My husband and I celebrate our 16th anniversary this week and every year I’m amazed at how I grow in love for him. I would humbly say that Dustin and I have a wonderful marriage. It’s not perfect and we’ve had our share of trials, but we are still best friends, still committed to each other, and still growing in love. Our relationship was first built on friendship, which helped us lay a solid foundation.
People often will comment to me that we have an easy marriage and that they wish that they could have a marriage like ours. There’s a misconception that good marriages just fall in your lap; that only the “lucky” ones find marital bliss. I do feel very lucky to have found Dustin. We go together like peanut butter and jam, like two peas in a pod, like….soulmates. We really do. I know that this isn’t a reality for everyone and I’m truly not wanting to throw that up in people’s faces. Sometimes, people marry someone who they find out isn’t quite the soulmate they thought they were and they want to jump ship. We can’t look at marriage, though, through Disney lenses. We can’t expect a fairy tale or else.
Behind every good marriage are two people putting in a lot of effort.
In a good marriage, both spouses get up every day and rededicate themselves to each other. It’s not as if they utter, “Today, my darling, I rededicate myself to you!” It’s more a conscience decision to make their marriage a top priority. That means that selfishness, bitterness, resentment, and anger have to be constantly checked. For me, it’s not as if I don’t have selfish tendencies and it’s not as if I don’t succumb to those tendencies at times, but my goal is to work on it every day. What is easy is to give in to ourselves and our selfish desires. It’s easy to hold grudges and withhold forgiveness. It’s easy to get lost in the distractions of daily life: bills, work, raising kids, and errands. It’s easy to go a whole day where hugs, kisses, and positive interactions are in short supply. It’s easy to zone out on our cell phones, T.V.s, and computers.
If we are all being honest, good marriages seem to be rare, which means that they aren’t easy. This doesn’t mean that they are impossible, it just means that it does require effort and we shouldn’t trick ourselves into thinking that a good marriage just kind of happens. Anything that is good, true, and beautiful requires effort. A beautiful cathedral requires effort, but the majestic and splendor of it is worth all the hours of labor. A quality education requires sacrifice, sleepless nights, and massive amounts of study, but the reward of receiving an education is worth it. Raising children to be good human beings characterized by compassion, integrity, and courage requires countless hours of parenting, but it’s worth it. It’s unreasonable to think that a good marriage should require little to no effort.
My brother and his wife, Kim, have a beautiful marriage. They respect each other, encourage each other, support each other and give constantly to each other. They make time for each other. Their loves looks very easy and neither one of them is a hard person to love, but I know that they each work to love each other the best that they can.
In high school, I witnessed several marriages by spending time at friends’ and boyfriends’ houses. Some marriages were downright awful, some seemed so-so, but there was one friend whose parents caught my eye. My friend Rebecca’s parents were so loving towards each other. Her dad was always telling his wife how beautiful she was and at dinner he always told her thank you for preparing the meal. I was always so impressed with his willingness to show her his appreciation for all that she did around the house. At dinner, they held hands while we all said grace and it was so refreshing to see them love each other. I learned from them that I wanted to display affection and appreciation in my marriage for my spouse’s sake, but, also, so that my kids could see their parents love each other well.
Over the past several years, I have watched both my grandmothers give of themselves to my grandfathers with the sacrificial love that we are all called to in the married state. They both took care of my very sick grandfathers. Day in and day out, they lived out the “for worse” part of the vows. Watching their sweethearts succumb to detrimental illnesses had to be extraordinarily hard, but they cared for them until the very end–heartbreaking to watch, but so beautiful, too. There is something about a well-worn love that outshines even the brightest of new loves.
I tell my girls often, “When you choose to marry, your heart shouldn’t be the only thing involved in the decision. Use your mind, too, to think through if this is a good person for you to marry.” So often, we get blinded by looks that we ignore the fact that we may have nothing in common with the person we wish to marry. Numerous marriages are dying a slow death-sometimes a fast one-because the two people are not very compatible.
When my husband and I were going through Engaged Encounter (a pre-marriage course through the Catholic Church) we were shocked by the number of couples that had never discussed important issues. During the weekend course, you and your fiancé are given important marital issues to talk about and discuss, for example, finances, ways to handle conflict, and raising a family. Often times, people discover in this course that their fiancé doesn’t even want to have kids! How can this be the first time this has come up in the relationship? Through this course, some people discover that they may not be ready for marriage or that the person they are engaged to is not a good fit.
But, what do you do if you married someone that you aren’t compatible with and your marriage is not good? What if you and your spouse can’t stand each other? It’s important to remember that loving someone is a choice. You have to make the choice to get up everyday and either give yourself over to the negative feelings or work hard to change that. Loving someone who is difficult takes a lot of will power and fortitude, but it can be done. The biggest and best thing we can do is to start working on ourselves to make sure that we are becoming a better spouse, parent, co-worker, etc. I’ve heard so many people lay all the blame of a dismal marriage at the feet of the other person. That is unfair and not helpful…and untrue. Each person in the marriage must examine themselves and work to fix and control what they can–themselves. The marriage relationship involves two very human people and nobody is so perfect that they don’t need to work on things within themselves.
The Key Elements
I’m one of those people that watches closely and examines things, all the while taking mental notes. These are some things that I’ve found to be key elements in a good marriage.
- The spouses know how to forgive.
- They “play” together. Meaning they laugh together, enjoy learning new things together, and enjoy each other’s company.
- They pray together.
- They date each other; making time to connect is vital.
- They argue with respect. They don’t name call, cuss, or threaten divorce. Disagreements will arise in a marriage, a good couple knows how to argue without belittling each other.
- They show physical affection. They greet each other with a kiss or hug when they get home from work, they sit beside each other, they hold hands, and walk side-by-side. Physical touch doesn’t always have to be sexual.
- They guide instead of nag. My husband is very good at this. If he sees something in me that I need to work on, he gently guides me. Never once in our 16 years has he nagged me about anything.
- They show appreciation for each other and what they each bring to the marriage.
- They don’t talk badly about their spouse behind their backs.
- They put a lot of effort into their marriage even if it looks like it comes easy.
My sister-in-law said that marriage is “about learning to love well.” To do that requires effort, sacrifice, and shedding of bad habits. The story for most people is that they probably haven’t been taught how to love well; there haven’t been a ton of good examples. I don’t think that people who are suffering through a “bad” marriage want it to be that way. I also don’t believe that in every “bad” marriage, both people aren’t putting forth any effort. Sometimes they are trying hard and it’s not producing any results. I, also, realize that sometimes one person is working hard and the other isn’t putting forth any effort. Most of the time, people don’t know how to turn it around and make it good. It is possible, but it first requires a look inside oneself and a honest evaluation of what needs work. Call on God for help. If you ask Him, He will provide you with the sacramental grace to do what needs to be done to turn things around.
*This blog was not written for those in abusive relationships or ones that involve devastating addictions. If you are in one of those kinds of relationships, it may require that you leave for the safety of you and your children. Please seek help if you are in one of these situations.