Landing Well – Healthy Marriage Practices pt. 9

I was talking with another friend who has been married long enough to know. To know how it feels when some of the passion/emotion/sexual tension that drives so much of the early part of a relationship has settled. Not faded. But morphed and matured into grown-up love. Beyond the “We-can’t-keep-our-hands-off-each-other” passion (which certainly is a lot of fun!) or “We-could-stay-up-all-night-talking” excitement of getting to know the other. Those of us who have been around the block a time or two with our spouse have learned through experience that the majority of a marriage relationship is most definitely spent outside of the bedroom. And eventually you come to the place where, when you both are in the bedroom, sometimes (thought not all the time)  you prefer to actually sleep together. I mean, really sleep. With your eyes closed.

I don’t mean to put passion and maturity on opposite sides of a spectrum, because they are most definitely not mutually exclusive. I am trying to contrast how love…grows. And as things age, they look different. Look at your family photos over the years. My kids are not nearly as energetic now as they were at 2 years old. But now, they are certainly better conversationalists, more poised and more fun to take out to a restaurant for family dinners.

My friend was describing a couple she knew who  had just moved out of this first marriage season and were making the transition to the next one. They were growing up. Growing together. She said, poetically and appropriately, “They have landed.”

She wasn’t implying they weren’t still in love, or passionately hot for each other, or that they were now fuddy-duddy old people who ate dinner at 4pm in their pj’s. She was saying that they were in the process of maturing in their relationship together. And they were doing it well.

And it occurred to me that all married couples must make this transition. To grown-up love. To a love that has landed – in reality. Because this is where we have to live.

We don’t live in the world of candlelight dinners and flowers every night. There are dishes and laundry to do, bottoms to wipe, bills to pay, lawns to mow.

My point is that finding love there, in reality, on the ground, rather than floating around in the air where no one can live forever…this is what grown-ups do. This is what makes a marriage so beautiful. Learning to live a real life together. And somehow not lose your affection and passion for the other.

After 17+years of marriage, I’ve found that…

Kisses are much more passionate, not just when driven by hormones, but when accompanied by memories of a lifetime together. Holding hands fully clothed can be powerfully intimate at the graveside of a parent or in the midst of heartbreak and tears. A simple meal can be incredibly romantic when it is shared with the crazy/loud three kids God chose to put in your family – and who don’t want to leave the dinner table because they are enjoying family time so much.

Landing well…staying and growing in love, real love…this is a most healthy marriage practice.

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Looking For The Entrance and Exit Ramps – (Healthy Marriage Practices pt. 7)

Much of marriage is about patterns, about routine, about the”normal” way we go about life and relating – most often, without thinking about it. Sometimes our patterns and routines and “normal” isn’t very healthy. Or, what started out healthy may need adjustment as circumstances change…as personalities naturally drift over the course of the years…as stressors limit emotional availability or escalate tension. Over the years, husbands and wives fall into ruts regarding how they talk to each other, how they show affection, how they problem solve, how they move through life together, etc. Sometimes it works well. Sometimes not so much.

We’ve all had the experience of getting lost in thought while driving and all of a sudden “waking up” and realizing you are somewhere you didn’t plan on going with no idea of how you got there. Doing this while driving is one thing, but doing it while married…how would you like to wake up in the middle of a marital crisis? And no idea how you got there…Yikes! (Yet this is how it usually happens…)

Highways and marriages are similar in that both are going somewhere. Both have natural entrance and exit points, those locations where it is appropriate and easy to get on or get off  in order to change directions, take a break  or begin a new journey.  (I am not talking about places where you can leave the marriage – but places where the marriage can change trajectory and direction. I am writing from the perspective that death is the intended end to a marriage.) Also, while navigating both highways and marriages, it is scarily easy to not pay attention to what you are doing.

A new job, babies, a move, school starts, seasonal changes, health concerns, vacations, buying a house, starting or ending a hobby, finding a new church…All of these are a part of life and all of these mean schedules, priorities and structures change. These can be tremendous opportunities, doors to walk through and shake things up, to alter your direction before arriving at an unwanted destination.

Entrance and exit ramps are transition points. Those places and events where you set your life for acceleration or deceleration. Places to talk. To evaluate. To plan. To do something new. To stop something old.  They are all over the place in life and marriage. If we are looking for them. And open to the possibility that different might be needed.

What if married couples were aware of where their entrance and exit ramps are? What if they planned margins of time within those places to … talk. To communicate with each other and ask really simple but important questions. And to agree to be really honest. To listen really well. Without getting defensive and making excuses. And to do something with what you learn about the other.

How are you doing right now? Really? 

How do you feel our marriage is going? Are you happy with it? Are there things you want to change? Are there things you wish I knew? Are there things you wish I would stop or start doing?

Is there anything I can do to help you more right now, to be more tuned into your world, your needs and the things that are important to you?

Do you feel loved and appreciated? If not, how can I speak my love in your language so you hear it more clearly?

Is there something you are worried about? Afraid of? Enjoying? Use some emotional words and tell me about your heart.

You can come up with even more great discussion starting questions on your own. Google. Books. And, if you are interested in your spouse, your marriage, some questions should just naturally present themselves.

The key is you have to create the space to ask. To listen. To be honest. It can keep you from waking up in an unhealthy marriage with no idea of how it got so sick.

Sometimes Mothers Get Crushed – A Very Non-Traditional, Somber and Almost Dark Mother’s Day Post

I was pulling up in our driveway one morning when I saw her. A large box turtle. Since we all enjoy the ‘wild kingdom’ vibe of our yard, I got out to take a photo of her to show the kids for later.  As I got close I noticed. The left corner of her shell had been crushed. Either Jeff or I had run over her on our way out in the darkness of morning. She was now dead.

