Marriage is hard. Did you know that?
So is life. So is parenting. Adulting is hard all on its own even without any of the other variables thrown in.
No matter how much we evolve as creatures of faith and compassion, we are still - more than anything – creatures of habit.
Ultimately this is a good thing.
Because habits are just skills. And we can “level up” literally any moment we choose.
You can train yourself to do just about anything. From drinking more water to walking across hot coals, the human mind and body and spirit are capable of limitless achievement.
Yet drinking more water and even walking across hot coals are a piece of cake compared to the habits we need in our relationships.
Contradicting yet complementary marriage habits we all need to develop:
Selflessness yet also self-respect.
Patience and persistence.
Strength and vulnerability.
Courage and trust.
Honesty and respect.
Kindness and boldness.
Love and boundaries.
Communication and restraint.
Awareness and maturity.
Just to rattle off a few… and those are the easy ones.
Practice makes permanent (how to build a habit)
Fortunately, or frustratingly, however you choose to look at it, these habits are built by doing. If you want more trust, you’re going to be thrown into situations that will require you to trust more, or be more trustworthy. If you desire better communication, you’ll be faced with circumstances that call for deeper conversations.
With intention and repetition, these habits can all be learned, practiced, and even taught to your children, becoming instilled within your family to shape for good every generation to come.
And they all lived happily ever after. The End.
Because at some point, you’re going to blow it.
The time machine
Every once in awhile in the dark corners of our marriage, there appears a door to a little time machine. Ours pops open when we’re working through pain or hurt or lingering/unresolved issues.
It feels really appealing to step inside that time machine. It’s comfortable in there, albeit musty and stale. It’s equipped with a (broken) communication system, an (outdated) atlas and an (obsolete) operations manual. Systems we used to use before we knew any better. Old marriage habits that served us until we outgrew them, at which point they almost crashed the whole ship.
I know that time machine is a hunk of junk. Yet any time either one of us is sitting in pain, anger, resentment, shame, or regret, it’s really tempting to get back in.
Bad marriage habits
We can hop inside and start blaming each other for our own personal unrest. And we revert back to the way we used to talk to each other – dripping with sarcasm and arrogance (him) and martyrdom and condescention (me). We can forget everything we’ve learned about forgiveness and grace and self-reflection and patience and kindness and actual communication and instead behave like selfish children.
And then, before we know it, we’re swirling in the muck of our past, lost in space, out of touch with any reality we now know. I can hear the words coming out of my 5-years-ago-me mouth, and I can see the look on his 5-years-ago face.
But we’re not those people anymore. (Thank God and His infinite mercy.)
And we’re not going the same direction we were 5 years ago.
So why do we keep getting back inside that time machine?
Because charting a new course is scary.
It’s hard to use new skills in a new way. Habits are HARD to break. And we’ve each lived a lifetime using those old, broken habits.
He likes to annihilate his opponent with arguments and trick questions.
I like to play the martyr and slink away.
So it’s harder for him, and not nearly as comfortable, to listen and respond with kindness and care instead of planning his next crushing blow in the debate to mow over the competition. And it’s the most uncomfortable for him to entertain the idea that he might not be the “winner.” (Helpful hint: there’s never one “winner” in marriage. You either win together, or you lose together. Strive not to fight each other but rather to fight for each other.)
It’s harder for me, and super uncomfortable, to stay in the fray and respond with clarity and bold honesty instead of using vague words and then walking away. It’s most uncomfortable for me to say what I really need, instead of what I think will simply smooth over the fight. (If this hits home, practice asking yourself these questions: what I am I really upset about, and what do I really wish could happen right now? And then say it, like a grown-up person. In actual words that other grown-up persons can understand because “clear is kind.”)
Get out of the past
We’ve spent some moments in the time machine this week, staring at old versions of ourselves. It stinks. And it always takes a few days to recover from the experience; lots of reflection and practice for me to remember who I really am, for him to remember who he really is, and for us to remember who we really are as a couple.
I like who we are now, and who we’re becoming. I'm proud of the new, better, healthier marriage habits we're creating. And I think we’re both ready to haul that time machine out to the curb. (Don’t come get it.)