Friday, February 3, 2012

Tips for a Happy Marriage #3

Today we have a guest blogger, my cousin (okay, really she's my husband's cousin), who blogs over at poemapromise. And guess what--if you pop over there you'll find a guest post from yours truly!
Tip #3 Have Each Other's Best in Mind
 If God is for me, how can we be for US?

Even though I was in China during my engagement and up until the week before getting married, I went though the required College Church premarital course (distance ed:). There were chapters about various topics and even though we poured over the material during our 3 month engagement and thought we took in a lot, there's a lot more to be learned while you implement it! Marriage is perfect storm where theory and practice are tested to the extreme.

The chapter that has stayed with me, and one that I don't think we completely finished the homework for, encouraged the couple to write a purpose statement for their marriage. As an educator and program developer, I resonated with purposeful planning. If you're spending the rest of your life with someone, shouldn't you have a purpose for what to do in that marriage? My own love story was a direct answer to prayer. I had waited for years to find a life partner, and when we were literally placed together as partners in teaching and ministry, it took 7 months from beginning to work together to our wedding day. There was an amazing intensity and sense of God's power and purposes working in my life. I had no doubt that God had my best in mind when he chose Dave to be my husband, and I felt a keen sense of God's purposes for good being worked out as our lives became one.

That was almost five years ago. The starry-eyed words of intention we mapped out for our lives together has now has been tested with all the unforeseen demands of that life together. We have a one+ year old and a two year and a half year old. Dave is a full-time student and works part time. I stay at home full time with the kids and have a part-time job.
We live in one of the most expensive cities in the world and our two salaries put together exactly (to the exact dollar amount!) cover our rent each month. School tuition and our grocery bill gets covered by monthly miracles and generous acts of kindness. We live across the continent from our families, which means grandparent help with kids is impossible. And so we manage, carefully calculating pennies and minutes to get by. Google calendar has become our best friend in synching our schedules, and I've never before spent so much time planning my days.

In this cauldron of time and money management, along with child-rearing, I sometimes wonder, “was the purpose of this marriage to heighten my awareness of my own sinful nature and exasperation?” The daily chores (which having no dishwasher or in-house laundry magnifies) can sometimes be so overwhelming that I feel buried under the pile of the immediate needs. I struggle to remember that there is a greater purpose to all of this--that this life is part of God's plan and that he has my best in mind for my life. When, in brief moments of sunshine and fresh air I remember of that, I am challenged that I also need to have the best in mind for my husband, and he for me.

About 99% of our arguments stem from feeling uncared for by the other, or misunderstanding their best intentions. I will be the first to admit that as a passionate person, my own articulation of feeling uncared for can reach a passionate pitch and I lose the ability to see that indeed, Dave has my best in mind even when I don't feel it in a particular moment. If asked, I would certainly agree that I have his best in mind too, though I am certain there are moments that would cause him to wonder if that was true. But deep down, I do know that these things certainly are true, and my greatest marriage tip would be to create space in your lives which keep in mind “the best” for one another.

For us, over-communication, making sure we understand one another, and planning our schedules to accommodate one another is essential. A really good thing for our marriage was a Couples Communication course that we took together while we were still in China a little over a year after getting married. It taught us how to communicate, to understand where the other person is coming from, and specifically, to be able to ask questions in such a way that we can understand why the other person is reacting to a certain circumstance the way they are. This course made a space for each person to share all of the different angles of emotion that a certain circumstance would bring about. (It literally created a space as each person was required a stand on a mat that had certain categories of speaking and listening, helping the couple commuicate and understand one another's needs.) That short course really gave us a framework of communication so that in heated moments one of us (usually Dave) can can step into the listener role and say “what I hear you saying is..... is there anything else?”

Once we actually hear each other, it's easier to implement strategies in our day that help meet one another's needs. For example, I might be exhausted, having a fat day, annoyed at the never-ending mess of crumbs in our living/dining room, and feeling at the brink of going crazy because I haven't had a minute to myself to make sense of the day. I may be feeling the pressure of my other commitments coming at me and be completely unprepared for them. Dave might be overwhelmed because he sees our bank account and wonders where groceries are coming from in the next month, plus he has 3 final papers coming down the pipeline and library hours he still needs to put in along with caring for the kids while I work. We're both stressed and both have legitimate needs that in our current state of mind we are unable to meet for one another.

So, how do we deal with that?

Pause. (We actually have a “Pause” symbol for when our words become weapons and our arguments are headed south fast.)

Get the kids fed and in bed.

Sit down to talk with a cup of tea.

Show genuine care and listen to one another. What are the joys, hopes, frustrations, needs, and wants each person has for themselves and for the family?

Articulate what the other is feeling so that they know you understand them.

Really have one another's best in mind and trust that is reciprocated. (What really is best for this person?)

Remember that God has a purpose for bringing you together and seek God for the particular purpose (and it can change!).

Communicate what you feel you need and what you really need. (There's a difference between needs and wants--but sometimes these are one and the same!)  I might want a full-time nanny and a membership to a classy gym, but maybe running with friends 4 mornings a week and investing in a good jogging stroller might still allow me to get the exercise I want and need!  Dave might want to run a marathon and then sit in the library for 10 hours per day soaking in the Regent experience, but maybe making space for him to run a couple mornings a  week and scheduling study time at regular intervals can also work.  

Pull out the calendar and start plugging in the necessities. You might have to cut some things out before adding anything more. Maybe overcommitment to various things--even if these are good things--is taking a toll on your marriage.

Keep the other's best in mind as you try and implement your calendar (i.e., Pull your spouse out of bed when your alarm goes off so that you can have that scheduled quiet time before the kids wake up -- and don't get cranky when your spouse reminds you that you need to do what you had put as a "must do" on the calendar!)  

Cheer each other on because what you are doing—being married and dependant on one another, living life together, raising a family together, following God together, and trying your hardest to discern what He might be asking of you in a particular moment isn't easy. But it's worth it.

And guess what, God has your best in mind too!


  1. Katie, thanks for sharing such practical ideas. Joel and I have certainly learned and experienced that concept of "having each other's best in mind." We like to call it "Assuming positive intent." We attempt to assume the other person had your best in mind when they made a decision or did something, even if it didn't exactly work out the way they thought it would. Or if you interpreted it differently than it was intended.

    Keep writing! I'm loving these tips!

  2. I think you're so right, Hillary. It helps avoid some arguments because you don't get all bent out of shape for no reason:)