Ahhhh… love. There is a tingly feeling in your tummy and the sensation of sheer euphoria. Nothing can bring you down. You have waited all your life… and now, you are dating – dare you even think it – the one you plan to be with for a lifetime. Is there anything better?
Though I remember experiencing these feelings with Eric, our love story did not begin in a typical way. Instead of meeting at church and jumping head first into a relationship without knowing anything substantial about each other, Eric and I met in a college class; and, much to my chagrin, he friend-zoned me for about eighteen months. (Yes, ladies can be friend-zoned too!) By the time his feelings for me began to change, we had already gotten a lot of the getting to know you stuff out of the way.
So, there we were – finally dating and finally in love. Finally ready to be partners for life. We all know the childhood rhyme, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.” But, have you heard the adult version? “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes frustration and bitterness as expectations are shattered and your new spouse throws gasoline on your hopes and dreams.” (Well, that was meant to be funny…. ~smile~)
Our first year of marriage was, for lack of a better word… interesting. Eric discovered that while I wanted to get my Master’s degree, work with couples, and learn, I had an unusual way of showing it: by watching TV several hours a night. I discovered that while Eric wanted to enjoy newlywed life, he was incessantly attracted to the large pile of textbooks we were both supposed to be reading in our graduate program. (I grew to hate the phrase, “But, I have to read.”)
One memorable night, I was watching TV as usual when Eric walked in the room, stood behind me, and said in a slightly unhinged voice, “I just need you to know that I am fighting bitterness right now since I am studying and you are watching TV.” As quickly as he entered, he left just as quickly. I sat there somewhat stunned, somewhat confused, and somewhat amused. Regardless of his unintentionally humorous delivery, he was clearly struggling with my priorities. And, I was struggling with his.
(Side note: If at all possible, do not work and go to school during the first year of your marriage. Do not rob yourselves of that incredibly sweet and important first year.)
Looks Like We Made It
Despite our rocky beginning, we graduated, we work with couples, and we are on our way towards twelve years of marriage. Thankfully, by God’s grace, we figured out a lot of stuff (and we want to help couples avoid the pitfalls we fell into). Though we have come so very far since those early days, we too still have hurdles to face. Such as… I will confess to you, my friends, that I still watch too much TV. And, I still struggle to be as productive as I could be. If only I would make some slight changes to my daily schedule – such as having a schedule.
Yes, my dear readers, these two issues have been thorns in Eric’s side for the entirety of our relationship. I have an incredibly strong play ethic. I love to laugh. I will always play first and work later. Being a free spirit, I loathe rules which limit my freedom and even feel anxious and panicked if too many shackles (e.g., expectations, rules) are placed on me. Eric, on the other hand, has an incredibly strong work ethic. He loves feeling accomplished. He will always work first and play later (and even when he’s playing, he’s at work… you can just tell). He finds rules to be necessary for creating order, production, and efficiency. It is no wonder that we found ourselves dissolutioned during the early years – especially since we thought we knew each other so well (again, we want to help couples avoid the pitfalls we fell into).
But, actually, we discovered that while we did know each other well, we did not know us well. We did not understand our unique relational dynamic or how much our personalities would work together, rub against, and chafe each other over time.
Just Let Me Be Me!
Perhaps one of the most frustrating realizations new couples face is how deeply their actions, weaknesses, and inactions affect their significant other. Even after all this time, it still annoys me that my personality and sin nature cause problems for Eric. Before I was married, my failures were slightly annoying to other people (e.g., my messiness, my chronic lateness, my tendency to keep anger bottled up until it came flooding out at inopportune times, etc.); but, as a wife, my sinfulness directly affects Eric. If I am messy, it affects his ability to feel calm and peaceful in his home. If I am late for church, I cause him to be late. If I let my anger explode, he is in the line of fire; and, not only is he in the line of fire, but he lives there.
Some days I want to scream, “Just let me be me! My issues are mine, so go deal with your own!” The inconvenient truth which I constantly face is that my issues are his issues. When I am “just me” and refuse to work on my growth areas, I bring him down. It is irritating… and sometimes even exhausting. Occasionally, it seems easier to leave the relationship than to address my sinfulness.
Truth: Your choices will affect your spouse. If you neglect your health, you might leave your spouse and children early. If you are careless with your finances, your spouse will be forced to (literally) pay the consequences. If you refuse to get help for an addiction or address your past hurts, your spouse will chronically have to deal with your emotional outbursts and instability. No one in a healthy marriage can honestly say, “My problems do not impact my spouse.” That is simply impossible.
