By Victoria L. Mitchell, RN, LCSW, Agape Counseling, Ltd.
Have you ever noticed how words tend to sound like their meaning? Take the word breathless. As you say it, you begin to feel the need to inhale deeply. The word sizzle elicits the sense of crackling heat. Frigid? Saying it sends a shadow of a shiver down your spine. And how about the word commitment? It has a heavy, plodding kind of feel, doesn’t it? It isn’t a word that comes rolling off your tongue, like laughter, love, or flower. It just sits there like a big boulder with no intention of moving.
Herein lies a basic problem in modern marriage. In order for marriage to last and be successful, commitment has to be an integral part. But what a tedious and fearful thought captured in a word so heavy. Marriage should be filled with laughter and love, the sweet subjects of poets and lyricists. In our culture of perpetual happiness, we don’t want words resembling stubborn rocks. Do we really need that downer in our lives?
Yes. We do. Marriage is one of the frontline victims of the “always happy” myth. Two humans can’t be together for long without irritating each other. Following the brief, wonderful period of infatuation when we can maintain that illusion of the perfect mate, reality sets in. He or she doesn’t measure up to daytime scrutiny as well as they did in the romantic shadows of candlelight. This is when we are put to the test. Are we in it for love, or are we in it for life?
I would venture to say we’re in it for both, but after 30 years of counseling couples, I would also say that love alone won’t get us through the rough roads of marriage. Commitment is the key. Does that mean you have to forgo happiness? Hardly. Those who get through rough times together find a depth of happiness, contentment, and peace—the kind we all seek but don’t always have the patience to find.
Obviously, there are marriages that are dangerous and toxic and should be abandoned when this becomes apparent. But for the most part, a marriage is what the couple makes it, and a committed couple can overcome the threats to their marriage if both regard that commitment as paramount and the threats less so.
If I were to give all married couples a few tips from my years of experience as a therapist and a wife, they would be these:
- Communicate. Care enough to be honest with each other. This sometimes carries emotional risk, but it pays off every time. Unexpressed feelings don’t go away. They come out in subtle, damaging ways. Unspoken words pile up between you and stop the flow of good feelings, leading to defensiveness and resentment. Let each other know what you need in terms of affection, sex, and companionship. We can’t get what we want if we don’t let our needs be known. And we can’t get what we want in marriage if we don’t also listen to what our partner has to say.
- Take time for each other. Even if it’s five minutes over coffee, a quick phone call or text at lunch, or a few minutes of holding at bedtime—every minute is important. We tend to think of only big weekends away or date nights out on the town. While those are important, it’s the little times we connect each day that maintain a good marriage.
- Be faithful. This doesn’t just mean sexually. Don’t talk negatively about each other to friends, family, or in front of the kids. Set good boundaries in other relationships so that they don’t infringe on the marriage—this means parents, children, co-workers, and friends. There is a place for all of these valuable people, but that place is not wedged between the two of you.
- Fight fair. Set up rules that will keep your disagreements in the present, focused on the subject at hand. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. There is none among us without fault. We will hurt each other, fail each other, and disappoint each other. We are called to forgive.
- Laugh. Have fun. The cliché “don’t sweat the small stuff” has great merit. When family issues get to the occasional dysfunctional realm, use one wise friend’s litmus test: If this were happening on a situational comedy, would I laugh?
- Stay in the process. What this means is stay in the relationship. We tend to pull back to an evaluative place when troubled. We read books, listen to advice, and step back to “grade” our spouse. Blame and distancing appears on the horizon. Stay in it together with your sleeves rolled up, and work on your marriage.
- Keep the romance. Yes, there is an important place for this. When you go on a date, primp, prepare, and perfume as if you were going out for the first time. There is a time for candlelight, sweet whispers, and moonlight. Savor these times. Hold them in your heart, where they can soften when needed.
- Get help. If you can’t get past a crisis, rut, or hurt, seek help. This can be your pastor, a mentoring couple, or a professional. It does work. Don’t be afraid to reach out—sooner better than later.
There is no miracle or magic to a good marriage. Sometimes you’ll be happy. Sometimes you’ll be miserable. But in the long term, if you’ve managed to get it right, the depth of understanding, the bond of getting through tough times together, the unfaltering sureness that no matter what, you are loved (even if you’re not always liked)—these are what make a marriage strong, lasting, and impenetrable. This is what real, committed love is.
For more information, please contact Agape Counseling, 309-692-4433. They are a group of Christian counselors, social workers, psychologists, and support staff committed to a therapeutic process that ministers to the whole person. Their Bloomington office is located at 211 N. Veterans Parkway (next to Krispy Kreme). They also have offices in Peoria and Morton. Visit www.agapecounselors.net.
Photo credit: SolStock/iStock