To make matters worse, several almost-done, but still intact turtle eggs had spilled out.

It was an accident and accidents happen. Nature is cruel. Things die all the time and it is a part of life. I try to guard my heart with these truths whenever I’m faced with the reality of suffering and death – almost always unsuccessfully, as in this case. I was moved. And so sad. I took some time that morning to talk with God about what I’d seen and why I knew it was important for me to stop and pay attention.

I don’t know how turtles do motherhood. Because they are reptiles, I suspect they aren’t too attentive or affectionate. But this mother, because of events beyond her control, would not be there for her babies. She’d been crushed.

And from what I know of people, this happens to us all the time. Oh, the mother may not literally die, but because of an accident, because of events beyond her control, because of sin – either hers or the effects of someone else’s on her life – she’s had a weight land on her that was too heavy to bear. It left her wounded. Damaged. Unable to fully do what her babies needed her to do. And those babies had to learn to fend for themselves way too early, perpetuating the line of wounded mothers into the next generation.

Surely you’ve seen this. Probably experienced it. A mother… in a painful, loveless or soul-killing marriage. Broken in the separation from a destructive man. Supporting something very unhealthy, addictive or secret, and not knowing any alternative. Enduring a life burden that is too much for one person to hold. Carrying pain in verbal silence but screaming it within the quality of her relationships. Suffering from a crippling depression or physical struggle. Damaged by her mother, who was damaged also. Wearing soul wounds from abuse, words, disappointment, neglect, trauma and all the other things that were never meant to happen to us in Eden.

The children of mothers like this know. Because the weight of it has crushed them too.

We so rarely get the mother we want. We only get the mother we’ve got. Making peace with that is a major passage of life. It is a passage many never make.

Motherhood is etched on the hearts of most women, calling to us in a visceral way we cannot fully explain. Yet it is this dynamic, how our woundedness has the capacity to wound our children, that has the potential to make a day like today, one of sorrow and not joy. Of fear. Of regret – either for our mothers, or for our children.

My greatest motherhood fear is damaging my beloved children with my own damage. If there was ever a reason for me to cling for dear life to my Healer, to my Jesus, surely this is it.

Marriage Predictors pt. 7 – Surviving the “Oh My God, Who Are You And What Did You Do With My Spouse?” Moment

I think there comes a moment in everyone’s marriage – usually early on for those with good communication skills, and later on for those who are better at hiding what is actually going on in their heart (my category, by the way) – where you look at your spouse and wonder, “Oh my God, who are you and what did you do with the person I married?”

I’m not talking about the “you squeeze the toothpaste from the middle” argument, or the classic, “Toilet paper should spin from the top, not the bottom of the roll” disagreement that every newlywed has. I’m talking bigger things today. Like:

When they really lose their temper in front of you for the first time and it makes you afraid. When you realize that thing that didn’t really bother you while you were dating really does bother you now that you live with it, and you awaken to the fact that it isn’t going to change. When you catch them using porn on the internet. When you realize what you thought was a bad habit is actually an addiction. When you get that credit card bill for that thing you can’t afford, didn’t want and now are on the hook for. When something from their past pops up that they didn’t disclose to you before the marriage, or you didn’t fully grasp its ability to affect you, and now it is sitting in your lap. When the emotional baggage from their past won’t be suppressed anymore and you begin to realize just how broken by sin they are, and now they are evolving into someone right before your eyes that you aren’t even sure you recognize. When they make a really stupid or selfish mistake and do something, say something that hurts you so badly, different words enter your vocabulary – like betrayal, abandonment and regret. When you start entertaining those thoughts on “What if…”, when you swore you never would.

(This is a discussion where it is really important to realize that if you are pointing a finger at your spouse, you are also pointing three fingers back at yourself. If you are thinking any of these things, I’m pretty sure your partner is having the similar thoughts about you.)

It is usually at that moment, when the new reality begins to set in, that most people begin thinking “Is this marriage thing really permanent?”

When you marry, in front of God and your family and friends, you make unbreakable vows to each other for this very reason. Because if people could get out of marriage, at some time or another, almost everyone would. Sure, people divorce and move on all the time. But make no mistake, when you break your marriage vows, you also break the people who made them.

The marriage predictor I am talking about today (the character qualities, behavior patterns and practices that bend a relational trajectory towards a loving, stable relationship – or not) is your decision to stand and work and fight for your marriage and not run when this first happens. And I’m pretty sure this moment happens to everyone. Because most of us have bought into the lie that marriage is about making us happy – and when it doesn’t, we begin thinking about how to bail. At some point in the relationship, most likely you will be faced with the temptation to leave – either physically or emotionally. And when you decide to honor your vows, to stay, even when everything in you is screaming, “Get me out of here!”, you set your relationship on a trajectory that leads to a very promising place. 

Learning to do this, early in the marriage, to stay in, all in, both emotionally and physically, is a learned skill. And learning to do it from the get-go…I can’t really think of a stronger predictor of one’s ability to do it later, when the stakes just might get exponentially higher. Committing to the energy it requires to work through those “Oh my God…” moments early on in your marriage teaches you that you can survive them, and that you can work together through whatever will come up later. And just a bit of truth for all the young couples out there…there is always something else that will come up later. And later, it is almost always something much more complicated (which is code for ‘painful’).

So young couples – talk to each other about this. Make it part of your relational vocabulary. And decide together that you both will survive these early challenges and come out on the other side, more invested in and more committed to the success of your marriage than before.

Here is a link to an interview from the world’s oldest living couple, married over 85 years!

(This post isn’t meant as a critique of anyone’s marriage, broken or damaged – it is meant as a springboard for discussion and prayer. I’ve heard from some of my readers that this series has been painful to read. Please know, I totally get how tough marriage is and can be. I am writing from a place of great compassion for you.)