We’re going to switch gears a little here on the blog today and discuss marriage. Whether you’re married, single, divorced, dating, or somewhere in between – the reality is that relationships are inevitable, right? The quality of our lives is really measured by the quality of our relationships. While I wrote this post with a focus on marriage, these principles actually apply to all different types of relationships.
Jeff and I facilitate a pre-marital course and have coached young couples for years now, and through that process we’ve learned and grown so much in our own marriage. And it got me thinking – there’s so much I’ve gained in experience and wisdom that I wish I had known before I got married. Not only would it have saved me a lot of growing pains and heartache in my marriage, but I think I would have approached my marriage from a much different paradigm. My hope is that this post challenges you a bit today. ?
- Everyone enters relationships with unspoken expectations.
These are expectations that we’re likely not even conscious of. We’ve all witnessed relationships as we’ve grown up, and those relationships have made an impression on us. Whether it’s our parents, grandparents, extended family, friends, pop culture, or social media – even before we got married, we had an idea of how marriage was supposed to be. How a husband was supposed to act and talk. The things he was supposed to do to show for his wife and his family he loves and cares for them. Or maybe how a wife is supposed to be – the things a wife is supposed to do and say.
The catch is that if we’re not cognizant of these expectations, we can’t express or communicate them. And what ends up happening is that when those unspoken expectations aren’t met – and there will be plenty of times in marriage, especially early in marriage, when those expectations aren’t met – we get disappointed, frustrated, and upset.
I grew up in a small rural, blue-collar town in Northern Maine. And that’s just how my dad is. He’s the early bird gets the worm kinda guy. Blue jeans and grease on his hands because the guy could build and fix just about anything. We need a bathroom, Dad builds it. We need the car fixed, Dad fixes it. As far as I can remember, he was always super handy. I have three brothers, and they’re all handy in that way too. So I had this unspoken expectation that husbands and dads fix stuff. They just know how to do it. They install their own floors, lay their own tile, fix their own cars, and unclog their own plumbing! So I came into my marriage expecting that Jeff would be handy and able to fix stuff. Well, the joke was on me!
Jeff’s dad was a city guy living in Chicago. His parents were divorced so he spent time with his dad on the weekends or if they traveled, but he wasn’t really in the day-to-day with his dad. Jeff’s dad was a corporate executive – wore a suit every day, lived in a high rise, played golf on the weekend, drank scotch and drove a shiny car. In so many ways our dads were complete opposites. Jeff’s dad had so many talents and skills, but the man never changed the oil in his car a day in his life. So that became Jeff’s unspoken expectation of how a husband and dad act. Something breaks, you hire someone to fix it. Your lawn needs to be cut, you hire someone to cut it.
So you can imagine the adjustment for both of us the first time our sink got clogged and Jeff’s telling me he’s going to call a plumber. No freaken’ way! I’m under the sink myself taking the whole dang thing apart because I’m not going to hire someone to do something I can do myself – that’s what YouTube is for, you know!? And Jeff thinks its a colossal waste of time for me to spend 2 hours tinkering with something that he could’ve paid $50 to have solved in 10 minutes! And neither of us is right or wrong! The idea is that we just have hugely different expectations of each others’ roles.
When we’re feeling triggered that our partner isn’t doing something they “should” be doing, that’s a moment where we can step back and ask ourselves, “Do I have some sort of unspoken expectation in this situation? Do I hold an idea that I’ve never even expressed to my husband, and now I’m getting upset because he’s not living it out?”
Maybe it’s something he does with the kids that is so strange to you. Maybe it’s the way he does (or doesn’t do) the laundry. Maybe it’s a paradigm he has or a way he deals with conflict. Before you let it drive you crazy, ask yourself if you have an unspoken expectation and then talk to him about it! It’s a beautiful opportunity for you both to gain a deeper understanding of each other.
- The purpose of my marriage is not to make me happy.
Gasp! But for real, y’all! For me, this was one of the most powerful realizations. And the earlier we catch this revelation, the better. As we’re growing up, culture really drives this idea of that fairytale relationship, right? It’s the heart eyes, and the butterflies, and the happily ever after. The notion that when we finally meet “the one”, that person is going to make us so happy. Now don’t get me wrong, Jeff brings a ton of joy and happiness to my life. But I’m not dependent on him for my happiness. Jeff making me happy isn’t the purpose of my marriage. My happiness is up to me, and me alone.
You see, living a joyful life is something only I can decide and control. If I rely on Jeff for my happiness, or anyone/anything else for that matter, then I’m only ever doing as well as things are going. Or as well as the people around me are doing. I like to use the analogy of being a thermometer or a thermostat. A thermometer simply reads the temperature of its environment. It has no control over setting that temperature. If it’s hot, the thermometer will tell you hot. If it’s cold, the thermometer will tell you cold. It will adjust and adapt to whatever temperature it’s in.
