Marriage, Our Wedding

How to Keep Your Head Above Water Cultivating a Marriage, Our first 9 years

My husband and I married 9 years ago today in the dusty border town of Piedras Negras, Mexico. We made our vows at sunset in an old Spanish Mission and then celebrated with Greek dancing, a live donkey and bottomless margaritas.

The weekend ended and I found myself back in the lecture hall instead of on a honeymoon.  Over a few short months my husband watched the fun loving, easy going girl he married quickly dissolve into a irrational medical student who could not even begin to unwind on a weekend get-away. He who had once been considered a bit of free spirit found his creativity quickly confined by the lifestyle required by his medical student wife.

It probably didn’t help that we dated for only six months before we married and even during that time we were living in two different countries.

We had neither a blissful first year nor a wretched one.  We got along and enjoyed each other, it was just that being together took a lot of work.  We both did our best to be supportive and kind but it took every last drop of our emotional energy to keep the wheels of our marriage turning.  Overtime we moved onto residency, a home remodel, a church plant and a baby. We came to see our patterns, our weaknesses, our unrealistic expectations and all that helped. We continued to grow, but we had to agree with all the premarital advice we had been given, marriage was hard.

I finished residency and then worked for another year which kept me busy and kept his options for work pretty limited.

Finally two years ago we did an about face, he took a job which moved us onto a 7,000 acre ranch, an hour from the nearest grocery store and shortly afterwards I stopped working entirely.

It took a while for me to unwind, as in it took the better part of a year.  But somewhere in there our tense and tearful discussions which had been part of our routine for years disappeared. And we began finding common ground where we never expected it.  After 8 years of striving we woke up and realized that we had a great marriage, one that was far easier than I had ever imagined.

I share this story as a celebration. Marrying my husband is undoubtedly the best decision I have ever made. But I also share it knowing that some of you are struggling. Nearly half of marriages end in divorce and I can’t help but think that some of them are people just like us who wore out before they got to the other side of the struggle.

Every marriage is unique and complex and so I hesitate to give advice after my 9 short years of experience.  But I want to share some habits, some intentional choices you can make no matter the state of your relationship. These alone won’t totally transform your marriage but they can give you some goals to work on and  to help carry you through hard times.

Of course all of these are written assuming there is no abuse or addiction involved. Certainly if you are in danger get somewhere safe, if you find that you or your partner can’t implement some of these it may be a sign that you could benefit from professional help. And please do seek it, the joy of a healthy marriage is so worth it.

Habits for Cultivating a Marriage

1. Be kind. It sounds simple enough. But it is easy in the heat of the moment to resort to name calling or under your breath comments about how much your partner reminds you of their mother. Resist those urges. Much of the damage that comes from disagreeing comes from hurtful words that have nothing to do with the original discussion. Agree to be kind and hold the other accountable to this.   If you can’t argue without saying unkind words it is probably a sign that you need professional help.

2. Stay connected physically. It is natural to want to physically isolate yourself when you feel emotionally alone. It may feel safer but most of the time it does not help build a marriage. Part of marriage is being vulnerable and physical intimacy lets you do this even when you can’t agree on what color to repaint the bathroom.

While in the midst of an argument you may need to retreat and be alone for a bit, always make sure you come back together. Try finishing the discussion holding hands on the couch. Make hugs and kisses part of your daily routine even if you aren’t especially affectionate. Don’t withholding sex until everything is worked out, sometimes physical intimacy is exactly the key to helping you find a connection with your spouse. Of course if you have had past physical or sexual abuse this is going to feel different for you and you may want to get help to work through these issues.

3. Talk it out. At the end of an disagreement you should have both had the opportunity to be heard.  Don’t stop talking it through until you have both expressed how you feel.  You don’t have to agree with each other entirely but you do need to respect each other enough to hear the others’ side.  This process is exhausting but overtime it will give you insight into your own and your partner’s behavior. If you can’t do this go to a counselor who can teach you better communication skills.

4. Don’t underestimate the effects of stress.  At the time I thought we were handling our stress well.  But over the last year I have seen how much we were affected by stress every day.  There was so much about our work that we loved but it wore us out emotionally and we had very little capacity left to deal with each other.

If you aren’t getting along and you have significant stress from work or family recognize that this, rather than your partner, may be what is taxing your marriage.   Often we hold ourselves together for the folks at work or even for our kids but by the time we are alone in the evening we are exhausted and it just takes something minor to have us up in arms with our spouse. Perhaps the most important piece of advice in this whole epic of a blog post is this: Be willing to walk away from just about everything for your marriage.

