as a tool to draw you closer to Him in new ways. Pray for the power you need to overcome fear and break out of complacency so you can move toward a better marriage. Realize that the difficulties you and your spouse are experiencing in your marriage right now don’t disqualify you from living out a great love story. If you work through those difficulties with the right attitudes, you can overcome them, which will actually enrich your love story. You and your spouse can enjoy both adventure and romance, no matter what your circumstances. Awaken to all the possibilities God offers you, and invite Him to do whatever it takes to make your marriage the great love story He intends for it to become.
Pursue adventure. Your marriage should engage both of you in constant adventures. It should be an outward journey that pulls you both out into the world to accomplish shared goals. Ask God to show you what purposes He has for your marriage and what goals you should aim for to create something lasting and magnificent. Consider how you and your spouse can work together to make the world a better place because of your marriage. Pray about specific ways you each can contribute to the world through your marriage. Don’t minimize any opportunities that the Holy Spirit brings to mind; remember that even small adventures together can lead to something truly significant happening.
Pursue romance. Your marriage should engage both of you in constant romance. It should be an inward journey of knowing your spouse and being known yourself. Romance doesn’t have to fade out of your marriage; it only does so when either of you neglect your relationship. You have the power to revive the romance in your marriage at any time. Realize that there’s always something new to learn about your spouse, no matter how long you’ve been married. Make it a high priority to learn more about your spouse each day. Commit to paying close attention to the details of what’s important to your spouse, and value that yourself. Care for your spouse by caring about what matters to him or her. Seek to connect deeply with your spouse, and look forward to sharing new experiences with your spouse each day.
Develop your sense of adventure and romance fully. Although both an adventurer and a romantic are inside each person, you likely have developed one orientation more than the other. Decide to build your underdeveloped side, so you can connect with your spouse in mutually fulfilling ways. If you’re a natural adventurer who needs to develop more of a romantic side, practice pausing in the middle of what you do throughout the day and reflect on the significance of your activities. Learn how to enjoy each moment instead of just going through it. If you’re a natural romantic who needs to develop more of an adventurous side, look beyond the personal enjoyment you derive from your relationships to consider what you can accomplish through them. Pray for a clear sense of your purpose in life, as well as what steps of faith you can take to fulfill that purpose.
Become allies. Recognize the value of the differences between you and your spouse. Learn how to use your differences to complement each other rather than fighting against them. Your spouse’s differences don’t have to irritate you; they can create and sustain interest that motivates you to keep learning more about your spouse. You and your spouse are each still distinctly unique people, but when you become one in marriage you unify your purpose so you can each work toward the same goals as two different and whole people (not two halves of the same person). Create a marriage that gives you both plenty of room to be yourselves and act together as equal partners. Realize that you’re on the same team, and because of that, the decisions you each make will impact both of you. You must win or lose together – not separately. Don’t ever allow yourself to view your spouse as an adversary; he or she must always be on your team. It’s simply not acceptable for one of you to make a decision with which the other one doesn’t agree. If one of you feels defeated, you both lose. Commit to doing whatever it takes to find win-win solutions to the issues you face. Don’t try to talk your spouse into anything that he or she doesn’t like. Decide that either it works for your spouse, or it doesn’t work for you. When you’re committed to winning together, you invite God to bring you into a greater unity that you could ever achieve through your own efforts.
Make your marriage a safe place. It’s crucial for your marriage to be completely secure – emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically – for you to be able to enjoy a trusting, intimate relationship. Commit to making your marriage a safe place you both can turn to for refuge from whatever crazy circumstances you might encounter. Banish judgment, criticism, rejection, withdrawal, indifference, and other negative attitudes from your marriage. Choose to care more about your spouse than you do about getting what you want from him or her. Aim to have your spouse see you as a protector instead of as a threat. Realize that if your spouse is confident that he or she won’t get hurt around you, he or she will likely be open and relaxed – which will create an intimate connection between the two of you. Whenever you damage the feeling of safety in your marriage, expect it to take lots of time and effort to repair. Do whatever you can to value and attend to both your own heart and your spouse’s heart to build and maintain a truly caring relationship.
