My Anniversary Gift for Year Five: Marriage Counseling

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This weekend my husband and I will celebrate our five year wedding anniversary. Just this past January, we began discussing about how we wanted to celebrate this milestone. We both value experiences and quality time over gifts, so we determined to take two trips sans kiddo. (We like to gift equal opportunities for babysitting to both sets of grandparents. It’s only fair.) But on top of two great experiences seeing different parts of the country, I also asked for a bonus gift. Marriage counseling.

When I shared my request at a recent speaking engagement, there were audible gasps in the room.

So I wanted to take a moment to explain why I believe one of the greatest gifts we could give our marriage is counseling. Unfortunately, counseling, especially marriage counseling, still carries a bit of a stigma for many people. Countless female friends and acquaintances have confessed to me that although they might like to visit a counselor, they didn’t think their husbands would consider counseling as an option. The reason? “There’s nothing that wrong with our marriage. I’m happy. Aren’t you happy? I don’t need to talk to a stranger to know I should love my wife.”

David and I committed to several sessions of marriage counseling because our marriage is good – really good – and we want it to continue that way. In the same way I see my doctor for yearly checkups or get the oil changed in my car, the goal is to do the work before any crisis arises.

If you told me that next year I would be expected to get in a boxing ring and go toe-to-toe with Laila Ali, I would be foolish to think my training could come in the middle of that match. You do the work outside of the ring so that you are skilled and equipped for the fight.

I asked for marriage counseling because I want to fight for our marriage, together.

The greatest threat to our marriage isn’t outside of our marriage. The greatest threat is in our marriage- it’s me and my sinful heart. It’s my husband and his flesh. I so appreciate the outside perspective provided by my counselor that helps us to see our blind spots both individually and as a team.

A personal trainer helps you to do the work that will shape your body and strengthen your muscles. A counselor helps us do the work to strengthen and shape our marriage.

Statistics scream that marriage is hard. My husband graciously accepted my request for counseling because we both want the same thing: a great marriage.

vows

On a recent road trip we talked through some of the greatest marriage lessons we’ve gleaned through reading (Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage and Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas in particular), learning and counseling over the past five years. Here’s what what training has taught us:

Prepare for the fight before you get in the ring!

Invest in your marriage by strengthening your team: pursue each other, schedule date nights, develop your communication skills, seek out mentors, enlist a counselor for support. I have yet to regret time devoted to knowing my spouse in a greater way.

(Romantic) Love isn’t enough. 

David doesn’t complete me. He can’t complete me. To place my total purpose and satisfaction upon his shoulders would be crushing. David cannot read my mind. He will disappoint me. So giving love only when I feel the love, that’s going to lead to some lonely stretches of time. Instead this one goes back to our vows. We committed before God to be a picture of the gospel to the world. That’s our end game. That’s our firm foundation – we are both sinners in desperate need of a Savior, not each other. Even when I don’t feel loved in the way I might imagine for a particular moment, I am still called to lean in and love. Marriage is a daily choice.

“In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.” Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

Place your vows where you can see them.

Our first Christmas together I had our vows printed and framed with a shot from our wedding. The picture hangs outside our bedroom door and serves as a daily reminder that we go out into the world committed to each other before God. We are in this journey to help each other become our future glory-selves, and that takes daily vow renewal in our hearts.

“[Spiritual friendship] is eagerly helping one another know, serve, love, and resemble God in deeper and deeper ways.” Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

Practice Patience.

Almost every little frustrating spat is a result of differing expectations. Take a deep breath, then proceed with the reminder that this other person is FOR you and not out to get you.

Communicate. (Kindly.)

Sometimes it’s not exactly what you say, but how you are conveying your message. We have two big rules in our marriage when it comes to our words: No silent treatment and no cussing at each other, EVER.

Release the need to justify yourself.

I’m sorry goes such a long way to mend hurting hearts.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

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There are obviously countless more things to share, but this is what is fresh on our minds in a year with so many friends experiencing deep grief and challenges in marriage relationships. Marriage is hard, but it can also be such a blessing. That’s my hope and desire for this next year, that this journey together (no matter the minefields that await) would be so, so good because we are determined to walk this together.

“The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us.” Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

Happy 5th Anniversary, David.

I love you so. xoxo

-G

*Wedding photos by Jane Zarzynski Photography

Dear Ginger: How do I know if this is the ONE?

dear ginger

Dear Ginger,

How do you know if someone is the right person to marry? –E

Dear E, thank you so much for taking the time to send in this important and universal question. Who hasn’t wondered about this whether single, dating, or even engaged? I pulled out my own journal from when my husband and I were dating and had started talking about marriage. Look what I found:

“Lord, Thank you for this man. Thank you for this choice. I have so much fear mixed with the adrenaline. God- I ask that you continue to guard and guide. May we both seek wisdom in your Word and from the advisors in our lives. Speak Lord, clearly, for your child is waiting on you. Unveil my eyes. Let me see and know you. Help me to listen for your echo. Lord, please, please, please be clear. I don’t want an answer other than “Yes, this guy is the one!’ So up until we say the “I Do” – if this is not what you have for us, you must please be abundantly and overwhelmingly clear. But Lord, if it’s my choice and lines up with your will … I choose this gentle man who loves deeply.