5. Don’t assume that a weekend away will cure it. For us, during the long stretch of medicals school and residency, a weekend away was certainly going to involve an argument, I just could not decompress the way I needed to in that time-frame.  It took us about a year after we changed our lifestyle to feel like we fully embraced a new way of functioning. Weekends away are great but if you are dealing with significant stress and a challenging relationship you will probably need to make more dramatic changes to see improvement.

6. Don’t complain. While it is important to have mentors and people we can go to for advice (specifically those who have successful marriages).  It is also equally important that we avoid complaining about our spouse.  Depending on your environment this is not always easy. We love to share our misery and in this case we probably make it worse by doing so. If you need help seek it, but refuse to engage in conversations where you end up complaining.

7. Keep Learning. When we first married we made it a routine to read some sort of marriage enrichment book or go to a weekend seminar every year around our anniversary. While I didn’t love every book there was at least some nugget of helpful information in each one and  it gave us a great neutral place to start a conversation about areas that we needed to work on in our own marriage. Scroll to the end of this post for a list of a few books that we found helpful.

8. Pray together. If your spouse is open to it make it a habit to sit down in the morning or evening for a few minutes, be quiet and pray together and for each other. You can do this even when you aren’t getting along. Trying to stay on the same page spiritually is a huge asset to a marriage.

Start by simply reciting something like this together:

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and
light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all
our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou
wouldest
have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save
us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see
light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

9. Don’t bottle it up but don’t let it explode. Make a habit of bringing up small issues as they arise. Bottling up feelings can lead to resentment. At the same time be mindful of when and how your bring things up. Use affirmative language not accusatory, “I felt neglected,” not “you neglected me.” And be considerate don’t bring up an issue in the car on the way to a party, right before a big exam, right before bed, or especially in front of other people if you can help it. Talking about issues regularly can be exhausting but trying to ignore them can lead to more hurt feelings and more intense discussions when they finally surface.

9. Create a common life. While we were never able to schedule a regular date night we were intentional about inviting over friends for dinner and trying new hobbies together. In our hectic lifestyle doing something like reading the same book or just making sure to sit down for meals together is a step towards keeping a family unified.

10. Take care of your health.  This is probably the most overlooked area and it is so important. We have been, for the most part, healthy, and have probably always eaten healthier than the average American. But I still look back and realize where we were failing to take care of ourselves.

Most of us need 8 hours of sleep, not just on Saturday but everyday. We need a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, we need to be active during the day. We need to drink water and avoid pesticides. We need sunshine and time outside. We need to limit sweets and starches that affect our blood sugar and we probably need to limit caffeine too.

Chronic stress can deplete many of our essential vitamins and minerals and exacerbate physical and emotional issues.  Taking 400 mg of Magnesium everyday is a simple and valuable start to rebuilding health that has been affected by stress but there is so much more that can be done.  Don’t overlook this.  There are some things in our health that are out of our control but much of it isn’t.

 

For Further Reading

No book, or blog post can really do what it sets out to do, giving meaningful advice on marriage in this format is almost impossible.  Each marriage is so unique that it’s rare to find a book that feels entirely applicable. Still from each of these we gained some insight that helped us along the way.

 

Boundaries in Marriage

Love and Respect

For Men Only

For Women Only

Marriage Takes More than Love

Passages in Marriage

The Five Love Languages

Marriage, Our Wedding

 

For some more of my thoughts on marriage check out:

Why Practicing Hospitality is Good for my Marriage

Marriage and the Long Haul

On Marriage and Mystery Celebrating 8 years of Living Sacramentally (last year’s anniversary post)

 

Marriage

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Why Practicing Hospitality is Good for My Marriage

My husband and I are known for being easy going. But if you could have stood in the corner of our guestroom while we tried to decide how to arrange it before our company arrived last weekend you would have thought otherwise.  We both have strong opinions and it doesn’t take much  for us to start butting heads like a couple of pygmy goats.  We have a great marriage.  But our marriage requires a lot of work.  Yet even with the tense conversations about bed covers and pillowcases, we have found that practicing hospitality has a way of bring us together.

 

Practicing

 

So often these days household has become synonymous with house, a building where you sleep and shower, occasionally take in a movie or a meal.  But household is something much more complex.  A household is a place where all life and culture begin.  All of us are products of our households, we first learned there how to be people and to function in society. In our family we have found that when we open our home we open our hearts up too. Somehow in the hosting process we are able to loosen our grip on the things that separate us and are reminded of what it means to function as a unit.

 

Practicing hospitality puts flesh onto the bones of our values. Something as simple as  inviting guests, cooking and talking, has become way for us to establish our own sense of home. It reminds us that our household is a productive place and that what we accomplish here is  something bigger in sum than what either of us could do alone.

