I realize I probably should have posted about New Year’s – resolutions or some such thing. But I don’t really have anything out of the ordinary to share. I mentioned I was going to write a handful of posts about marriage. Things I’ve been pondering as of late. So I just decided to keep going with that, particularly after I received an email this morning from a woman in my bible study with young children who is separating from her husband. One of the things that struck me, though I feel confident a zillion books have been written about it, is the stark difference between the characteristics that attracted you to a person and the characteristics after the honeymoon period wears off. How that one winning wooing trait becomes an albatross if you start focusing on the downside rather than the upside.
Often interviewers will ask applicants in an interview, what are your strengths and what are your weaknesses? In my personal opinion that is a terrible interview question, but I would always respond by saying that my strength is also my weakness. If you focus on the big picture and achieving the ultimate result, then you may let details slip. If you’re a person that’s a great team player, then you may not be able to fire someone on that same team if they don’t work out. The infamous double-edged sword.
Well that’s never truer than in marriage. Here’s a list of how the upside of traits become the downside of traits after years of marriage (these are just the ones I could think of in five minutes) – these have been winning spouses and losing spouses the world over for centuries:
1. Outgoing and social becomes flirtatious or absent.
2. Quiet and mysterious becomes detached and unfriendly.
3. Doting and attentive becomes suffocating or possessive.
4. Honest and straightforward becomes unkind and unable to compliment.
5. A generous giver turns into an unwise spender.
6. A frugal saver becomes a miser lacking in generosity.
7. Planning and organizing becomes stressed out and not spontaneous.
8. Spontaneous and fun becomes tardy and irresponsible.
9. Committed to beliefs and decisive becomes opinionated and lacking open mindedness.
10. Open minded and willing to be flexible turns into indecisive and weak.
11. Dedicated to a job and ambitious turns into an absent workaholic.
12. Willingness to place family or social circumstances above work turns into a lack of drive or ambition.
Nothing changed. Yet good becomes bad. Love turns into disdain. What is it about the longevity of relationships that makes your Utopian rose-colored view of the object-of-your-affection turn critical? There’s no good reason except that no one is perfect, evidenced even more the longer you are with someone, and that people always seem more perfect from a distance. That working wife relieves some of the financial stressors on a household, yet that stay-at-home wife next door always has dinner on the table. The plan of the savvy husband set the family on the right track, but the spontaneous husband across the street just surprised the family with New Year’s in Paris.
Can’t you see how each one of those things on the outside can look so wonderful, but on the inside it could wreak havoc if the spouses aren’t on the same page? What do you really both want out of life? Spontaneity or surety? Organization or carefree-ness? Kindness or honesty? Presence or commitment? NONE of these are mutually exclusive, but one often takes precedence because of the life goals a family has set for itself. If the family decides the most important thing is to fully pay for kids’ college tuition and retire at 55, then the stay-at-home-mom or trip to Paris may be a serious roadblock. But no one is talking. No one remembered to check in a few times a year, or at the beginning of every new year, to make sure that their goals were set as a couple, as a family, rather than as an individual. No one remembered to say, hey, just so you know, I feel most cared for when you notice something nice I did, or said, I’m so glad we’re married, but I just wanted you to know I’ve felt alone lately and I’d love a little more time together. Instead, everyone is super-busy. Busy with work, busy with family, busy with the house, busy with friends, but too busy to check in.
So if you find yourself with those glass-is-half-empty perspectives on the person you vowed to love for better or worse, do two things this week. One, remember the flip side of the trait that’s driving you nuts. Remember what’s so great about it. Remember that if he or she was doing the opposite, there would be a downside to that trait too. Two, sit down and talk. I know I mentioned this “true up” process in the last post, but this is different. This is to check in to make sure that your future plans and visions are aligned (and if they’re not, to realign them), and to ensure that you realize what the other person needs from you in order to feel loved. I once heard someone say, what the other person is saying when they are fighting about a small issue is that they don’t feel loved – if you can fix that the person feels loved, the petty fights get better too.
I know a lot of marriages are pretty far down the rocky path. And it’s going to take a lot of work to get back. And some marriages have just hit a little bump. But regardless of where you are in your martial journey, refresh your perspective of your spouse at the beginning of this year and remember the unique benefits you have because you are married to a very special person.