I don’t want to regret. I want a co-pilot in love and ministry. We don’t get to see or know how hearts will change in the coming years, what hardships lie dormant, just waiting, but my desire is to go through the valleys with David. I choose it. I want it.”

You can see I was wrestling through my feelings and emotions.

David and I were married on October 17, 2010. We planned and prepped and dreamed of the day for months. We decided, somewhere along the way, that we wanted to have both our own personally written vows and some traditional vows recited in our ceremony.

I spent an evening alone thinking about what I desired to communicate to my husband and the people who were witnessing our vows. I wanted to acknowledge that my promise was about more than simply having fun together or loving each other when things are easy. I’d witnessed too many relationships struggle, too many marriages end, and too many indestructible relationships break down after years of what seemed like perfection. We had been challenged that marriage wasn’t for our happiness but for our holiness and that rings weren’t an accessory, but a reminder. And so I set out to explain why I knew David was “The One.”

I always wanted to know how married couples knew that this was IT. Was it just a desperate physical desire? Was it a long-term slow warming? Was it burning hatred turned into passionate love like Beatrice and Benedict (Much Ado About Nothing) or Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy? (Part of me really wanted it to be that!) Was it a voice inside my head that whispered, “This is the man you are going to marry”? (I also really wanted it to be this one too.) Or was it something else?

My husband received the title of THE ONE, when He was the one I said “I love you” to and the one that I said “yes” to. I prayed all along that God would end things if I wasn’t listening to His voice closely enough. But I feel like we enjoyed each other, pushed each other to fall in love with the Lord, and challenged each other to be the best versions of ourselves. My relationship with David never called for any sort of personality or moral compromise – instead David encouraged me to not change myself for him.

And so I decided that this one was THE ONE when I could wholeheartedly promise to seek HIS best for the rest of my life.

“In making this vow today,
 I declare-I know-that you are THE ONE.
 You receive that title not because of storybook romance,
 I know that you are THE ONE because you are the one man in the whole world to whom I CHOOSE to make this promise.”

I said those very words, made some promises to my one and suddenly it was official. The words were spoken, the rings exchanged, and then the next adventure of actually living out the vow began with a joyful party.

wedding

Is this the one you choose to love with all your heart, with all your life? Here are some questions for you to consider.

  1. What if “in sickness and in health” looks like Ian and Larissa’s story? Would you willingly give up your plans and dreams for a “normal” marriage and life to love and serve your spouse?
  2. Does this one person bring out the very best version of you? Does this one push you to be the woman God designed you to be? Are you able to be your true self around them? “Don’t be in a relationship where you have to second-guess yourself. Be confident in who you are. If you are dating someone and feel like you have to walk on eggshells or constantly worry that you are not smart enough, funny enough, attractive enough, or whatever—it’s not the relationship for you. You deserve to be cherished for who you are, not who you are pretending to be. Changing to conform to someone’s idea of a perfect match will leave you resentful, fearful, disenchanted, and somewhere short of happily ever after.” (Forget the Corsage)
  3. Are you willing to think of this one first and foremost as your family? Are you willing to leave and cleave? …The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:22-24
  4. Have you allowed your community to be a part of this relationship? Have you hidden this relationship from the eyes of others because of any hesitations? (It was important that both my friends and his friends witnessed our relationship. We visited each other’s churches and tried to see the other in their own “environment” as much as possible. This was challenging as we had an hour distance between the two of us.)
  5. Are you seeking godly wisdom about your relationship from someone who knows both of you?
  6. Do you have purpose and identity ASIDE from this relationship? Your purpose and identity should be found in the Lord first and foremost. I know from experience how easy it is to want to make someone else the end all, be all.
  7. Are you able to freely share your thoughts and opinions and have them heard and considered?
  8. Do you assume the best in your one? It can be tempting to assume the worst. “They’re late because they don’t care. (This was a huge light-bulb moment for all of my friendships and relationships. Just because someone doesn’t behave or respond the way that I think they should doesn’t mean they don’t love or care about me. I have yet to benefit in the long run by getting all huffy and bothered. Giving a strong dose of grace to a situation can do wonders in keeping a small thing like giving me advice on how to brown onions from exploding into, “YOU DON’T THINK I CAN COOK?” Simmer down there, Chef.)
  9. Are you praying, asking and seeking for the Lord’s direction and guidance?
  10. Are you willing to see love as a choice rather than a feeling?

Loving someone isn’t a sentiment. It’s a daily choice. It is a repeated action.

