A Healthy Marriage is Worth the Effort

Although LOVE often gets reduced to a feeling, LOVE is a CHOICE!  To be in a healthy marriage relationship, I must make the CHOICE to do what it takes and hold to my commitment over the long haul.

Good marriages are not automatic for anyone.  We bring our “single” problems into marriage, set unrealistic expectations for our spouse, try to juggle all the demands of life, and are surprised that it creates tension in our relationship.  It’s easy to let our own frustrations fester and look around thinking that everyone else has it all together.  Social media just fans the flames as we compare our dissatisfactions with others’ highlight reels...

After reading Pastor Carey Nieuwhof’s article, “How Sex, Love, and Marriage are a lot like Leadership,” I was compelled to preach, encourage, and challenge myself (and those around me) to address some raw, honest discussion about a healthy marriage.  May the “quotes”, comments, and article inserts stir us to action!  May God’s Spirit use these words to inspire us to make wise choices!

“Just like it’s easier to be unhealthy than healthy, at some points it’s harder to make [a choice to keep] the magic happen[ing] year after year than it is to keep starting over again.”  Too many people buy into the lie that maybe they just made a bad choice and they will get it right next time.

“When you are able to work through your issues in a marriage, everything gets better.  There’s a certain joy that comes in being with the same person for many years.  We know things about each other that no one else can know.  We can read each other better than anyone else can read us.  And the deep pleasure in simply being together grows every year.  There’s an intimacy that only time can deliver that is almost hard to put into words.”  These are words worth reading again to chew on!  There is no shortcut to a great marriage relationship and the joy developed over time!

There will be some joyless seasonsIt’s not all dancing and singing all the time.  God uses dark nights of the soul to grow us and shape us.  If you’re being faithful, your emotions eventually catch up to your obedience.”  Feelings don’t have brains.  Make the next right choice and stop leaving divorce as an option.

 “So many relationships fail because one partner says the other partner is the problem.  The longer you stay in a relationship the more you will have to come to terms with the grinding truth you are the cap on progress.  That’s why serial relationships [are] so widespread.  Leave soon enough and you never have to look in the mirror.  It’s always someone else’s fault.  It’s easier to leave or have an affair than it is to work through your issues.  Wise people understand that and embrace that they are the problem.”  When the problem is bigger than you, don’t just ignore it, give up, or try harder, get outside help!  We all need coaches, mentors, counselors, friends, etc. that we give permission to point out our blind spots and walk with us through change.

“Very few couples who make it over the long haul do so because they have “no issues”.  They stay when it’s easier to leave.”  Love is a choice!  It’s time to think about “dating” your spouse again!  Yes, reminisce about when you first met.  Yes, renew a commitment to romance each other.  Yes, say you are sorry and ask for forgiveness for areas in which you have taken your spouse for granted.  Pursue each other and plan a date night.  Rediscover their “love language” [gifts, time, touch, affirmation, acts of service -from Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages] and show them you care.  Write a love note and hide it for them to find.  Be intentional about looking at each other in the eyes and saying, “I love you!”

Carey’s article references a haunting article on having an affair.  Wendy Plump penned the article 12-9-10 for The New York Times, “A Roomful of Yearning and Regret: Modern Love”

NOT long ago, the friend of a friend spent the night in a hotel room, which is sometimes what you do when you find out your spouse has been having a yearlong affair. His flight was sadly predictable — it’s all many of us are capable of after discovering such a betrayal — though I am sure he now realizes that mere movement is not a fix for that kind of agony.

I know this for two reasons: No. 1, I have had an affair; No. 2, I have been the victim of one.  When you unfurl these two experiences in the sunlight for comparison, and measure their worth and pain, the former is only marginally better than the latter. And both, frankly, are awful.

I recently offered my cheated-upon view of things to my acquaintance, who has returned every night for a week to that hotel because he cannot bear to look at his wife. A couple of years ago I offered the other side to a friend when she was considering having an affair.

