Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Response to 15 Reasons to Stay Married 15 Years

Below are 15 reasons to stay married 15 years by Lydia Netzer. In italics below each point, I’ve offered my own view in light of the author’s comments. My own 15 reasons outside of this response would look different but I've decided to only respond to the points made by the original author and reinterpret them.  Send feedback and comments, I know I have not reached the pinnacle of truth.

0. [Introduction]
We have never had a regular date night, nor do we prioritize “communication” or play sex games or see a therapist. He doesn’t bring me flowers every Thursday, I don’t cook his favorite food very often. But we do have some other ideas.

0. Comments on [Introduction]
Romantic looks different for different couples. The main thing is for both parties to share how they feel loved – and the other person to stretch themselves to respond. Date nights don’t optimize marriage, but can be a healthy practice to avoid stagnation and to stay on the same page. With that I would add, don’t take for granted your need to continually discover things about your spouse. Just because you asked them fifteen years ago, doesn’t mean they are still operating under the same modus operandi. Find what works for the both of you, don’t worry about stereotypes but don’t be ashamed if you feel loved in similar ways as others. When possible view marriage counseling as you would regular doctor check ups. Especially as kids or advancing in age, you are to go to the doctor just to make sure everything is alright. Healthy people go to the doctor to stay healthy, not just because they are on the verge of death. Extend the analogy to marriage. Counseling can be a great way to affirm you are healthy or to pick up on things before they actually become a problem.

1. Go to bed mad.
The old maxim that you shouldn’t go to bed mad is stupid. Sometimes you need to just go to freakin’ bed. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” is prefaced in the Bible by the phrase “Be angry and sin not.” So, who’s to say it doesn’t mean “Stay angry, bitches. Don’t let the sun go down on that awesome fierce wrath of yours.” Seriously. Whoever interpreted this to mean that you should stay up after midnight, tear-stained and petulant, trying to iron out some kind of overtired and breathy accord -- was stupid. Shut up, go to bed, let your husband get some sleep. In the morning, eat some pancakes. Everything will seem better, I swear.  

1. Don’t go to bed mad, but be okay with not resolving all the issues. There is wisdom in “Let not the sun go down on your anger.” The main reason I see this as valuable is that this is a simple way to prevent bitterness from creeping in. Bitterness is a strong pollutant and without work, is easy to come second nature. Get to the point where you can say to one another that you love one another and look forward to resolving the issue. One reason fights continue is that we make a battle zone with a winner and a loser – no one wants to lose, thus the fight continues. Change the tone so that you are both working together to fight against whatever is dividing you. Make the marriage central and the issues peripheral. In this light you can go to bed anxious, maybe not on the same page, but together with the long haul in mind. 

 2. Laugh if you can. In any fight, there is one person who is really mad, and one person who isn’t that mad. That person should deflect the fight. Make a joke, do something stupid or corny, make the other person laugh. If the fight is very serious for you and you feel like you really want to plant your flag and die on this hill, fine. Do it. But if you’re fighting for entertainment, or because you’re just reacting, then you be the one to deflect. Fights are bad. Deflecting a fight whenever possible is a good idea. When you’re the one who’s being pissy and raw, and the other person helps you get out of it and brings about peace, that feels fantastic. This was a hard lesson to learn, for me. Letting Dan deflect a fight is the best thing, now. He does it really well.

 2. Appropriately use humor to diffuse arguments. Sometimes you can be wrapped up in yourself while arguing you begin to argue to argue or argue to win instead of communicating. When this happens, you’re unlikely to actually accomplish your goals and have the potential of saying/doing things you don’t mean and you’ll regret. In these situations find a way to diffuse the situation. Humor often works but isn’t the only way. When using humor be nuanced; sometimes humor can be seen as attacking sarcasm instead of a healthy break back to reality. Learn ways of diffusing the argument so you can both get to the same page.  

