Posted in Marriage Monday

Marriage Advice?

I don’t really know where the thought came from. It started running through my mind the other day, I think while I was processing through my morning devotional reading. And it has not left me alone since.

The thought was this: there is no such thing as universal parenting advice. I could write a book on all of my parenting tricks and tips. I could share my successes and failures, how my children have grown and matured both because of and in spite of my parenting techniques. And the things I share would, without a doubt, help some people, just as the advice and experiences of other parents have helped me. Ultimately, though, all those tricks add up to just that – tricks. They do not give the complete picture.

As I think back on all of the parenting advice I have ever given, I regret that I have never looked at a fellow mom and asked, “Can you pray while you are disciplining your child? Playing with your child? Teaching your child?” In the future, I desire that to become the core of any advice I give. Thinking back on all of my progress as a parent, I have grown the most and parented best when I have stopped in the middle of any moment – happy or sad, infuriating or exhilarating – and drawn upon the wisdom, joy, and strength of our heavenly Father.

Marriage is no different.

Recently, while enjoying a wonderfully peaceful, nourishing, and much-needed visit with my best friend, our conversation drifted toward marriage. We talked about the seasons when our marriages are tested. When communication is hard work and true health requires extra effort and attention.

My friend and I both hunger to pour into other marriages and see couples grow in their relationships with one another, their children, the world around them, and Christ. We have different specific passions – different ways we hunger to invest in relationships. But, the passion is there for both of us. As I continue to ponder our conversation, that pondering merges with the parenting thought, causing me to realize that our best tool for encouraging Christian couples is the same as the parenting advice: Can you pray in the middle of this?

Whether it’s an argument or a success. A stroll in the park or time apart. A season of closeness or a season of strain. Can you seek the Lord in the middle of it? If not, what’s holding you back?

There are too many times in my own marriage when pride and selfishness have turned my attitude sour and my responses toxic. Instead of praying for the right words, I have spewed out my own idea of justice. Even what I have intended to be positive has often turned ugly because it has come out of a heart that had chosen to not first ensure it was in tune with Christ. I have not sought the Lord in the midst of the situation. On the other hand, as with parenting, I have grown most as a wife in those times when I have been able to seek the One who ordained our marriage, no matter what the circumstances.

Whatever you are dealing with in your marriage right now, can your heart turn to your Savior in the middle of it? If not, please, precious friend, find your way back to Him first. When you do, all other marriage advice will fall into place.

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Posted in Marriage Monday

Conflict Seen

I can’t remember when I first heard the “never argue in front of your children” advice. I definitely see the benefit. Children, especially at a young age, cannot process or handle the emotions that go with their parents arguing. It introduces insecurity and uncertainty. And that is a burden none of us want our precious children to bear.

And yet…

Have you ever met a young couple impacted by the fact that at least one of them never heard their parents so much as disagree with one another? I have. It’s an interesting sight. The first time this young couple has a disagreement, argument, or fight, the “sheltered” one is devastated. Convinced that the relationship must be doomed. Or, at the very least, certain that there must be something terribly wrong. After all, Mom and Dad never argued.

Or did they?

The undeniable, irrefutable, and even biblical truth is that all relationships are marred by sin. If we cannot even succeed in relating flawlessly to our perfect, pure heavenly Father, how can we possibly think we will ever relate perfectly to a fellow flawed human being? No matter how much love may exist in the relationship?

So, it follows that all married couples – yes, even the most grounded and mature – will have conflict in their marriage.

Now, let’s contemplate parenting for a moment. As parents, it is our responsibility to nurture and protect our children. But it is also our responsibility to teach and mold them. That includes finding opportunities to safely teach them how to handle the not-so-great (as well as the downright horrific) aspects of this world. We watch for opportunities to discuss and explain, exposing them to the difference between a godly home and what they will experience one day as adults trying to navigate this mess.

That brings us back to conflict between Mom and Dad. While on the one hand we do not want to air all our dirty laundry before our children, and we especially don’t want to show a divided front in parenting, I wonder if there might be times in which it is beneficial for our children to grasp that we are in conflict.

