Happily Ever After
As a pastor, I have the privilege and great responsibility of marrying couples. Each time it is a unique experience even when the vows are similar. Every bride and groom has their own ideas of what marriage will be like and how they will live as a couple. Part of my responsibility as their pastor is to ensure that they are communicating about the most important things from the beginning. Like a farmer who tends to the ground before planting his seeds, couples need to pull up the rocks, weeds and trash of their past to make room for the new plants and roots that they are about to plant.
After the Happily
Unfortunately, as a pastor, I also have the great responsibility of talking to couples who have been married for years, are exhausted and ready to quit. When I ask them how long they have felt that way the typical response is “years.” Many times, they are both convinced that nothing will change the other person, and they are ready to pull the rip cord on the relationship—what little bit of it that is left. Why? What causes so many couples to go from blissful dreams to wakeless nightmares? What turns their happy plans into their own version of the Walking Dead apocalypse? When did life become simply trying to survive the next attack? What happened to enjoying each other? The short answer? A lot of things! Yeah, let’s not overly simplify this hugely complex situation, but let’s not pretend that this result is the only option, either. We can choose another way.
Every good farmer knows that great crops can only come from continuous hard work. As some have said, “falling in love is easy, staying in love takes work.” You have to commit to working on your relationship. You have to commit to communication. Never stop talking together. Never stop growing together. Here is one conversation that you should continuously have with your spouse.
Conversation 1: Expectations
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that you didn’t marry yourself. Your spouse may feel like you did at times, but let’s move on. This means that the person you are married to—or hope to marry—is different than you. They think differently. They act differently. They care about different things in different ways than you do. It was probably those differences that made you notice them in the first place. Since, we can both agree that the two of you are different let me go out a little farther on that limb and say that you did not marry a mind reader. They don’t know what you are thinking any more than you know what they are thinking. There is an easy solution. Just tell them what you are thinking and invite them to do the same.
Talk about both of your expectations. What do you want your future to look like together? What aspirations do you have personally and professionally? How do you expect your spouse to help you in those aspirations? What are your spouses dreams? How do they expect you to help them reach them? What are your daily expectations for your family?
A Practical Tool for Mapping Expectations
The shared calendar. Putting your expectations on a single shared calendar can help you and your spouse communicate better. Technology allows for you to share a single calendar on several cell phones, tablets and computers. If you are not tech savvy, they still make paper calendars. Put it in a central place and don’t make a scheduling decision without looking at it together.
Tip 1: Schedule Your Together Time First
I hear you freaking out already. “We can’t schedule a date night! What if the kids have a ______________________!?!” Here is a tough question: When your kids are about to get into a serious relationship and consider marriage will they think about all of the places you carried them and watched them do something or will they think about the relationship that you have (or had) with your spouse? Actually, it wasn’t that tough of a question was it? Your kids are watching your relationship so make it great! It’s your choice. Here is another simple solution: start saying “no” to your kids more than you do your spouse.
Don’t have kids? That’s okay. There are still plenty of other things to distract you from your spouse. One example (pretty cliche) is work. When you read, “schedule your together time first,” you probably laughed and said, “Yeah right, only if I don’t have overtime!” I get it. There is a lot to do and it is very hard to turn down extra money. Putting your job first seems logical because it provides for everything you do. Consider this though, according to the United States Department of Labor1 the average male from the Baby Boomer generation had 11.8 jobs during their working lifetime. The average female had 11.5 jobs during that same time period. So, should you put something first that will more than likely change almost a dozen times? Or should you put the one to whom you vowed “until death do we part” first? It’s your choice.
Tip 2: Talk About Your Calendar At Least Once A Week
Don’t set it and forget it. Schedule time each week to discuss it. Talk about what is happening that week and make sure you are both on the same page. If something has come up that needs attention, discuss it and put it on the calendar. Does it feel like a lot of work? It might at first, but don’t give up. This may become a favorite time for both of you.
Tip 3: Establish A Conflict Pattern
What do you do when two items conflict on the calendar? You both want different things, but you have to choose. Create a give-and-take strategy before this happens. It could be as simple as flipping a coin the first time to decide who sacrifices their item. Write it down on the calendar and then the other person sacrifices next time. Get creative. Have fun. It doesn’t have to be a fight.
A Potentially Silly Example to Make a Serious Point
Let’s say that you had an expectations talk and you told your spouse that you want to learn to play the guitar. They shared that they would like to have more time to fish. You are not a fan of fishing and they have no desire to play an instrument; so, this will not fall into together time. What is the next step? Obviously, there are several, but let’s start with some basics.
- Equipment. Do you have a guitar, strap, a tuner, lesson books and a teacher? Do they have a fishing pole, tackle and a place to fish? If not, these will cost money to get. Part 2 of this series will cover that conversation.
- Time. What is the time commitment that each of you expect for these hobbies? Typically music lessons are once weekly with daily practice times of 15-30 minutes. How many fishing trips would your spouse like to go on and how long will they be? What is the total time for each of you including round-trip travel time?
- Conflicts. Consider what scheduling conflicts may arise and develop a plan to alleviate them ahead of time. This may include setting up baby sitters or coordinating carpooling so the car is available for one of you. The list goes on and on.
- Add it. Put your expectations on the calendar and protect those times for each other. Have a priority list of only a few things that could make you change those times.
- Don’t get jealous. Once the items are on the calendar, don’t get upset when your spouse does them. Let them fish without feeling guilty. Hold them accountable to the schedule but don’t pester.
- Follow up. Show interest in each others’ items. Ask them how the fishing trip was and talk about your guitar playing.
Yes, this does sound like a lot of talking and some people might call it asking permission. I find it sad that people are willing to do anything to win their spouse’s affection, but they let it go without a fight, without a word. You have a choice.
NEVER STOP TALKING TOGETHER. NEVER STOP GROWING TOGETHER.