3. Don’t criticize. Ever. Here is a fact: Whatever critical thing that you are about to say to your wife is already being loudly articulated in her head. And if it’s true, she already feels like crap about it. Assuming you married someone intelligent enough to like you and sane enough to let you put a ring on it, trust that they are self-aware enough to know when they screwed up. It may feel good to you in that moment to say the critical thing, let it go ringing through the air in all its sonorous correctness, but it will feel awful to hear it. The only, only way it’s beneficial to give your wife criticism of any kind is if you’re absolutely positive she is completely unaware. And you better find the nicest, kindest way possible to tell her. And even then, good luck convincing her. Their recognition of the thing you are helpfully trying to point out will be INHIBITED, not facilitated, by your criticism. And then you’re the asshole. So be careful.  

3. Desire Holiness over Happiness. It seems that Gary Thomas’s Sacred Marriage really comes into play here. His thesis statement is that God created marriage for the purpose of holiness, not necessarily happiness. That means that you as the person who knows your spouse the most, know their weaknesses the most. Together with Christ, work towards holiness. Be sensitive and know the right context to bring up these issues. We all have blind spots and your spouse knows you best. Children will do this for you without a filter, so getting some of this out of the way before they arrive is a good thing. 

 4. Be the mirror. Your husband is the mirror in which you see yourself. And the things you say to him give him an image of himself too, which he will believe. You want him to believe it, so make it good. Be a mirror that reflects something positive: you’re smart, you’re successful, you’re fantastic in the sack, you’re a great provider, you’re the best. Can you MAKE him any of these things just by telling him he is? I don’t know, but consider this: the alternative really sucks. The things my husband says to me are 1000 times more convincing than anyone else’s opinion on earth. Don’t think he won’t believe you because you’re married and you’re contractually obligated to say nice things. He’ll believe the shitty, insulting things you say, and the gloriously positive things. Listen to Nico, girls:  

4. Be your spouse’s primary encourager. You have a powerful position in the life of your spouse. As #3 says you want to be a source of healing in the life of your spouse. Your words are powerful so know when to build them up. Get in a habit of saying “I love you.” Recognize their accomplishments. See them succeed and comment on it. Be one who notices efforts even if they don’t add up to met expectations. Assume they are coming to the situation with positivity instead of expecting the worst out of the situation.

 5. Be proud and brag. Let your spouse hear you talking about them in glowing terms to other people. Be foolish. Be obvious. It will mean everything. You will stay married forever.

 5. Show your love and respect for your spouse in public – appropriately. If #4 is about private conversations, #5 is about public praising. People like to be complimented in the right context. Some of this depends on your tendencies to be extroverted/introverted. Some people are more easily embarrassed. Some people deal with pride issues and don’t need to be told how awesome they are in public. Determine who your spouse is and whether you do this in front of them or just when you are out. It’s a good practice for you to know your spouses strength and can be an affirmation directly to them. Guard yourself from being fake with this. Its easy to want people to seem like you have a “good marriage” thus peer pressure you into having to gloss over reality to appear that you have a good marriage. As with all intimate details know when to scale things appropriately so that those closest to you know how bad/good things really are and those on the periphery have honest truth – less detailed. In saying all that when things are difficult it is a great habit to find things praiseworthy about your spouse. You decide if you are being fake by sharing this in public, but looking as if to share things will give impetuous for you to notice things more often. 

 6. Do your own thing. Dan races bicycles. I write books. I don’t race bicycles or have any desire to race bicycles. He doesn’t write books, nor does he even read the books that I write. Seriously. And I don’t care. My opinion is that he’s the fastest, coolest most awesome bike racer ever. His opinion is that I’m the bestest, coolest writer ever. We don’t have to know all about cycling or writing in order to form these opinions -- in fact knowledge of literature or actually reading my book might damage Dan’s opinion of me as “best writer since the dawn of time.” We can still support each other without being all up in the other person’s stuff. Doing your own thing, having your own friends, being completely insanely passionate about something that the other person has no idea, really, about, is awesome. It allows your spouse to be your cheerleader, uncomplicated by knowledge or personal investment. And it means you’ll always have stuff to talk about, because you’re not overlapping all the time. You don’t have to read the same books either. You don’t have to have the same friends.  

