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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Is It Ever Too Late For Your Marriage?

Sure. It's too late when one of you dies.

Otherwise, it's not. With a willingness to work - and change - it's literally never too late.

I'm going to break a loosely-held rule and talk about my own marriage.

In 2002, Barbara and I were married. In 2003, we were divorced.

The fault was mine. I had been ill when we married, and I was taking large doses of painkillers. The strain on Barbara was far beyond anything I could have imagined, and when I improved somewhat - and we had a support system to take care of me - she felt she could take a couple of weeks with her family in the Midwest (we lived in Texas).

I resented it bitterly, and when she returned midway through a road trip with her folks I was cold and distant. She had been looking forward to seeing me again, and when she found the new, horrible me - she collapsed. Her parents took her back home with them, to give her the chance to recover.

Under the influence of drugs, and a thoroughly nasty relative, I was convinced she was leaving me, and was further convinced to see a lawyer, who convinced me that if I filed for divorce first I would have the upper hand.

Thus I stabbed a caring, loving woman in the back.

There was a shred of decency left in my heart, though, because the next day, on going to work, I looked like death. A colleague took one look, bundled me into an elevator, and hustled me to his office, where he called his wife - who was a therapist.

And thus began a long, slow climb back to humanity.

I didn't abort the divorce. I don't know why - it might not have worked. But I also didn't do what one normally does. Barbara stayed on my savings and checking accounts, and I made sure she knew that she could use them freely. (I found out later that she wondered what kind of game I was playing...and then decided to trust my good intentions.)

And when I went in for a medical procedure that was likely to kill me, I chose her as my medical power of attorney.

We hadn't talked on the phone since I called for divorce, but on the day before the procedure I called her. Got voicemail, but I left a message that made it clear I was wrong, and that I was sorry.

She called back a few days later, when I was in recovery. She said she'd be there for me, but that there was no road back.

But there was. I stayed in touch, and stayed in therapy, and on April 18, 2004, she called me and said, "I think I want my husband back."

On June 24, 2004, we were remarried.

George Eliot once said that it's never too late to be the person you were meant to be.

And I believe, and hope you do, too, that it's never to late to have the marriage you were meant to have.

Please don't give up.

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Separate Vacations

Take time apart...it'll improve your marriage!

It sounds nice. "Take a break and refresh...recharge..."

Kind of like you're a battery.

But there's a flaw there. First, you';re not  battery. You're a human being, training to become a better person through living the crucible of a total commitment to another person.

In marriage, to your spouse.

But there's more. Marriage is a sacrament. A reflection of our relationship with God.

Do you intentionally take time off from your relationship with Jesus? To recharge?

Normally I'd write  lot more, but I think that makes the point.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Proactive Marriage Counseling

I believe in marriage counseling. Unequivocally.

It can breathe life into a dying marriage, heal one that's been hurt, and keep a healthy marriage in good shape, growing tall.

The best time to find a marriage counselor is before you have a serious problem. Think of it as preventative medicine. You go to a doctor for a checkup, right?

You tell the doc if you've got a funny ache, or a cough that won't go away, or some weird bleeding, right? Stuff that doesn't really affect your daily life, but still...

Why not do the same for your marriage? Find a good counselor, and go in for a checkup every few months.

'Find a good counselor'...you may be saying that it's easier said than done.  True.

One thing you should not do is go to your church and rely on your pastor for 'free psych work'. Most pastors will be too nice to say no, or if they have to decline, will refer you to a member of the pastoral team...but unless you absolutely can't afford to pay for counseling, don't do this.

It's taking advantage of people who are far busier than you can imagine.

What you can do is talk to your pastor about a counselor he or she would recommend. Most pastors have a pretty good idea of the competence and suitability of the local talent, and will take pains to guide you well.

The most important thing about a counselor is that you have a feeling of friendly neutrality. The counselor should be an objective, interested outsider whom you can respect...and who respects you.

There are counselors who take sides. If you find one, run. Away. Fast.

Schedule the first visit as a meet and greet - and make it clear that you are being proactive in establishing a healthy baseline, to keep your marriage on track and functioning well. You'll see one happy counselor - guaranteed.

Most people run to a counselor when things are spiraling out of control, and too often there's little a professional can do but try to put out fires. Having the chance to help keep a marriage healthy from the start - that's a treat.