Start, I suggested to her, by picturing yourself in the therapist’s office with your betrayed husband after you’ve been found out (and you will be found out). You will hear yourself saying you cheated because your needs weren’t being met. The spark was gone. You were bored in your marriage. Your lover understands you better. One or another version of this excuse will cross your lips like some dark, knee-jerk Hallmark-card sentiment.

I’m not saying these feelings aren’t legitimate, just that they don’t legitimize what you’re doing. If you believed they did, your stomach wouldn’t drop on your way out the door to your lover’s. You wouldn’t feel the need to shower before climbing into the marital bed after a liaison. You wouldn’t feel like a train had struck you in the back when your son asked why you forgot his lacrosse game the other day.

When you miss a family function because of work, you get over it. When you miss a family function because you were in a hotel room with your lover, you feel breathless with misery.

The great sex, by the way, is a given. When you have an affair you already know you will have passionate sex — the urgency, newness and illicit nature of the affair practically guarantee that.

What you don’t know, or perhaps what you don’t allow yourself to think about, is that your life will become an unbearable mix of yearning and regret because of it. It will be difficult if not impossible to be in any one place with contentment.

This is no way for an adult to live. When you’re with your lover, you’ll be working on your alibi and feeling loathsome. When you’re with your spouse, you’ll be dying to return to your love nest. When you are at home, everything in your life will look just a little bit out of register — the furniture, the food in your refrigerator, your children, your dog — because you’ve detached yourself from your normal point of reference, and it now belongs to a reality you’ve abandoned.

You will be pulled between two poles, one of obligation and responsibility, the other of pleasure and escape, and the stress of these opposing forces will threaten to split you in two.

I met the man I cheated with early in my marriage. He was the beautiful twin brother of a friend, something like a young Errol Flynn. I was entranced. My husband traveled a lot and I took advantage of that, finding myself at my lover’s apartment often. But at home with my husband during those ragged months, I was anxious and ill at ease. I should have been focusing on our new house, our new jobs, but my inability to resist the pull of the affair ruined all of that. I could not concentrate on our coupled life and frankly did not care to.

I knew I needed to stop it, but didn’t have the will to do so on my own. I had to enlist my husband, to tell him so that we could battle this together. So I admitted to the affair one evening after dinner.

Almost 20 years after that confession I can still remember how the whole world narrowed down to the two of us sitting there, that new truth congealing between us.

Once the affair is out in the open, you will strive mightily to justify yourself. You will begin many sentences with the phrase, “I never meant to — ” But one look at the hollow-eyed, defeated form of your spouse will remind you that such a claim is beside the point. You can both get over this, yes. But the innocence will have gone out of your union and it will seem as if a bone has been broken and healed, but one that rain or cold weather can set to throbbing again.

So, now take the other side. You discover your cheating spouse, as I once did, and what you experience is not far removed from post-traumatic stress. It is a form of shock. As your mind struggles to accommodate this wrenching reality, you won’t be able to sleep or focus. Your fight-or-flight mechanism will go haywire. You will become consumed with where your spouse is at any moment, even if you see him in the pool with your children.

You will lose your appetite. Stress will blow out your metabolism. You will torture yourself with details known and imagined. You will fit together the mysteries of his daily patterns like a wicked puzzle. Every absence or unexplained late night or new habit or sudden urge to join a gym, for instance, will suddenly make horrible sense. You will wonder why you were so stupid.

But as the writer Paul Theroux says in one of his travelogues, “It is very easy to plant a bomb in a peaceful, trusting place.” That is what the cheating spouse has done. Then detonated it.

Sooner or later your illicit, once-beloved object of affection will become tawdry, wearying. You will come to long for simple, honest pleasures like making dinner with your sons or going out to the movies without having to look over your shoulder.

