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.

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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.)