This month Doug and I will celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. While that may not seem like a lot of time to become an expert on anything, we’ve made a concentrated number of mistakes that, I am sure, have more than doubled our “on the ground” knowledge of what it takes to make a marriage work. We’ve also had some great marriage mentors and successfully married friends with us for the whole of our journey thus far. They’ve helped us to navigate rough waters and to celebrate our sunny moments. What this time has definitely impressed upon us is this: the Hollywood version of marriage perfection does not exist. In fact, many days, marriage proves to be the hardest work you will do all year.
If you want to make your marriage better – or keep a currently thriving marriage on track – you’re going to have to go after it. And I’m not talking about just making sure you’ve got a couple date nights on the calendar each month. When a marriage isn’t functioning properly a date night will only serve as an additional opportunity to throw stones at each other (ahem, I just might be talking from experience!). Going after it involves work that will sometimes have you asking “Can I really do this?” Here’s what we’ve learned about going after it these first seven years . . .
GOING AFTER IT entails knowing what the Word of God says about keeping a marriage running smoothly and growing and then doing what the Word says. Knowing the Word but failing to do the Word will actually hurt a marriage in the long run due to the resulting guilt and feelings of failure that surface when you don’t do what you know you should. Just knowing the Word won’t get the job done. But if you do what it tells you, you will be jaw-droppingly amazed. Just a little respect, a string of kind words or some forgiveness (gasp!) will go a long way. But only if you move those things from your thoughts and into action.
GOING AFTER IT means telling your emotions to take a back seat on a regular basis. Contrary to what some couples emulate or share when it’s testimony time, no one has a perfect, always “in love” marriage. We’re all human and we all have days where we are selfish, angry, spent or tempted. Add to that being in a situation where things don’t seem to be working as they should and you’ve got the perfect recipe for feeling sad, hopeless, disappointed, bitter and/or vengeful in a marriage. Whenever you’re working on an area of life that you find difficult, you should expect that emotions are going to kick up to distract you. Ignore them! If you’re doing what the Word of God tells you to do, the positive emotions will come later. They really will. If you want to see growth and increase in your marriage, you are going to have to plant seeds of truth and pull up the weeds of emotion that threaten your harvest. Only then will you see the fruit that yields those pleasant and warm feelings you’re going for.
GOING AFTER IT means that you don’t hide behind your preferences. Not a good communicator? Get over it. Your marriage requires healthy communication from you. Not good at expressing feelings? Get in touch with your “inner emotive” because it’s likely something your partner needs. Kind of short in the memory department when it comes to important dates or types of gifts someone prefers? Become a list writer. Have an independent streak a mile wide with a pinch of introvert thrown in? It’ll be challenging, but you’re just going to have to shift. The motto is “Whatever it Takes!” Whatever it takes to make the marriage work – within the bounds of the Word of God. You need to be prepared to fight for this thing, whatever the cost. Even if that means changing something about yourself. Sure, your spouse loves you and promises to stay committed to you just as you are. But so does Jesus, and he still asks you to shift every single day. Some of those shifts need to be made for the sake of your marriage.
GOING AFTER IT entails accepting that you will be a different person on the other side of the adjustments marriage requires of you. At the end of the day, what it comes down to is whether you are willing to sacrifice yourself – your habits, your preferences, your expectations – in order to see God do something amazing and supernatural in your marriage. As long as you hang on to yourself, you will have places of struggle in the relationship. But when you release yourself to the process with God, you’ll find that all of this “going after it” business will truly pay off. Then date night can go back to being more of a celebration of each other and less of a repeat of those other, not so fun discussions!