1. God is your Father-in-LawWe like to think of God as our Father, our Daddy, our Abba. That’s all very true. God is our Father, and He does love us, and care for us, and listen to our prayers, and want the best for us. He is going to bat for us.
But do you realize that God is also our Father-in-law?
He’s also your husband’s Father. And that means that He really cares about your husband, and He really loves your husband, and He listens to your husband’s heart cry as well. I imagine that one day, I’m going to stand before God, and He’s going to gently talk to me about Keith. He’ll say, “what did you do to care for my son? How did you love my son?”
I so desperately hope that God will be pleased with the way I treated His son.
I once read a quote from author Sally Clarkson, who asked, “what if the greatest act of worship you could do today is to love your husband?” And it very well could be. God loves your husband, and He planned for your husband to have someone to help him, to encourage him, to inspire him, to love him. God wants someone to appreciate your husband, and to urge him on in faith and in love. And that someone, that He has especially prepared for the task, is you.
2. I can’t change him; I can only change me.Has this thought ever entered your head: “I’d be happy if only he’d…” or “I’ll be happy as soon as he….” If you can fill in the blank, you may have a problem.
What you’re really saying is, “I won’t be happy until he….” You’re making a decision to place your happiness and your sense of peace outside of yourself and into someone else’s hands. You’re waiting for him to change.
The problem with that is that you can’t make anybody else change. Magazine covers don’t believe this; they’re filled with articles like, “7 Ways to Make Your Man More Romantic”, or “How To Get Him to Help Around the House”, or whatever else it may be. They’re focusing on you making him into the kind of person you want to be.
But that attitude is poison for a marriage. When you give your husband the idea:” you are making me unsatisfied. You are failing me,” he will tend to retreat. He’d rather do things in his area of competence.
What if you’re really unhappy with the way things are? I understand. But nagging and withholding affection and becoming bitter cannot bring about positive change in a marriage. Here’s what can: changing yourself. You can change how you choose to react to him. You can change how you organize the house if you feel that too much is being asked of you. You can get more hobbies if you find yourself relying too much on your husband for adult conversation. (I cover all of this, and more, in my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum).
When you change, you also change the dynamic in the marriage, and that, in and of itself, may bring change in how he reacts to you, too. But insisting that he become someone else will only make you miserable.
3. What if marriage is meant for holiness more than happiness?When you walked down that aisle, chances are you were thinking, “this is the man who will make me happy for the rest of my life.” That’s why we get married! We find someone that we feel happy with.
What happens, though, when you’ve been married for a while and you find you have different ideas on how to spend your free time, or your money? You have different ideas on showing each other love, on what sex means, or on how much you each should do around the house. And you feel unloved and unappreciated.
Does that mean the marriage is bad? Absolutely not! That’s quite natural. We all have different expectations going into marriage. But perhaps God didn’t make marriage to make us happy; as Gary Thomas says in Sacred Marriage, maybe it’s God’s best vehicle to make us holy. For a marriage to work, we each need to meet the other person’s needs. As we do that, the marriage becomes stronger, we become better people, and you may just find that happiness after all.
A few years ago I read about an experiment off of the coast of Brazil. They dropped two bottles into the ocean off of a boat at exactly the same time. The bottles had messages in them–contact this phone number for a reward. One bottle washed up on the coast of Ecuador 100 days later (it went north west). The other bottle went across the Atlantic Ocean, around Africa, and washed up on Tanzania a year later. They started in the same place; they ended up half a world way.
We work the same way. Unless we consciously try to stay close together, we will drift. Drifting is natural; if you want to stop the drift, you have to be intentional.
Most couples stop doing things together as soon as they’re married. Don’t. Now’s the time that you have to be even more intentional about staying close. Do things together–anything–everyday. Make sure you laugh. Find hobbies. Talk. Just be together, or you will find yourselves half a world apart without even realizing how it happened.
5. The marriage comes before the kids.
As soon as children are born they take so much of our attention and energy. They’re needy, they’re demanding, and they’re ever so lovable. But don’t ever make the mistake of prioritizing them over the marriage.
The fact that you have kids means that your marriage matters more, not less, because now other people are counting on you. And what kids need more than anything else is stability. When their parents’ relationship is strong, they are free to grow, and explore, and learn without worry.
Your children are only given to you for a time, and yes, you have to love them. But the marriage relationship is the one that will endure until death. Children will move on; you sure don’t want your spouse to. So nurture the marriage first, even once kids come. It’s important–especially to them.
6. If you win a battle, you often lose the war.Here’s one I still struggle with: I like to win fights. I think at heart it’s because I have rejection issues, and if Keith is upset at me, my goal is to prove to him why he’s completely and totally wrong. After all, if he sees that he has no reason to be upset, then why would he leave? (For the record, Keith would never leave, but I think this is what goes on in my subconscious).
I’m also a very good debater. I listen really well during fights–but I listen for loopholes so that I can blow his argument to shreds. It doesn’t matter if he’s just talking about how he feels; I can prove he’s wrong.
For the first few years I’m sure I won every fight. But it didn’t seem to be working. Keith was retreating inside himself, and I couldn’t hear his heart anymore. And over the years I’ve learned that you can win the battle but lose the war. When you keep winning, you sometimes drive someone away, because if one person wins and one person loses, you both lose. A relationship is about two people feeling loved, appreciated, and accepted. If you constantly push down someone’s feelings, you’re destroying that relationship–even if technically you are in the right.
So now I’ve learned sometimes just to listen and acknowledge his feelings, and then just shut up. I’ve learned that we need to find the win-win, not the win-lose.
7. I can determine my thoughts
Did you know we aren’t slave to our thoughts? We can change them.
During my pregnancy with our second child we found out that he had a severe heart defect (he later passed away at a month of age). All through that pregnancy I was a wreck. Someone, I can’t even remember who now, suggested that I start a gratitude journal, writing five things that I was thankful for everyday, even if that day was bad.
And I did.I even wrote it when Christopher was in the hospital. Here’s one day:
Feeding Christopher. Getting to hold him, away from the tubes, and give him his bottle. His eyes opened while he ate!
Becca wanting to cuddle that night
A beautiful sunset as we were walking home
The way Christopher fought the nurse when she tried to give him his medicine. He hates it! I love that he shows spunk
Having a friend drop off spaghetti for us
He went into surgery three days later. Those were some of the hardest days of my life, and yet everyday I focused on what to be grateful for, because I knew at the end of the day I’d have to make a list. And so I found myself searching for things to be grateful for. In fact, most days I remember having to choose the five best, not search for five, because I had spent the day trying to think of little blessings.
Marriage works the same way. When you are looking for things to praise, you will find things to praise. When you are looking for things to be grateful for, you will find things to be grateful for. So if you’ve been in a funk, always noticing the negative, let me give you this challenge: everyday, tell your husband one thing that you’re thankful for about him. And write down five. (you can tell him all five if you want!). But make it a practice to be grateful, and you will find your attitude changing.
There you go: seven thoughts that will change a marriage. There’s so much more, of course, that goes into a great marriage, and I’ve written a ton about sex and conflict resolution and friendship and more. But our thoughts determine our actions. Get our thoughts in line, and it’s easier for those other things to also fall into place!