This month, my husband Justin and I will have been married for 14 years! We have certainly had some high highs and low lows and have learned quite a lot along the way. There are some things that you can only learn by experience, and I would have to say marriage contains many of them.
Being in close proximity to someone can be a good thing, but it can also pose challenges. Often, when I have a rough day, it’s tempting to take out my frustrations on the person closest to me. Does that mean they’ve done anything wrong? Not necessarily; it just makes them an easy target. In our marriage, Justin was the closest in proximity, therefore he often would get the brunt of my frustration, whether or not he was the primary cause. You might not guess it now, but I used to be more of a hothead, easily driven by my emotions and feelings.
…no great marriage is built on “toughing it out.”
It wasn’t until we were married for a few years that I was able to see clearly what was happening: the source for many of our arguments wasn’t that one or the other of us had wronged the other, but that we had allowed some outside situation to turn us against each other. Life is stressful, and there are many things that can rob us of our joy. When you get married young like we did, you do a lot of learning together about how the world works. When you are young and in love, the world is your oyster… until the bills start rolling in and you have a hard time making ends meet, your husband is diagnosed with a brain tumor, your baby is diagnosed failure to thrive and you feel helpless as she isn’t gaining any weight, you only have one vehicle so you’re constantly shuffling schedules around trying to make everything work… All of those situations were stressful and emotional, and honestly it would be easy for me to just lash out at Justin in my frustration without thinking.
I did not grow up in a home where a healthy marriage was on display. I hardly even knew anyone that stayed married long or actually enjoyed it if they did. Instead of having the understanding that marriage could actually help me through those tough moments by giving me a teammate to face the challenges, I was just trying to navigate those situations on my own and “tough it out”, because those were the tools I was given. “If I can just endure this, surely it will get better,” was my line of thinking, but no great marriage is built on “toughing it out.”
One day while having a big argument, we realized that the thing I was mad about had nothing to do with Justin at all, but that I actually needed his help to get through it instead of me taking my anger about the situation out on him. We had to come together and support each other as if we were on the same team and work together to make things right instead of taking our frustrations out on one another. How many times do we take out stressful job situations on our spouses? Or turn the frustration of a stressful day with the kids on our spouse instead of allowing him or her to help us through it?
Once we realized what was actually going on, we came up with the motto “Same team.” When our kids have been making bad choices all day and things get irritable between Justin and I, he will look at me and just say “same team” and it brings us back to, “Oh yea, this is something we need to face together instead of turning on one another.” It has been a real game changer for our marriage to realize that we do not need to do things alone, but that we have an ally and a teammate. Living in the reality that we are on the same team actually creates deeper intimacy as well because it requires vulnerability. Even when we’re married, it’s easy to continue to want to be independent and handle our challenges by ourselves, but this mindset helps us stop trying to do things on our own. It isn’t weakness to allow someone to help us, but actually makes our relationships stronger. In order to have strong marriages, we need to be vulnerable and intentional about communicating in healthy ways. I needed to learn to communicate that I was struggling with things to Justin so he could have understanding and help me, instead of me just being short with him. That has made a huge difference in our relationship.
It isn’t weakness to allow someone to help us, but actually makes our relationships stronger.
Whatever shape your marriage is in right now, I believe there is hope. Justin and I both came from broken families, so I’m sure you can imagine all of the learning we’ve had to do in this area. In our fourteen years, we have gone through some difficult times that have shaped us and made us really fight to stay together. I wouldn’t necessarily want to live through those experiences again, but I am thankful that we chose not to throw our marriage away. We now live in a “throw away” culture, where instead of fixing things that are broken, we often just throw them away and replace them with something shiny and new. Unfortunately, that is spilling over to our marriages and relationships. Don’t let your marriage be part of the the “throw away” culture. Get on the same team and see how that can help turn things around!
I could not let this post come to a close without mentioning my latest favorite thing. Ever since the Cavs lost in the finals this year, because Justin and I are on the same team, sometimes I’ll joke that Justin is being the J.R. Smith of the family, or if I’m doing something awesome, I’ll say that I’m being the LeBron. It’s usually in fun, and even when things might be getting heated, when we throw that out there it deescalates the situation rather quickly. Laughter is another great key to our success – even when we’re just laughing at ourselves!