I am no marriage expert. I am not a counselor. I have not performed or assisted in any scientific studies on the topic. My profession does not remotely work with the subject matter. I have no credentials to qualify me to discuss the matter.
Truth be told – I am nearly the opposite. I have two unsuccessful marriages in my personal history, and I am now married for a third time. My ruin in marriage has been so well known among my friends that when I announced my latest nuptials, one of them playfully chided, “Third time’s a charm?”
So where my expertise lies is “what not to do in a marriage.”
However, today my marriage is amazingly strong. I love and am devoted to my wife in a way I only dreamed possible before. We have had a lot of difficulties in our short time together, but we have endured them and are very happy and very much in love.
How did this happen? How did I turn my marital style from negative to positive? The trick was changing my proficiency of doing the wrong things into a positive influence by simply not doing those things. Rather than look for a good spouse, I chose to become one.
Sounds simple; right? Yeah, just like a diet. Sure, we all know what not to eat, but not sneaking that doughnut or break-time candy bar or whatever is a whole other issue beyond just knowing. To oversimplify and say, “I’ll just not do those bad things” is setting oneself up for failure. Believing it to be that simple is catastrophic.
In my case, I believe making that trick work has been learning why I chose to do those things one should not do in a marriage. When Kristina and I had our terrible rift a few months into our engagement, we both used that time to learn more about ourselves and learn what we needed to do to become more a better spouse.
Ironically, much of that had to do with accepting being a spouse might not be something we would eventually do. I can’t speak for her, but I know accepting that being potentially single for the rest of my life and that this would not have to be a horrible condition took a great deal of pressure off how I could choose to be just as a person. I could concentrate more on what I needed to do for me, and in turn this made me a better person for her (when we decided to reconcile).
The other huge factor for me was to quit being a victim. This was a bit more difficult to sort through, and I still struggle with it today – and not just in the dealings with my wife. However, specific to my previous marriages, when things would get rocky, I would play the “woe is me” card and think how bad I had it. I would grumble, and I was good at it – still am at times.
I came across a Proverb that helped me recognize my victimhood attitude was more a matter of self than circumstance. “Every day is a terrible day for a miserable person…” it said. Ew…that hurt. I was a miserable person. I had to face the truth, but more importantly, I wanted to fix that.
So, I dug deeper. I discovered that I had convinced myself I was the victim because of the flaws, mistakes and wrongs of other people. This most definitely included my two previous wives. However, at the time I had just applied this same logic to my fiancée and had driven her away. For the record, “driven her away” is not a metaphor. I was cruel and spiteful and forced her out of my home. (I am very fortunate and grateful for her grace and forgiveness.)
This woman was amazing; not perfect – for no such person exists. Nonetheless, just a short time before I had taken inventory of this woman’s character and found her worthy to marry. How then in just a few months did I determine she was so flawed?
There were two possibilities as I saw it. The first was I am a horrible judge of character. This was (and I suppose still is) possible. However, I don’t believe this is too likely of an explanation. Few people really are “bad” judges of character – blind judges perhaps, but not bad. Still, I didn’t (and don’t) believe I misjudged her initially.
The other possibility I found while reading the most commonly used Bible passage in wedding ceremonies. Thinking about wedding ceremonies when enduring a breakup with one’s fiancée is not something I recommend, but again I’m no expert – and in my case, it worked. The passage, of course, is First Corinthians 13, more commonly known as the Love Chapter.
“Patience, kind…” blah, blah, blah…We all know this scripture. However, one phrase hit me below the belt, and I knew how I had failed this time – and likely in times past: “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”
Whoa! There it was. Why did I determine she was so flawed? Because I had been keeping a list! And it wasn’t just the “big” things. It was every minor infraction, interruption, disagreement, difference of opinion and every other molehill in the universe. Soon, everything was a “big” thing!
In that moment, I decided to destroy the list and to never recreate it. While this was not a simple process, it changed my life. I still struggle with this. There are days I wake up to realize I have started making notes again. However, I have committed to myself when I recognize I am doing this, I destroy that list and vow again not to make another.
Whenever conflict arises, I strive to think first about what I could have done better. I try not to blame and create a list of wrongs whenever resolving a problem. I still do sometimes. And I’m not blind to the reality of what might have happened, but that is not where I concentrate. I focus on what I can do and less on the other person’s choices – and that’s a new philosophy that extends beyond just my marital relationship.
This has allowed me to be more patient, to be more kind, to protect more, to trust more, to hope more. For me, this is the key that fulfills all the other phrases of the Love Chapter.
I don’t apply this perfectly – for there is no such person who could. But it is my continued effort to try that makes the difference. It is what turns days of bad mood back into a bright connection with my wife. Rather than spirally downward to continual darkness, focusing on the negative, where my hope is doomed to wither, my new outlook allows the possibility of rebirth at any given moment, regardless of how bad things may have become.
So, although I am no marriage expert, if I may offer any single piece of advice for those trying to build a better life together, it would be this: Destroy the list!