The first 15 years or so of my Marriage were, more often than not, some fairly rocky times; but I think I am more willing than ever, now, to admit that most of it was my own fault.
Dealing with my own "negative" issues (and I should always be vigilant against their re-appearance) in those years certainly helped resolve some of the things plaguing our Marriage, but just getting back to "neutral ground" is not, of course, the same thing as building up positive results in the "plus" column...
I didn't really begin to understand God's vision for Marriage (which is, I think, the very best model of what the Gospel is supposed to look like) until I learned a few things...
Three distinct "Lessons" have come to me as true "epiphanies", thoughts that have struck me like a bolt of lightning at the time and which I had to mull over for some weeks and months before their true impact began to take root. These are things I wish the Marriage counselors we have gone to would have imparted to me, but perhaps they are more effective when learned on one's own, anyway...
SERVANTHOOD is the secret to a JOY-filled Marriage (and Life)
Some time roughly 3 years ago, stemming from some realization that I have now forgotten, I found myself starting to pro-actively find ways to SERVE my wife: I would try to do things -- some little, some significant -- that I thought would be a blessing to her (like cleaning the kitchen, or backing up the car to the porch when it was raining so she wouldn't get soaked, or getting between her and a disobedient child, etc.), and I became more intent about listening to her, pretty much all the time, for more "clues" about what would delight her, and then I'd try my best to do those things.
I was washing the dishes one day, thinking of how pleased and delighted she would be with a sparkling kitchen, when all of a sudden it hit me that I was JOYFUL in that moment. Not "pleased with myself"; not even thinking of myself at all, but instead, imagining HER delight and happiness and pleasure as she discovered a clean kitchen...
That is when I understood that it truly IS "more blessed to Give than to Receive" (Acts 20:35). This was a significant Step in my understanding of Marriage - and of the Gospel - and I began to realize, too, that our own "Happiness" is not (or should not be) the primary goal of our lives (THIS Lecture played a significant role in that development).
I thought I had finally discovered the "secret" to marital Joy; but it was only a beginning.
It's all in the APPROACH
I've heard wise folks say that "it's not enough to be Right"; still others have said, "They don't care how much you Know until they know how much you Care." Both very true statements. Even though I was trying to exercise this new Servanthood perspective, I was still often approaching my wife -- especially when something bothered me, or when I wanted to talk to her about my own side of things -- in the same old blunt, forceful, insistent, matter-of-fact, and sometimes dictatorial manner.
I was playing cards with my in-laws, out on the porch one afternoon, when I was thunder-struck by the realization that my APPROACH to her was all wrong. I finally saw that if I had approached her, over the years, with kindness and tenderness and an attitude that communicated to her how precious she is to me, things would likely have gone far better in our relationship. C.S. Lewis' golden sermon, "The Weight of Glory", also helped me see just how profoundly God Himself values my dear wife ("...you have never met a mere Mortal..."), and, slowly, my perspective on, and subsequently, my approach to my wife has begun to change.
Then just recently, something else dawned on me.
It takes Time to build EQUITY
I heard a speaker on Marriage say once that "it takes 10 'Goods' to compensate for 1 'Bad' in Marriage". The Equity that many of us have in our houses is something that often takes years to build up; out of the blue, while I was pondering some things last week, this idea of "Equity" in my Marriage relationship dawned on me: It's great that I'm serving my wife (and finding deep Joy in doing so); and changing my Approach to her has helped quite a lot, I believe...
But now I must continue on this course long enough, and consistently enough, that I can build up a cache of Love "Equity" in her mind and heart. She needs to have, deep in her soul, a certain assuredness that my Love for her is deep and real and permanent. I don't know that she doubts this, even now; but the point of all THREE of these "epiphanies" is that they represent -- in concert with each other -- a FOCUS, a Direction, that I need to continue to press onward toward, throughout the entire length of our Marriage.
I'm not a great husband, and who knows how well (or if) I'll live these 3 lessons out very well, in the future; and of course, there are a number of other things that go into making a Marriage work (...like Conflict Resolution skills... Patience when it seems like your spouse will NEVER change... Endurance to survive those long periods of Loneliness... etc...). But I do know that Love is the central theme of the Gospel, and I cannot think of any better way to live that out than to persist at trying to Love my Wife well.
To be a Christian is to Love, and to be Human is to Fail (sometimes, as in my case, spectacularly). But we have to keep trying, because this is where Forgiveness, and Humilty, and Compassion, and other virtues are learned and practiced.
The work is often hard but the rewards are great...
- "A new command I give you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
- "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another."
- -- John 13:34,35