Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2There are two words that are incredibly important to building and maintaining a healthy marriage.

Compromise and Consensus.

In our culture, the concept of compromise has taken a shot.  For many, compromise is what people without conviction do.  Compromise is seen as the abandoning of a goal…and taking the easy way out.  To compromise is to fall short.

On the other hand, good relationships…good marriages…are built on a steady foundation of compromise.  Compromise is when one person willingly lets go of something important…an idea, a goal, a plan, a desire, a belonging, a job, a hobby, an interest, a priority, a relationship, a value, a possession, a dream, an expectation, pretty much anything…out of love and commitment to the other.

It is done with the best interests of the other person in mind.  Compromise is sacrifice.  Compromise is generosity.  Compromise is done with the belief that God will take care of what is lost in the compromising.  Compromise is based on trust…not in the other person, but in God.

For compromise to work, though, it must be done in the right way.  Once you have made the compromise, you can’t go back.  Whatever you let go of is gone.  You don’t ever bring it up.  There are no regrets. It is never held over the other person’s head.  It’s never used for extortion.  You can’t ever expect repayment.  You don’t compromise and then make the assumption that the favor will be returned.   Otherwise it’s not compromise.   It’s simply manipulation.

In a healthy marriage, there are (or should be) big compromises…as well as the little, daily ones that show love in practical and tangible ways.

If you really love your spouse the way you are loved by God, then you will constantly look for compromises you can make…willingly, completely, and with no strings attached.

The other tool of a great marriage is consensus.

Consensus is different.  Consensus is what is done when compromise can’t, or shouldn’t, be done.

Consensus means working towards an alternative decision that both of you will own completely.  Consensus says that our two positions are too important to let go of.  Consensus says there is a better decision to be found…one that affirms both sides of the discussion.

Consensus requires waiting.  Consensus is slow and doesn’t work well under a deadline.  That’s why you always have to start to move towards consensus early in the process.  Moving to consensus means you take the time to wait, pray, talk, wait, pray, seek counsel, wait, pray, talk…and then decide.  And when there is not consensus, you start the process again.  Consensus always values the person over the decision…and the process more than the outcome.

Consensus can only be done between equals.  Consensus cannot be done when one has more power than the other in the relationship.  

Compromise is often about making a decision.  Consensus is always about making a relationship.  Work towards consensus whenever and wherever you can.

Even though compromise is an act of love,  real love would never demand a compromise.  Real love, however, will always work for consensus.  Think about it.

Marriage Tuesday

Marriage Tuesday

I was doing some reading tonight.  About twelve years ago, I wrote these words:

“I woke up today really troubled.  My world is full of broken, or breaking, marriages.  There are countless people who crawl into bed at night with people they thought they knew on their wedding day, but have come to accept they are sleeping with a stranger.

There are many in my world who are living with the remains of a marriage that feels over.  Trying to pick up pieces of promises and dreams and futures that ended some time in the past.  Some seem to be doing okay.  Others have just moved on.  Some have put on masks.  Still others are nursing wounds that feel like they will never heal.  My heart breaks for them.  All of them.

Marriage is a partnership.  No one is completely innocent in the death of a marriage.  But that doesn’t mean the blame for the failure is equal.  People bring different levels of brokenness to table than the other…and that brokenness is usually buried, or covered over, or masked by the euphoria of ‘love’ that is blind.

Emotionally unhealthy people do not get healthy by getting married.  Eventually, marriage will expose and exploit those weaknesses.  Darkness and dysfunction will begin to leak out and start to stain every part of the relationship.

There are no quick fixes to broken or damaged marriages.  Some marriages are beyond repair.  Not because change and healing is impossible, but because one, or both partners have crossed the line that says, ‘It’s over.  I choose to quit.’  I see lots of marriages these days that are on the path to this kind of ending.”

I don’t remember the circumstances that caused me to write those words.  But clearly not much has changed with the passing of time.  Marriage is still a partnership.  Marriage is still difficult.  Marriage still takes work.  Marriage still requires our best.  Marriage can still survive our worst.

Remember, marriage wasn’t your idea.

*I hate that this needs to be said, but I believe there are some marriages that are filled with abuse and danger.  They don’t need a counseling session or an adjustment.  They need to be exposed.  The abused needs protection.  Separation may be necessary.  After a lifetime of standing by and for marriages, I don’t say this lightly:  the end of a marriage in this condition may be the most loving and humane outcome.  This is not the “quitting” I am writing about in this post.

