If marriage is a font, then ours is a Wingding. My husband Carey and I have tried being something more respectable, like Times New Roman or Courier, but alas, some couples are destined for weirdness.
Before you picture us as The Addams Family, let me assure you that we have a happy, loving marriage. Carey and I have been married for 19 wonderful years—and two more we don’t talk about. We’ve had our fair share of highs and lows, but whatever the circumstances, we’ve tried to have fun together and stand for, not against, each other. Besides the Lord’s grace, laughter has been a key ingredient in our union.
Maybe you’re just starting your matrimonial journey. You’re both full of hope and dreams, with the starry eyes to prove it. Perhaps you’ve been married for decades, and things are beginning to seem a bit…well, stale. Let me encourage you—whatever stage of marriage you’re in--to make each other your first priority (besides the Lord). Determine to be for and not against each other. And don’t forget to have fun along the way.
It takes some creativity and effort, but you can get your smile back…even if, right now, you can’t remember where you put it.
Rehearse a helpful phrase.
Marriage is a melding of two very different cultures. Even if you’ve spent a great deal of time together before getting married, you’ll still have to compromise and accept the ways your spouse is different from you.
Of course, you’ll eventually find new ways of doing things as a couple. But as you join your lives together, practice communicating…a lot. Talk about habits, quirks, traditions, and celebrations. Ask questions before judging or jumping to conclusions.
Also, be willing to compromise and change for the sake of unity. Jesus calls us to sacrifice our own desires and treat our spouse as we would want to be treated.
You might also implement a phrase that has often saved us from plummeting into all-out spousal warfare: “Your way is not worse or better than mine; it’s just different.”
Remember to Fight Fair
Speaking of warfare, becoming one flesh didn't just magnify the blissful parts of being together; it also intensified our differences. He likes all the windows and blinds shut; I love to fling everything open and (sing it with me!) “Let the sunshine in…” That is just one of the hundreds of ways we’re different, because opposites attract.
In relationships, our differences can actually be part of our sanctification. Many times, if something is difficult, it's that way for a reason. God wants to use your union, even with all its speed bumps, to make you both more like him.
One way God did this in our marriage was by helping us learn to fight fair. Even though we had been friends for years and were deeply in love, after we said “I do,” we fought—a lot. Our arguments were loud and abrasive, and they often left both of us emotionally wounded.
Through a lot of trial and error, and the help of wise counselors, Carey and I learned to ask the following questions when conflict happens:
• Are we really listening to each other? Most of the time, we are just trying to get our own point across. It takes intentional, sustained effort, but wecan learn to give our mate the floor and listen to his/her point of view.
• Am I honoring my spouse? There’s a way to disagree/argue so that the other person is not disrespected. If Carey resorts to sarcasm, eye-rolling, or yelling, I will emotionally shut down because I feel belittled. If I dis-respect him, he gets angry, insecure, and defensive.
• Are we actually getting somewhere? As Carey says, “If you just want to let off steam, go for a run. If you’re not learning something about each other or coming up with a game plan, then, as the school crossing guard tells Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom, ‘you’re doing it wrong.’”
Re-boot your perspective.
As comedienne Rita Rudner says, “I love being married. It's so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.”
When you’re dating, your loved one’s quirks are endearing. A few months (weeks?) after the ceremony, those traits become annoying. It’s inevitable…but it doesn’t have to be disastrous.
Many marriages end up like the majority of television couples, in which the wife and husband constantly “dig” at each other about their various faults. I don’t want to have that kind of relationship…and thankfully, neither does Carey.
So, the question is, how can we keep from plummeting down into negativity, especially after several years together? In our experience, we can consistently be FOR--and not against--each other only with supernatural help.
God can give us creative ideas on finding the space and peace we need to thrive. For instance, you might need to have a night out once a month with friends, so you can have space and let your hair down. (One tip: don’t give into the temptation to let the evening turn into a spousal gripe/gossip session.)
One wise mentor advised me to practice seeing my mate as God sees him: a beloved child. (My husband is very Peter Pan-like, so this is easy!) When we re-boot our perspective, we can—almost—see their quirks as endearing once again.
[If you don’t have a partner who shares your faith (and its heavenly priorities), pray on your own, especially for your mate’s spiritual life. Prayers said in faith are never wasted, even if your spouse doesn’t seem to change.]
A positive perspective shift also leaves space and time for God to work. Our spouses are a gift from God, and even on the worst of days, we need to make room for the supernatural in our marriages. He can give us the strength, patience and unconditional love to not only put up with our spouse but to celebrate him or her, with all their unique qualities.
Carey & Dena Dyer have been married nineteen wonderful years—and two more they don’t talk about. They love encouraging other couples that a fun, resilient, and fulfilling marriage is possible. Their own union has experienced ups and downs, but God’s grace is the glue that has held them together. The Dyers are the proud parents of two energetic, creative sons and make their home in Texas.
Publication date: September 7, 2016