When I think about the early years of our marriage I wonder how we made it this far. There were more than enough situations where Lisa should have left me. I had my own list of “justified” reasons for divorce at times too. But 3 kids and over a decade into this thing we’ve managed to stay together with our scars as reminders of what it took to get here.
This certainly isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a solid list of things I/we did or had along the way that kept us out of divorce court.
Commitment to Vows
I constantly think back to the day I said my vows to Lisa. The line that gets repeated over and over in my head is, “For better or worse… until death do us part.” I said a lot ot things on our wedding day. But those specific words I said to my wife in front of God and all our friends and family carry weight with me.
The vow I made to stay married no matter what wasn’t made lightly that day. I meant that I am in this thing on good days, bad days, and days that erupt from the pit of hell. I’m not going anywhere until one of us dies; even if it means we kill each other.
There are a couple of times I seriously thought about ending the marriage and not caring at all. One time I even filled all the papers out. The only thing that was missing was Lisa’s signature and a date. But my own voice kept creeping in my head saying, “For better or worse, until death do us part.” I couldn’t shake it. So I stayed.
I’ve never regretted staying.
Willingness to Stay in the Fight
Staying in the fight doesn’t mean keep the argument going. But it does mean when a disagreement or argument arises I need to stick around to have the uncomfortable conversations.
Marriage requires LOTS of talks that we don’t want to have. It could be as simple as, “Why don’t you wipe the counters after you make a mess?” Or it could be a more difficult one like, “Why is your family like that?”
Whatever it is, we can’t walk away from discussions that are difficult. Often I find those are the most important conversations to have as they lead to potentially eye-opening realizations about each other.
Press in and press through. Stay humble and stay calm. Listen to understand, not to prepare your rebuttal. It’ll only lead to healthy conversations in the future.
Friends, Family, and Other Support
During the 3+ years Lisa and I dated, and the first 3+ years of our marriage, we had a mentor couple. Looking back on those early years of our relationship I think that was the single greatest asset we had.
When any issue came about, whether it be personal or as a couple, we had people we loved and trusted who knew us intimately that we could talk about things with.
They had endured many storms themselves and were a profound source of wisdom.
I feel blessed to have a great relationship with my parents. I have a great relationship with Lisa’s parents too; especially her mom. Collectively our parents hold over a century of dating, marriage, and relationship experience and wisdom. They’ve been through a lot in life and love, and have been incredible sounding boards at times. They (obviously) know us very well, which always helps.
Along the way I’ve also relied on two of my three brothers at times, both of whom are married. Aunts and uncles have lent their support and wisdom too.
It’s incredibly difficult to stay married if you’re living in isolation. We should all have people we can go to when we’re freaking out, as well as couples that are a few steps ahead in marriage that can help navigate the big stuff in a 2-on-2 setting.
There are life coaches, sports coaches, business coaches, and coaches for everything. We’re often willing to be coached in any area of our life but our marriages. Find another couple who has been married longer than you to guide you when you need it.
Regular Learning/Growing in Classes, Conferences, Books, etc.
I love to read. It feeds my heart and mind new info to make me a better husband and father.
Before and during dating Lisa I read books about dating. Then together we read a book on being engaged, and several books on marriage and relationships since we actually tied the knot. We’ve gone to conferences together and taken classes together. Growing as an individual person, as well as purposefully growing together as a couple, has helped us dig into stuff we didn’t even know was there.
We had a pretty long life before meeting each other and getting married, and there was baggage we brought with us. It takes intention to work through it.
It isn’t just about cleaning up the past, but working and growing to always be more awesome at being human. We’re aiming for a brighter future. We want to be all around better people for each other, our kids, and society in general.
Focus on MY Stuff, Not Hers
Some of our biggest fights came out of Lisa telling me what’s wrong with me and what I need to do about it, or me pointing out how I think she’s broken and listing all the great ideas I have for fixing her.
Trying to fix our spouses only creates an environment for getting defensive and resentful. Regardless of our intentions, it comes across as “I’m better than you, you need to get on my level.”
One of the greatest contributions you will ever make to your marriage is to own your stuff and work on it. As a married couple we are in this incredible symbiotic relationship. When one of us “gets better” it only makes the relationship healthier and benefits both parties.
We can’t be responsible for anyone but ourselves. Take initiative to do self-work and self-care for the benefit of you both.
Willingness to Talk Honestly, to Be Vulnerable
This one seems to consistently be the most difficult to do. But it may also be the most powerful when I’m able to bring myself to that point.
It’s a weird thing to be afraid to talk to the person you love, and who loves you the most. Being in my wife’s presence should be the most comfortable, open, honest, free-to-be-myself environment in the world. Yet, sometimes it’s not
I’m often terrified of her reaction to my truth. A lot of times that fear is unfounded. When I bring myself to a vulnerable place with her it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. She usually reciprocates!
This is an area I’m always stumbling through to get better. But I can look back and see waves of love and understanding in the wake of the vulnerable moments in my marriage. Those are the moments we were able to deepen our relationship and push our marriage to new places.
Good things exist in the uncomfortable if we’re willing to sit in it and feel it for awhile.
I Don’t Give Up Even When I Give Up
This goes with vows, but I guess I just wanted to say it in a different way because there have been times I’ve given up. I’ve thrown the word “divorce” around in fights and heavily contemplated it alone with my own thoughts and anger. I’ve even filled out divorce papers and had them ready to go. But I always came back to my vows and I determined I wasn’t going to give up. Even though everything in me was done, emotionally I had given up, yet I stayed.
In the moment I may have been furious, but the next day or the next week I looked back with a different perspective and heart. Never once have a I regretted staying in the fight.
Healthy, connected families will change the fabric of society and culture for the better. So much pain and brokenness in the world is the direct result of broken homes. Our families can impact future generations by us staying committed to our marriages and teaching our children to do the same.
There isn’t anything we should work harder at than loving our families well and maintaining our connection to our spouse.
Want a New Perspective?
I’ve created a measuring guide to alter how you view your marriage and your spouse. Ask yourself these questions, your mindset will shift quickly.