Recently, we were away at the beach to celebrate our anniversary (yeah!!!) and we got to talking about some of the things we wish we had known a lot sooner when it comes to marriage.
You really can’t learn something until you’re ready. But if you’re feeling open, here are a couple of thoughts that weighed big in our story.
- God’s going to use the amazing person you married, not to solve your problems, but to reveal your problems to you. We would put money on this: any argument, challenge or problem you face with your spouse is the best mirror you’re ever going to get into seeing your own issues.
If all you can get clear on is your spouse’s stuff, you’re in an incredible amount of denial. No doubt, your spouse is bringing problems to the dance. We’ve since learned that the goal is to first notice what your spouses’ “issues” stir up in you, then begin to address the crazy things you do to avoid, attack or stonewall the situation.
- You’re going to pass through cycles of feeling bliss and bummed. It’s normal. Every living thing, including marriage, ebbs and flows and there are going to be times when things feel off. This is not the end. You did not marry the wrong person. For all our talk of wanting to be more like Jesus, we forget part of being like Jesus will, sometimes, involve death. His death is one stage of a blueprint for the human journey (and every marriage)
There will be a new day if you stay the course. Stay in solution mode. It’s not about who’s right or who’s wrong but what is the most loving thing to do. There’s going to be far more goodness than gory. Just don’t expect a bunch of cross-less resurrections. It is going to cost you something.
- Conflict is good (as long as it’s not constant.) Don’t fear it. And don’t avoid it. If you do it well, it will increase empathy and intimacy for your spouse. (There’s a reason make up sex seems extra good.) But it can seem like you’ve landed on an alien planet if you never saw your parents argue. (David’s story) Or, it can feel as necessary as brushing your teeth if your family was a war zone. (Caron’s story)
Conflict helps clarify the issues that matter most to you. You voice your needs and desires and hopefully, your spouse is listening and sharing theirs as well. Get a good plan (step by step) for working your way through problems.
Here are the 4 steps we use
A. What I experienced in our conflict was… Don’t use accusatory language toward the other. Just share how you experienced the moment.
B. The story I made up about what you meant and why was…Take a humble posture that demonstrates you really don’t know what they meant or why they did it. But you’re acknowledging that while it was happening, you made up a story about what it meant. You’re not sure if it’s true or not, but it sure did feel like it.
C. How I feel about it… Here is what the conflict and how you expressed it made me feel (ie. Angry, betrayed, confused, hurt, etc.)
D. What would make me feel better is…Here you want to state with simplicity and clarity, what it is they could say or do that could help you feel better NOW, NOT LATER. Some things take days or months to fix or change, but there is always something that can be done right now.
But, if the argument is always another version of the same, it’s time to call in outside help.
- Invest $ in a good counselor. Jewelry, houses, and vacations are nice but good counseling is the best money you will ever spend on each other. Making an appointment is not declaring, “Our marriage is a failure.” Nor is it the first step toward divorce (unless you wait too long to go.) Some of us balk at the thought of asking for help when we think we should already know how to handle something.
For some, seeing a counselor feels like going to the principal’s office. (Caron’s story) Church leaders especially might think, “People come to us for help. We know how to handle these situations.” (Our story) But, we’re too close to our own issues. We need someone skilled and objective to help figure things out.
You don’t think twice about taking your car or your body for a diagnosis if something’s out of kilter. None of us breeze into marriage as relationship experts. And every relationship is unique. It needs individualized support. Here’s our rule for seeking counsel: If one of us says more than once, “We’re getting nowhere on this, we really need to talk with someone,” that’s the sign to make an appointment.
***If your spouse is asking that you both see someone, do it now. Things may be more desperate than you realize. Ask people you trust for recommendations. You may need to see more than one counselor to find a fit. That’s normal. Look for someone with a solid track record of satisfied results.
- You think you’ve married this incredible person because you’re crazy in love but part of what you think is “love” is your ego has found a perfect person to collude with. Our shadow self/ ego subconsciously looks for people/organizations, etc. to help it succeed at whatever it deems important at the time. Say, accomplishing great things for God is one of those “important things” for you. Your internal radar is going to seek out and land on someone that can best make that happen for you. (Our story)
Maybe you were attracted to this great, goal-oriented person, but, over time, your visions exhaust each other and pretty soon you’re on track to blow the whole thing up. Or, maybe your ego is looking to feel secure and it lands on a stable, steady person who, eventually, becomes too boring or predictable for you.
How might you and your spouse have subconsciously colluded, without realizing it, and how much pressure, if any, might that be putting on your relationship now?
- Learn your attachment patterns and “the dance” they create in your relationship. Each spouse comes into the marriage with attachment patterns and, if yours is anything like our experience, this unseen stance is behind about 75% of the trouble between you. Nobody tells you about this. But it’s a huge factor in happiness. Your coupling patterns were set in childhood where you learned how to best maneuver yourself safely in relationship to your first caregivers.
A typical way this pattern shows up in marriage is where one spouse feels the need for connection and the other feels more independent. (Our story) Or, one spouse pulls the other close one minute, then pushes them away the next. Or, both spouses are independent and have a hard time getting emotionally close. How spouses move toward or away from each other, in times of stress, is the “dance” that reveals their attachment patterns.
You can learn to adapt your natural pattern to be more compatible as spouses, but, you might need a professional to help sort it out. Once we figured out our pattern and began watching how we acted it out, we raised the harmony in our relationship overnight!
- Not only is your spouse, not all you thought they’d be, turns out, but you also aren’t all you thought you were either. Probably, the most profound tool to impact our relationship is the Enneagram. We were so massively helped by this unique understanding of personality differences that we became certified Enneagram coaches.
If you’ve been under a rock lately, the Enneagram is an ancient personality assessment that helps identify both your unique gifts and reoccurring challenges. We regularly use this tool with couples, pastors and their teams. In the Christian faith, God-awareness has been taught as the ultimate goal.
But, how many people do you know with fantastic God-awareness but failed relationships and terrible people skills? We learned (the hard way) that if God-awareness is not also merged with self-awareness, under stress, there will be unhelpful, compulsive behaviors and spiritual transformation will not be easily sustained.
We knew all along we weren’t perfect, but until we discovered our Enneagram styles, we couldn’t track the habitual patterns that kept tripping us up. One of the saving graces at the height of our marriage crisis was working with trained Enneagram specialists each week for over a year.
These days the understanding of our Enneagram gifts and proclivities gives us much greater compassion and empathy for each other which translates into a much richer and contented relationship. We literally use this tool every day!
To get more on the Enneagram here’s a link to our free pdf. We also recommend Ian Crons book The Road Back to You or for a more in-depth study we like Richard Rohr’s The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective and also The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher L. Heuertz .
Decades in, after everything you’ve been through together,
we are thrilled to report, it’s actually possible to be happier,
at greater peace, feel more connected & ecstatically in love
almost every day of the week.
Cheers to you and your spouse and our prayers for a glorious life together~
David & Caron