04 Oct A Dream Come True?
We have been very conditioned by Hollywood and romance fiction to think that when two people find each other in love, they have lasting love forever after. Many women yearn in their hearts for the Cinderella story – a fairy tale love where each person fulfills and satisfies all the needs of the other, continuously, till death do they part.
Marriage is certainly the best environment for true love to take root, grow and mature over time. The fact that it is based on a public commitment, sometimes even involving God as witness and partner, means that couples affirm “I am yours; you are mine; no one else touch”. This desire for everyone to take note of one’s pledge to be there in good times and in bad is a mature and responsible decision on the part of love. It denotes a desire for permanence, responsibility and unity. With this foundation, couples can more confidently and completely make themselves a gift to each other.
However no marriage is bliss and happiness on a daily basis. Only Hollywood produces that. Honestly, there is no automatic pilot regarding true love. A lasting and happy marriage requires daily decisions to love, overlook small irritations, forgive, smile and give oneself, sometimes even where there is no immediate return. No marriage is smooth sailing, no matter how much it may give that appearance. Love is demanding. Two people who have two different gene pools, backgrounds, personalities, temperaments, psychology, physiology and emotional hard-wiring are bound to clash. It is only natural and should not surprise us. Actually, we come to discover with the passage of the years many sides of our spouse that we would never have gleaned prior to marriage. We discover their many strengths and weaknesses in the face of exhaustion, obstacles, high stress, uncertainty and suffering. It is the rough winds and high waves that require new maneuvers, over-the-top action and determined effort to challenge love to go deeper and not stay superficial. These are the natural twists and turns of marriage. Every couple has moments that shake their foundations. We are human and marriage illicits every feeling in our being at some point or another. Don’t be surprised by that.
A good marriage is not based on feelings. The initial euphoria of courting does dwindle after marriage. Couples leave behind their idealistic view of each other which developed under prime circumstances. Slowly, defects, character weaknesses, temperament clashes and tiredness reveal other dimensions of the person we married. It would be definitely easy to feel deflated, discouraged and complain. Couples may even question whether they actually love. It is at this juncture that marriage challenges us to leave the shallow, superficial love of feelings and move into something deeper. Love needs to mature. We need to make a decision of the will to love the other with their defects, not in spite of them. Of course this is easy to say; but, honestly, it requires work, effort and time. We all must come to grips with the idea that genuine love IS a decision; forgiveness IS a decision; being responsible to the vows we made in public and maybe in front of God IS possible. It may require working against the grain, swallowing our pride, and putting love where there is no love to draw out love. Nevertheless it can be done.
People are a mystery. Man and woman are two different sexes, but complimentary in many ways. We have to be careful not to make mountains out of molehills, to not always focus on what is wrong but rather celebrate what is good in the other. Real marriage requires sacrifice, a self-emptying love. That is not easy in a society that idolizes warm feelings, comfort, self-fulfillment and individualism. As Josemaria Escriva advises in his writing on marriage: “Avoid pride. It is the greatest enemy of your married life. In your little quarrels, neither of you is right. Whoever is the calmer should say a word or two to ward off bad temper for a while. Then, later on, when you are alone with each other, go ahead and argue it out — soon afterwards you will make peace anyway.” Too often we compare our “sacrifices” to those of our spouse. We keep score. This breeds resentment and is not a healthy approach. Our wedding vows bespoke a total self-giving in good times and in bad. Marriage is not a 50-50 proposition. It is about a total self-giving – putting out a 100% all the time. Marriage is not about me, my and I; it is about we; and, in order for we to flourish I need to focus on making my husband happy; because when he is, he’ll be making me happy.