If they see us disagreeing, then see us work through the disagreement, then see us choose to hug and kiss and say, “I love you!” as we go our separate ways for the day, could that not bring benefit in the long run?

How many things have you learned about your spouse because you disagreed at some point? How have you matured in being able to swallow your own pride or offer a sincere apology or choose your words carefully? How much have you learned about the difference between arguments worth having and arguments not worth having? How has your prayer life grown?

When our children fight with one another, we step in and separate them. But, at some point, they are not going to have Mom or Dad around to step in and end the conflict. They are going to have to figure out how to end it themselves. They are going to have to learn how to find resolution and restore peace. How better to learn such things than to watch their own parents handle conflict in a manner that honors Christ?

Of course, the first step is for us effectively model handling conflict in a manner that honors Christ!

Our children are precious, and our hunger is to protect and nourish them. But, sometimes the best nourishment we can give them is to help them see how to live Christ-honoring lives in a dark and sinful world. And sometimes that means letting them see.

 

Posted in Marriage Monday

Not My Best Friend

I have a confession: my husband is not my best friend. I’ve called him that before, but when I stop to think about it, I realize there is a different truth.

Now, before I go any further, let me emphasize that nothing I am about to say is intended to be critical of those who say their spouses are their best friends. That is great! It is wonderful! And, once

I share my perspective, you may end up laughing at me and saying, “It’s all just a matter of semantics, Ann.” But, I’m a writer. Semantics are important to me. So, hashing out these particular semantics is important to me.

Doug and I started our relationship as friends. Just friends. I respected Doug, admired him, and appreciated his friendship. But, I did not think of him in any other way.

Then our relationship changed. As we went from friends to good friends to becoming a couple, the way we interacted with one another became very different. And rightfully so. We were no longer in the friend zone. We were choosing to join ourselves together in a way that would always be unique to us.

As my husband of nearly 19 years, Doug knows me in a way no friend ever has. And, although the sexual intimacy is a part of that, it is a knowledge that goes far beyond the physical. It is a mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical oneness that we share with no one else.

Is friendship a part of that? Yes, most definitely. But this is also very different from what we once were as friends.

I’ve had several “best friends” throughout my lifetime. As a child, I had stretches of life when I was close to various other girls. In high school, I experienced my first true close guy friend. In college, there were more – girls and guys – I grew close to. Could trust. I could pour my heart out to.

And I still have friends like that. I still desperately need friends like Doug was to me before we became a couple. I need girlfriends I can trust and interact with freely, comfortably, and safely. I am thankful for the men – often husbands of women I am close to – I can trust and depend on without fear of relational issues. And in my mind, one of the reasons I can enjoy those friendships without fear of relational issues is because my relational definitions mark Doug as my husband and my friends – both male and female – as individuals used by God to meet a completely different need in my life.

I love that there is something incredibly special about the marriage relationship. It is unique. One of a kind. Irreplaceable. An intrinsic, inseparable part of my life.

I am thankful for the difference. The distinction in my head. It allows me to freely interact with friends without contest or conflict. For Doug knows – at least I hope he does – that there is not a single friend on the face of the planet who can be who he is to me.

Not my best friend. My husband. What a glorious relationship!

Posted in Marriage Monday

When It’s Not Like This

There are days when I am very hesitant to write about marriage, and it’s not just when I feel like a hypocrite. When it comes to marriage, I write to a finite audience: those in functional marriages. I write from a limited perspective: marital health, trust, and growth.

But so many more types of marriage exist. Abusive. Destructive. Unredeemed. Bad. Or even the good ones that are so very different from mine in perspective, experience, history, and personality. Marriages from any of those categories may never fit with the topics and themes that fit with my experience and perspective.

Some will read my posts and say, “That’s so elementary! Doesn’t everyone know that?” Others will excitedly realize they are learning the same thing at the same time. Some will have a light bulb moment while still others will shrug their shoulders and move on – or even resent that I would insinuate that such a marital need exists. (The idea of date night comes to mind.)

