Sally and I have now been married for 26 years 210 days (to the date of writing this bloggage). I am not telling you this to brag, but to set a context for today’s bloggage, which is about a few things I have learnt along the way. In my previous role as a local church Minister I used to prepare people for marriage by going through some ‘classes’ with them where we unpacked the vows they would be saying on their wedding day and explored what they would mean in their married life together. This is something I no longer get to do so I thought I would share one or two of the things I have learnt with the rest of the blogosphere. I know that not everyone is married, that not everyone wants to get married and that others want to but aren’t at the moment, and I am not trying to put a metaphorical pie in your face and laugh at you – in fact some of these thoughts might be helpful in your relationships with friends and colleagues.
- Communicate. I used to be a lawyer and had some clients who were going through divorces. There were lots of reasons that their relationships had failed, but one thing they all had in common was a failure to communicate with one another. That doesn’t just mean talking to one another, it means talking and listening. It means seeking to explain yourself and seeking to understand the other person’s perspective. It means not assuming that the other person can read your mind. It means not stomping off in a huff. It means not raising your voice (I think that if I have raised my voice it may well be a sign that I am on weaker ground). It means being willing to compromise or even change your mind completely.
- Little things matter. I don’t mean negative things like whether or not the toilet seat is left up, or whether the other person has habits that annoy you. What I mean is that both parties to the relationship can enhance it by trying to bless the other person’s socks off – and that can be done in little ways like leaving a note on their pillow; offering to cook tea when you know they have had a busy day; scraping the ice off the car windows if they are the first one who will go out; thoughtful things like that. And if both of you are doing that you will appreciate each other even more.
- Thanks. I have often said that one of the most appealing qualities in a human being is an attitude of gratitude. Saying ‘thank you’ regularly is a really important part of a relationship, linking together points one and two. It stops you taking the other person for granted. What do you appreciate about the other person? Tell them.
- Kiss daily. When we are in the same house we have developed the habit of kissing each other goodbye when one leaves in the morning and of kissing each other goodnight. The kiss in the morning reminds us of our affection throughout the day. The kiss in the evening is the last thing we do at night and as well as reminding us of our love, it also serves as a check to see if there is anything that remains unresolved from the day. If we don’t feel able to kiss each other then there is still something we need to talk about. Don’t limit the kissing to those occasions, of course, just make them the minimum!
- Settle things quickly. This is not just about not living off credit and settling bills quickly, it’s primarily about ensuring that you resolve any disagreements quickly. Don’t allow resentment, anger, hurt or irritation to fester because they are like infected wounds that will only get worse the longer they go untreated. Talk things through. Pray things through. If you still can’t agree, work out where the area of disagreement is and agree to disagree calmly and without blame. If it’s important, get some help. If it’s unimportant, forgive one another and move on.
- No lists. I don’t mean shopping lists or to do lists. Lots of people function with those lists and it’s been shown that if you go shopping with a list you are less likely to impulse buy and that will save you money. No, the lists I am referring to here are the lists of things that the other person has done that upset you, annoyed you, hurt you. If you forgive, forgive in the same way that God forgives – absolutely, completely, without resentment, with abundant grace and wiping the slate clean. Once something has been dealt with it should not be allowed to resurface in a later discussion – if it does it probably hasn’t been dealt with properly yet.
- Eat together. Sitting down and eating a meal together provides the context for you to discuss events of the day, to listen to each other, to sense how one another is feeling. It is intimate. It is personal. You are giving the other person your undivided attention. That means that phones, tablets, laptops, televisions, radios and other devices are not allowed at the table. All you can bring is yourself and your undivided attention.
- Support one another. You may not share all of the interests that the other person has. But at least show some support for them. Encourage them. Ask them about it. Congratulate them if something goes well, commiserate if it doesn’t. Sally is not into magic in the same way that I am, but she supports and encourages me in my interest. She sometimes comes to a show that I do, and I love it that she does that even when she’s not really interested. You don’t have to like all of the same things, but you can like that the other person is interested in that and be interested in them. One spectacular way of supporting one another is by praying for and with one another. You can’t do enough of that.
- Love. This may seem strange to be down near the end of my list (although I never said that they were in any sort of order. But loving the other person is important. However it’s also really important to recognise that there are different sorts of love. There’s the romantic, erotic, phwoar type of love. There’s the sort of love that you have for your family – strong enough that you would do anything for them. And there’s what the Bible describes in 1 Corinthians 13 – a description of ‘agape’ love. The romantic, erotic, phwoar type of love comes and goes. It is an emotional response to the other person and our emotions can be influenced by lots of factors. Never give up trying to kindle that sort of love, but it’s not the sort of love on which to base a lasting relationship. Family-love is something that is deep within us. It can be wounded, battered and even destroyed by the destructive behaviour of those we love but it is almost inherent within us at the beginning of our relationship. It can also be nurtured and grow by spending quality time with one another. The ‘agape’ love of the Bible is the one that will be the best foundation for a lasting relationship and the best way to get it is to be in a relationship with God who is love. Ask for his help, his presence, his perspective. Seek to see others the way that he sees them. And realise that this love is an act of will, not an emotional response. In the wedding service I used to ask, “Will you love…” and the response was “I will”. It was a statement if intent: I will seek the best for this person, I will be patient and kind, not self-centred or self-promoting. I will honour the other person. I will keep calm and not keep a list (see above). I will seek the best for them and be honest. I will protect, trust, hope and persevere.
- Laugh Laughter is not the best medicine. If it was we wouldn’t need antibiotics we would tell jokes. But laughing together helps break down tension. It helps to relax you. It helps you to enjoy one another’s company. Find out what makes the other person laugh and enjoy it with them. Find out what makes them laugh about you and be glad that you can do that. Be willing to be the butt of their jokes – but keep them in the relationship. DON’T run each other down in the company of others – build each other up.
- Final advice. This is something always worth remembering. One good turn gets most of the bedclothes.
There’s so much more that could be (and should be) said. I am not suggesting that Sally and I have the perfect marriage. I am not saying that I always manage all of the above (except for number 4). I am certainly not setting myself up as some sort of marriage guru. But it does help when I am married to my best friend.
Be blessed, be a blessing.