Why do so many people offer you the same advice before you get married? It’s like there is a secret club that you are automatically initiated into when you are wed who share the same pieces of practical information or rather disinformation. It is never really informative for a successful marriage, it always seems like a desperate attempt to make you aware of their own dissatisfaction with their spouses. They say things like:
“I am so glad you are getting married because you shouldn’t be happier than me.”
“Remember these two words: ‘Yes, dear.’”
“Get ready for your sex life to be over!”
This information is usually divulged in a friendly laughable manner, but it is also disclosed as if it were Sacred Scripture. With divorce rates so high, I can understand why so many couples have predisposed deleterious feelings towards marriage. Why don’t we hear more practical advice about marriage and its beatific vision for the human person? Probably because like everything good in life, it takes much sacrifice to make marriage work.
This month my wife I and celebrated our four year anniversary and I have a serious revelation to share. I am happily married (Sorry Ladies). I am not just happy with my life, but I am more in love with my wife, Laura, now than the entire accumulation of our eleven year relationship. I am not going to say that our marriage is perfect because as with everything there is always a need to grow, mature, and forever polish that which is most prized in life. I will say that our marriage is sincere and open to the acceptance of one another.
I know some will say, "Wait twenty years until you can't stand each other", "Wait until more kids come" "Wait until there is a death in the family, then you'll think differently." Why do we measure marriage based on the amount of emotional crisis we can go through as a couple? Do our vows mean nothing anymore? Why do we doubt our promises to one another when the crisis comes? "I take you in sickness and in health, except when it proves to be very difficult for me."
I think so many marriages fail for two reasons: the inability to accept the other person just as they are and the inability for that same person to change. “I accept you, now change.” It sounds ironic, but is true when you uncover what acceptance really means. Professionals will tell you that marriages fail mainly because of sex and money or lack thereof, but I think those are results of the deeper issues of acceptance and change.
“The curious paradox is that once I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
– Carl Rogers
When Laura and I first met I was lost in a world of imagination and self-involvement. I cared for very little people and didn’t have much going on in my life. Without preparing for college I didn’t attend after high school. I held some poisonous friendships, ones that weren’t molding me into a better person. I didn’t have a car and was too proud to take a bus anywhere, even if it was to see Laura when we were dating. I was very quiet around people, closed off to society while Laura was very familial and social. I was numb from a visually disruptive childhood, but never let that on. When I think back on my personality then, it boggles my mind on how I ever got the girl. What could she have ever seen in that weak boy with a goatee? Well, I asked her one day and she told me that she could see the man I would become. While I am still struggling with my own acceptance, I can proudly say I have changed completely for the better. Laura accepted my personality, but not my bad habits. She clearly saw the habits that were preventing me from becoming the man that I was meant to be and she challenged the habits, not my personality.
I am still an oddball around her, making up lyrics to her favorite songs, talking to myself in front of the mirror, and trying to get her to laugh at my “genius” comedic timing. These personality traits drive her crazy, but she has accepted them. It is because of this acceptance that I challenge myself to change those habits that destroy my joy, well-being, and relationship with her.
Now this does not mean that a person in a physically violent relationship should accept this circumstance and all of a sudden their alcoholic spouse will change. Accepting the person is like piercing through their heart and embracing their true identity, that motivated individual that is begging to come out. In situations like this, the habit of alcohol abuse, for example, needs to be challenged and if that involves one spouse separating from the alcoholic then that may be what is necessary. Change can only come from the person who makes the decision to change. It is an act of the will.
Habits that alter your physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual states are worth questioning. Is my diet affecting my spouse? Is my creativity affecting my spouse? Are my emotions pushing my spouse away? Are my spiritual habits too advanced for my spouse or are they too vague? Acceptance inspires change. Think of a rebellious teenager's reason for closing off to his parents, “You don’t understand me!” That same teenager opens up to the friends who accept him as he is. Sooner or later that kid will begin to change and conform to the habits of his friends.
Marriages are in desperate need for spousal acceptance which inspires positive change.
I do not only attribute acceptance and change as the characteristics of our successful marriage. There are four more that I think are necessary. I call them the four "F's". And yes, I'm sure someone else can come up with their own four "F's", but let's stay positive people!
Laura is my best friend. If your spouse is not your best friend then something is wrong. Does that mean that we have to do everything together? While life experiences have more meaning when shared, we are still opposite genders. There are certain kinds of bonds that one sometimes needs from their own sex. Laura enjoys formal and impromptu sessions of discussion with her female friends that involve deep emotional topics. I just want to play basketball. Maybe suck at golf for a couple hours. I prefer physical competition where I can trash talk through my corporeal abilities.
Then there are the places I don’t want to go without her. Food I don’t want to try unless she is with me. Experiences I need to appreciate only in her company. (Unless it’s a movie…then I’ll watch it anyway. Sorry, Love). I can’t remember how I ever laughed without her in my life or felt joy. The trips I remember the most are the ones that only she and I take. I have vivid memories of our honeymoon in Mexico, our trip to Madrid, and our adventure in St. Augustine. No other memory can stand against those. They are filled with simplicity, togetherness, laughter, and a complete sense of unity. Friendship for us is as necessary as breathing. Our marriage cannot survive without it.
I still struggle with this one, but have come a distance. Laura is much better at it than I am, but I have learned the hard way that communication is key to a healthy marriage. Unfortunately, a crazy shift begins to happen in men after a certain amount of time in a relationship, they stop listening. For some men it takes two seconds of conversation and for some it takes ten. I have become aware that my attention is pulled in so many different areas, my neurological pathways are sending messages to more parts of my body and I converse more with myself when I am supposed to be talking to my wife. So we bump heads a lot due to miscommunication.
