When I got married, I expected that my husband would leave damp towels lying about. Many of the marriage resources I had consulted told me to prepare for this great pinnacle of frustration in married life.
However, I soon found out damp towels were the very tip of the proverbial iceberg in our new life together. My husband and I were unprepared to face a slew of fundamental issues about how to live together. Even though we had gone to premarital counseling and read countless relationship building materials, we now realized it is amazingly difficult to take two unique people with separate lives, goals, traditions, baggage and expectations and mesh them into one cohesive life and marriage.
Two years ago, we went to the Dominican Republic for vacation. We were relaxed, having fun and enjoying the sunny weather. It was wonderful. Enter the tandem sea kayak; nemesis of marital bliss.
I know how to paddle and steer a boat well. My husband, Jake, thinks he knows how to steer but, sadly, does not in truth possess this skill. However, I decided to let him try steering first because I did not want to appear controlling or psychotic on vacation. We began paddling the kayak with Jake in the rear and it promptly went around in little circles. To avoid arguing about this development, we devised a plan where I (Melissa) would yell out which direction to paddle the tandem kayak. This plan actually did cause an argument, so Jake and I thought it best to not paddle at all and "enjoy the ocean," which inevitably bored us tears. So, we paddled again, both of us going opposite ways and both of us convinced we knew the right way to steer. I ended up yelling in the middle of all the other cute happy vacationing couples, "I want my own d— sea kayak!"
The story is funny now and it illustrates how maddening married life can be. In marriage, there will be the superficial lifestyle conflicts, but there will also be deeper conflicts about what jobs to take, where to spend money, how much to save, where to live, how to fight, how to communicate, when to have children, what to do on the weekends, how to handle debt, how to handle emotions, when to trust, and on and on. I thought those things would be easy, but now realize … the tandem sea kayak says it all. When two people get married, they will do life differently. One person will think, "You steer the sea kayak this way." The other will think, "No, I have been taught to steer the kayak this way, and I know it is right."
How can spouses confront these deeper and often more emotionally entrenched issues without becoming two enemies battling over the right way to handle things?
First, do not be afraid of wise counsel. My husband and I have found it infinitely helpful to talk to trusted friends, pastors and trained counselors about our relationship, and we’re stronger because of it. These people have helped us enter into healthy dialogue about issues and created a safe place for conflict resolution.
It’s important to stress that going to counseling is not a sign of failure but of maturity and wisdom. Meshing lives together is messy and involves many heartfelt feelings. It’s OK to admit you need help solving certain problems.
Second, you and your spouse will have habits and natural tendencies that will clash from time to time. It’s OK to acknowledge that occasionally you’ll need individual sea kayaks. Not every issue merits a compromise and sometimes it’s better to let your husband or wife do things the way they prefer or enjoy. In addition, time alone or separately spent with friends can actually strengthen your relationship. Friendships outside of marriage provide support and sounding boards and alone time can help individuals recharge their energy levels, both of which are great for marriages.
Lastly, a relationship with God is invaluable in working through hard problems in your marriage. Most of us are selfish and want to do things our own way. We need the love of God to help us consider each other’s needs above our own. I certainly do! Having a firmly rooted faith and trust in God’s love and provision can be a springboard to show unselfishness to our spouse. It’s hard to do, but worth it.
I end with a favorite quote from a wonderful book called The Three Marriages by David Whyte: “Marriage is where we realize the other person actually is alive and has notions and desires that have very little to do with our hopes and dreams. Marriage is where we have to be larger than the self who first made the vows … [it’s] where we learn self-knowledge; where we realize that parts of our own makeup are stranger even than the stranger we have married and very difficult for another person to live with … [it”s] where we realize how much we want to be right and seen to be right. Marriage is where all of these difficult revelations can consign us to imprisonment or help us become larger, more generous, more amusing, more animated participants in the human drama.”
I agree, meshing two lives and unique people together is hard, but the result is a real, true and lasting marriage.
Jake and Melissa Kircher share further thoughts on marriage at holymessofmarriage.blogspot.com.