Friday, May 15, 2015

Truth About Marriage

After almost eighteen years of marriage, I've learned some things. Not all the things, but some things, and after watching a sweet, young couple in front of me in the check out line a few days ago, I think I'll share a few of those things in the hopes that other young couples may read this and hear.

The young couple appeared to be in their very early twenties and still had the doe-eyed look of young love and I wished in my heart-of-hearts that they would hold tight to that love and never let it go, even when the doe-eyed look fades...and it WILL fade.  

It's the nature of new love. Those first flushes of excitement wear off and suddenly the fact that she actually does fart and doesn't always spend an hour on her hair or that he occasionally leaves his underwear on the floor and doesn't particularly care if the grass is higher than his knees begins to grind the rose colored glasses down to the real.  The real is where the good stuff lives, though, even if the Harlequin romances and 72 day marriages of Hollywood tell a different tale.

So, here's the truth of what I've learned after loving the same man for almost two decades of for better and for worse:

1. Sex matters.  Sex matters a lot. Too often, though, women use sex as a weapon and men use sex as a measuring stick for love.  Too often the world tells us that sex is only about the physical and we believe the lie.

To the women:  Sex is not a tool to get your man to do what you want, when you want.  Sex is not a toy that you withhold like your man is a dog there to perform tricks or finally have sex "if he's good". I have zero friends who play this game because I can't tolerate this kind of woman. 

Sex isn't like those stupid novels make it out to be. (Thank God)  Sex isn't going to always be up to the man to initiate nor should it be.  He wants to feel wanted, too. 

And to the men: A woman doesn't owe you sex because you took out the trash or washed the car or for any other reason. Sex isn't a reward system by which you can determine if she loves you or not.  If you only do the things you should already be doing in the hopes that you'll get laid, then your wife, and you, deserve better.  

You should do the things you should be doing because you love your family. Sex will follow because her heart feels warm and soft toward her husband who happily cares for her and what's theirs. 

This is basic stuff, guys. If your girl feels cherished and loved and knows you value her, your sex life will increase exponentially but only if you do those things BECAUSE you love her, not because you want sex. (read that again, guys)

Sex is designed to create intimacy with your spouse in a way that you can not, and should not, have intimacy with anyone else on the planet.  And, if done correctly, sex not only feels good, but also conveys a level of trust and love that nothing else can imitate or replace. A man's needs are different than a woman's but with the right level of communication and trust, sex can become the bridge by which many other obstacles can be overcome in a long-term marriage.  

PS....After 20 years of marriage, I will also share with you that "the more you do it, the more you do it and the less you do it, the less you'll do it".  

Sex, like everything else, must have a place in your marriage.  You must prioritize being intimate with your spouse!  

And here's another secret not enough long-term married couples discuss, especially among Christians (which is wrong!!):  Sex with my husband is better NOW, after almost twenty years, than it ever was when we first married and he fully agrees. Sex gets better with time!!

2.  Communication may be the key, but HOW you communicate is everything else:  We've all heard the saying that communication is the key to a good relationship and I don't disagree. You must communicate with one another. However, I think there should be a blurb after that statement that says "And HOW you communicate may determine if your key works or not."

 Ever heard someone use a tone of voice that lets you know they actually mean the OPPOSITE of what they said?  Your tone of voice and inflection matters when you communicate. It matters even more when you're speaking to your husband or wife.  Why?  Because your spouse can push buttons no one else even knows exist. Your spouse can find buttons that YOU didn't even know exist. Amen?

The tone of voice and the way that my husband communicates with me (and vise versa) determines if we're going to ACTUALLY communicate or if we're going to go around and around and around until we're both just about ready to vomit...or stab each other.  Not in the face or anything. Just in the arm or something. (just kidding...mostly)

Wait until you can communicate in a tone of voice that matches what you want to say before saying anything, even if you have to say, "I REALLY need to speak with you about what happened, but we're going to have to wait for an hour or two because I simply can't do it rationally right now."  When you feel rational, talk it out, tell the TRUTH about how you feel and recognize that the entire point of arguing is to find a compromise you can BOTH live with. 

Here's an example of something that happened in my marriage to give you a visual:  My husband is a toucher. He likes to sit cuddled on the couch and is always rubbing my back as he passes or basically just touching me in some way. He's like a super toucher.

