Last year I wrote a series on Marriage Predictors – those character qualities, behavior patterns and practices of newer couples that tell us all on the outside where the relationship is heading. It was one of the most read series I’ve ever written. So I wanted to spend some time this winter and revisit the topic for a bit. This winter, I want to write about Healthy Marriage Practices – those character qualities, behavior patterns and practices that build healthy marriages – those things that couples, and not just young ones, with a chance to go the distance do.
For the record, I do not claim to be a marriage expert – just an experienced married person with 17 years behind her. (Yes, you folks who are 25 plus years in can chuckle at me now…)
I am totally admitting to all the dents and dings (and sometimes full-blown crashes) that come from an honest and realistic experience with marriage. Doing it well is not easy. And anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. Of course marriage holds tremendous potential – for joy, intimacy and the most fulfilling human love available to us here on earth. And because it involves letting a fellow sinner in so close to that most sensitive and vulnerable of places – our heart – it holds the potential for betrayal, disappointment and a soul-killing ache so deep it is capable of functionally killing a person – even though they may still be walking around for years afterwards.
In fact, as I’ve gone to a few weddings in the last couple of years, I’m wondering…knowing the work that is ahead of the young couple…knowing how much potential pain lies in the future of two people willing to walk the long path of sacrificially loving the other for a lifetime… knowing something of what it means to say, “for better or for worse…”, I’ve wondered if weddings should be such recklessly happy events. Shouldn’t we older folks be a bit more concerned? Maybe we should sit down with young couples repeatedly beforehand and make sure they understand (as much as a love-struck and relationally inexperienced young 20-something is capable of understanding) that a really great and healthy marriage doesn’t just happen. It is something two people cultivate. It is something they choose to invest in. It is something that requires a relational and character-based skill set, not just a lot of emotion, candles and lingerie and vague optimistic hopes that things will just work out for them somehow.
For the record, lest you think I am a crusty curmudgeon of epic proportions, of course I think weddings and marriages are reasons for celebration. I love almost everything about them. The ecstasy of two people deeply in love and the exuberance of youth thinking, “We can do this!”. The way a groom looks so lovingly at his beautiful bride and the way a bride literally glows in his presence. I weep at pretty much every wedding I go to. Especially when the bride starts walking down the aisle and I flash back to the joy and emotion of my own wedding day. It is indeed cause for some of the greatest celebrations we as humans should share.
Over the years I have walked alongside and in the vicinity of a lot of young and some not-so-young couples as they’ve tried to go the distance together. Some have done well. Some, not so much. And if you know me, you know I ask a lot of questions when given the opportunity to learn something. What follows in the next few posts are partly observations made from the outside. But really, they are things Jeff and I have learned for ourselves as we’ve struggled from the inside, trying to love one another well – and not just maintain, but grow our marriage.