3 Easy Ways to Damage Your Marriage

I’m an eager yet amateur gardener. Moving to South Africa was a challenge because all the plants I grew up with aren’t here. I suddenly had to learn a whole new way of gardening that was specific to a coastal South African town. Needless to say, I’ve killed a few plants along the way. All of this death because of simple things like sun and water… how hard can it be!?

The same is true in marriage. The little things are the big things. The silent things are the deadly things. Here are three areas I have seen which bring damage instead of life to a marriage.

Tunnel Vision

By: Charles Fettinger
By: Charles Fettinger

It is so easy to forget that our experience and our expectations are only one side of the story. We can only be ourselves and don’t often step into someone else’s body (ok, never).

When we get frustrated or go through a difficult time it is our default to forget that the way we saw that situation or the way we experienced something is only 1 slice of the pie. We need to constantly be “crucifying our flesh”… that temptation to only consider your own wants and desires. Remind yourself that there is another important perspective in the marriage: the perspective of your spouse.

Even when we rationally and calmly think thru a situation, we most often still end with a list of how we want the other person to change, do more of this, less of that.

Score Keeping

Keeping score is great for soccer, not so much for marriage. It is a dangerous and silent game since it happens in our minds and usually our spouse is losing badly. In fact, they aren’t even aware the game is happening let alone what the score is!

There are normally two modes of score keeping:

  1. Keeping score of what you do vs. your spouse. For example, “I’ve washed the dishes 47 nights vs. his 1.5 times in the past two months”.
  2. Seeing every action you do as an investment into getting a return payment back. For example, every time I put my kids to bed and do the night time routine, I assume that this act wins me back a sleep in the next morning. It’s only fair right?

Both of these forms of keeping score are toxic. They can come out of the modern concept of marriage being a 50/50 endeavor. Men and women are equal and marriage is a partnership. Right?

The reality is never 50/50. In fact, if you want a happy marriage you should probably just remove the word “fair” from your vocabulary. Marriage is going to require a lot more than 50% from you!

A 50/50 view of marriage sets us up to keep score. If it is 50/50 then how are we going to know we are accomplishing this? The only way is to keep score and constantly see who’s on the loosing end of that equation. In each persons mind it’s normally the other one.

The reality of marriage is that one of us is always lagging behind and needs the other to pick up the slack. Marriage needs to be 100/100 with a dump truck full of grace.

Mind Reading

Loves means serving and helping the other person without having to be asked.

Wait. Is that right?

Well, yes, if you are a mind reader.

So often we diminish our relationship from being mature adults to trying to be clairvoyant prophets. This is the Hollywood ideal: a person who truly loves you will just know what you need and want. They will anticipate your every thought and want.

The reality is that being married takes the Garden of Gethsemane approach. No matter how obvious it was that Jesus needed a friend (he was loudly weeping right next to them, obvious clue #1) he still did the mature thing and said, “will you pray with me, I’m really having a hard night”.

Somehow, we assume we should be better than Jesus. The truth is we need to be committed to sharing what we need and want just like he did. Over and over again until we die. We do this no matter how obvious we think it should be to our spouse.

It took me a while to learn this simple act. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to simply walk upstairs to my husband and say, “I need you to come to the kitchen while I cook dinner so you can listen to me talk about my day.” That sentence saved us a night of sighing and brooding. (Sometimes we are just toddlers at heart aren’t we?!)

Next time, instead of keeping score, being caught in selfish thinking or assuming that the your spouse is a mind reader, just say, “Hey babe, I’m really tired, would you mind letting me sleep in tomorrow morning and you get the kids breakfast.” It really is that easy and that hard.

Are any of these 3 present in your marriage? What adjustments could you make?

My Mountain is My Greatest Ally

The things that made me, shaped me, and defined me all came out of seasons of pain and struggle. I have not once been deeply shaped by a success that I just stumbled in to. I hate it to be true but the reality is, my mountains have been my greatest allies in reaching peace, contentment and true joy.

We look at the Biblical heroes and they also were all profoundly shaped through deep struggle. Joseph, David, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Paul, Peter… Jesus. Not once does the Bible say, “and then they had a wonderful life and God was glorified, Amen”.

Yet, these mountains we find on our journey… we fight them, hide from them and sometimes are ashamed of them. These mountains are the sins we wrestle with, the disadvantages we face, the pain that knocks on our door at the most unexpected times.

But truly, the whole Biblical narrative shows one thing: facing that thing that causes us the most struggle is the only pathway to peace, contentment and joy. We think the absence of mountains brings joy but deep down we simply know this is not true.

