Here is the latest Coffee & Pearls Podcast:
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My husband and I feel blessed that we both come from divorced parents because without that, we probably wouldn’t have worked so hard to learn about marriage in the first place. There was no doubt in our minds the day we got married, that we had no idea what we were doing. We had no role models. We had no examples to follow. We were flying blind. But knowing that gives you the freedom to ask questions.
We set out immediately and bought books. We read them to try and figure out what the heck this lifelong commitment based on Jesus was supposed to look like. We knew from day one that we had to fight to keep this thing together and that it was going to be hard. Everyone knows it’s going to be hard. But we really had no idea what exactly…. Was going to be hard.
It didn’t take long for us to figure that out. After getting pregnant on our honeymoon, our relationship immediately started to change. I had intended to go back to work but now it didn’t make much sense to get a job only to turn around and leave it. We both wanted me to stay home with our kids so I ended up being hormonal and bored for 9 months.
My poor husband would come from work to a crazy lady and I’m pretty sure in those months we were both asking ourselves, “Is this hard because of pregnancy or is this hard because I can’t stand the person I just married?”
Now of course there were lots of good times too but no one really prepares you for thinking, “What if I never want to hang out with this guy ever again?” In those first months I never really knew what was crazy hormones talking or what I actually thought about this new NEVER ENDING, I’M STUCK HERE FOREVER relationship.
The good news is, I’ve now been pregnant many times and a lot of those feelings were, in fact, just crazy pregnancy hormones. I also see that there were many communication growing pains we needed to experience as we adjusted to living permanently with another adult who happened to be a different gender.
It took us a few years to figure out the little things that we just plain felt differently about. Some of them were small, like I enjoy sitting around Saturday morning drinking coffee while my husband wants to eat breakfast at 7 and dive into weekend chores. Some things were bigger like how we felt about disciplining children or which parish we were going to attend.
If you stopped me today and asked me if I had a good marriage, I’d say oh yeah! We love each other, we have very similar values, we have great communication and we make a good team. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t touched the darkness.
That’s what my husband and I call it, the darkness. Those moments when things are awful. When you can’t stand the person for a few minutes or a few days or weeks. When you think, “How am I going to stand being married forever?”
We usually experience some bout of the darkness in the 8 weeks after having a new baby. Sleep deprivation does some crazy things. Now we’ve just learned to acknowledge it. With this last baby, while I was in early labor, I said, “Honey, the next 8 weeks are going to be really hard for us but no matter how crazy we get, and how dark the darkness feels, know that I love you and we’ll make it to the other side!” And my husband laughed because he knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Knowing about the darkness doesn’t excuse bad behavior. When you’re mean to your spouse either through yelling or freezing them out, they deserve an apology. A real one. Not a pouty, over the shoulder sarcastic one. They deserve you asking for forgiveness.
And oh man is this hard. It’s hard to still feel in your mind that you’re RIGHT about something but to know that you were a big jerkface about how you handled the situation so you have to apologize and ask for forgiveness without using the word BUT and interjecting all your justifications for your bad behavior.
I share these things with you because no one told me about all the ugly things I would think and feel about my husband and explain to me that they would pass. Things would be great again. We’d grow and sometimes that growth would be painful but we’d always come out stronger.
I knew marriage was going to be hard but I wasn’t prepared for all the small ways it was going to be hard. The many times I’d have to bite my tongue, forgive my husband and love him through his own weaknesses. The many times he’d have to do the same for me and the shame and guilt I’d feel after acting like a pouty teenager.
But we won’t give up. We want to be married as long as we’re alive and we want to have a great marriage. We’re not even entirely sure what that looks like but we know we’ve got a ways to go to reach it. We’re constantly working on this even when other things seem more important because it’s really difficult to make progress in your life if you don’t have a strong marriage.
In our quest to have a strong marriage, we read a lot of books and then compiled the best ideas from those books into a marriage rubric so we could check in with each other about how we felt our marriage was doing. I’m not sure if this would work for anyone else, everyone’s marriage is so different, but this is what we use and I wanted to share it with you. At the end of this article, I’ll link those books. So here it is:
Measuring Our Marriage
- Separated – You and your spouse are not currently living together
- Separated but Together – You still live together but you are angry or stone walling your spouse by freezing them out
- Uneasy Truce – You’ve decided to stay together and you’ve called a truce but there are little to no feelings of warmth there
- Moments of Warmth – Things are still rough but there are moments of warmth with your spouse that give you hope. Here you are more glad that you’re married than not.
- You’re Trying – You are putting forward effort to love your spouse even if you’re just going through the motions. You’re doing the right thing because you know you should, not because you want to.
- Feeling Safe – You feel emotionally safe around your spouse. You’re not anxious when you’re spending time together.
- Building Each Other Up – Being with your spouse reduces your stress. You are better together.
- Rejuvenating – You are able to really relax with your spouse. Time together feels like rest and recharges you.
- Marriage Priority – You make your marriage a higher priority than anything else in your life except your spirituality.
- Egalitarianism – You are not shooting for equality but rather each spouse is so independently strong that each person does whatever is necessary to get things done. They share all duties.
A few times per year, we look at this spectrum and we both explain where we think we are and why. We then generate ideas for moving up the scale. These ideas become part of our yearly goals. For example, this year we wanted to reinstate our weekly date night. We also created the habit of sharing five uplifting things about the other person during our weekly goals review. This was huge.
Having your spouse say five genuine things they appreciate about you for the week is really powerful. It’s also a way to get off the grumpy cycle. It’s hard to keep arguing when you’ve had to find five things you appreciate about your spouse and say it out loud to their face!
During our weekly goals review, we also are allowed one piece of constructive criticism. The rules are you have to calmly explain one thing that bothered you with a concrete example and one contrasting example of what you wish your spouse had done instead. The five to one ratio is important here. We started out using a timer for these two activities. You can’t speed through your five appreciations in 3 minutes and then spend 8 minutes ragging on your spouse for something they did.
We try to keep it at five minutes for things we appreciate and one minute for constructive criticism.
We are always evolving our process for checking in on our marriage and setting goals. We know this will be something we do for the rest of our lives. The only thing we know for sure is that we’re going to be working on it in some way for as long as we both shall live. That’s the key. Recognizing that we always have growing to do and making it a priority to grow is how we intend to stay out of divorce and to become a good example of marriage for our children.
I would love to know how you measure or work on your marriage and what some of your favorite books have been since I’m sure we’ll be continuing to read about how we can have a stronger relationship!