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2It’s baseball season and this is all messed up.  So I’ll make a baseball connection to marriage.  Yup.

If you really want to be a good hitter in baseball,  it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of good instruction and practice, practice, practice.   The best hitters I know of have developed the discipline of spending hours in the batting cage day after day…taking hundreds of swings as part of a daily dose of baseball greatness.

Would-be doctors go through years of school and residencies just to be able to practice the thing they love.

The same is true for most any trade or occupation.   My guess is there are very few gamers that got good by watching others play.   No…they have spent hours and hours throwing down monster drinks, while they mastered the art of game controller expertise.

So here are some marriage thoughts for today.

Are you actually working on your marriage?   I mean some big-time,  deliberate, intentional effort directed at developing a strong and healthy partnership with your spouse.

Do you know the areas of weakness you have in your relationship?   What skills are you developing to minimize the effects and turn those areas into strengths?

Have you identified problem areas and started working on turning them around?   Do you have plans for growing stronger and deeper and wiser?   What are those plans?

Are you studying?   Are you reading any good books on marriage?   Do you and your spouse talk…about your relationship and ways to move towards improvement?  

Are you including others in on your marriage journey?   Do you let friends in?  Are you taking advantage of wise counsel and accountability?  In other words, do you ask for advice?

Look.   We say our marriage is important.   We say our marriage is the most important friendship we have.   But marriages don’t get better by simply staying married.  Quite the opposite.

Marriages get better because we work at them…plan for them to get better…practice good skills and habits…and put our money where our mouths are.

I suspect you may have a little more time at home these days.  What do you need to work on this week?   Will you do it?   Will you start today?

Marriage Tuesday

Marriage TuesdayI thought some about marriage today.

Back in 2008, I started writing about marriage on this blog.  Nearly every Tuesday for years, I wrote something about marriage.  Sometimes it was practical.  Sometimes it was theoretical.  Sometimes it was critical.  Sometimes it was funny.  Sometimes it was a rant.  Sometimes it was theological.  I always hoped it was encouraging.

You wouldn’t know it based on how little I have written over the past 3-4 years (that’s another story for another time), but I have written 1,497 blog posts.  Would you be surprised to know the #2 topic I have written about is marriage?  I guess you could say it’s pretty important to me…

I wonder what kind of effect the shelter-in-place mandate is having on marriages?  Logic says that spending a load of extra time with your spouse would open the door to more conversations, more problem-solving, deeper moments of reflection, and increased intimacy.  I have a fear that reality is saying there might be a lot more conflict, more isolation, more walls, and a whole lot of detachment.

Not exactly a recipe for strengthening a marriage!

So I’m going to go back to sending you a marriage morsel every Tuesday.  Look…my wit or insight isn’t going to rescue a marriage on the edge.  You probably need a lot more than what I can give here.  If your marriage is in trouble, here is a desperate suggestion:  Send up a flare.  Tell someone you trust that you need help.  Ask a friend for a lifeline.  Swallow your fear and send an email or a text or FB message.  Your marriage is that important.

However, if your marriage is blah or running on autopilot, it’s probably time to get busy.  Your marriage could slip onto life support before you know it.  I’ll help where I can, but this one’s on you.  Do you still believe the vows you made?  Are the promises you offered up still good?  Then maybe it’s time to talk with each other about it…time to dig in and go deeper…time to own your problems.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who was part of the German resistance movement against nazism in the 40’s.  He was arrested in 1943, imprisoned and tortured, and eventually executed in 1945, at the age of 39.  His books and letters from prison have had a huge impact on the church for decades and changed and challenged the discipleship of countless Christ-followers.

Bonhoeffer wrote from his prison cell to a young couple:

“Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man… It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.”

Can that…no, will that be said of your union:  “It is not your love that sustains your marriage,  but your marriage that sustains your love” ?

I was blown away by the truth of his wisdom when I read that for the first time years ago.

His wisdom has not faded over time.

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2Wanda and I grew up in a culture (church and society, at large) that assumed men were to be in charge.

Men certainly held most, if not all, the positions of highest rank in society.  Men were the mayors and principles and corporate heads and police officers and military leaders.  A female president?  Absolutely unthinkable.

Men were the movers and shakers.  Men were the bosses and decision-makers.  I was taught that men were created by God with inner strength and clear thinking and emotional stability that women didn’t have.  Women were designed by God to nurture and support…to be man’s “helper”, not his leader.

