“How are you doing with that?” Revisited or “Hello, McFly”

Posted on May 14, 2015

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Pastor to the man: “Will you have ______ to be your wife, to live together in holy marriage?  Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?”

Man: I will.          from “A Service of Christian Marriage.”

“Yes, a promise is a promise, and a promise that you make is a promise you can’t break.  Yes, a promise is a promise, keep your word make no mistake.”  The Frog Prince (1986)

You said it.  Your wife heard it.  The pastor heard it.  The best man and the maid of honor heard it.  Your family and your in-laws who were sitting in the first three rows heard it.  All of the rest of your family and friends heard it.  It was you.  You were there.  You made the promise.  There is no plausible deniability here.  We have pictures.  We have witnesses.  Depending upon when you got married, we may even have video.

How about an insanity plea?  Well, you seemed lucid at the time.  You lit up when your bride came down the aisle.  You both looked happy at the reception.  You kissed every time the guests clinked their glasses.

“But she changed.”  Well, of course she changed.  It’s like the old joke.  “A woman marries a man expecting him to change, and he doesn’t.  A man marries a woman expecting her not to change, and she does.”  Besides “as long as she stays the same” wasn’t part of the vows.

“But it’s not fun anymore.”  Nope.  Nothing about that in the vows.

I just don’t see the escape clause.  A pastor friend of mine once made the observation, “Divorce is really a sin when you quit just because it’s hard.”  Brene Brown talked about a slogan in her family that read, “We do hard things.”  Just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

Let’s get back to what you promised and see how you are doing with that.  Maybe you could give yourself a letter grade for each of the promises.  This is not on a curve.  You don’t get to try to compare yourself to your recently divorced friend.  You also don’t get points for degree of difficulty just because you think your wife is hard to live with.  Everybody is.  It is just how people are.

Let’s see, you promised to live together in holy marriage.  You promised to love her.  Love is not just something you feel, it is something you do.  It involves giving of yourself for the benefit of the other.  Ephesians 5:25 instructs, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  That is a pretty tall order.  I will let you grade yourself on a curve here if you are comparing yourself to Jesus (instead of your buddy).

You promised to comfort her.  When she is upset, do you comfort her?  Do you withdraw or become angry?  Do you get defensive?  What grade do you give yourself?

Honor.  Ah, there’s one to think about.  How do you honor her?  Do you say things to build her up including speaking well of her to others?  Do you do things intentionally to please her and support her?  Do you honor her opinions with the decisions that you make?  Do you treat her as one you want to honor?

Forsaking all others.  This is not just about sexual fidelity (though that is certainly important).  This is about where she comes on the priority list.  You gotta work, but work should not become your mistress.  You should keep friendships, but not at the expense of nurturing your marriage.

What is the duration of the contract?  As long as you both shall live.  Since you can’t keep the rest of the promises and kill each other, that parting will be by something other than homicide.

So if I am not happy, do I just serve a life term?  Absolutely not.  There is a path to a satisfying relationship, you just need to both do the work (and probably get some help).  Therapy is bunches cheaper than attorneys.

Just to remind you, the research by John and Julie Gottman found that 69% of the problems couples argue about are unsolvable.  They are differences in temperament, personality, priorities, goals, etc.  When you marry someone, you marry into a set of unsolvable problems.  If you changed partners, you would still have unsolvable problems, just a different set.  Problems don’t all need to get solved for marital satisfaction.  The masters of relationship have found how to dialogue around those problems.

Further, marriages don’t get broken so much as stuck in negative patterns of interaction that leave you both feeling disconnected and misunderstood and that your partner is the problem.  Here’s the thing.  The negative cycle is driven by legitimate needs to feel loved and valued in the marriage.  Couples who have been stuck in negative cycles for years can learn to connect again.

How did you do?[1]  If your report card isn’t looking so good, you can still ace the final.  Tutors are available.

[1] If you started looking grading your wife’s performance, you missed the point.  You can’t control how she does on her marital vows.  You can only work on yourself.

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