I'm not really that way. You know what?  I'm the opposite of that, actually. But, he NEEDS to be touched. It's his love language. 

After we'd been married a few years I noticed that he got quiet when I'd sit in the love seat and read while he sat on the couch and watched TV.  I'd learned his "pout" and that was it. 

When I asked him what was wrong he didn't shrug and say, "Nothing".  (Stop doing that if that's your idea of communication. You're lying and your spouse already knows something is wrong if they asked. They live with you. They KNOW when something isn't right.  If you don't want to talk right then, then say that.  But, stop saying "nothing" when there's something. You're making the problem worse.)

When I asked him what was wrong, he didn't begin the conversation by accusing me or being angry at me. That wouldn't have ended well for either of us. He just told me the absolute truth in a conversational tone of voice. (Tell. The. Truth.)

What he said was this: "I feel rejected right now." 

I was horrified. "WHAT?!"

He went on to explain that when I distanced myself from him in that way, he felt rejected. We didn't need to have some big psychological discussion about why he needs to be touched to feel loved. We didn't need to have some long lecture about why he needs ME to initiate that intimacy sometimes. 

The simple truth is this:  I NEVER want my husband to feel rejected by me and if a simple thing like sitting beside him on the couch makes him feel better, then that's what I'll do when I can.

Oddly enough, I not only learned to initiate snuggling together on the couch, but I enjoy it.  This wasn't some big life change or sacrifice I had to make.  This wasn't "the little woman" having to change myself for my man.  This was a wife who loves her husband being told that something as simple as sitting side by side on the couch made him feel loved and cared for and wanted. And I WANT him to feel loved and cared for and wanted, because he is. Period.

Find the compromise, then go have great sex.(I'm not even kidding here.)

3. Prioritize your marriage into the #1 spot on your list:  Marriages fall apart every single day because one spouse or the other places something above their marriage on their list of priorities.  Whether it's a job, or money, or other family members, or activities, or friends or whatever else matters to you, nothing comes before the person you're sharing your life with. 

This one is much harder than it sounds.  It's easy for an ambitious person to place their job into slot #1, all the while thinking...Just as soon as I get this promotion, I'll come home earlier. As a woman who not only home educates her children but is also a real estate broker believe me when I tell you this:  You won't. You'll come home earlier when your marriage matters to you. 

It's easy for a Mom to place her kids above her husband and all the while be thinking...I'll spend more time with my husband just as soon as the kids are a little older. You won't. You'll spend more time with him when you make him a priority.  

It's easy to say to yourself...My friends were here before my husband and I shouldn't just drop them for him.  No, you shouldn't, but when you made vows to your spouse, your friends are behind your spouse on the priority list and everyone in that circle should realize and honor that position.  

Friends are VERY important and I want to clarify that if your partner tries to guilt you out of having ANY friends, you have a problem, but your friends should never try to guilt trip you into spending more time with them than with your spouse. Those people are not your friends. Period. 

I love him.

PS on prioritizing:  Dear men who play video game for hours after work every day even after your wife has asked to spend time with you:  Please put them down. No woman wants to look over at a man child who has callused thumbs because he plays games all evening. Gross. Your wife should matter more than Zelda or Call of Duty or whatever pretend world you think is cool and if she doesn't, stop looking shocked when she has no interest in you.  WAY too many women out there are having to discuss this issue.  Honestly, I'm not sure how I would have dealt with this one. My man plays games with our kids on occasion, but other than that, he lives an adult male life.

4. Never Gossip About Your Husband, Mostly:  Never is a strong word, so I want to clarify.  I think every person needs someone who knows them well enough to be able to share the good, the bad and the ugly, apart from their spouse. (This someone should ALWAYS be the same sex, too! More on this later.) 

 I have two friends that I trust enough to vomit most of my ugly onto when I'm about to explode.  These friends know me well enough, and have known me long enough, to know how to pray with me, guide me and when to just listen and let me rant it all out.  I don't discuss my husband with anyone else. Ever. EVER! 

 I don't gossip about him, I don't tell his secrets and I don't bad mouth him. I am his confidant and he is mine. I love him. 