But be honest. Don't make it all sweetness and light. If there are minor problems, address them, but don't try to take over the meeting with them.

Allow yourself to be guided. Let the professional be a professional. That's what you hired her for.

Finally, if you're given assignments, stuff to work on - do it. You wouldn't buy a new refrigerator and leave it in the garage, so why leave the tools a counselor gives you 'in the box'?

It does cost money.

But when things are priced according to their value...proactive counseling is the best bargain around.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lost Comms

There comes a time in every marriage when communication seems to break down; you and your mate simply aren't on the same wavelength, and suddenly it's like you're talking to a stranger.

This kills a lot of marriages.

What is a temporary bump in the road, caused by adaptation, is made to loom large and permanent by the way we choose to look at it, and to describe it both verbally and in our own internal monologue.

Why the breakdown? Most of us come to the relationship that will culminate in marriage as adults. Sometimes young adults; sometimes not so young. We've done a lot of growing and developing through the years before we met 'the one'.

And when we begin courtship, we lie.

Courtship is, to a large extent, a mixture of hormones, emotion, and wishful thinking. This isn't a bad thing; it's the glue that attracts and binds us, and usually there are enough vestiges of practicality left that most of us don't make totally awful choices.

But under the dictatorship of the moment, we want to be, not our best, but the best that our potential mate wants in a relationship. We try to enjoy football and antique malls and tractor pulls and chamber music. It's not a pretense - it's an honest effort, and one in which we try to convince ourselves.

It's great when the assumed interest becomes real, and we have something to share, but all to often it begins to peel away, like a layer of paint on a poorly-prepared surface.

One less thing to talk about, but there's more...part of the language of common cause that we were using disappears.

We step back from we into you and me. The frequencies and wavelengths we nurtured begin to fall apart from neglect.

To make things worse, we often try to tie things up in neat little packages, and give what's happening definition - "We aren't communicating any more."

"You never talk to me."

"We don't seem to have anything in common."

While these may describe the current state of things, they are also damaging in that they set the issue in stone. And they are a convenient way to shift blame, and twist the knife a little...because it's never we who are at fault.

And then there's the internal conversation we have with ourselves, In the privacy of our heads we can say things we'd never say to someone's face.

We can be self-indulgently cruel and hurtful, and never let on.

But try this. Think badly of someone for a day, and then meet them. Going to enjoy the meeting? Didn't think so.

What to do? First, remind yourself that your mate has a history you don't know. even if you met in childhood, there are parts of his or her life to which you have no access, and never will.

Second, do n't make shared activities about him, or about her, or about you. Make them an us thing. Find out what you truly like to do together, things you'd do on your own if you had to, and emphasize that sharing.

This isn't just in courtship; look for things to share through your marriage. Study your spouse. Can you like what he's enjoying? Give it a chance. You may become a Downton Abbey as well, and it won't take away from Duck Dynasty.

Finally, stay physical. If you feel the verbal connection failing, DON'T pull away physically. I'm not talking about sex, though that's part of it. A caress on the shoulders when you're walking by, holding hands in the car, a warm hug on waking (no excuses about morning breath) - these are poems that don't use words.

The communication will come back, if you don't set your face against it. It will be different, because you're growing, and so is your marriage.

As the caterpillar becomes the butterfly.

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Magic of Dance

Do you dance with your spouse?

Do you go to parties, sometimes, where there's live music to which you can move?

Or do you drop what you're doing at home when a danceable song comes on the radio?

Or sometimes, when you're talking a walk or working in the yard do you decide to hold one another and dance to music only the two of you can hear?

I hope so, because dance is an magic potion that can polish up and improve your marriage like nothing else.

First, it's physical contact. Back in the day, part of the reason you wanted to get married in the first place was to be physically close to your mate. Not just sexually, though that's a part of it.

You wanted touch, contact. We all do; babies who are touched thrive. Babies who aren't, wither (this was shown by the horrible state-run nurseries and orphanages behind the old Iron Curtain).

Sitting on the couch together and cuddling is great, but dance offers something more - dynamic contact, and purposeful contact. You have to touch, and know each other through the touching. To a degree, you have to read your partner's mind through the subtle signals they give in movement.

To avoid tripping, or stomping on their feet, that is.

There are few other things we can do where this facility is called into play and developed.

There is the emotional aspect, as well, in that when we dance, our faces are usually quite close. How many times a day do you look into your mate's eyes?