6. Support one another in your hobbies and strengths. Couples shouldn’t be contemned for spending all their time together or for having separate hobbies. Here’s the danger: these can become escapes from difficulties in life (marriage) that keep one from honestly dealing with real issues. Have freedom to be who you are around one another. The best context for this is to be supportive of one another in these areas. That might mean participating, encouraging, releasing, whatever. Be there in the thing even if you don’t enjoy it or aren’t good at it. Value the person by caring about their interests and do what you have to in order to show it. 
7. Have kids. Kids stop you from being as crazy as you want to be. Because when you have kids, you can’t be that crazy. For example, when I had kids, I stopped smoking. Left to right = Susannah, Joshilyn, Dan, Me.

7. Be marriage-family-centric. Kids change EVERYTHING. They are more joyful than you could ever imagine and more work than you ever thought possible. Are they worth it? Yes. Are they desired? Yes. But don’t have or use kids as the glue for your marriage. A healthy marriage will permeate into healthy and secure kids and a firm family. Somehow prioritize your marriage even over your family. Be flexible as circumstances and challenges will arise. Be a team for your kids, don’t pit one spouse against the other or let them manipulate you. Share the fun and workload – including discipline. While the original author may have intentions for children beyond “kids keep you from being crazy,” the brief comment and example of smoking don’t exemplify a reason for kids and verges on viewing them as burdensome. Kids will bring up more of your internal, historical wounds and insecurities so make sure you are in a healthy place to deal with them and give grace to your spouse. With having kids, its easier to assume the best intentions in your spouse, even when the natural limitations on them keep them from meeting any unaltered expectation. Make your kids about your family – include them in what you do and value their input to your family team.

8. Get really good at sex. You’ve got all the time in the world to get really really good, not just at sex in general, but at having sex with your one particular husband. You should make it your life’s mission to become the perfect sex machine exactly for him. And he for you. There is no reason to hold back, or be embarrassed, or not ask questions, and get everything working properly. There’s absolutely no excuse for letting years drag on without becoming fully skilled, gifted sex partners for each other. It makes everything so much better. Does talking about this make you uncomfortable? How uncomfortable would it make you to know that your spouse is secretly, silently “just okay” with your sexual performance? Yeah. You want to last fifteen years, remember? That’s a long time to be mildly happy.

 8. Be really committed to sex – as a part of marriage. Work to see sex from a biblical standpoint – the consummation of an intimate relationship. This should be a regular part of your marriage. Have a regular diet of quickies and gourmet. Make sure you aren’t using sex to get to something else, don’t use it as a bargaining tool. Men: avoid thinking, if I do this romantic thing, maybe … Instead, do those romantic things because you love your wife. Women: avoid getting men to do something they wouldn’t naturally do by rewarding them with … Don’t cheapen the intimacy. Don’t worry about performance as much as togetherness. Its not about how good you are but how good it is. Are there practical ways of becoming more intimate? Yes. But avoid obsessing about how it feels out of the context of the love you are showing one another. Part of this will be determining and respecting boundaries. Find ways to protect this intimacy with others – what boundaries do you want to have so that there is no chance of sharing this intimacy with others? Some to think through: spacial, physical, gender, alone with who, where? 

9. Move. Live in different houses. In different parts of the country. Travel. Make it so that you can look back and divide up your life into the years you spent in different cities, or different houses. If you’re feeling stuck geographically or physically, you can confuse yourself into thinking you’re stuck romantically. See your husband in different places, in different contexts, in different countries even. Try it. Take him to a mountaintop and give him another look. Pretty sexy. Take him to a new city and check out his profile. Along the same lines, don’t be afraid to change personally, or let your wife change as a person. Don’t worry about “growing apart.” Be brave and evolve. Become completely different. Don’t gather moss. Stagnation is unattractive.

