Go ahead. Admit it. Your marriage isn’t everything you expected it to be, is it? But that’s okay. That doesn’t mean it can’t someday be all that you hoped it would.

We all enter a relationship – or marriage – with a pie-in-the-sky dream of what it will be like.  Then we find we married someone who was more different from us than we thought.  But marriage isn’t about the final destination – the happily ever after with the person of our dreams. It’s about the journey – getting there, walking together, enjoying the adventure en route to our final destination: a true sense of oneness with the other.  

We’ve noticed through the years that walking together as a couple is a lot like flying together. There are certain things you must do as you walk aboard that aircraft and commit yourself to the flight, and many of them are the same things you must do as you walk down the aisle and commit yourself to one another in marriage.

Like air travel, living life with another person is all about making adjustments, dealing with delays, realizing you’re not in control, and having to  -- at times – make the best of it, so you truly enjoy the journey. We have been married long enough to be able to say that life with the opposite sex is certainly not predictable or routine. With all the flying we have done, we’ve learned to laugh at incidents that should be predictable by now (delays, missed connections, lost luggage, annoying seat partners, and so on). 

Having been married more than 20 years, and having counseled many other couples over that time, we have yet to see a marriage that runs like a routine flight – exactly as planned. We both have flown often and have seen that marriage, like air travel, can be as enjoyable or as miserable as we choose to see it.

In spite of unexpected delays (when it comes to having children, buying a house or achieving a dream, missed flights (or promotions or vacations), and  unexpected turbulence (who expects those bumps and dips in marriage, anyway?), marriage can be a wonderful trip if you’re prepared and you go with the flow. We don’t try to jump off the plane when there’s a problem (that would be suicide), rather we’re committed to sticking to it in this God-ordained union. So if you long for your marriage to be a pleasant experience (and who doesn’t?) and you want to enjoy the trip (and marriage is a trip, alright!), then buckle up, pay attention to the emergency instructions and sit back and enjoy the flight. Marriage, like an airplane, is not an end in itself but a vehicle through which you arrive at your Final Destination: A greater sense of oneness.

Here are some guidelines that we’ve learned through the years to help you make sure you enjoy the journey:

1.      Remember You’re in it for the Long Haul

Marriage really is designed to be forever.  The problem is that we live in a society that doesn’t know what forever means anymore. Hopefully, your vows were the traditional ones that had meaning to them: “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part.” That means forever… while you’re both on this earth.  Knowing you and your spouse are committed until your dying day will save you from some disasters that might seem bigger than they really are.

There were times, early in our marriage, when Cindi would fear that it was over (or I didn’t love her anymore) because I (Hugh) was upset over something that had nothing at all to do with her.  I would have to remind her that my “‘til death do us part’” was sincere and I wasn’t planning on either of us dying anytime soon!  Just like when you’re on a flight, you can’t get up in the middle of the trip and demand that the pilot turn the airplane around or tell him to land in a different location.  (Yikes! They arrest people for stuff like that!). You’re committed for the duration of the flight – bad company, turbulence, little leg room, bad food (or in some cases no food) and all. Realize you’re in your marriage for the long haul and it will help when you are struck with panic mode.

2.      Receive Help Along the Way

Once you get onboard a flight, you are putting your trip – and very life – into the hands of a skilled, capable pilot. Whether you acknowledge personal trust or confidence in the Pilot or not, He is still the one getting you where you need to go. In addition, there are skilled flight attendants on your flight who know far more about flying than you do. When it comes to your marriage, your relationship is in God’s hands whether you realize it or not. He’s the Pilot and He knows where you’re going and He is the Only One who can truly get you there.

In addition, He has strategically placed certain skilled couples or individuals in your life who may know more about marriage than you and your spouse. Take advantage of their experience. Heed their advice when it comes to what might make your trip more enjoyable. Be willing to accept help and even ask for it when you need it. They, too, want your experience to be an enjoyable and successful one. It’s those kind of people in your life – your pastor, your friends, your parents, a mentor couple in your church, that couple who is evidently so “in love” after all these years -- that you need to turn to and ask for assistance. There’s a reason they are on the same journey that you are taking and headed in the same direction.

3.      Handle the Take-offs and Landings Carefully  

The two most dangerous segments of any airline flight are the take off and the landing. And how well you get started and how well you finish are the two most crucial steps in a marriage, as well. For some of you, it might seem a little late to think about “starting well.”  But the beauty of marriage is that every day can be a fresh start. Every morning, as you greet your husband or wife with a hug or kiss, you can be ensuring that it’s a good take-off. And every night, as you fall off to sleep together – or touch base on the phone if you’re apart – you can make sure it’s a good landing.

Remember, it’s the choices you make every day during the sometimes monotonous moments of your marriage flight that make for the success of the journey. Enjoy the journey. You both know it’s worth it.

February 22, 2011

Cindi and Hugh McMenamin have served actively in ministry together for more than 20 years – he as a senior pastor and she as a pastor’s wife, national speaker and author of several books, including When Women Walk Alone and Women on the Edge. They recently co-authored When Couples Walk Together, of which this article is an excerpt. Hugh and Cindi live in Southern California and have a grown daughter, Dana. For more on their ministry or for free resources on troubleshooting your marriage connection, see www.StrengthForTheSoul.com