Twenty-four years ago, my husband Zane and I, newly married, had a “the honeymoon is definitely over” argument. Zane, embarrassed that I was not eating the hamburger served at a friend’s house (after church, no less) because it was pink in the middle, gently kicked my foot under the table and mouthed, “eat the hamburger.” Not only did I not eat the hamburger, but I flew into a ridiculous tantrum afterwards that to this day we still call the “hamburger incident.”
This insane conflict so early in our marriage was a wake up call. If the “hamburger incident” caused such discord between us, what would happen when real trouble came our way? How would Zane and I answer God if He asked us the same question He asked Jeremiah?
If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? (Jeremiah 12:5 NASB)
Two decades later, (and by the grace of God), Zane and I are still married, thankfully more solidly than ever. Because we see so many marriages end quickly and impulsively, we have several pieces of advice to those who are wanting to throw in the towel when the going gets rough.
1. Marriage is a race to be run. The bible says that in this world we will have trouble. The same applies to marriage. Once the wedding is over, real life begins, and the infatuation begins to wane, couples begin to see the reality that marriage doesn’t just flow. It takes work. If you go into marriage realizing this, you won’t be blindsided when troubles come your way.
2. Look toward “old love.” When your spouse makes you angry (and he will), or when he fails miserably (and he will), or when he falls into sin (and he will), keep several things in mind. You are both sinners, imperfect people, and in need of God’s (and each others’) grace and forgiveness. If you go into marriage with the mentality of “if he ever does ___, I’ll leave,” then go ahead and end it before it starts, as it won’t last.
If during the difficult times you can visualize when yourselves when you are older, grayer, and wiser, you will find out that the power of those things that could have blown your marriage apart fades with time and perspective. They actually can make your bond stronger and enable you to help others along when they can’t see past the present pain of a current battle.
Zane and I tell everyone that “old love” is better and richer than what lies on the front end of marriage. To reach the point of becoming life partners and best friends, refuse to let any issue tear you apart before you make it to the finish line.
3. Never say the “D” word. When driving into Montgomery, we pointed out to our girls two billboards within a mile of one another, each advertising a quick divorce for less than $200. We explained to our girls that divorce costs far more than anyone ever imagines or wants to pay, and it is not an option to be floating around in our subconscious to pull out when something goes wrong.
In a recent report done by a University of Chicago sociologist, it found that two-thirds of spouses who reported being “unhappy” in their marriages but opted not to divorce considered themselves “happy” (in the same marriage) five years later. This clearly demonstrates how our circumstances and feelings can change in ways that we can’t see in advance. Ride the waves when the going is tough, and say to yourself, “things will get better.” They can and will if you both stay committed and don’t look for the exit sign.
4. Get help when your marriage is on the brink. Going it alone is a recipe for disaster when your marriage is on rocky ground. Other couples, especially older ones who have “been there and done that,” can be invaluable in giving perspective that you don’t have when anger or pain are clouding your perspective. Asking for help in advance is much better than asking for help in picking up the pieces later.
One caution about counselors is to always choose those who are well grounded in God’s word and whose advice will be biblically based. Zane and I have counseled several couples who have told us that other counselors prior to us had advised them to look at divorce as an option. If you are looking for help to SAVE your marriage, don’t go to someone who will toss out divorce as a solution.
5. Practice marriage maintainence at all times. One of the wisest, Godliest men I know, Mr. Roy W. Gilbert, Jr., gave Zane and me a good piece of advice early in our marriage. He told us to always be in some form of marriage maintenace, even when things were rocking along just fine. He told us to take classes, have ongoing counseling and accountability, and attend any and every marriage related resource we could. He said marriage had to be worked on, nurtured and maintained to stay strong.
Mr. Gilbert was right. Our marriage has never been so good (or bad) that it could not be made better or improved by outside help. Zane and I have read countless books, attended myriad retreats and seminars, and been in and led numerous marriage classes and small groups. In every instance, we have some something to take away to make our marriage better.
For those of you who are looking for some kind of marriage class or small group, Church of the Highlands has hundreds of small groups that are open to anyone. A large portion of these groups are marriage related. In fact, Zane and I plan to lead a marriage small group this fall, and there will be many others to choose from.
The 12-week Fall Semester begins on September 2 and runs through December 1. The online directory will be available on August 26. Click on Church of the Highlands and go to small groups for a complete listing of offerings.
I would love to hear from any of you who have a wonderful marriage resource to recommend.