In marriage, a woman’s place was in the home.  She needed to keep her husband sexually satisfied…and give him a couple of kids for posterity.  Preferably at least one boy.  Keep the house clean…make sure food was on the table for her man at the end of his work day…keep the kids washed and fed.  The man provided and protected.  The woman submitted and served.

Church life was more of the same.  The men were the leaders.  They met behind closed doors to make important decisions and seek the direction of God.  Wives were not invited to those meetings, because they really didn’t have much to offer.  And they couldn’t be trusted not to gossip.   Men preached.  Men taught the adults and youth.  Men served communion and offered the priestly prayers.

And don’t even think about inviting a single woman for her leadership input!

Women sang, taught the children and washed the baptismal robes and glass communion cups.  Yeah, we had baptismal robes back in the day… 

I’m not making this stuff up.

Looking back, it’s pretty much always been a man’s world.  In fact, because of the patriarchal structure that has been present since the beginning of history, it’s easy to conclude that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Men had the power.  Men had the control.  Men were the leaders.  Men had the position and influence.  And that’s why Jesus was such a revolutionary and why the words of scripture can be misunderstood without even thinking.  Check it out:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  Ephesians 5:21-25

There are two lenses we use to interpret these words…the lens of culture and the lens of truth.   There is no doubt (historically) the Apostle Paul was writing this letter to followers of Christ who were living in a pater familia culture…a culture of male dominance and authority.

So when the first century christians heard these words for the first time, they must have sounded life-changing and life-giving…especially to women:

  • We are all to live a lifestyle of submission…not just women.
  • Women were now to submit to their husbands as they did to Jesus…the gentle shepherd, not the domineering boss.
  • Husbands were to now get their definition of “headship” from a suffering servant, not a military commander.
  • Husbands were to exist to serve their wives…never to treat them as a possession or an employee.
  • Submission could now be seen as something beautiful, because the husband would never “tell” his wife to do anything…ever again.  They would never abuse power, because his power was emptied the way Christ’s was emptied on the cross.

Did these new believers still live in a male-oriented, male-dominated culture?  Of course. Were women still abused?  Yes.  Were women still treated as property?  Yes.  Were women still considered second-class citizens who existed for the pleasure and service of men?  Yes.

But Paul is saying if you are a follower of Christ…if you are a follower of this “new way”, your marriage cannot look like that!  You may have to live and work and socialize in a cultural context of male domination, but inside the doors of your home (and within the vows of your marriage covenant) you must not ever act like that!

Over the course of my 63 years, the culture I live in has changed.  There are some things I wish we could turn back the clock on, but the role of women in society is not one of them.  I am so grateful to live in a world where it’s possible for women to be looked at as equal.  I am proud to live in a country that encourages young girls to be anything they want to be!  

I know it’s far from perfect.  Many men are still rude and obnoxious pigs.  Women are still sexualized and abused and mistreated and overpowered by men…and sometimes by each other.  There is still a huge gap in the pursuit of equal pay.  But there is progress.

It’s even changed in the church.  Women who are gifted speakers, teachers, leaders, visionaries and influencers are now living in a culture (both church and society) where the ceiling of service has been lifted.  We now see more and more women who are openly following in the footsteps of the female prophets of the old testament, the female disciples of Jesus’ earthly life, and the faithful female church leaders of the first-century church.

These women are no longer secrets.

As for marriage, I am honored to live out my life with my equal.  I am beyond grateful that we were taught, as a young couple, to go against the grain of culture and society and live out our marriage biblically.  I am humbled to realize I am called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as the defining picture of what it means to be a husband.

And to be married to someone who expects no less than that from me.

 

Marriage Tuesday

Marriage TuesdayAccording to my clock, I’ve still got about an hour before Tuesday is over this week, so here comes a Marriage Tuesday…

I have dozens and dozens of divorced friends.  The last thing in the world I would want is for my words to inflict any more pain on them than their own reality has already done.  It’s with that awareness these thoughts are offered.

There is no question the ones who feel the brunt of the pain of a divorce are the husband and wife.  It was not their goal to grow apart.  It was not their desire to draw loved ones into their conflict.  The needs of the children always weigh heavily on the parent’s hearts.

Even though one almost always feels more like the “victim”, neither is ever entirely blameless. Sometimes one feels like they are doing all the work, while the other is just going through the motions.  Some couples work and work and work to figure out what’s wrong and stop the bleeding and heal the hurts.  Every now and then it pays off.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

There is almost always a mess of collateral damage, also.  Some of it is obvious.  Finances. The house.  Loss of identity.  Loss of confidence.  Changed relationships with in-laws and extended family.  Holidays.

