POSTED ON FEBRUARY 9, 2011:
The Naked Truth
Four ways to maintain a mediocre marriage
Nobody wants a crappy marriage. Nobody goes into marriage thinking that in 10 years you'll be nothing more than really congenial roommates. For most couples, it just happens.
If you've been married more than 10 minutes you know that every marriage has seasons: some amazing, some not so amazing. Some are expected and some you never saw coming.
Many times you just wish you could return to the pursuit, when both of you were working extra hard to make it look like you were the greatest thing ever invented. Do you remember those days? Your mate always got your best.
It was all just one grand façade, but boy was it fun. You wore your best, you looked your best, and you somehow became an expert in things you formerly knew nothing about.
But for many the pursuit turns into the catch and spontaneity, effort and romance is traded for routine, survival and indifference. The pursuit seems somewhat unnecessary since the goal has been achieved. You are no officially married.
Maybe we just thought it would automatically turn into something magnificent. We grew up watching Cliff and Claire Huxtable and Mike and Carol Brady and thought our lives and relationships would play out something like that. Even in the midst of adversity and utter chaos they somehow always ended up in each other's arms. Hardly reality.
The harsh truth is that over half of first-time marriages end in divorce. Those numbers increase to nearly 65 percent for second marriages and 70 percent for third marriages. I think that's reason enough to make you evaluate things.
A great marriage is a lot of work. It takes time, commitment and serious effort. You don't just wake up with a great marriage just like you don't wake up one day on the brink of divorce. You develop patterns of behavior that become who you are.
Maybe this Valentine's Day you're planning a special night out. Or, if you're like many of us, you'll wait until the last second and get your spouse that card, flowers, box of candy or any number of those gifts that have been picked over a thousand times at the store and yet somehow survived the madness. It's not exactly the most genuine expression of your love, but at least it's something.
Here's a challenge that's relevant whether you've been married five months, five years or 50 years: for Valentine's Day this year, sit down with your spouse and have an honest conversation about how to improve your marriage. In what areas are your expectations not being met and how can both of you begin to change the situation? What do you want to see happen? This conversation can be difficult but tell yourself you won't get defensive and you'll listen.
It's this kind of honest communication that begins to move a marriage from mediocre to good to amazing. Unfortunately, many aren't willing to invest the time and effort to achieve amazing. It can be easy to settle for mere survival. If mediocre is what you're shooting for, here's a few things to try:
Continue gauging your marriage according to the world's standards. This perspective is all about what makes you happy. The goal of marriage is not a deep level of intimacy only found through navigating life's ups and downs, it's simply about making you happy. When you are no longer happy it's time to look elsewhere or emotionally check out of the marriage.
Do the same things, the same way every time. I've learned that misery loves company. I hate it when an older couple looks at my wife and I and says, "Just wait. When you've been married 20 years you'll go through hell just like us." Why thank you! I appreciate those words of encouragement.
Here's the bottom line: you've got to look for ways to bring spontaneity and life to the marriage, especially after you've been at it awhile. This may mean a random act of service, a gift out of the blue or a brief sexual encounter that catches your spouse completely off guard. These are the things that breathe life into your marriage and make it fun.
Allow your kids, friends, activities and work to be the focus of all your attention. This is a difficult one. All day you are running around giving all your time and energy to all the things in your life and when you get home you've got zero left for your spouse. The kids get my focus, my job gets my time, and my spouse gets whatever I've got left, which is usually not much.
Times like these are inevitable. That's why a communicated plan with your spouse is so important. You've already got a specified date night established or you've already got those 30 minutes right before bed when you and your spouse can connect. Remember, a marriage cannot thrive if you aren't willing to give your spouse priority.
Continue to leave things unaddressed in your marriage. It's funny because most older couples whether happily married or divorced can look back to one key factor in their marriage: communication. It always seems to come back around. So many times we have unmet expectations, hurts, sexual frustrations, and emotional deficiencies in our marriage that we just cover up and never address. The reality is that you will eventually address those issues. You can either do it in a healthy way where communication is open and honest or you can address them at the legal table. Be willing to have the difficult conversations.
Most of us don't want mediocre but are we willing to battle for amazing. If you don't know where to start try just sitting down with your spouse and say, "I want amazing!"
I've learned that's always a good place to start.
-Matt Nelson is the lead pastor at City Church
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