But the ones that make my heart ache the most are those who will crumble at my words, despair adding to hopelessness as they once again see what their marriages are not – and may never be.

The “experts” say, “Write what you know.” So, I do. I know a functional marriage that is constantly growing, maturing, and building. So, that is what I write.

But my heart…oh, my aching heart is passionate for those who endure dysfunctional, even abusive marriages. I hurt for them. I pray for them. And I long to support them. So often we as the church want to give them the same advice and counseling we give to functional marriages, but it won’t work, just like my marriage thoughts won’t work. Instead, we have to hear them, pray with them, disciple them, and seek the Lord’s face alongside them.

If you are in a marriage that feels hopeless, painful, and full of despair – if you are in a marriage of abuse and neglect – please hear this:

You Are Not Alone

I’m heartsick over the number of women in abusive marriage, especially those within the church. There are too many! But by extension, that means there are also others who understand what you are going through. Yes, possibly right in your own church. They either are or have at one time been where you are. And I am praying that they will find you or you will find them. Some way, somehow. So you can know that you are not alone. 

You are Seen and Loved

No matter what you’e been told, you are not worthless. You are a beautiful, cherished child of God. He sees you. Fall at His feet. Seek His face. Oh, my friend, let Him draw you into His incredible arms of love and nourish you through the presence of His Holy Spirit and through the care of His children.

Help is Available

Real help. Not advice like this blog or other well-meaning people who can only speak from what they know. There is help that will walk you through a godly, biblical plan of action. Help that does not leave you in danger or despair. My prayer is that God will act to connect you to that real help.

Don’t Let My Words Discourage You

Please. As much as I would love to speak encouragement into your heart and life, the reality is that my words are not for you. You may glean some truth or encouragement from them. Or they may benefit you somewhere down the road. But, most of them will not help you walk your marriage journey.

I love marriage. I am so thankful for the opportunity to mature and grow with my amazing husband. I smile when I think of others who have found what we have found in marriage – some from the get-go and others in the form of beauty from ashes. Wherever you are in the marriage journey, I pray for you to know its beauty. And when you read my words and say, “But it’s not like this for me!” know that my heart and prayers are with you and for you, even when my words are not.

Posted in Marriage Monday

The Hypocritical Wife

I often feel like a hypocrite when writing marriage articles. One reason is because I struggle so much in my own role as a wife.

Far too often, I feel incapable of speaking my husband’s love language. It comes across much more often as criticism than love, no matter what my intentions may be. I make choices that cause problems instead of solving them. I am needy, and I have a personality that often thrives on things that drive my husband crazy. I struggle to communicate the tasks and issues that fill my day, leaving him feeling uncertain about how to involve himself or help.

The failure seems even more profound on the ministry side of life. I hear other ministers talk about the ways their wives encourage and edify them by knowing the right words to say or sharing the right Scripture or quote with them. They know how to encourage their husbands in struggles and keep them going when they want to quit. I don’t.

Yep, it’s true. I’m not a great wife. Yet somehow my husband still finds me wonderful. He still says he made the right decision all those years ago and wants to keep right on going in this crazy thing called marriage. And goodness knows I’m not going to be foolish enough to run away from an amazing husband who will put up with all of my failures!

And this is why I write.

Despite my failures and my issues, our marriage has worked for nearly nineteen years. We are still growing and still committed to the bond created all those years ago. So, as I share, I get to pass on to you those things that make “us” work. I get to share our successes and our progress. I get to offer you a glimpse into lessons we have learned through experience, growth, and Scripture. And hopefully, in the midst of all of my imperfect sharing, you may also find encouragement and growth that will strengthen your own marriage.

I know I am a very imperfect wife. But, I am an imperfect wife who is loved by an amazing man, washed clean by a holy Savior, and hungry to share the grace and growth that has been mercifully granted to me!

Posted in Marriage Monday

Pride

We all know that pride can destroy a marriage in so many ways. Pride keeps us from admitting wrongdoing, acknowledging the wisdom of our spouses, or even simply being willing to allow someone else to get their way even when there is no clear right or wrong. It keeps us from becoming one flesh because we each want to maintain our independence and individuality.

