What makes a marriage grow?
by Mary-Susan Danker-Dake
In the book The Good News about Marriage, authors Shaunti Feldahn and Tally Whitehead conclude that most marriage breakdowns are not caused by big issues, such as alcohol addiction or the effects of abuse as a child. Rather, in the majority of marriage breakdowns, the husband and wife deeply care about each other but are unable to work through their issues because they don’t know exactly what their spouse needs or what they are doing that is hurtful. They are unaware of the relatively small day-to-day changes they could make to substantially improve the overall happiness of their marriage.
As my husband and I learned on Alpha’s Marriage Course, there are a number of changes in behavior that can help a marriage grow and flourish. One is the time we spend with our spouse.
Like anything worthwhile, building a lifelong marriage takes effort.
Effort = Time + Creativity. Take time to do fun things with your spouse, to enjoy each other’s company and build a store of shared experiences.
Even though we want our marriages to be lifelong and successful, it can be so hard to carve out time in our busy schedules. So how do we make this marriage time happen? We have to plan it, we have to prioritize it, and we have to protect it. Planning simply means recording it on our calendars as we would any other appointment or event. If it’s on the calendar and some other engagement comes up, you can easily say, “I’m sorry, I have a prior commitment.”
Prioritizing marriage time means that we give high-quality time to our spouse. It’s no good to give them your tired and exhausted ten minutes right before bed (or your first groggy ten minutes of the day). Schedule your marriage time so that both of you will be able to relax and enjoy being together. We also have to protect this time. One good rule is to never make a change to scheduled marriage time without checking with your spouse.
A second change is to learn to appreciate the differences between you and your spouse. When we first meet, these differences can be refreshing and attractive. However, over time, they can wear on us, and what was a crisp, bubbly Coke becomes stale and flat.
There is a better way: to recognize that we are all created uniquely and beautifully.
By trying to change my spouse, I’m actually missing out on the person that they are.
My husband Josh and I are very different. I’m extroverted and people- and relationship-oriented, and he is introverted and task-oriented. One of our dream vacations was to take the kids to Disney World. Last December, I came across a special that Disney was running for guests for the spring of 2015—but you had to reserve your trip by December 29.
In the week leading up to Christmas, I came home each day and asked Josh if we could talk about going to Disney World. Each day, his eyes would glaze over and he would say, “Can we do it another day? I’m really tired and can’t process all that right now.” So, somewhat disappointed, I waited until the next day. This happened two or three days in a row.
There were always good reasons for his lack of wanting to discuss it, but it finally occurred to me that the reason he didn’t want to talk about it is because he processes information in a much more detailed and analytical manner than I do. I like to think in broad strokes when making decisions, and I figure that if I really want to do something, I’ll find a way to make the details work. But Josh needs a full front-end analysis of the when, the how, the how much, and the why.
So I sent him an email. I put every detail I had previously researched and all of my reasoning into an email and sent it. I forced myself not to text, to call, or to talk about it for two whole days. Finally, I asked, “Did you read my email?” and he said, “Yes. I think going will be fine.”
Victory, sweet victory! We went to Disney World in March and we had the best time! And all his analytical, efficiency-driven strengths came in very handy when we were actually at Disney World, planning our routes and trying to hit all the princess meet-and-greets.
A third change we can make is to learn to show love in the way our spouse feels loved. When I first read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, it was a revelation to me that we all receive love and give love differently. Josh has one predominant love language: kind words. Nothing builds him up more than affirmation, so to him, a thoughtful card is more meaningful than any great gift idea I could dream up (this is convenient because I can never think of anything cool to get him). But I know I can make up for my lack of imagination if I write a thoughtful and heartfelt card.
The three practices discussed above are all lessons Josh and I learned on the Marriage Course. There are lots more: the Marriage Course also covers how to talk and listen effectively; how to resolve conflict; how to forgive your spouse; the vital importance of sex; how to affair-proof your marriage; the impact of your upbringing on your marriage; and keeping your love for your spouse alive.
At the Marriage Course, you are served a candlelit meal at a table for two. You’ll watch the talks on a DVD and work through various exercises with your spouse—the only person you’ll have to talk to about your marriage.
You can sign up today for the next Marriage Course in Tulsa, which begins on September 9. We’d love to see you there! To sign up for the Marriage Course, go to fumctulsa.org/marriage.
Mary-Susan and Josh met at Oral Roberts University and have been married for 10 years. They have two adorable children, Sophia and Paul. They have hosted The Marriage Course in Tulsa since 2012. Mary-Susan is an accountant and works for a large energy company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She has lived on three continents, loves travelling, reading, hosting parties and is frighteningly passionate about all things Pioneer Woman.
Very well written, down-to-earth, and carefully thought out. A must read for all couples.