Last August my parents gifted Mr. Fox and me with A Weekend To Remember for our eleventh anniversary. You can imagine our reactions were very different.
Me: “Cool! Two days with no kids!”
Him: “Crap. If this is one of those things where I have to hold hands with strangers and share my feelings I’ll hurt someone.”
A quick Google search assured him there would be no group sharing. It was a simple seminar with no small groups or embarrassing confessions. Instead we would listen to experts talk about topics we should be interested in like getting along, loving more, and parenting better; and then we could go out on the town in lovely Schaumburg, Illinois, and enjoy all the fabulous restaurants, of which there are many. None of this made Mr. Fox any more at ease. His jaw clenched so tight for the car ride out there I could see a vein throbbing in his cheek which, after eleven years, I have identified as a neon sign that says: “Don’t speak.” He was probably plotting his exit strategy.
Happily, it was nothing like he expected and we found ourselves laughing from the first minute it started. The entertaining speakers overflowed with advice we’d never heard before. Not only that, but it had been about five years since we had looked each other in the eyeballs without interruption. Was he always this funny? Have his eyes always been that blue? It was almost as if we had a chance to remember each other. Daily life with little kids is so fast and hectic that it is very easy to lose each other in referee mode. It’s pure survival.
What we learned, besides the fact that getting away is good medicine, was that most of our ideas of what marriage is supposed to be are cultural myths that are dangerous to a healthy relationship.
5. We’re too different.
Have you ever heard someone say their relationship failed because they were just “two different people”? Considering men and women are (gasp) different, it’s a little surprising it takes some people half a marriage to figure that out. If you’ve just discovered your spouse is opposite from you, congratulations! You’re on your way to being fabulously happy! Men and women were not created to mirror each other. It is sad that the differences we come to hate about each other are always the things that attracted us in the first place. The vibrant social butterfly who dazzled you morphs into a creature with snakes coming out of her head who won’t stop talking when you just want to go home. The strong and steady guy who calmed you now drives you mad because you can’t pull a sentence longer than three words out of him in one sitting. The cure for this is remembering in writing why you fell in love and recognizing that your spouse is not your enemy and his/her differences make you stronger, not weaker.
Marrying a polar opposite makes stronger parents. When you have children, and chances are you’ll have more than one since the average American has 3.5 children, each one will be completely different from the last. What would happen if an introvert was born to two extroverts? There would be no one to explain the child’s needs or to defend his rights to his feelings. If a strong-willed child had two compliant parents, the child would run roughshod over the family. Parents need to have opposing strengths in order to relate to their children on all levels. My eldest daughter shares many baffling traits with her father, and without his input, I would not know how to get her out of the house without a meltdown. Suddenly, his inability to roll with the punches, which always got under my craw because I can change plans instantly, became an asset when addressing our child’s needs. He knew instantly what to do, and it was as simple as just giving her ample time to adjust to the plan. This was a solution that never would have come to someone who flies by the seat of her shorts.
4. All men deserve abuse and women are long-suffering saints to put up with them.
If always and never are never accurate, someone should alert sitcom writers. Not all men are insensitive creeps and not all women are wiser and smarter than their husbands. Some couples feel very alone if they don’t fit the stereotypical male/female role as defined by this culture. Men are always said to want sex more than women and to have brains that can only comprehend one subject at a time. This is absurd and it can make a couple feel abnormal. My husband and I never laugh at comedians who talk about marriage because we can’t relate at all. Ours is just the opposite. My husband isn’t insensitive or lazy or stupid. He’s quite cerebral and capable of multi-tasking. I’m the one who tends to be insensitive, lazy, and scattered. I’m the one who doesn’t pick up my socks. But interestingly enough, it was hearing about the opposition of relationships that made us realize…we are perfect for each other. Clearly, we were made to fill in the gaps for each other because with so many of the men in the seminar laughing and relating to the stereotypical male stuff and so many of the women relating to the stereotypical female stuff, we realized the odds of finding each other (the two people in the room who do NOT relate to any of it) are pretty astronomical. Accepting your mate as God’s perfect match for you is key in coming to a new and better place in your marriage.
Our culture insists that relationships be 50/50 performances. Affection is only given when it is deserved. These types of relationships are destined for failure because no person can meet those expectations all the time. Dwelling on unmet expectations causes the focus to shift to the weaknesses of your partner, which turns into disappointment and desire to get revenge. There’s also no way to know if your spouse has met you half way. Popular culture says “you deserve to be 100% happy.” Is anyone 100% happy all the time? What is this lie? It is a dangerous belief for married people. It is a wrong perception of reality and a treacherous place to be because it leads to affairs. If you cling to a childish wish of complete happiness which can only be attained through another fallible human being, you’re going to be disappointed.
This week I visited a church in Oklahoma. Dr. Mark Rutland, president of Oral Roberts University, gave a message about our insistence on holding other people hostage to our idea of perfection and how dangerous that is in a relationship. Marriage, he said, is an adventure in mixture. Each person brings all kinds of baggage to a relationship and then unpacks it. Perfection is not possible. The truth swims in the waters of disillusionment and disappointment. People will disappoint you, including your spouse, and most likely it’s because you are holding them to an impossible standard of mythical perfection.
Relying on anyone for your happiness is not only futile but draining on the object of your desire. It’s a big order to “make you happy.” Every person is naturally self-centered and selfishness sets itself up in our marriages and causes chaos. In order to have a happy marriage, you must change that self-centered focus and fight against the performance-based relationship. You chose this person to love. Love is a choice. It is not earned. You love your spouse even when they are being rotten to you. And by loving them you choose not to berate them for not living up to your expectations. Happiness in marriage can only be attained when you choose to put your spouse first.
If you have a problem in your marriage, it’s you. You’re the problem. There are a few exceptions (abuse, substance abuse), but as for your everyday problems…it’s you. You’re the only person you have control over. Does the sound of your husband masticating meat make you want to crawl the wall while at the same time you assume you’re the picture of loveliness at all times? Ask yourself, am I the wife/husband I would like to have? That’s a scary question. What if you came home to you everyday? Are you a perfect partner? Instead of making over your spouse, make over yourself. Be the wife or husband your spouse wants you to be. Self-empowerment is all the rage, so empower yourself to be a good mate! It requires work that no one really wants to do, but if it’s important to your spouse then it should be important to you.
I can hear the feminists screeching: “What does she mean be the wife your husband wants?! Patriarchal BS alert!” In order to have a happy marriage, you have to tell the man-hating feminists to go bark up another tree. Politicking has no place in marriage. Men are hardwired to respond positively to respect while women are wired to respond to love. The best advice my mother ever offered was to be careful to use words to build up instead of tear down. It’s not easy when life gets in the way to remember to encourage and admire your husband, but it’s important to help solidify in his mind that you appreciate and love him. And when a man feels respected by his wife, he wants to love on her. The opposite is also true.
1. Good marriages don’t need marriage seminars.
Many couples who feel like they’re in a good marriage believe there isn’t a need for spending time on it. Most people don’t seek help until there are problems in the relationship. But why let them develop in the first place? One revelation that struck close to home at one of the sessions was that if a couple is not moving toward oneness in marriage they are actually moving apart. That is a frightening concept. It could explain why people wake up one day after years of going through the motions and realize they can’t take it for one more second and walk out the door. Autopilot is a dangerous place to be. Take the time now and invest time and energy into the most important person in your life.
Visit Family Life to sign up for a Weekend to Remember and inject your marriage with a booster shot of renewed commitment. If you get nothing else out of it at, least you’ll be able to share some uninterrupted time with the one you love and reconnect over a favorite meal or murdering the messenger.