 9. Take breaks from normality I think the original author’s statements are overly applied to her context and what works for their marriage. I might generalize it to say this: take breaks from normality. Don’t get overly ritualized into routines so that no freshness moves through. Fight stagnation and try something new with your spouse. Maybe it’s as simple as a new recipe or a new dish at your favorite restaurant (instead of ordering the same dish over and over again). It could be as big as moving but it could be rearranging the furniture in the house. Try something new and fight stagnation.  

10. Stop thinking temporarily. Marriage is not conditional. It is permanent. Your husband will be with you until you die. That is a given. It sounds obvious, but really making it a given is hard. You tend to think in “ifs” and “thens” even when you’ve publicly committed to forever. If he does this, I won’t tolerate it. If I do this, he’ll leave me. If I get fat. If I change jobs. If he says mean things. If he doesn’t pay more attention. It’s natural, especially in the beginning of your marriage, to keep those doubts in your head. But the sooner you can get go of the idea that marriage is temporary, and will end if certain awful conditions are met, the sooner you will let go of all kinds of conflict and stress. Yes, you may find yourself in a horrible situation where it’s absolutely necessary to get a divorce. But going into it with divorce in the back of your mind, even in the way way way back of your mind, is going to cause a lot of unnecessary angst. Accept that you’re going to stay with him. He’s going to stay with you. Inhabit that and figure out how to make THAT work, instead of living with the “what if”s and “in case of”s.  

10. Commit that “the D word” is not an option. I agree with the statements by the original author but don’t think they go far enough. Marriage is something to take so seriously that divorce can not be seen as an option. Its not something to flippantly joke around with. For some reason its cute when an elderly couple says, “I just need to trade that one in.” Honestly it disgusts me. Any way to lessen marriage by needing another or a new wife is abhorrent and NOT something to be joked around. Our house takes it seriously that we don’t use the full word (as to give it more credit or weight), we just say “the D word.” 

11. Do not put yourself in trouble’s way. Leave your ex boyfriends and girlfriends alone. I’m sure you’re very trustworthy. Aren’t we all? The thing is, there’s absolutely no reason to test it. Your husband and your marriage are more valuable than any friendship. Any friendship that troubles the marriage should be over immediately. Protect it with knives and teeth, not because it’s fragile but because it’s precious. Don’t ass around with a “hall pass” or a “harmless flirtation.” Adultery isn’t an event, it’s a process with an event at the end. Don’t put your feet on a path that could lead someplace bad.  

11. Protect your marriage for the treasure that it is. This has somewhat been addressed elsewhere. I appreciate the original author’s distinction between fragile and precious, I think it makes a big difference. I would generalize my comments beyond just previous relationships – but there is a difference of perception here. I agree that adultery is often a process instead of an event. This is where these agreed upon boundaries come in. Here’s a secret about boundaries though – crossing them brings in a sinful enthusiasm that can become addicting, harmful and cause a lack of rationality. Unless these boundaries are sealed off completely, its easy to let one thing go, then another, then another and before you realize it or can stop it, you are on the other end of the line so far you need binoculars to see it. 
12. Make a husband pact with your friends. The husband pact says this: I promise to listen to you complain about your husband even in the most dire terms, without it affecting my good opinion of him. I will agree with your harshest criticism, accept your gloomiest predictions. I will nod and furrow my brow and sigh when you describe him as a hideous ogre. Then when your fight is over and love shines again like a beautiful sunbeam in your life, I promise to forget everything you said and regard him as the most charming of princes once more. The husband pact is very useful because you want to be able to vent to your friend without having her actually start hating your husband. Because you don’t really mean all those things you say. And she, the swearer of the pact, knows this.