Now, a thermostat on the other hand, holds the power. The thermostat can decide and control what the temperature is. Too hot in here and everyone needs to cool off a bit, the thermostat can do that for you. Feels icy and everyone needs a little comfortable warmth, the thermostat can control that.
I don’t want to let my husband or kids determine how I’m feeling. My kids are young and wild – their emotions are all over the place. If I’m only doing as good as they’re doing, then I’m going to be riding an emotional roller-coaster all day long! Instead, I want to be that thermostat. I want to control the environment in my home. I want to walk into a room, see and feel when things are getting heated, and be able to bring it back to normal temps. When things feel icy, I’m able to warm them up with a kind word or a gentle touch.
So, if the purpose of marriage isn’t to make us happy, then what is it? I think the purpose of our marriage is to make us better. Do you Mamas know and realize how much power is in a strong healthy marriage?! The impact it can have on a family, a community, and on generations to come?! It’s incredible. Our marriage is to push us to grow in our weaknesses. To stop giving in to our desires to be selfish, greedy, petty, snarky, and all the things we’re tempted to be. And instead, to push all that gunk aside and consistently serve each other. When there’s a deep respect in a marriage, that type of selflessness becomes contagious.
3. Women and men communicate in different ways.
No duh, right? We’re just different. We think differently. We’re wired differently. And we communicate differently. But it’s actually more nuanced than I realized. And it’s a good thing. A team with all the same strengths and weaknesses isn’t that strong – so it’s good that we’re different and can complement and challenge each other. We’re called to be united in our marriage, that doesn’t mean we’re uniform. United, not uniform.
Generally, when men communicate, they want the report. They’re not looking for all the fluff, they don’t need every detail and all the emotion – they just want to get to the point and solve the problem. Simplicity! But women generally want to build rapport – they want to explore the problem. Women want to talk about it and compare it and analyze it from every angle. The tone and the emotion behind their problem is important. They want to be able to vent and have someone listen and connect without always jumping in with a brainstorm of solutions.
Another powerful weapon in communicating better with Jeff has been to learn each other’s love languages. You can go to 5lovelanguages.com and take the quiz. Based on your responses, it’ll tell you how you prefer to receive love. They’ve identified 5 different love languages, and we usually all have 1 or 2 that really stand out as the way we like to receive love.
Jeff really feels loved when I give him words of affirmation. When I tell him how much I love him, and how awesome he is, and how good he looks – that’s the stuff lights him up. And he also needs quality time with me – time away from the kids, tech, or distractions where he can have my undivided attention.
The key is recognizing that our tendency is to want to give love in the same way we receive it.
If your love language is to receive gifts – you feel really loved when someone brings you a little treat or buys you something special – your tendency would be to do the same thing in return to show someone you love them. But receiving gifts might not be their love language. It’s not my love language. Jeff could get me 0 gifts for my birthday, and I’m totally cool with that. And sometimes when he has gone big on gifts, it can actually make me uncomfortable!
The way I like to receive love is through acts of service. I feel loved and cared for when Jeff makes me a cup of coffee, or washes my car and fills the tank, or feeds the kids breakfast while I’m working out. And I can’t expect for him to just know this about me. This is something we’ve discovered as we’ve grown in our marriage. Learning each other’s love languages and then giving love in the way that our partner prefers to receive love, that’s a game changer.
- Seek wise counsel
Years ago, I was given this brilliant piece of marriage advice that was so practical and so powerful – and something I hadn’t really ever considered.
The advice was this – take some time now, to have a discussion with your spouse about who you’re going to go to for advice when you hit a rough patch.
We wouldn’t take parenting advice from our teenage cousin! Or we wouldn’t take career advice from our friend who can’t hold down a steady job and is miserable where she works. And we have to be as discerning, if not more so, about who we’re letting speak into our marriages. I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t take advice from anyone you wouldn’t trade places with. It’s so true.
With that in mind, I want to know who’s speaking into my marriage. My marriage is too important to me, to risk being given poor advice. When Jeff and I disagree, I don’t want him getting advice from his buddy who’s never been married. I don’t want him getting advice from the bartender at the pizza place. So, the idea is to have a conversation now – not when you’re in the middle of the storm – but now, when you’re both cool and calm, and discuss and agree on who has the green light to speak into your marriage when you need advice.
Find a couple who’s been married for decades. Look for a couple that has a healthy marriage you respect. A couple that’s been through some real stuff has stayed committed to each other and made it through. Whatever it is that’s important to you, find someone you agree on who’s further along in the marriage journey than you are and who can speak into your marriage when you need it.
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