But there is also an aspect of pride that can be strongly beneficial to a marriage: pride in one another.

How often do we vocalize pride in our spouses? And when we do, how well does it resonate? How well does it match the other thoughts we communicate to or about our spouses?

Contemplate this scenario. Over and over again, a child is harped upon to be better at this or work harder at that. Nothing is ever good enough in his behavior or his accomplishments. Every now and then, the child hears his parents say, either directly to him or to someone else, that they are proud of him. But, can he truly believe it? Or has the weight of the criticism mounted so high that the proclamation of pride has a hollow ring to it?

I think this is often what happens in our marriages as well. We criticize, harp, fuss, and complain to the extent that any mention of pride in our spouses falls flat. They just don’t believe us. The rest of the world probably doesn’t either.

My husband makes me proud in so very many ways. Doug plants seeds for so many things that he cannot or will not take credit for. Someone else gladly takes the credit and the glory while he stands humbly by in the shadows. He is more of a servant than anyone I know, but he does so quietly such that few people see his service. He is observant and brilliant. He sees needs far in advance and lays the groundwork for them to be met, sometimes even waiting years for his efforts to come to fruition. He knows how to help others succeed and is not hesitant to give them the limelight. In fact, he much prefers that over any of the light shining on himself.

Because his brilliance and service are quiet and behind the scenes, he is frequently seen as someone without many successes of his own. As a result, he receives so much more criticism than praise from the world around him.

As his wife, I want to be the opposite. I want to make sure to express just how proud I am of him and rave about his strengths and accomplishments. I want him to know how proud I am of him.

Just as selfish pride can destroy a marriage, so can withholding pride in our spouses. May we always be proud of them. May we pour into them. May we never hesitate to tell them and the world just how awesome they are.

Posted in Marriage Monday

Just Normal

Some days I struggle with knowing what to write about marriage.

First of all, I am no marriage expert. We are in our nineteenth year of marriage, but I still have so much left to learn. We have a good, secure marriage, but we still have our ups and downs. The downs always make me nervous about offering any marriage “advice.” I am glad to share our experience in hopes it will help others. But, I never want anyone to be intimidated because they think we have it all together. For the record, we don’t!

I do hunger to encourage others in marriage, though, whether it is young women looking forward to the experience, young marrieds learning how to become one flesh, those who are just going through ups and downs like we are and need some encouragement, or those who are struggling and need a listening ear and a prayer partner. Even when I struggle to know what to write, that desire to encourage prods me on.

Unfortunately, that desire does not answer the question I’m still stuck with. What do I share? If I am to talk about our experiences, what do I say? Our experiences are just so normal.

And then it hits me: we are often ashamed of normal in marriage.

Our entertainment presents the idea that being a settled married couple is boring and to be avoided. We learn from magazines articles and self-help books that it is important to keep marriage exciting and fresh. Normal, mundane, day-to-day marriage is to be avoided if we are ever to survive and remain together.

So, again and again, we see couples work hard to keep their marriages fresh and exciting – and anything but normal. And again and again we see those same marriages fall apart. Why? Because normalcy is inevitable in life.

Just as in our spiritual walk, how we handle the exciting or challenging times of life is not a clear indication of our strength. Instead, our actions during those stretches represent the endurance we have developed during the normal, mundane, and even boring stretches. Those are the times when we can establish discipline, exercise muscles, and solidify the relationships we will lean on in the abnormal times.

Marriage is not about keeping things exciting or interesting or fun. Instead, marriage is about growing in strength during the mundane normalcy of life so we can enjoy the highs of excitement and weather the lows of challenge and struggle. During the normal times, we keep talking to one another. We share the routine details of our lives so we both understand exactly what normal looks like for the other (and can quickly recognize the moment life steps outside the normal bounds). We play together. We establish times of rest together. We “date” one another. We put extra effort into making one another smile and laugh. We pray and study together.

We simply choose to live life intertwined in the normal. Then when the abnormal comes around, we are inseparable, no matter then strain.

I think I just might be proud of the normal.