Let intrigue lead you to exciting discoveries. The secret to continuing to be fascinated by your spouse is to keep discovering something new about him or her. Learn how to ask thoughtful questions on a regular basis and follow your curiosity to fresh insights into your spouse. Aim to deepen your relationship every day through what you learn about each other. Whenever you’re confused about something, dig deeper by asking more questions rather than giving up. Recognize the value of unanswered questions to lead you into the mystery that lies at the heart of faith. Try to empathize with your spouse to understand his or her perspective on situations and feel what he or she is feeling. Don’t interrogate your spouse in order to try to change him or her. Make sure that the questions you ask your spouse don’t have any agenda behind them other than trying to get to know him or her more and build a better marriage.
Speak “Heart Talk.” Whenever either you or your spouse is experiencing strong emotions (either positive or negative), talk about the issue in a way that cares of each other’s hearts. Take turns being a speaker and a listener. Follow the “ICU” model: Identify the feelings of the speaker; Care about those feelings; Understand those feelings. Switch speaking and listening roles only when the speaker feels understood and the listener thinks he or she understands. Even if you don’t agree with what your spouse communicates to you, be sure to validate it by saying that you care about what he or she has shared.
Dream together. Review some of the dreams you and your spouse had when you first got married, and revive ones that have faded over time but that you can still pursue now. Aim high! Pray about your dreams, asking God to help you discern which align with His will. Instead of dreaming just for yourself separately, join your dreams to your spouse’s dreams and envision how the dreams you both dream can come true together. Share and solidify your mutual desires, core values, and priorities. Cultivate a shared sense of mission together, and base your priorities on it rather than allowing circumstances to determine your priorities. Write down a marriage mission statement that clearly expresses your shared mission. Agree on common goals for your marriage, and pursue them. When some dreams die, dare to dream new ones. Keep dreaming across your whole lifetimes, so you’ll keep growing together.
Be an investor instead of a consumer. Rather than gauging your marriage by what you and your spouse are getting out of it, gauge it by how much you’re contributing to it. Take the long-range view, being willing to work to build and grow assets over time. Stay committed to your marriage and your spouse, consistently investing your time, attention, energy, love, and care. Understand that, while it’s great when your investment pays big dividends, they’re just a byproduct. Your success should be defined by whether a loving relationship is developing and whether you and your spouse’s goals and mission are being accomplished. Examine your expectations periodically, asking yourself what sort of returns you’re really looking for, and why. Recognize that your marriage has eternal value, and consider who your marriage is contributing to God’s kingdom. Keep in mind that it can grow into something awesome if you and your spouse consistently invest in it.
Work together to help make your dreams come true. Focus on pursuing just one dream at a time. Begin with the end in mind. Develop a plan. Agree to be accountable to each other. Remain flexible. Allow for trial and error. Accept disappointments when they come.
Deal with conflict well. Commit to finding a solution you both like – where neither you nor your spouse loses. Make time to understand each other’s thoughts and feelings on the issue. Pause and pray to seek God’s guidance. Brainstorm ideas, find one you both like, try it out, and rework your solution if necessary.
Become playmates. Make time regularly to play together. Build fun, laughter, and relaxation into your marriage so you’ll have a positive foundation of emotional well-being to stand on when you encounter tough times. Ask God to help you learn to be fully present in each moment and enjoy it fully. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be creative when planning ways to have fun with your spouse on a regular basis.
Adapted from Finding Ever After: A Romantic Adventure for Her, an Adventurous Romance for Him, copyright 2007 by Dr. Robert S. Paul with Donna K. Wallace. Published by Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Bloomington, Mn., www.bethanyhouse.com.
Robert S. Paul, co-president and CEO of the National Institute of Marriage (www.nationalmarriage.com) is a seasoned therapist, author, and collaborative author of the bestselling The DNA of Relationships with Gary and Greg Smalley, as well as The DNA of Relationships for Couples with Greg Smalley. Bob speaks at marriage and professional conferences nationwide and is a frequent guest on syndicated radio and television broadcasts. He has a master’s degree from Georgia State, a diploma in Christian counseling, and an honorary doctorate from Psychological Studies Institute. Bob formerly taught at Evangel University. He and his wife, Jenni, have four children and live in Branson, Missouri.
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