12. Make a marriage pact with your friends. Uphold marriage in general and especially in the lives with those you love. When a friend asks you to stand with them at their wedding, take it as more than “you can stand here so that I look good on my wedding day.” They likely aren’t inviting you because of how you look but because of the role you have in their life. Take it seriously when they ask you to stand. Let them know that you will stand with them only if they promise to hold to your same foundational marriage values – that this means life, divorce is not an option and that if you stand with them they are inviting you to hold them to the vows and commitments they make that day – no matter the circumstances (beyond what Jesus hesitantly allows). In current day situations fight for your friends marriage and be someone who can be trusted. See 13) Find a small circle to process your relationship & others.

13. Bitch to his mother, not yours. This is one I did read somewhere in a magazine, and it’s totally true. His mother will forgive him. Yours never will. If you’re a man, bitch to your friends. They expect it.

13. Find a small circle to process your relationship.
When possible and as the default, process, communicate and bring things up with your spouse. The smaller the circle when things are raw the better. That said if there are circumstances where you need a sounding board to discuss your spouse, choose as small a circle as possible to process. Pre-approve these people with your spouse so that you both value and trust the opinions of the person and you both have confidence that they are working towards reconciliation – not just to be a part of your crew. Exclude this person from the privilege of speaking into your marriage if they ever suggest divorce or prolonged separation. Older, wiser, mature people are preferred for this. Unless that parent is someone who fits the above categories, don’t share things with parents (without permission). Parents know you very well but can be overly biased to the point of divisive. If you parents ever suggest splitting up. Be careful not to get in conversations with others who bash their spouses. While this is seen as culturally appropriate, it does not build up your spouse and therefore should be something you participate in. If your friends do this, be the one to call them out.  

14. Be loyal. All the crap you read in magazines about honesty, sense of humor, communication, sensitivity, date nights, couples weekends, blah blah blah can be trumped by one word: loyalty. You and your spouse are a team of two. It is you against the world. No one else is allowed on the team, and no one else will ever understand the team’s rules. This is okay. The team is not adversarial, the team does not tear its members down, the team does not sabotage the team’s success. Teammates work constantly to help and better their teammates. Loyalty means you put the other person in your marriage first all the time, and you let them put you first. Loyalty means subverting your whims or desires of the moment to better meet your spouse’s whims or desires, with the full understanding and expectation that they will be doing the same. This is the heart of everything, and it is a tricky balance. Sometimes it sways one way and some the other. Sometimes he gets to be crazy, sometimes it’s your turn. Sometimes she’s in the spotlight, sometimes you. Ups and downs, ultimately, don’t matter because the team endures.

14. View your marriage as a team
I really like seeing marriage as a team. I agree with the original author’s statements above and desire to research and expound on the marriage as team analogy.  

15. Trust the person you married. For two people who are trying to help each other, it can almost be harder to let the other person help you than it is to be the one who’s helping. It can be harder to let the other person deflect the fight than to be the one deflecting. It can be harder to believe that your husband is fully committed to a lifetime of marriage than to commit yourself. Harder to change yourself than to let the other person change. Harder to be loved than to love. Weird, but true. I’m saying this to everyone who’s newly married, and to myself: trust that person. Love them completely and let them love you. If it all goes to seed, it’s going to hurt either way. Better to have gone into it full throttle. Full throttle marriage is a thrilling ride.

15. Marry someone you trust and trust the person that you marry.
The original author’s comments seemed scattered to me. I will simplify my thoughts by saying marry someone you trust and trust the person that you marry. Trust should be one of the prime characteristics of an intimate relationship. Since marriage is in a category all on its own in this regard, trust is paramount. Secure this trust early and develop and rely on it often. The above comments all factor into this trust is so foundational. When doubts arise, trust that you’ve put the work into verifying that the person is trustworthy.

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