By Carol Manley, M.Ed., LPC, LMFT
Marriage is a sweet gift from the Creator. God blesses His creation with the union of a man and a woman through marriage as a means to teach about unwavering love. The character of Jesus and his willingness to die for his church teaches and models to every couple how to interact in marriage with loving responses and unconditional hope in the relationship. However, the reality of creating a joy filled marriage rests beyond the grasp of many couples. The romance of married life and the work of married intimacy often fail to coexist. Intimate marriage requires healthy relationship skills, as well as a humble heart. The character of Christ is to be displayed and practiced throughout a couple’s joint discovery of love and intimate life.
Brides and grooms eagerly anticipate their wedding day, believing they will experience a lifetime of fulfilling connection with their best friend; although, the work of marriage is often met with confusion, despair, and regret. Couples struggle to maneuver through unexpected relationship demands, necessary compromises, and Godly sacrifices that all serve to test or solidify their union. For many, the joy, the rewards, and desired oneness of marriage seem to evade their dreams and hopes. If you are struggling in your marriage, I invite you to begin assessing what you can do to bring about healthy growth and change. Spouses often concentrate on the negative character traits in their mate. I encourage you to examine your heart and your skills to determine how you can bring about healthy change.
Couples need to practice skills of communication and skills of conflict resolution. Just as a little league baseball player practices the skills of the game to complete a solid hit, couples must continue practicing and improving their relationship skills. The young baseball player will need to adjust his batting skills over and over until he/she can approach the game with confidence of the desired outcome. Missing the ball and possibly striking out does not mean the novice player should quit baseball. The rookie should continue to practice his skills, assessing what needs to be changed or improved. Marriage counseling aids in the creation of healthy relationship skills enabling couples to hit the mark in communication and conflict resolution while enjoying the game of marriage. Counseling can serve to teach both the novice married couple and those that have been married for many years skills that will enhance or improve the game of marriage. Counseling serves as a practice time for both spouses as each attempt new skills under the caring eye of a marriage therapist. Quite often baseball players cannot see why their attempts at hitting the ball fail, until they are coached at improving or changing their method of hitting the ball. A marriage therapist will aid the couple to learn to change their relationship skills. Counseling sessions and guided practice of marriage skills can serve to bring about desired relationship skills.
Marriage invites each spouse to journey in self-examination. The examination of one’s heart and the willingness to be humbled in marriage is paramount to a fulfilling marriage (Philippians 2:1-5, NIV). Jesus Christ models how to treat one another and how to practice healthy humility.
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look no only to you own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”
The healthy practice of humility is an empowered response that enables one to love even when the other does nothing to deserve a loving response. Isn’t it ironic that at the reciting of one’s wedding vows to love another unconditionally, one is also committing to a lifetime of personal change and growth? The very expression of “I do” creates a lifetime mantra of “I am sorry,” “I forgive you,” and “I choose to give up my way.” For many of you, this gift of love, this gift of personal humility is met with internal conflict as your spouse fails to recognize your heart, your needs, and your own struggle to remain vulnerable in the relationship. Often, the pain of the relationship regrets and wounds serves to distance couples that truly love one another. Prolonged lapse of time and failure to work through the daily battles in a loving, forgiving manner leave spouses living under the same roof, coexisting only to get through the day. Intimacy is lost and walls of pain exist where fun and joy once existed. Spouses no longer seek the company of the one they love. Instead, many find themselves seeking solace in whatever coping mechanism seems to work at the moment, leaving the relationship starving for relationship nutrients of healthy survival.
I know that many of you are struggling to bring about the changes that will restore joy and love to your relationship. If you desire a better marriage, begin examining what you can do to become a better mate, even when you know your spouse also contributes to the unhealthiness of your marriage. When humility and healthy marriage skills co-exist in a couple, the marriage grows in joy, love, and laughter. Although many of you have never personally witnessed healthy marriage role models, marriage is fun and fulfilling. I encourage you to assess your own heart and your skill level of communication and conflict resolution. Just as the young ball player practices, trains, and receives coaching, husbands and wives need to learn how to be better mates. Take advantage of every opportunity to grow through marriage counseling, marriage education and retreats, personal marriage mentoring and spiritual avenues. I encourage you to keep your focus on the goal of healthy oneness, while practicing over and over the skills and compassion that will bring you your heart’s desire of a lasting relationship of intimacy.