We’ve all seen those cute older couples — the ones who still laugh together and enjoy each other’s companionship after a lifetime of marriage. And we all hope one day we’ll be like those couples.
I’ve never heard an elderly couple in their golden years say, “Our marriage was easy and required exactly no effort from either of us.”
But I think a lot of people believe marriage should be easy. Sometimes I think my marriage should be easier.
I love what Tim Keller says about this in his book, The Meaning of Marriage:
“I’ve heard (couples) say over and over, ‘Love shouldn’t be this hard; it should come naturally.’ In response, I always say something like, ‘Why believe that? Would someone who wants to play professional baseball say, ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to hit a fastball?’ Would someone who wants to write the greatest American novel of her generation say, ‘It shouldn’t be hard to create believable characters and compelling narrative?’”
No, marriage isn’t easy. Heaping amounts of love, forgiveness, grace, humility, service and sacrifice are required.
Action is required.
Marriage, according to the dictionary is a noun – it merely identifies a union or class of people. But marriage is not a motionless noun, but a kinetic verb.
Our marriage isn’t perfect, but we’ve discovered five actions that have greatly enhanced our alliance:
Appreciate your differences – The first time my husband saw me cutting an apple, I vividly remember him saying, “Oh, you cut your apples that way? That’s interesting. I’ve never thought about doing it like that, but I like your approach.” How absolutely refreshing. He could have just as easily said, “No, this is how to cut apples.” Our differences can be a springboard to conflict — an all-out tug-of-war as to who does whatever better. But they don’t have to be.
So what if my husband chooses the long route while driving, when clearly I know the faster way? If I’m wise (and sometimes I’m not) I will take the opportunity to appreciate the scenic route. In marriage, we often let differences divide us. Instead, choose to react in a way that esteems (or at least doesn’t offend) your spouse.
Express love using your spouse’s love language – I highly recommend the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It never occurred to me that people give and receive love in different ways. This book helps readers identify the five primary love languages and which one is spoken by their spouse. It is extremely helpful to express love in a way your spouse understands and receives love. My husband and I have different love languages, so this book has been instrumental in our marriage.
Play on the same team – I have written about our conflict boundaries here, but when a conflict is starting to escalate, we stop the conflict to remind each other that we’re on the same team and that we love each other. And I’m using the married, collective form of “we”. It’s really my husband who reminds us. But details aren’t as important as the core message: We are on the same team and we win and lose together.
Serve your spouse and expect nothing in return – This is self-explanatory, but among the most difficult actions to execute. I once heard a speaker at a marriage conference challenge couples to see who could out-serve the other. A beautiful challenge for sure, but the bigger challenge is serving your spouse with no expectations of him/her. Serving your spouse only when you expect something in return is called manipulation. Serve for the sake of serving.
Turn toward each other in every season – The marriage relationship offers endless opportunities for change. Phases like newlywed, new parent, parents of teens, empty nesters – all are common seasons that bring opportunities for growth, and also strife. Additional seasons like financial failure or prosperity, death of a loved one, parenting a special-needs child, or caring for an aging parent, place added pressure on a marriage. Life throws a lot of challenges at married couples, but you have a choice in every season: turn toward or away from your spouse.
While my husband and I employ the list above, we have mastered none of it. But we know our marriage is elevated when we put action behind good ideas and good intentions.
May you marriage well today.