Not many, I'll bet.

But when you dance, you both have both the need and the opportunity.

If the eyes are the window to the soul, maybe dancing with your mate is the path that leads to that window.

It doesn't matter if you have two left feet. It doesn't matter if you're tone deaf.

I hope you dance.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Marriage and Pornography - The Saddest Battle

In 1964 Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart gained a measure of fame by choosing not to define what constituted hardcore pornography - instead saying "I know it when I see it".

And fifty years later, in 2014, you can see it on the Internet, in the privacy of your own home.

And so can your kids.

I don't think that there's anything quite as destructive for a marriage than pornography. It changes those who become attracted to it (almost exclusively men). The husband you married, after prolonged exposure to pornography, will become someone different entirely.

Sounds far-fetched? It;'s not. The imagery viewed satisfies a psychochemical  craving for quick arousal, something like a drug.

But the 'kick' doesn't last, and like drugs, the 'dosage', or 'arousal potential' of the images viewed has to increase to give the same level of...well, satisfaction.

I won't go into what those images are. Like Potter Stewart, I'd just rather not. But what they do is portray a view of sex that is horribly warped and corrupt.

If you thought your husband was thinking about sex in that way, you'd be shocked, and disgusted, and most of all, saddened.

Saddened because you'd realize that when you're intimate, he's not thinking about you. The images in his mind are of other women, other situations. He's not there, except for the physical release.

The figures of how many men are attracted to - or addicted to pornography vary widely. But there's no question - the numbers are huge.

And the effect beyond your marriage is evil. There's a lot of talk about human trafficking...where do you think these women go?

Prostitution and pornography, forced drug use, and an early death. Every click a man makes on a pornographic website is more profit for the vermin that are in this business.

It's also a good way for a man to lose a job...most companies have a zero-tolerance policy for viewing pornography online while at work, and that's a pretty horrible thing to have to explain to a human-resource officer while trying to find another job.

How can you protect your marriage against this devil's trap?

Simple. It's really simple.

Total transparency in your online presence. That means shared passwords, shared email accpounts, shared Facebook pages.

It means installing software that tracks websites that have been visited on every computer you own...and having the courage to check. Regularly and thoroughly.

This is not a time for "you're suspicious!"

It's a matter of preserving health and preserving marriage against something sent by Satan.

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holding Hands

When you're walking together, or watching television, or standing in line at a movie theater...do you still hold hands with your mate?

I hope so, because that kind of casual yet intimate contact can be one of the most important parts of the glue that strengths a marriage, and ultimately holds a marriage together.

Holding hands is a gesture that says "I'm comfortable with you, I'm glad to be here with you. I want to be close."

I don't want to be separated from you.

And yet...so often when we'/re together, we're apart. A few years ago there was a cell-phone commercial (when 4g was the Big New Thing) that showed a family walking through a museum, ignoring the exhibits, each one sending texts.

And separate from one another.

There was something screamingly ironic there, celebrating the ability to reach out while emphasizing the way technology pushes us toward ignoring our immediate surroundings, and the people with whom we share them.

But it's not just technology that's to blame. For me, it's...books.

From early childhood, I escaped into books. I always had at least one paperback in my pocket, or a hardcover in my hand, because I really did not want to be with the people who were around me. I wanted out.

A necessity became a habit, and I simply felt more comfortable with paper people than with real people. If they were irritating - I had control, and could close the book, or pick up another.

It worked when I was single, and wanted to keep people at a distance anyway.

When I married, well, not so much.

But I've learned, and am learning. I still usually have a book in my hands...but when my wife walks into the room, I close it and listen. Okay, I hold my place with a finger.

Maybe one day I'll even put in a bookmark, and put it down.

What are you carrying that's preventing you from holding hands?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Love Notes

I have heard that penmanship is no longer taught in schools. Kids will grow up to use computers, so why teach them handwriting when they'll hardly ever use it?

Just teach 'em to print in block letters, and hope they can pick up the knack of legibility.

We're cheating them. We're cheating them of the privilege of sending and receiving love notes (and letters).

Sure, they can email, or text, or if they're really old-school, typing a letter, printing it out, signing their name, and faxing it.

Or even - gasp - finding an envelope, a stamp, and a mailbox.

It isn't the same.