Each day you will experience moments where you and your spouse do not share the same feelings, ideas, opinions and even styles of handling situations. That is normal. As mentioned earlier, you are two very different beings even if you have much in common. The reality of these differences therefore does not produce the Hollywood 24/7 harmony you may desire. Take note that the aim of marriage is unity, not uniformity. You want a unity of key values and a diversity of styles. This unity is attained more profoundly over time. You must love the potential into being. Keep your eye focused on the big picture (your love for your spouse) and don’t keep tripping over the roots that are sticking out (martial differences). Each couple will work at different speeds, in different ways and through various challenges to arrive at authentic love. In the process, you do need to accept your spouse at face value and not be so focused on changing him. This does not mean that you tolerate him, nor that you deceive yourself to think there are no problems. Rather it means that you realize it is not your responsibility to change him, but rather appreciate him for the man he is – someone who is part virtue and part fault. You accept the whole package that you vowed yourself to on your wedding day. This is so important to digest. Any comments from you that your husband does not measure up to your standards can cool his attitude towards you. You do know his conduct could be better and probably should be better. However it is not your duty to improve him; that is his responsibility. You are not his mother, his boss or his chief adviser. He is not a child, an employee or a client. Your job is not to order him around, to question everything he does and treat him as if he is inadequate. He is a man and he is your beloved. When a wife doesn’t give her husband the freedom to be himself, when she constantly pushes and nags him to change, she can unwittingly cause the destruction of a happy marriage. She is basically pointing out his inadequacies, humiliating him and showing a lot of disrespect towards him. For men, this is deflating, deeply wounding and very destructive. If God could risk man’s future happiness by giving him the gift of freedom, a woman should allow her husband this same privilege. So stop worrying over the faults you see and focus on his better side. Men usually are wise enough to want what is best for themselves, but don’t want to be pushed. They need to feel free to choose to change. They greatly need your respect, because that is more important to them than your love. At the same time you should not be more preoccupied by what others would think and say, rather than your husband’s happiness. Men expect their wives to provide the one secure haven where they can relax, be themselves and feel secure. Isn’t love and harmony in your marriage of greater value to you? Women must use their relationship smarts to approach things from a better angle. Be patient. Be feminine. Study your man. Attract with honey. Always assume the best and you will find it easier to show respect, which is critical to your man. You cannot force someone to change. Marriage is not a boxing match; it should be a dance where the two over time learn to co-ordinate their actions to step in rhythm.
Our lives are a sum of our habits and we all have good and bad habits. Habits take time to change; nothing happens overnight. We cannot control others; however we can control our own behavior. We are all part of our problems in marriage; and, we are all part of the solution. Actually, problems are opportunities for growth and we need to approach them in hopeful and positive ways. Although we naturally would like our husband to change, the most realistic change begins with ourselves and we must take ownership of this concept. If you are unhappy, struggling, or frustrated in your marriage, start looking at your own thoughts, words and actions. Examine how you approach your spouse and be brave enough to admit the habits or reactions you have chosen that cool your marriage. He does have his faults, but so do you. Realize you too have an ego, can be selfish and are not always your best self. Look to yourself for change. Consider making some small adjustments to put love where there is no love. Change your tone of voice, find something in your husband to admire, initiate physical affection, verbally affirm him. Criticism kills, you must rather construct. Drown evil in an abundance of good. Build bridges rather than highlight division. Spend more time thinking about how to make your husband happy. Open your ears to his requests, what he likes to eat, how he would like to spend the weekend or what is important to him. Show him in deeds that he is number one in your life. Intentionally express confidence in your man. Our husbands are real people who need affection, respect and love. When we stop trying to change them and start working on ourselves instead, our husbands change in response to the changes in us.
We need to give our all to being faithful to our nuptial vows. For sure this will involve hard work at times. Marriage can rub us the wrong way. It definitely demands selflessness; and this hurts our selfishness. Pride often gets in the way and we hang onto hurt and hurt others. We need to be quick in seeking forgiveness for the ways we disrespect our husband. “Honey, I’m sorry I did that (said that…) that sounded disrespectful. Sorry. I know I can trust you.” Men value respect over love and they really need it and want it from you. When he gets it, he can conquer the world. On the flip side, when you point out his inadequacies, you are driving him away from you. So it goes without saying, don’t compare him to other men because it does not motivate. In fact it insults and turns him off. Instead observe, study, accept and love the man you married with all his idiosyncrasies. We cannot and should not stop investing in our marriages because things aren’t going our way or are getting a bit bumpy. Marriage requires the best version of ourselves, not something less. Our difficulties are occasions to show by deeds our commitment to be faithful to our vows. We women have the power to either tear a man down or build him up. As we focus more on the strengths of our marriage, the faults will become less significant. We will relax more, enjoy and find the motivation for self-improvement. Unconditional love will unlock many doors.