 

Hospitality also lets us see the best in each other.  My husband admires how I can pull together a meal, while I’m impressed with how he can carry a conversation. Through this process practicing hospitality has brought healing to some of the broken and hurting places in our marriage.

 

I was thinking about all this over the weekend when we hosted our first guests (since our move, we finally have most of the boxes unpacked, though not much on the walls and we used mix matched bed covers, but still had an amazing time),  and as I was reading Wendell Berry’s essay, The Body and the Earth for our reading group.  Here are some of his pieced together ideas on the topic.

The marriage vow unites not just a woman and a man with each other; it unites each of them with the community in a vow of sexual responsibility toward all other.   .   .  

There can be no such thing as a “global village.” No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one an live fully in it only by living responsibly in some part of it.   .   .   

To reduce marriage, as we have done, to a mere contract of sexual exclusiveness is at once to degrade it and to make it impossible. That is to take away its dignity and its potency of joy and to make it only a pitiful little duty-not a union but a division and a solitude.   .   .  

To last, love must enflesh itself in the materiality of the world-produce food, shelter, warmth or shade, surround itself with careful acts, well-made things.   .   .  

Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.

 

For us hospitality is a way to demonstrate our love of humanity right here where we live.  After all, each of us is made of flesh and Spirit  and each cup of coffee shared over our table is tiny step towards restoration between broken people, the creation and the God of the universe. Each bed made builds a another connection between us, in our marriage, and to the rest of the world.

 

 

This post is part of a series of reflections on The Art of The Commonplace. For more Liturgy of Life, subscribe or follow on facebook. To learn more about our reading group, click here, or check out our facebook group. We would love to have you read and ponder along with us.

 

Thanks for being here,

 

Erica

 

 

Marriage and the Long Haul Sometimes it's the little things that tear you apart and bring you back together again

Marriage and The Long Haul. Liturgy of Life. liturgyoflife.com

 

A couple years after we were married my husband (finally!) agreed to getting a dog. (It was good timing actually because a stray  had just had 11 puppies in our back yard, so we decided to keep two).

 

Marriage and The Long Haul. Liturgy of Life. liturgyoflife.com
Darling aren’t they?

 

Life with puppies was everything I had ever dreamed of until 24 hours into it when my husband pointed out that he was only okay with dogs if they were exclusively outside pets (maybe it had come up before, who knows, but it felt like a surprise to me. Besides who has a dog and doesn’t let them cuddle up on the couch and feed them scraps at the dinner table? Isn’t that the whole point?) There was no convincing him, my little snuggle babies quickly moved outdoors.

 

Honestly being outside didn’t seem to bother them, at least not near as much as it bothered me or the neighbors who put up with their barking. Still the dogs became a point of tension in our house. He was adamant and I conceded but neither of us ever really saw eye to eye on the issue.

.    .    .

But with time things change, and with our most recent move (6 years later and now down to one dog) our dog began sleeping in the house. This past week I finished making her a little bed and she now has the privilege of eating our dinner scraps and sleeps cozy, inside every night.

 

I don’t tell this story to illustrate me getting my way. In fact it was almost the opposite, at this point my husband was more eager to have the dog in the house and give her a soft bed than I was. I had grown content with visiting her when we went outside and not having to clean dog hair off the furniture. But in six years our whole life has changed, we now have a daughter, I’m a stay at home mom rather than working 80 hours per week, we are in a new house and a  new town.

 

The point I’m making is this, when you are married you are in it for the long haul.  While I’m all for settling arguments as much as you can as they arise (not going to bed angry, yahada yadha yadha), there are places where a husband and wife will disagree. Some of them are major, issues of spirituality and family. Others, like where the dog should sleep, aren’t as significant but still feel intense when you are butting heads over them. There are some differences that you can talk about until you are blue in the face, you can learn to see them from the others’ point of view but you still won’t agree because you are two different people. It is a common and painful reality of married life.*

 

But I have seen, many times, in our relatively short (8 years) of marriage, that as long as we continue to prioritize our relationship (spending time together, being truthful, patient, and kind) and as we grow as people (mainly spiritually, putting prayer and our relationship with God above all else) many of these differences eventually work themselves out without even trying.  Over and over issues that felt huge when they arose began to dissolve.  Seeing this pattern has helped me to relax when we disagree.

 

The key sometimes is giving it time. . . lots of time.

 

I’ve learned that time isn’t just waiting around, hoping things will just blow over.  The passing of time means sharing a common life, forgiving, healing and  changing together.  While God works through miracles and crisis, more often we encounter Him in the real things of every day.  We see Him in our spouse, eating at the same table, sleeping in the same bed, arguing, apologizing, going to baseball games and mowing the lawn.  Through these little things we grow, and in married life we become unified with each other and with God Himself.