Handwriting conveys so much, and the handwriting of someone with whom we have developed and are developing a relationship becomes part of us. We can recognize the sound of our mate's walk in a crowd; we need only to see part of a written address on an envelope to know we've gotten another letter from our beloved.

We can't do much about the kids today, save teaching them ourselves and getting involved in school-board meetings - and elections.

We can, however, keep the tradition alive ourselves.

So write love notes to your husband or wife. Get a couple of pads of post-its, and every day, or every other day, write something kind and loving and encouraging, and put it where they'll see it.

When my wife took her laptop to work, I'd often place a note on the keyboard while she was showering. Doing that preserved a necessary element of mystery ("HOW did that note get there?").

If you feel that your inspiration for new material will last about a week, don't fret.

There's always the Bible. There are a ton of loving and encouraging Scriptures you can quote. The Song of Solomon is a great place to start, for romance.

The red-letter parts work for encouragement and bracing, when needed.

Don't feel Biblical? Use the internet to find cool quotes. Just google "encouraging quotes" or "romantic quotes" and you'll get a bunch.

What you write is not, in the end, the most important thing. It's that you write. It's that the handwriting which is uniquely you appears on a note that is found in your absence.

It means a part of you is always there.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Marriage Misteaks

Everyone makes mistakes. To err is human, to forgive, divine, you know.

But there's a difference between making a mistake once and learning from it, and making it again and again and making it a habit.

Unfortunately, a lot of what we do in marriage falls into this category. For example...

Mind Reading - We may be able to finish our mate's sentences. We may be able to predict what they'll do or say under certain circumstances.

But we can't read their minds or hearts. It's nice to know someone well enough to have the feeling of moving through the dance of life in unspoken rhythm, but we should never mistake this for understanding the basis of another unique soul.

We observe phenomena. We catalog stimuli and response. But what lies between the stimulus and the reaction, so to speak, is hidden. We may get some insights from what our mate says, but this is still being filtered through our own experience and basis of knowledge.

We can't read minds, and we shouldn't try...but most specifically we should never use this 'ability' to gain the upper hand in an argument.

"Oh, I know what you're going to say!" Sound familiar?

Mind reading can also be a problem in positive action - how many times have you given someone a gift that you were sure they'd like, only to receive a "Gee...uh, thanks..."?

Newly marrieds are particularly prone to this - they're so focused on what they see of their mate through the lens of their own desire that they'll overlay their mate's desires with their own. A new bride may find herself on a honeymoon cruise when she'd far prefer sleeping under the stars in Canyonlands National Park, but can't quite bear to break it to her husband that the particular assumption he made about what she'd like...was dead wrong.

The Apple Falls Close To The Tree - This is a common adage in many cultures, and it's used to describe the similarity between parents and children.

Not much fun for children, if the parents are a dead loss at the parenting game, but that's beside the point.

The real point is that when you use this paradigm in an argument, you're lashing your mate to a rock, to make it easier to hit them. Someone whose behavior is dictated and predicted by the familial past - and by past bad behavior of relatives - really has nowhere to go, and can only stand and take your attack.

It's easy to hit a sitting target, but not very sporting.

Like mind reading, you can also err on the positive side of this concept. Giving your mate the feeling that he or she has a family tradition to meet is an unfair burden, and one certainly added to the one received from the Practically Perfect Family.

Let your mate be an individual. If he or she wants to claim familial traits, fine. But never force them, and never use them as a stick.

You Don't Love Me Like You Used To - People change, and love changes. Fact of life. So, yes, this one's true...but you don't love your mate like you used to.

The past is the devil's mirror, because it reflects what we want to see, and hides what we want to avoid. Our marriage wasn't perfect, ever, but to hold up today in comparison to yesterday is inaccurate...and unfair.(Please note that I'm talking about healthy marriages without significant issues.)

It can't live up to the memory of something that was never fully real, and when we try to force it into that mold, we damage the marriage we have.

Drop the mirror. Let the past go...you won't lose anything, because God saves all the good bits of our lives for us, and puts them in safekeeping in His House.

Embrace the now, embrace the love you have. Maybe romance is fixing a fence together rather than a moonlight stroll on the beach. Can't see the romance in fixing a fence?

Try. Try looking at the person next to you, trusting you not to whack her hand with the hammer.

What other marriage mistakes have you seen? Add to our list!

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.

Monday, April 7, 2014


"Typical behavior for a woman!"