I understand that men have a challenge when it comes to expressing their feelings. Ladies you should be aware of this and help create for your spouse a safe ground to discuss those feelings. Men are hard on themselves. I am constantly beating myself up for forgetting to make a doctor’s appointment, not cleaning the garden or washing the cars, and not challenging my wife at times to live up to the best version of herself. Men want to talk about those things, but need a safe place to do it. Physical activity can only let out so much emotion, while the rest of it needs to be talked out.
Discuss everything especially finances, intimacy, work, and dreams. Laura and I started a dream book where we write our dreams in there to reflect on. Remember that it should be free communication, don't make your spouse try and pull the information out of you like she is extracting a tooth. So many times I have done this to Laura and it creates a divergence. If your spouse is your best friend then communicating should be safe, easy, and free.
Family is the support network needed to help you keep things in perspective. I have always had a challenge with my family. I grew up independent mostly, free from curfew, rules, and positive encouragement. I love my family, but it’s difficult to get emotionally connected to them. Laura grew up with the complete opposite. So you can imagine the provocation of a shy emotionally numb boy entering into an emotionally connected family. I have been challenged by my in-laws so many times to take care of my spouse and continuously change my habits. With over thirty years of marriage they are a reminder of success and a beacon of hope. The amount of love they have for Laura and I is immeasurable. You could count the molecules in the Indian Ocean faster than you could sum up the immense love this family has for us. Family is important within marriage. Many couples avoid each other's families or live with a deep sense of resentment towards them. I think if married couples really tried to embrace and accept their spouse’s family, they would find a deeper love and a new support network. I can only dream of giving my daughter the same support that our family has given us.
No matter what faith you are or if you simply consider yourself "spiritual", faith is the most important aspect of marriage. Faith encompasses not only a religious belief, but a unified set of moral standards. Faith serves as an aid during difficult struggles, a pathway to raise your children on, and a deeper love than you can ever imagine. I can tell you that Laura and I would not be married if it were not for our faith. In the early years of our relationship we used to be infinity for each other. We were each other's God and that was a weight that was far too much for anyone to bear. Together Laura and I discovered, nurtured, and lived out a personal relationship with Christ. He helped us get back to courtship, fostering a real love for each other, one filled with giving and emptying ourselves to God. We were filled with graces beyond comparison. We bonded in new ways through music by playing for our choir, retreats, and for a band.
Many couples have told us that they admire our marriage, but I can tell you that any joy they see within our lives comes from a life of "seeking the kingdom of Heaven". The greatest gift I have received from my faith has been a phrase that came to me one day at mass. I easily get frustrated when things don't go the way I planned. I think of myself as a perfectionist and want my marriage to be perfect in every aspect. One day I was praying for our marriage and I just had this thought in my head, "Stop seeking perfection, seek joy." So many times in life we try and control people, scenarios, and the course of our own lives, but experience tells us that things never go according to plan. So seek joy, not perfection. Joy is everlasting. Joy imprints the memories that are worth storing for later reflection. Joy is the fruit that marriage needs to thrive. Authentic faith leads to joy.
Prove it to Me
I remember when my love for Laura blossomed more spectacularly. It was when I encouraged her to audition for "The Voice". We flew up to New York and spent the weekend prepping for the competition. I was completely overwhelmed by my joy for her. I wanted her to showcase her talent and succeed for completely altruistic reasons. I did everything I could to motivate, keep her on schedule, make sure her voice was well lubricated with tea, and be present for her. It may sound silly to you, but for someone who would always think of himself, this was one time where I had no interest in me and I knew that I had truly changed for the better.
I witnessed Laura's profound love for me when I was diagnosed with Vertigo. It was a nasty spell lasting over five months. She put herself on hold during that time even when she found out that we were pregnant and took care of me. She drove me to work every morning and picked me up because of my fear of blacking out on the road. She took me to ENT appointments, set up a special bed for me to sleep on so I could get shut-eye, and cooked. She never asked for anything in return because out of her pure love she wanted to nurture me back to health.
Marriage is more than the wedding reception, it is a lifetime of opportunity waiting to be conformed into joy. You will inevitably face suffering, but through the bonds of deep friendship and free communication of feelings you will see that your spouse is there to help carry the burden not be the burden.
For My Wife
These last four years spent with you have been the most challenging, yet most fulfilled years of my life. It's not the same relationship that it was in our early years. While we used to be in awe of the "new", I am finding that my love for you is not dependent on how funny you are, how gorgeous you are, or how talented you are. I am discovering that my life can't be explained while it is separated from you. The very fabric of my identity as a man, husband, and friend is intermingled in yours. It’s true that marriage is meant to act as a bond for the complementarity of the couple. When I look inside myself it is your strength I discover. It is your voice I hear when I doubt myself. It's your love that motivates me. I yearn to become the best husband and friend for you because you are an extension of myself. Self-motivation is really a unitive-motivation.
I know I fall short in so many aspects of our marriage, but I promise to be forever open to continuous learning and consistent application of change. I am invisible without you. You are my foundation and existence. Four years have gone by since our vows were said and not a day has gone by that I feel discouraged. I love you deeper every day. I am freely here to help you find your happiness in life. I am faithfully dedicated to you forever. Together we have fruitfully extended our love for the world to physically hold, touch, and cherish (Imma). I am totally yours mind, body and soul. Thank you for loving this silly boy for so long. Here is to many more anniversaries. I love you! Ti Voglio Bene!
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