Mountain_allyWhat if this year ahead was the year we faced our mountains instead of: pretending they aren’t there, wishing them away, hoping for them to just vanish. What if, on the other side of that mountain is exactly what we were hoping for all along.

This is true with our children also. It is so tempting to search longingly for every glimmer of worldly success. We downplay or secretly fear the struggles our children have to face. We are convinced that the struggles will ruin them so we make it our job to safeguard them from struggles and pain. Is this really helping them though?

Here’s my honesty: my children don’t win any awards. They aren’t the top of their class for reading, math, science or anything else. They have been in speech therapy, occupational therapy, and the whole list. My one son was so afraid of swimming, he wet his pants at school when faced with the prospect of the school pool. When he told me I instantly wanted to make the whole situation go away. The embarrassment he felt was terrible for him. Struggles like this are a 1st world recipe for parenting anxiety!

But when I go back to the Bible I see that I shouldn’t feel anxiety at all. Ease of  success promises my kids nothing. Lack of challenges doesn’t safeguard them at all. Teaching them to face their struggles and never give up is the greatest hope I have as a parent. We don’t seek the challenges but we can’t can’t cower from them either.

What if, we as parents, embraced our child’s mountains eagerly? What if we taught our kids to tackle that mountain like it’s their destiny? As painful as it would be, facing that struggle could be our child’s greatest opportunity and gift in their life.

I fear that today we are teaching our children that happiness, joy and contentment can be had without a fight. We do this because we  desperately want it to be true. But, in our own lives this has never been true… and it won’t be true for them either.

Do we face the mountains in our personal life, marriages, families, and friendships like it is our greatest opportunity or our greatest threat? Do you see your mountains as an ally or an adversary? It doesn’t make the struggle any easier to embrace this reality. But the truth is, mountains are our ally if we face them with courage and don’t give up without a fight.

What have your most formative events in life? Was it mountains or easy victories that most shaped you?

Conflict in Marriage: These are the Rules of Fight Club

In my own marriage we have had our fare share of disagreements.  We have argued, disagreed, been in conflict, fought well, fought poorly… you know, general married stuff.

Fight ClubRecently, I was talking about this to another married woman.  She talked about how challenging their marriage was because of the constant conflict.  I quickly understood it was more than the “general married stuff”.  There was always conflict.  Always.  I asked her what they fought about. She began to list pretty much everything you could imagine.  Now, there were obviously deeper issues going on.  But, it got me to thinking. An important part of marriage is to know when it is healthy to be at odds and when it is healthy to “just let it go”.

The Bible lives in some sort of tension with this.  In one place it says, “it is to one’s glory to overlook an offence” (Prov 19:11) and in another place, “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).

What are principals for when to confront and speak hard truth to your spouse and when do you just “let it go” and “move on”?

If we bring up every issue that annoys, hurts or aggravates, we will have an emotionally volatile, draining and suffocating relationship. We will have a relationship where there is constant drama and it is never safe to be your imperfect self.

If we never speak hard truth then we have no relationship at all.  A good relationship is not problem-free  It is when we can be honest, say hard things, ask forgiveness and extend forgiveness.

How do we know when something should be overlooked and when it should be confronted?

Here are 5 questions we can ask ourselves:
1. Is it sin?  If it is sin, then sin needs attention.  Sin destroys marriage.  If we ignore sin then we are allowing a destroyer to live in our marriages.
2.  Is it actually my issue?  Here is something I ask myself regularly, “Was my husband being impatient or am I having a bad day and being overly sensitive?”  Often when we consider an issue we can be honest and say, “I’m over reacting and just need to go to bed”. Honesty with ourselves keeps true peace and blesses our spouse!
3.  Does the issue break trust? Sometimes the issue is not sin and it is definitely my own issues.  But, it is still important to confront because it breaks trust.  For example, when my husband teases me about being disorganised.  That is not a sin.  It affects me because it is actually my issue… I overreact every time! (I know, I have issues)  But, repeated teasing in this area breaks my trust with him and he knows that.  So, I confront him, communicate my sensitivity and he stops.
4. Is it ongoing and repetitive? It is one thing if I had a bad day and was emotionally absent from my husband.  In grace he forgives me, lets it go and loves me.  But if this behaviour is frequent and ongoing then it needs to be brought up and dealt with.

A healthy marriage overlooks a multitude of offences and speaks truth in love.   Grace and truth always go together.

What are your rules for Fight Club?  When do you know to walk in grace and when to walk in truth?