Here’s one issue that’s seldom talked about: How the divorce affects the church.  When the divorcing couple are both part of a church family (along with their kids), the church is living in awkwardness.  We don’t know the “whole” story…if we know any real story at all. Sides are often chosen and loyalties are declared.  Story lines are controlled by who’s talking and who’s listening.  Truth is slippery.

Worse yet, the church family can know absolutely nothing, because the couple has chosen to keep their struggle private.  Maybe they believe it’s nobody’s business.  Maybe they’re hoping it will get better and reputations can be spared.  Maybe they are simply living in denial, while their friends are living in the dark.  Until it blows up.

When that happens, we (the church) lose one, or sometimes, both of the partners.  Our children’s ministry loses their kids…at least half the time.  We lose their shared responsibilities.  We lose their financial support.  We lose friendship.  Their need to move on (for the health of their new relationships or just the need for a fresh start away from memories of their old life), leaves the rest of us just feeling loss.  And less than what we were.

And me?  Because I am usually more intimately involved with the couples, my feelings of loss are usually pretty acute, even though my emotions are mixed.  Somebody’s loss is almost always someone else’s benefit.  It doesn’t mean I have to like it!

So here’s the takeaway.  To all of my divorced friends:  My prayer will always be for your best. I hope the painful part of your life is in your past and you have found healing and strength in your new life…filled with new friends and new opportunities for you and yours.  May redemption be your song.

However, if you are still married and your relationship is less than what it should be…falling short of what it could be…hidden from what others see…held together by a veneer of social respectability, while it is crumbling below the surface in ways that only you and your partner know…it’s time to raise your hand.

It’s time to let someone in.  It’s time to swallow your pride.  It’s time to remember your vows. It’s time to live by faith and no longer by sight.  It’s time to ask for help.

It’s time to face the prospects of the potential collateral damage.  Before it’s too late.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2How do you know if your marriage is in trouble?

I wonder sometimes, if couples are aware that their relationship is wading out into the deep end…or if they are simply clueless.  I think it’s more like denial.

Nobody wakes up one day and decides they want an empty marriage.  I think most couples get going at such a rapid pace in their lives that bad relationship habits begin to form without recognizing them…and then those habits just sort of become the modus operandi.

We all get entrenched in routine.  The demands of life are relentlessly…demanding.  Bills to pay.  Schedules to keep.  Chores to be completed.  And if you’ve got kids in the house,  just ratchet up the intensity level about hundred times.  Date night?  What’s a date night when you’re up to your ear lobes in runny noses,  grass-stained laundry and failed science projects exploded on the dining room table?

How do you know if your marriage is in trouble, when you don’t even make the time to think about your marriage?

The thing is,  I’m pretty sure most married people know when there’s trouble brewing. They know what emptiness feels like.  They know the initial signs of neglect and coldness and rejection.  They know the difference between good-natured ribbing and the deliberate incision of a well-placed stab of sarcasm. They know.  You know.

So what do you do?  Could it be the answer is simply for you to tell somebody?  Yup.

I like to fix things.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I’ve learned to fix things. For years, whether it was a young youth minister’s salary or living on missionary support or dealing with the fallout of those years, I learned to fix things myself.

And it was in those years that I also learned to ask for help.  I didn’t want people to do it for me,  but I did want them to tell me what I could do differently… to tell me how to fix things a better or more efficient way. Sometimes that included them showing me. Sometimes my friends have taken the lead and we did it together.

From rebuilding a carburetor to installing 220 to repairing a broken water main to dealing with my depression, three things were always the same. I accepted  that I had a huge problem. admitted I couldn’t fix it all by myself. I turned to people who could help.

Through the years,  I’ve learned to fix a bunch of things myself.  I’ve even become a person that people turn to for help in getting things done or getting through difficult situations. That’s a pretty cool thing, but I would never be where I am at or the person I am without the help of others.

(I am not discounting the role of God’s word or his power and presence in my life through all of these times.  I’m just saying it appears that people were often God’s method of communicating his wisdom and discipline and patience to me during those times of growth.)

Look.  It’s not easy asking for help.  Pride gets in the way big time.  Nobody wants their dirty laundry hanging out so the neighborhood can see.  But if that’s what it takes to get your marriage back on track…if that’s what you need to find wholeness in your union and strength to reach the finish line…then start waving your arms for somebody to see.

You’d do it if you were drowning, wouldn’t you?