 

Being married is one of the hardest thing we can ever do. At least, being married and truly pursuing intimacy with our spouse.  It requires a vulnerability which we don’t experience in any other relationship.

 

There is a misconception that if you are disagreeing or arguing you are doing something wrong or your marriage is failing (now don’t get me wrong, there is a right and wrong way to argue, it isn’t okay to be unkind or manipulative, and our dysfunctional ways of relating to each other need to be addressed, often with the counsel of professionals. But still being forced to deal with our own dysfunction is one of the benefits of marriage).  But struggling is exactly what we should expect from two people learning to live together in such an intimate way. You must disagree. It is the disagreeing and the figuring it out that binds you together (Luckily it isn’t only disagreeing, there are lot’s of fun times in marriage too, no doubt.   But disagreeing is part of it, and for the handful of you that almost always get along with your spouse, I’m happy for you, don’t take this to mean that I think you are doing anything wrong).

 

So it may take 6 years or 15 years or whatever.   It is a long time to wait to reach a consensus. But what a sweet consensus it is.  And what a cuddly pup that is snuggled up her little doggie bed.

Marriage and the Long Haul. Liturgy of Life. liturgyoflife.com

*Of course there are some issues that are much more serious than dog beds, this isn’t meant to down play some of the real dangers and tragedies in marriage, please seek out help if you need it.

 

Thanks for Reading,

 

Erica

On Marriage and Mystery
Celebrating 8 Years of
Living Sacramentally
Celebrating 8 Years of Living Sacramentally

Mystery, Marriage, Sacramental Living. Liturgy of Life
This picture actually has nothing to do with our wedding, though it was taken at a friend’s wedding. All of our wedding photos are locked away on a hard drive somewhere. Here’s to hoping I’ll see them again one day. For now this is the only picture I could find of the two of us.

Michael and I celebrated 8 years of marriage last week.  We usually keep our celebration pretty low key, this year I didn’t even post a picture on facebook(!).

We opted for a night in and  sushi from HEB (a Texas grocery store chain, for you out of state folks who haven’t come to visit us yet).

As it turns out, the options for grocery store sushi after 6 pm, in border towns are pretty slim, go figure. But we enjoyed some spicy imitation crab rolls covered in bacon bits with the help of an extra glass of wine and the flowers my husband brought home to make up for the food.

Then as we do every year we  pulled out a copy of our wedding vows, looked each other in the eye and recited them.

Here is what we said,

I, Michael, take you, Erica, to be my wife, my friend and my love, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in failure and in triumph, I will honor you, love you and cherish you, serve you and seek you until we are parted by death. This I do solemnly vow to God and to you.

I, Erica, take you, Michael, to be my husband, my friend and my love, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in failure and in triumph, I will honor you, love you and cherish you, serve you and seek you until we are parted by death. This I do solemnly vow to God and to you.

.     .     .

By the next day our celebration was already a blurry memory as we were in the midst of a .   .    .   We’ll call it, an intense conversation.  My daughter looked up and asked what was going on.

My explanation was this,

“When two people meet, fall in love and get married, it feels like you have everything in common. It takes about  6 months to realize that you have actually married your opposite, suddenly your list of commonalities is far out weighed by your differences.

So when functioning as a team you are amazingly capable of more than you could do alone, but maintaining the union takes an amount of work that is unimaginable on your wedding day.  Daddy and I are doing that work (I’m not sure she caught all of it but it was the best I could do, I’m sure she will  get it one day).”

I love my husband more each year, but the closer we become the more mysterious he becomes.   The more I know him the more I realize there is so much that I still don’t know.

Sometimes in the midst of the work of marriage I forget my vows, I replace them with something far too simple, as if my promise was just some obligation that we “stay together,” refusing to ever divorce.

And though there are moments in any marriage when just staying together takes all the effort we can muster, our vow to each other is so much more, to love and cherish, to serve and seek. There is no passive option, no moping, no doing the bare minimum. My vow is to be fully engaged.

.     .     .

There is a famous passage of the Bible. St. Paul has just gone through this long explanation about how husbands and wives are supposed to treat each other but then adds,

“This is a profound mystery,” and we all think he is still talking about marriage here, but he goes on to say, “but I am talking about Christ and the church.”

And we all do a double take.

It turns out all the stuff he said about marriage, is about marriage, is also about the love between Jesus and His people.

The work of marriage for us is turning brokenness into love over and over again.  As we do it we participate in Christ, in His love, and in His redemption of the world.  As we do it we  make His love known the the world in ways we will never fully grasp, at least not on this side of death.

And so we begin another year, another mystery.  Doing the impossible with a mysterious God who makes the unimaginable real.

 

Thanks for being here!  I’d love to hear your thoughts.