On the other side, your spouse’s philandering will cease to torment you and instead the whole episode will leave you disgusted and bored and desirous to get out. You will just want to be with someone who does what he says he is going to do, goes where he says he is going to go, and can be found any time you need him because he is not hiding...

A great deal of comfort will come from your friends, many of whom will offer advice — hate him, leave him, move on — that you should listen to politely and then reject. After all, the consequences of your decisions will be visited upon you, not your friends. They will be only too happy to amplify your confusion, listen to you cry, and then get into the car and drive home to their own intact families...

I look at my parents and at how much simpler their lives are at the ages of 75, mostly because they haven’t marred the landscape with grand-scale deceit. They have this marriage of 50-some years behind them, and it is a monument to success. A few weeks or months of illicit passion could not hold a candle to it.

If you imagine yourself in such a situation, where would you fit an affair in neatly? If you were 75, which would you rather have: years of steady if occasionally strained devotion, or something that looks a little bit like the Iraqi city of Fallujah, cratered with spent artillery?

From where I stand now, it all just looks like a cheap hotel room, whether you’re in that room to have an affair or to escape from the discovery of one.

And despite the sex and the excitement, or the drama and the fix of everyone’s empathetic attention, there is no view from this room that is worth having.

Comments Posted sprag80 “The article encapsulates my experiences in betraying my wife and family.”

A healthy marriage relationship takes work, effort, and commitment over the long haul.  Only God can fill all of the longings and desires in a person, so don’t expect marriage to have all the answers.  Others can compliment us, but were never meant to complete us.  Don’t buy into the lie that something out there is better.  Make the choice to invest in your marriage today.

Carry wrote an article, “How to Help Your Marriage Survive the Pressure” with practical ways to choose love in our marriage relationship.

1. We had dates nights.  We saw evenings with each other as investments, not expenses. Although we sometimes felt guilty for time away from the kids, we knew that one of the best gifts you can give your kids is a healthy marriage.  When it got really tough, I began to resent date nights because they would turn into ‘date arguments’, but I’m so glad we pushed through that. Prioritize your spouse. No matter what.

2. We prayed for our marriage. Again, I wish I was the hero. But I wasn’t. Even as a pastor, something inside me resisted praying out loud with my wife. We did manage to pray together, and we both believe with all our hearts that it is Christ who has kept our marriage together. A cord of three strands is indeed not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

3. We sought Christian counseling. You can see a pattern developing here, but it was easier for Toni to seek help than for me to do so. I’m sure it was pride. But good, Christian counseling, among other things, helped us to stop the cycle of blame and replace it with responsibility.

4.  When we hit impasses, we went to a third party. Having a handful of people (and a small group) you love and trust is a God-send, literally. We are grateful for our closest friends who prayed for us and helped us.

5. We took divorce off the table. This should probably be in 82 point font and underlined. Out of obedience, we refused to quit. I believe God wanted us to press through, so I did. And I kept thinking about the story I wanted God to write for my kids, family and ministry. Divorce was off the table.

6. We worked to build an authentic friendship. Sure, we were great friends when we got married, but many people go through a period for a decade or so where you so focus on the kids you almost have to reintroduce yourself when that season ends.  Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you’re friends. We’ve become great friends (again) and are really excited about the times ahead, now that our kids are getting older (21 and married, 17 and in high school).

7.  We put our obedience ahead of our emotions. Sometimes you have to do the right thing, even if you don’t feel like it. And eventually, our emotions caught up with our obedience. All the hard work and our trust in Christ paid off, and we are in a season where I think we’re reaping the harvest from the good seed we sowed in a tough season. We’re both incredibly thankful.

Toni and I share this in the hopes it encourages you.

While our marriage hasn’t been easy, it’s been so worth it.

We’re at a place where we had always hoped to be, but didn’t know how to get to.  And our emotions have caught up with our obedience.

> May your marriage become a model of how Christ loves the church!  Praying for you in advance!

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