30th Anniversary

Posted on February 20, 2014


“I will be here.  You can cry on my shoulder.  When the mirror tells us we’re older, I will hold you.

And I will be here to watch you grow in beauty and tell you all the things you are to me.”  Steven Curtis Chapman


“All the shiny little trinkets of temptation, something new instead of something old.

All you gotta do is scratch beneath the surface and it’s fool’s gold.

The closer I’m bound in love to you, the closer I am to free.”  Emily Saliers


“Compliment what she does.  Send her roses just because.  If it’s violins she loves, let them play.  Dedicate her favorite song, and hold her close all night long.  Love her today.  Find 100 ways.”  Kathy Wakefield, Ben Wright, & Tony Coleman


”We need a witness to our lives.  There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything.  The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day.  You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.  Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.”  Beverly Clark

“If you treat your wife like a thoroughbred, you’ll never end up with a nag.”  Zig Ziglar

“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.”  Proverbs 18:22.

My weekly posts usually stem from what I observe in the therapy room.  This one is from a different therapy room.  When I was in grad school, I took a class on crisis intervention.  As part of the course, the students were asked to share about the crises in their lives.  Compared to most people, I am very thankful to say that mine have been blessedly minor.  I am very grateful for this.  In the incidents I described, it was always my wife who has been there to support me and help me keep problems in perspective.  During the class, my professor observed, “Your wife is your therapist.”  To a point, this is true.  Among the facets of our relationship, she is the person to whom I turn for comfort and emotional support.  To my thinking, this is as it should be.  I have sometimes told clients that the point they don’t need me anymore is when they can do for each other what I do for them in therapy.  Marriage is a different kind of therapy.  When it works, it can be very healing and help build resilience for what life throws at you.

This week marks our 30th wedding anniversary.  It is difficult to write about my wife and our marriage without sounding like I am bragging.  I will take that risk.  Through no brilliance of my own, the Lord has blessed me with a wonderful wife.  At 53, I have been married to Carol a lot longer than I wasn’t.  We have been through many changes.  From newlyweds to a young family to launching children to the empty nest we have experienced life together.  I am in my second career, and she is in her third.  It is difficult to make those changes without a partner who is supportive.

What have I learned in 30 years?  Off the top of my head, here’s my list.  First, be nice.  So often the people who are closest to us get our worst.  To some extent, this makes sense.  Home is where we let our guard down.  Living with someone inherently creates irritation at times.  However, often if partners talked to their friends the way they talk to each other they would not have any friends.  If they talked to their boss or coworkers that way, they would be unemployed.  Gottman’s research found that relationship health requires five positives for each negative.  I have not done the research, but have always felt that number was way too low.  Keep creating the positives.  Let the little things go.  When you have to address the negative, do so with a soft start-up.

Second, you can’t control/fix your partner.  If you look at your partner as a project you are working on, you are going to make yourself crazy and your partner resentful.  There are enough areas of life where one can be made to feel not good enough, you don’t want your message to your partner to be “you are not good enough.”  Whenever scripture speaks to the roles of husbands and wives, the husbands are always instructed about what the husbands need to do, and the wives are instructed about what the wives need to do.  We don’t read messages to the husbands about what their wives need to do and vice versa.  There is a mandate to work on yourself.  There is none about fixing your partner.

Third, try to put your partner’s needs in front of your own.  This is a balancing act.  If you go too far with it, that creates other problems.  My experience is that most of us tend to be self-centered and focused on our own needs.  After all, we got married because we expected marriage to make us happy.[1]  The problem is that if you focus on trying to get your partner to make you happy, you will probably be disappointed.  If you focus on trying to be a supportive partner, marriage is likely to turn out very satisfying.

Fourth, everyone is weird.  If you think someone is not weird, it is only because you have never had to live with them.  I can guarantee that your partner has idiosyncrasies that you never imagined before marriage.  When this takes you by surprise, it can lead to the belief that you married the wrong person.  One of the most common lies that people believe is that there is someone better out there for you.  If you change partners, you trade one set of weird for another set of weird, and you still bring your own weird with you into the new relationship.  My supposition is that what drew couples together at the beginning of the relationship was usually real.  Once they have years of hurt built up, it is hard to remember the good times.

Fifth, as Sue Johnson has observed, secure attachment and autonomy are not opposites.  They are rather two sides of the same coin.  The more secure partners feel in relationship, the more they are able to have autonomy in the relationship without distress.   Hence, the quote above, “The closer I’m bound in love to you, the closer I am to free.”  Freedom does not come from lack of attachment, it is from secure attachment.

Sixth, one needs to continually reinvest in the relationship.  Couch time, date night, and affirmations are all needed to keep relationship health.  With all of the demands of modern life, we need to carve out time for each other and defend that time.

Seventh, we need to be able to forgive and extend grace to our partners.  It is a wonderful gift to be loved as you are.  Choose to give that gift.

On Sunday, October 6, 1985 at about 2 am, I was driving home from the hospital.  My eldest daughter had been born just a few hours before.  I had the radio on.  I am not sure why that was, as back in those days, I would usually have been listening to a cassette in the car.  James Ingraham was singing, “One Hundred Ways.”  The message is that it is my job to find ways to love my wife.  I try to take that to heart.  I am not perfect at it, but I am always working on being better at it.

Here is wishing you a wonderful partner to love through life.

[1] “As for my reasons for marrying, first, I believe it will add greatly to my happiness.”  Mr. Collins in his proposal to Elizabeth Bennett.

Posted in: Love, Marriage