Marriage Predictors pt. 2 – Respect

Want to know where a couple is heading? Look at how they treat each other. Listen to how they talk with each other. Especially when they are working on something or when they are (even slightly) stressed. You can tell quickly whether they respect each other or not. We’ve all been to the party and been embarrassed at the couple who argued, didn’t trust the other, criticized publicly, acted selfishly for all to see, didn’t open a door, didn’t help when the other needed it, etc. And we’ve all cringed. Couples that don’t respect each other are on a dangerous downward spiral that is very, very difficult to pull out of.

How we treat the other on the outside speaks volumes about how we feel on the inside. And if we don’t treat the one we love the most with respect…

Respect isn’t just something the other person earns. It is something we offer. And it isn’t something that magically appears. It must be cultivated. With our words. With our willing submission (putting their needs and wants above our own) to the other. We choose to respect our spouse. Or not. It is a pattern of interacting, a lifestyle and not a one time thing. It shows up in our words, our self-restraint, our body language. And practicing it is almost never convenient. It can take effort sometimes. Serious, intentional effort. 

Because on our own, we lean towards selfishness, towards an inward focus. And it seems to me that on our own, we also tend to grow to in contempt of that which becomes familiar.  I’ve seen this among many married people. As they walk through the challenges that life throws at them and their spouse makes mistakes (as we all do), they choose to remember rather than forgive. They make the choice to see the worst in their spouse, rather than the best. They choose not to see the person their husband or wife could be, but  rather focus on the person they were.

Respect seems to have a link to believing in the future version of the person you are interacting with. It says, “I will treat you as I see you could be, not necessarily as you are”.  And one of the amazing things about believing in the future version of someone? It helps them to become that very person.

Respect is so hard to reclaim once patterns of disrespect are set too. Feelings get hurt, emotional bruises form and they get pushed on over and over. People wince when they are in pain. And often disrespect is  a form of relational wincing. Respect is much easier to develop in new couples who still have the extra energy of young love  and the chemical charge of lots of physical interaction (i.e. sex) without some of the exhausting life stressors that come later in life.

But if you’ve ever seen an older couple, who have been in love for decades, who have obviously learned to talk and interact with each other respectfully…it is breathtaking isn’t it?

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Marriage Predictors pt. 1

So, I just passed 16, count ’em, 16 years of marriage this fall! And the universal consensus is that I got a good one in Jeff. He is a wonderful husband and I am so grateful we are still best friends, still in love and still have lots of dreams of things we want to do and accomplish together as long as God gives us breath.

My man and me having fun in Gatlinburg last year.

While I would in no way claim to be an expert on marriage, I am nonetheless an experienced married person. And like most married people, I have opinions. (If there are any of you married-more than 25+ years reading this, please try not to chuckle.)

Surprisingly though, my thoughts aren’t centering around what practices and behaviors married people should incorporate into their lives. Instead,  because Jeff and I are passionate university student workers, I am thinking about what still-dating, engaged or recently-married couples can do in order to grow the type of marriage they want. In other words, my thoughts on marriage are something like this, “It is easier to build something right the first time then to try and repair it later.”

I read the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell a while back. Fascinating read. He studied and wrote about a particular researcher who claimed he could predict within 10 minutes of meeting a couple, with astounding statistical accuracy, whether or not their marriage would end in divorce. In other words, there are clues, noticeable ones too that predict relational trajectory: where a couple will end up.  I found the concept to be fascinating, as Jeff and I both have seen couples together and can pretty much instantly tell something of the quality of their relationship. You can too I suspect.

So I want to write a few blog entries in the coming weeks about what I’ll call “marriage predictors” – those character qualities, behavior patterns and practices that young couples integrate into their marriage, either on purpose or accident. And like road signs, they tell us all where the relationship is heading. They predict trajectory. Either to greater intimacy, trust, friendship, affection, commitment, togetherness, mutual sanctification and spiritual maturity – or to separation, whether physically or emotionally. There are lots of couples out there who might still live under the same roof and might even share the same bed, but who are already single people again in their hearts. I find this incredibly sad.

I hope you will come along and contribute to the discussion.

Dangerous Times

Proverbs 15:22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 27:12 The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.

My dad, who was both a fixed wing and helicopter pilot in the army, once told me something very interesting about pilots. He told me that the most dangerous time for a pilot, that season of their professional lives when they are most likely to have a flight accident is not during the first few years out of flight school, when they are young and inexperienced. And it isn’t during the last few years of their careers, when they are old and perhaps tired or overconfident. The most dangerous time for a pilot is the years in between those two extremes.

My father explained that new pilots are hyper-vigilant, constantly aware of the weight of the responsibility they bear. Younger pilots tend to go to extremes of caution to make up for their lack of experience. They checklist everything, ask for help and keep their eyes wide open for potential mistakes. On the other hand, older pilots have years of flying under their belt. They know the dangers of their field and have probably known pilots who have had accidents. They know how to solve most problems they will face, know when to ask for help and aren’t too proud to do so. They, like their young counterparts, are also statistically safe.

New pilots are cautious. Old pilots are experienced.

The most dangerous pilots are those in between new and old, who are neither cautious nor experienced. These are the pilots who have been flying long enough for the initial fear to wear off, but not long enough to realize they don’t know everything. Lack of caution plus arrogance equals mistakes. And in an airplane, that can be disastrous.

Married people follow the same pattern. Couples are never more aware of the health of their marriage and willing to learn and change than during that first year. And couples who have survived and thrived after decades of marriage obviously understand what it takes to successfully live with and love another person.

It’s those couples in the in-between years who are most often in danger. They have been together long enough to become  comfortable. Over the years, blind spots and tolerance for unhealthy habits form. The edge of fear and newness wears off. At the same time, they’ve been married long enough to feel like they know more about marriage than they actually do. They might even be afraid to ask for help as it would be a sign of weakness.

It appears to me that the same is true of those in the Christian faith. New believers are so passionate, so teachable and so energetic, dying to make their faith work. They ask questions and listen to counsel. And older believers have collected wisdom and experience that both protects and yields fruit in their lives. The ones most in danger are those who have walked with God long enough to think they know something about walking with God, but not long enough to realize that they don’t know much at all. When crises come, they leave too soon, choose poorly and don’t ask for help until it is too late.

The application? Humility and help! Awareness of the reality of my situation and internal condition. Asking people to look at areas of my life, where they might have clearer vision and offer constructive comments. And endurance. Keeping on, doing wise things and being open to learning more, in both my marriage and my faith. I want to make it to those years where I might actually know something about what I’m doing.