Sometimes we scrape each others nerves, but I love him all the way, all the time, with all of my heart.  My two female confidantes know this and have witnessed this and would never lead me AWAY from my spouse, but always point me back TOWARD my spouse. If you're sharing with friends who do anything other than that when you're having a difficult time (and you WILL have difficult times), then stop allowing those people into the inner circle of your heart.  They'll break it, and your marriage, eventually.

5. Married Individuals Should Not Have Private, Individual Friends of the Opposite Sex:   I know I'm going to get emails about this one, but go ahead...bring it.

Married men and women divorce every day because they "just wanted someone to talk to and she/he was there for me".  Or what about this one: "We started out as friends and, you know, she/he just really got me. They're my soul mate".  No, they aren't.  They're the person you gave your emotional intimacy to because you stopped giving it to your husband or wife. This happens entirely too often to ignore. 

Married men/women should not be consistently hanging around alone with someone of the opposite sex. The ONLY exception here is a business lunch/meeting that your spouse is fully aware is happening.

Human beings are designed to make connections and we should. However, it is way too easy to spill a hurting heart to someone of the opposite sex that we've always just viewed as "a friend" and form a false emotional bond that is based on secrecy and lies.  It's exciting and reminds us of the time when we were still in the doe-eyed faze with our spouse.  

This is not love. This is lust, infatuation and the rush of adrenaline everyone gets when someone we find attractive thinks we're attractive, too.  Don't buy it!!! Walk away!! They fart and leave their dirty underwear on the floor, too!!!  Love is NOT a feeling. It is a verb. Put love into action, and walk away from anyone of the opposite sex who distracts you from your spouse and the vows that you made to them. 

6.  Money:  Lots of divorces happen because of money. We all know this and yet we still fall into the trap.  You have to talk about money.  Say it with me:  You MUST talk about your money.  You must know where it is, who is spending what and why.  You have to have a plan with your money and follow the plan.  The. End.  I don't care if only one or both of you work. The money, by law and, hopefully, by heart, belongs to BOTH people in the marriage and you must discuss your money. 

If money is ripping away at your marriage, you need counseling.  You may not believe that, but it's true.  Money issues will destroy your marriage if they aren't dealt with properly.  There is no shame in asking for help. 

7.  Recognize that marriage is work:   Marriage is work. I know you've heard this but you need to hear it again. Marriage is WORK. There is sacrifice involved in marriage, but it's beautiful sacrifice.  There is nothing I've sacrificed that hasn't been returned to me three-fold. 

Marriage isn't a singles dance, but a partnership that only works when both sides do their part and honor their partner.

It's hard work that can sometimes drain you and make you wonder why in the world you stay.  I've been there.  My husband is an addict. He fell into a three year addiction almost seven years and four kids into our marriage.  I know what it feels like to want to leave your spouse, and their heart, writhing on the floor. Maybe even kick it a bit after its on the floor writhing...

But, I stayed and we worked. WE worked. (No marriage will work if BOTH people in the marriage aren't willing to work) 

We went to therapy, both separately and alone. We talked. We fought. We loved. We made love. We fought some more and we found out that love has never been, nor will it ever be, a feeling. Love is a choice. Love is a verb. And marriage is work. Beautiful, difficult, satisfying, life-altering work. 

Another PS here:  My husband put down his demons through hard work, therapy and faith. Period.  If he had continued to abuse drugs I would have left him. 

If he backslides, I will leave him. 

This is not information he doesn't know and I'm only putting it here for all those women and men out there who are in a relationship with an addict.  The addiction is THEIRS. Only THEY can defeat it. You must take care of yourself or you will NEVER take care of your marriage. 

8. And finally, this:  Love isn't perfect. Only Jesus is perfect. 

Your spouse isn't perfect and neither are you. Give yourself some grace, cut yourself and your partner some slack.  We're all learning and growing and trying to figure this thing out. You absolutely MUST show one another grace and forgiveness. Do unto others...

That is the real stuff, people. That's real, dirty, messy love, which, as it turns out, is pretty freakin' awesome. 

NONE OF THIS APPLIES IF YOU'RE IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP:  Because I know someone very closely who was in an abusive relationship I always feel compelled when I'm writing about marriage to include this statement:  You must leave if you or your children are being physically abused. 

You must get away from the relationship if you are being physically abused. 

Call the national domestic abuse hot line at : 1-800-799-7233.  They will help you and they will do it anonymously. 


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