"Men always act that way!"

Ever heard those? You probably have.

They may be delivered in anger, or, weirdly, as an attempt at reassurance..."I don't like the way you're acting but I know you can't help it because of your gender."

Which can be comforting, I suppose. Anyone? Have you found it comforting?

What stereotyping does is close a lid. Once you throw the weight of sociological knowledge (everyone knows that) behind your argument, the door's closed, and you no longer have to listen - or to look at your own behavior, to see if what you don';t like...

...is a reflection of you.

What's interesting is how acceptable gender stereotyping in marriage  is to the user. People who would never stereotype a neighbor or co-worker by race will happily toss their spouse into the blender, and turn it up to frappe.

It's also a relative of "you always do that". That's one of the worst things you can say in a relationship, because it's not true, and it demands an almost impossible on-the-spot refutation.

So, guys...today's suggestion is please don't generalize about your mate.

You married a specific person whom you loved, and hopefully still love.

Don't deny him or her their uniqueness.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Movie For Couples

Want a movie that portrays faith, marriage, and the Marines in a positive light?

Then go and rent or buy Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center".

Yes,. Oliver Stone, the king of conspiracy theories, made a film that gently touches the good at the heart of people, in his treatment of an act of monstrous evil/

WTC centers on the story of two Port Authority policemen, John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, who were trapped under the rubble. Twenty people were pulled out alive after the towers fell; Jimeno and McLoughlin were the 18th and 19th, respectively.

There's a lot more to the story. It expands from the plight of the two policemen to encompass their families; McLoughlin has a wife and four children under 15, and Jimeno's wife is pregnant with their second daughter.

The marriages are not perfect. They have the bumps and itches that we all face, but the affirmation of the basic relationship is just stunning in its simplicity.

One line - "It's in the moments."

Please spare some moments, get this film, and watch it together.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Do You Know What Your Husband Is Doing?

Or, do you know what your wife's doing?

You should, and too many of us really don't have much of a clue how our spouses spend their days away from us.

It's not because we need to check up on them, keep tabs...no, it's a matter of caring enough to know what life is like for the person who's supposed to be first among mortals for us.

Ahead of friends. Ahead of siblings. Ahead of parents.

But I'll wager that a lot of you know more about your friends' daily lives than you do that of your spouse. About your Facebook friends' lives, too, come to that.

I have a friend who's an aspiring writer. She recently received an indication of interest in a novel from an agent, which is big news. She wanted to share it with her husband, tell him about the book.

His comment? "I'm sure it's based on something you read about." Then he walked off, and never raised the subject again.

For sure she didn't raise it.

She writes a solid, well-researched blog on faith questions. He doesn't read it. He does have time for fantasy football, but not for the work that animates his wife's life.

That's an extreme example of disinterest, but it's not that extreme. Many of us are equally dismissive in deeds, if not in words/

If we listen with ha;f an ear, we're dismissive.

If we wait for a chance to talk about ourselves, we're dismissive.

And one day - your spouse is going to quit. He'll ask about your day, but won't volunteer information about his.

She'll listen to your tales, but have none of her own, other than "It was okay".

When that happens, a part of your marriage is dying, and it won't revive by itself. Once your mate gives up, even a sincere interest on your part will feel condescending. It may not be repairable.

How do you prevent this?

  • Know your spouse's job - you should be able to describe, in some detail, what your spouse does on a daily basis.
  • Ask questions - ask leading questions that are not merely an attempt to make conversation. They should be informed (that means do research on your own) and intelligent.
  • Offer your help - even in the most esoteric of fields, a layman's view can often be valuable. I know - I have a PhD in the design of reinforced concrtete structures to resist earthquakes. My wife is an accountant. I found that she had an intuitive understanding of how concrete could potentially work, and she made significant contributions to ideas that eventually became published papers. (And before you ask, I'm hopeless at accountancy.)
  •  Put aside distractions - when you come home, leave the TV off. You don't need to hear the news. You can get weather from the Internet, and the local news is typically entertainment-by-local-body-count. Talk with your mate instead.
  • Carpool when possible - if you can carpool with your spouse, do it, because it gives you private time to share your days.
  • Pray together - this is the most important action item. It's hard to be dismissive of someone with whom you approach God in prayer.
Remember - the person you married is giving you the best years of his or her life. The ;least you can do is give them your interest and attention.

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.