Five Steps to Making a Change
If you are not yet married, now is the perfect time to start working on yourself. If you are married, it is never too late to get started. We all – even the most perfected specimens among us – have some lacking areas which need improvement. Even my (almost perfect) husband could find something to tweak if he looked hard enough. ~smile~
- Step One – Sit down with yourself and be honest. Here is me getting real with myself: Heather, you are a grown woman. You know how to work hard and you can work hard. You understand your tendency to place fun in front of work and you know how frustrated you become when you do not accomplish enough. With some discipline and accountability, you can make changes. You can no longer blame your tendency to be lazy, unmotivated, and unorganized on your personality. You continue to struggle because you have not yielded control of your life to the Lord in these areas. You want to do what you want to do and you reap the rewards of your negligence. You are not ever going to reach perfection (and perfection is not healthy to strive for – only excellence); but, you can begin each day with prayer, asking the Lord to guide your steps. Remember that obeying what God says is better than sacrificing in other areas of your life (I Samuel 15:22).
- Step Two – Admit your mistakes, humble yourself, and apologize to your significant other for how your failures have affected your relationship. Though we will never be perfect while in these mortal bodies, we can seek to be aware of our shortcomings and choose to address them rather than justifying them, ignoring them, or copping out with a, “It’s just who I am.” I struggle to get out of bed in the morning, but I cannot sleep my life away with the excuse, “It’s just who I am.” I prefer to eat pizza two out of three meals a day, and cereal for the other, but what I put into my body is my choice – and I can make better choices. As much as it pains me to admit this (love you, Honey!), I can live on a loose schedule. It might be difficult for me because I naturally favor openness and fluidity in my day, but I am not a slave to my personality. I can choose to act differently. My choices and excuses have caused Eric a lot of angst over the past decade and though I am not responsible for his emotions or reactions, I am called to live under the law of love. “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10, ESV) “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8, ESV). “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:30-31, ESV)” God said it. God meant it. And, if I am called to love my neighbors, how much more am I called to sacrifice and give to my husband?
- Step Three – Focus on one improvement at a time. When we are motivated to change, it is not unusual to push for overnight success. When I begin a diet, I typically eat well for a few days… and then fall back into old patterns. That is what happens when I choose fast results over long-lasting results. If you want to change your ways, make a list of your growth areas. Prioritize them (perhaps with the help of your significant other and friends). Start with the most important change (or the one you believe will be the easiest to make). Focus on improving in that area until you create a habit (e.g., living on a budget, consistently sleeping eight hours a night, spending fewer hours a week on your phone, etc.). Laser focus yields better results than multitasking (as much as it pains this free spirit to say it! ~smile~).
- Step Four – Document your changes. Whether you are a computer person, an iPad person, a three-ring-binder person, or a journal person, pick a format and keep tabs on your changes. Write down your overall goals, and make a step-by-step plan for completing your goals. As you work towards the finish line, jot down your successes, failures, and new approaches you want to try. Whenever you reach a goal, write it down. Talk about what worked and what did not, and continue to document your progress as you move from one goal to the next.
- Step Five – Check-in periodically with your sweetheart or spouse. You may be in a relationship with someone who is quick to notice and compliment your changes, but not everyone is that aware or easy and open with praise. If your honey is not talkative or swift to show approval, it is okay to ask for feedback once in a while. It is also important to take his or her comments and suggestions in stride rather than becoming defensive. If your sweetheart’s responses are unkind, and he or she is unwilling to change the approach, discuss your progress with a trusted friend or family member instead (and possibly seek Bible-based relationship counseling). When I make positive changes in my life, nothing is sweeter than Eric’s appreciative comments.
Even though it is annoying to admit that everything I do affects my husband in some way, I know God has blessed me with this man. He has provided me with a daily mirror who reveals my sin and points me back to Christ.
In your future marriage, you will have moments of desperation when you want to roll your eyes and exclaim, “This is just who I am! Get off my case!” But, in the quiet moments of introspection, thank God for giving you the opportunity to become more Christ-like as you seek to love, respect, honor, and protect your life partner.
We are not slaves to our flaws. We can change. It is not hopeless.
What is currently the biggest area of contention between you and your significant other?