Even so, love is demanding and we feel like we are often running out of fuel. We must often draw strength from others. Turn to women who have been happily married for wise advice. Check into good resources that have been recommended by trusted friends. This website proposes many good reads. Take time daily to ask God for help. Pray for your husband and more importantly about your husband. If God has brought you together, God has a vested interest in keeping you together. Take time too to confide in a mentor, rabbi, minister or priest to receive encouragement, bolster hope and optimism. Don’t hesitate to consider professional counselling if needed. Seek a referral from your family doctor or a trusted friend. Your marriage is the most important relationship in your life. Be always ready to roll up your sleeves and get down to business in making it stronger.
An excerpt from a book hits the spot for those having difficulties and tempted to throw in the towel:
“But what can we do?” ask many of those who are assailed by difficulties and who, in the face of the impoverishment of conjugal affection, are tempted to take the easy way out. “What can we do?” they ask.
Only one logical reply is possible: Fight!
Fight! — to overcome the obstacles you are faced with. All marriages have their share of frictions and problems. And it is precisely the sense of fidelity to an unbreakable commitment that makes people draw strength from weakness in order to conquer: “No other good and noble road is possible for me; therefore it is this road I will take!” How different is the attitude of the cowardly and disloyal, who when faced with the first serious difficulty, begin to think of desertion!
Fight—in order to overcome, with a charity that inspires understanding, differences of character, and mutual grievances. Forgive offenses, heal whatever is wounded, and seek to rediscover the peace of reconciliation and pardon.
Fight!– to rebuild the crumbling walls of the edifice of your marriage. Perhaps certain cracks were not repaired on time; maybe dynamite was even planted in its foundations. No matter: the work of reconstruction can always be resumed, even if it meant picking up from the ground, with love and sacrifice, whatever is left of a building in ruins.
Fight!–harnessing the resources of your remaining strength, which may be meager at times, along with those of your spouse, which may be meager too. Charity — never forget it — will turn your weakness into strength.
Fight!–fathoming at the same time, the expression written in the eyes of your spouse which reflect — though timidly at the start — messages of deep sorrow and desires that are never manifested openly, perhaps because effort is being made to safeguard remnants of offended dignity and honor.
Fight!–bearing in mind the look on the faces of your children whose very silence seems to proclaim that they, in the end, will be the innocent victims of an irresponsible decision based on so many “well thought out excuses.”
Fight!–from beginning to end, certain that nothing is ever irremediably lost, that one can always begin again, that hope will always open her door to anyone who knocks insistingly and generously.
Fight above all to avoid manifesting the slightest trace of infidelity, applying the means to promptly control the imagination when clouds of doubt or mistrust appear on the horizon. “An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure, goes the popular saying, so full of wisdom. Among the means to live this teaching, the first consists in the constant effort to preserve and increase the love that inspired your coming together in marriage, with great delicacy and affection, with an understanding heart that knows no discouragement.”
Taken from Marriage: A Path To Sanctity by J. Abad.
Love is not on automatic pilot for married couples. It does demand work on our part. We constantly have to recommit to the adventure we are on. We will definitely go through many ups and downs. Make a decision to do whatever it will take to work things out and move forward, even though there will be times where we didn’t feel like it. You might even have to fake it, until you make it a real desire. Trust that God too is keen to help and keep the two of you together. Tap into his strength. Take note as well that longitudinal studies reveal that two-thirds of unhappy marriages will become happy within five years if people stay married and do not get divorced. Hang in there. There is much we can do to strengthen and enhance our marriage. Tap into people and resources that give you strength, courage, healthy ideas and hope. Your decisions will have consequences on many people around you. Your own family for sure, the families you come from, relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. etc. Stand by the oath you took on your wedding day in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, till death do you part. Love is a decision, so much more than a feeling. Rise to the occasion and make it happen.
A Tale of Two Brains by Mark Gungor
- Carrots, Eggs & Coffee – Author Unknown
- Friendly Fighting for Couples by Marie Hartwell-Walker
- Tips from the Very Married by Marie Hartwell-Walker
- Days After Valentine’s Day by Dave Quist