Thursday, May 12, 2016

12 Principles That Can Make or Break the Marriage Relationship

This year will be my 25th wedding anniversary. Also, this year my oldest daughter will be getting married. So as you can imagine, I've been thinking a lot about marriage.

I read a random article that explained, among other things, that people who listen to hardcore rock music are by nature faithful and committed. So that made me feel more secure about my future son-in-law. He loves his Five Finger Death Punch. But it also made me laugh at myself for grasping at straws to figure out what it is that makes for a good, lasting marriage. Is that really it? Thrash metal?

So I started thinking about what it is in my marriage that keeps us together and happy. Neither of us are big hardcore fans. So what's the secret of our double-decades long commitment?

A lot of ideas come to mind. But rather than just rambling on, I thought I would address a dozen common marriage issues one by one and write about how each of them plays out in my own marriage. Every marriage is unique, but basic principles remain constant. Almost 25 years in and on the verge of launching my daughter into what I hope will be wedded bliss, here are 12 principles that can make or break the marriage relationship:

12. Keep other people out.

It may seem strange to start a marriage discussion by talking about everyone else besides the two people in the marriage. But it’s important.

First off, the one, clear symbol of marriage—the ring—makes your status obvious to everyone. That's important. As simple as it sounds, married people should wear a ring. It instantly identifies you as in a marriage. Whatever that means to most people, at least your married status is clear. Knowing that other people know you’re married may help keep you accountable for your behavior. It may keep some people from pursuing you romantically. (It’s always the most dramatic moment in a movie or TV show when a man or woman removes a wedding ring before doing something they shouldn’t.) Wear a ring.a

Of course, the ring you wear is primarily a reminder to you. You put it on at the wedding ceremony as a symbol of a promise that your marriage is only between the two of you. After 24 years I can’t imagine my finger without it. (Also, it won’t come off.)

Now, if you lived on a deserted island, keeping the marriage between the two of you would be no problem. However, you live your marriage among other people. Friends, co-workers, extended family relationships, neighbors—all of these relationships have boundaries already, but the boundaries shift once you’re married. They have to shift so that the boundary around the marriage relationship can be the most heavily guarded.

Tax law alone shows that married people no longer rely on financial support from their parents. Along with that, married people should no longer rely on emotional or social support from their parents, either. That looks different for different people. But the principle remains: Your money, your spirit, and your lives together are primarily between the two of you.
Sometimes it comes down to what you share with other people and what you keep private between the two of you. The marriage relationship should be your most intimate friendship. It's a place where no one else belongs. No one else should know what you share just between the two of you. This should be the place where you open your heart the most and tell your most personal stuff--especially when it relates to the two of you. You should be your most vulnerable and share your most intimate stuff with one another. I’m talking about your dreams and your hurts. And all that comes in the middle of sharing what you’re plans are for next week. Marriage in its essence is a very close friendship.

I'm not saying you shouldn't have another person as a close friend as well, but even that close friend should not be hearing all about your marriage. When you share intimate details of your life you naturally feel closer to the person you shared with. If that's your husband or wife, then you're automatically strengthening your marriage. If that's someone else, you may feel emotionally close to that person. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be, especially if that person is someone of the opposite sex.

One clinical psychologist named Val Farmer puts it this way:

"Engaging in intimate conversations with members of the opposite sex leads to emotional experiences that cloud judgment, trigger fantasy life, and progress toward physical intimacies outside of marriage."

Even if you're only talking about your marriage with a friend or a family member, Farmer says that confiding about marital problems with a sympathetic listener provides a contrasting experience to whatever dissatisfaction might be present in the marriage.

In other words, you feel worse about your marriage.

I’m not saying I never talk about my marriage with anyone. I do. But I’ve learned to be careful about that. For me, that means not complaining about my marriage to someone else. If I need to bring up an issue, I bring it up with my husband. And in talking with other men I’ve learned to be careful to keep conversations on work, family, etc., so that I’m not talking about matters of the heart with anyone other than my husband, my family, and my close female friends.

One of my closest friends when I first got married was my friend David. And I remember very well when he told me that now that I was married we could no longer be friends. That seemed incredibly harsh at the time, but he was absolutely right. It would have been destructive to my marriage to continue telling David all of my intimate feelings. I wouldn’t want my husband to be friends with a woman. All the trust in the world can’t erase the fears of what could happen with that.

So we begin our marriage discussion with No. 12—other people. Keep them where they belong, standing by to support the two of you, but staying out of your marriage.

Maybe this principle is why so many weddings end with the minister reciting Mark 10:9: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Stay tuned for principal #11 next week!

Rebecca works in Kids Ministry at Flatirons is married and has three children of her own. Figuring out ways for all these kids to understand the love of Jesus consumes the bulk of her time. The rest is spent reading, writing, gardening and cooking. 

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