SWM 130 – Building resiliency in marriage

.On the first Tuesday of every month, Chris from TheLionWithin.us and I co-host “Couple’s Night.”  Couples from our communities get together to talk about marriage. We discuss struggles, share ideas, tips, and a lot of funny stories. It’s an absolute blast. 

This Tuesday, we got together and talked about resiliency in marriage. There were about six couples in the Zoom call, and I thought they all had a lot of wisdom to share, so I tried to quickly take some notes and thought I’d relay them to you.

Because marriages need resiliency, we’re going to face struggles. They might be external, like events happening with your job, your family, your friends, and more. They might be internal, such as the type of struggles two individuals face when you put them together for long periods of time for years on end.

Challenges are normal, but we need to learn how to face them and not only survive them but, ideally, thrive and grow through them.

So, here are the six things our small group came up with.

Grace and Forgiveness

Now, this might seem obvious.  After all, we are all imperfect, all sinners and mistakes will be made, whether intentionally or not.  Being able to forgive each other and move forward is a necessity.  However, knowing that and exercising it in the moment are two very different things.

I imagine there are many couples who sing songs and pray prayers about grace and forgiveness in church and then yell at each other on their way home from the same service.

I know a couple where he is a deacon, she is a deaconess, and they refuse to share a car, even to the church, because they can’t stand each other’s driving.

It’s hard to forgive, especially when that person knows exactly where to poke you to make it hurt the most.

But it’s important to be able to forgive quickly and frequently because the longer you let that unforgiveness fester, the worse the divide between you will become and the harder it will be to reconcile.

Having a spouse who will extend grace and be forgiving gives a lot of freedom to grow. I’ve met too many couples where one or both spouses are afraid to say the wrong thing because the other spouse struggles to forgive and jumps to the worst possible interpretation. In a marriage like that, you can’t share your thoughts, hopes, dreams, or fears because you’re afraid that they’ll be taken wrong and you’ll be attacked for them.

In a marriage that exercises grace and forgiveness, you can express yourself and be known more fully. You can also work together to meet your hopes and dreams and deal with your fears.

Pick Your Battles: Choose the Hills to Die On

Not everything is worth a fight or disagreement. Some are.  If you choose to fight for every conflict, you’re going to find your marriage constantly in dispute, which brings a lot of stress and anxiety.  These are the things that turn people into workaholics or worse.

On the other side, choosing never to disagree about anything is also a problem because conflicts aren’t harmful – they’re just two people with different viewpoints.  If you can’t ever share your thoughts, are you in a relationship?

But there are times when it’s worth speaking up and times when it is not.  

If my wife says something like, “Isn’t this the most beautiful sunset?” It makes no sense for me to challenge that statement and say, “No—the one two weeks ago was better.” Instead, I should just relax and enjoy the view.

Not every conflict has to be a fight.

Be Okay with It Not Being Okay

Life won’t always be smooth. There will be periods of stress, confusion, and disagreement. It is a skill to be okay with not being okay for short periods.  You can get through difficult times.  You can overcome hardships.

You can even leave a conflict alone for a while in the right circumstances.

For example, I do not like the advice that you should never go to bed angry.  People take this to mean you can’t sleep if you’re in conflict.  I agree that it’s a good idea to let go of your anger, but that doesn’t mean you should stay up until 4 am arguing about what colour white the walls should be painted.

It’s okay to say, “This is not a productive time to argue – let’s get some sleep and see if it’s still important in the morning.”  Be okay with it not being OK for a bit.  Sometimes, it’s better to let the conflict settle a bit.

I’ve had coaching clients who choose to wait to have arguments until our next coaching session.  They decide it’s better to let the conflict sit and have it when I can help them have a productive fight than to hash it out then and there and end up hurting each other.

Now, if you feel the conflict festering and growing, then that’s not a good time to let it be, but learning to step back and let it just be there for a bit is an excellent skill to have.

It also makes you realize that you can still be a couple even though everything isn’t perfect – because when is anything perfect?  It’s good to still be able to choose each other when things are hard.

Have Each Other’s Backs

Life is much easier when you can go through it with your spouse as a team.  

I see so many couples who operate under a battle mentality. They have this paradigm that if one is winning, the other must be losing. Their conversations are all about “well, if you get this, then I get that” and “If I do this for you, then you have to do this for me.”  They’re always seeking to be even, like a business relationship, rather than simply striving to love each other, as a marriage should be.

But when you’re in it together, when it’s the two of you against the world, you always have a safe place to return to at the end of the day.  You can come home, relax and drop all the burdens for a bit.  My wife is my oasis in the world’s desert rather than another fight I must survive once I get home.

So, be your spouse’s partner, not their adversary.  Have each other’s back.

Take Your Wedding Vows Seriously

The traditional wedding vow, “’til death do us part,” signifies a lifelong commitment. For resilient couples, these aren’t just words but a guiding principle. This mindset of enduring love helps them navigate hardships with a shared understanding that they’re in it for the long haul.

We’ve been married for 23 years, and when people ask me how I do it, my glib first response is to say, “It’s pretty simple – you just don’t get divorced.”  Then I go on to say, “Now if you want to be happily married, that takes a bit more.” and it usually starts a pretty good conversation about their marriage and what the next step in their relationship might look like to move up a level, whether that’s from bad to okay, okay to good, or good to great.

However, the number one thing you need to improve your marriage is to stay in it. That gives you a starting point because once you can’t leave, you have a choice—you can have a happy marriage or an unhappy one—which do you want?

Of course, one spouse might choose happy and the other unhappy, and those are difficult cases, but most couples will, when asked directly, choose a happy marriage over an unhappy one. Then, it’s just a matter of aligning their behaviours to match the outcome they want.

Building a resilient marriage - 6 things that will help you build a marriage that will last

Seek Understanding

One of the hardest things to do in marriage is to try to see things from your spouse’s perspective. We tend to see things differently as men and women, and we know this, yet we seem to think our spouse should be able to read our minds and that we can read theirs.

We assign motives to our spouse’s actions or inactions that don’t exist.  We assume they can see things that we do when they don’t.  We say arrogant things like telling them what’s difficult or straightforward based on our own perspective, skills, resources and insights.

Learning to stop and think about what they’re dealing with, their history, viewpoint, mindset, and everything else that rolls into the context is hard to do but very worthwhile.

When we don’t understand what they understand, we need to learn to ask questions rather than simply invalidate their experience. That’s made a huge difference in my marriage, anyway.

Your turn

Those are the things we came up with. If you want to hear the stories, you need to come to Couple’s Night yourself. It’s held on the first Tuesday of every month, and it’s open to all our $5/month or more supporters.

And I’m curious: what principles or practices have helped you and your spouse build a resilient marriage? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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