“Love is a commitment of my will to seek your best for the rest of my life.” –Lynelle Zandstra

Andrew Peterson – Dancing in the Minefields from Centricity Music on Vimeo.

I know this was by no means an all-encompasing list. I’m hoping other readers will comment with their own thoughts and perspectives.

Pray, pray, pray. Ask. Seek wisdom. Seek the Lord. He is faithful to answer.

Praying for you, E.

Following,
Ginger

 

Timing

His timing, His purposes, His wisdom…

In July of 2009 I turned down an amazing job at one of my favorite places on earth that would have subsequently taken me back to Texas. I was convinced that God had me in the desert to see things through. I started my job in the youth department, jumped back on stage in a local theatre production, began planning for an in-house girl’s conference, and made preparations to travel to Mozambique with the church. I felt like God had showered opportunity and blessing in spades! But mountain tops tend to come with their fair share of valleys. The end of September found me discouraged, opportunities removed, and with loneliness entering the picture in a very real and palpable way.

10-1-2009 | Journal Entry

I feel like I’ve become an emotional mess. I see myself not able to take any of the advice and wisdom I give to others. I am no more able to take every thought captive than I am to keep from crying when someone asks me how I’m doing. I am giving far too much weight to the opinions of others. I am not clinging to Him alone. I lay on my bed and wept several times last night. The only thing that could stop my crying was to read Psalms aloud at full force through the tears. I am fighting loneliness, I am fighting self-deprecation, I am fighting… and

I feel like I am losing.

I shared as much with a few near and dear ones who came to my side and poured gentle truth onto my searing wounds. A friend wrote me a long letter and I copied these few sentences and pasted them into my journal…

Do you trust him? Do you really believe that what he has is better, even if it significantly harder and costs you more?  

A few days later my mother forwarded this devotional to encourage my heart…

Before the Flood, God had said, “Come into the ark” (Gen. 7:1, NKJV). The clear implication was that God was already inside, inviting Noah to join Him there. After the Flood, when God said, “Come out of the ark” (Gen. 8:16, NIV), the implication is that He had left and was asking Noah to follow. The great God of the Exodus Who led His people out of bondage to slavery in Egypt, parting the Red Sea to allow them to pass on dry ground and so escape the armies of Pharaoh – that same great God led Noah, his wife, his sons, his sons’ wives, and all the animals out of the ark!

God’s greatness has not been diluted in any way over the years of time. He is just as great today as He has been in the past. So why do you think He cannot lead you out of trouble? Why would you think He cannot lead your entire life so that you find peace and fulfillment? Why do you think He is unable to lead your children in the right direction that will be pleasing to Him and good for them? God is great! (Anne Graham Lotz)

And I began to cling to hope.

10-15-2009 | Journal Entry

What do I know to be true?

But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33:18-22, NIV)

You watch, your eyes are on those who fear you. Your love is unfailing. You deliver from death. You keep those who hope in you alive during famine. You are my shield and my help. You cause my heart to rejoice. We wait in hope for you. Your name is holy. Your love rests upon us. I put my hope in you.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

You are CLOSE to me and you save me even in my broken spirit.

On November 2, 2009 I met the man who is now my husband. The journal entries from November are filled with excitement and joy; a far cry from the hurts of September and October. I watched the Lord stand as my shield and help during some of my saddest moments, and I watched wide-eyed as He brought me to a place of abundance.

Today we celebrate our 2nd anniversary. I look back on the heartaches of 2009 and am so thankful for the love and support from friends and family who encouraged me to never stop seeking and trusting. I wanted adventure, direction, and healing in MY timing and within MY parameters. When I was willing to release my grasp and trust His lead, I could slowly glimpse the unexpected and beautiful story He was telling… in His perfect timing.

 “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

Amen.

Following and celebrating,
Ginger

Love as a Vow

David and I were married on October 17, 2010. We planned and prepped and dreamed of the day for months. We decided, somewhere along the way, that we wanted to have both our own personally written vows and some traditional vows recited in our ceremony.

I spent an evening alone thinking about what I desired to communicate to my husband and the people who were witnessing our vows. I wanted to acknowledge that my promise was about more than simply having fun together or loving each other when things are easy. I’d witnessed too many relationships struggle, too many marriages end, and too many indestructible relationships break down after years of what seemed like perfection. We had been challenged that marriage wasn’t for our happiness but for our holiness and that rings weren’t an accessory, but a reminder. And so I set out to explain why I knew David was “The One.”

I always wanted to know how married couples knew that this was IT. Was it just a desperate physical desire? Was it a long-term slow warming? Was it burning hatred turned into passionate love like Beatrice and Benedict (Much Ado About Nothing) or Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy? (Part of me really wanted it to be that!) Was it a voice inside my head that whispered, “This is the man you are going to marry”? (I also really wanted it to be this one too.) Or was it something else?

My husband received the title of THE ONE, when He was the one I said “I love you” to and the one that I said “yes” to. I prayed all along that God would end things if I wasn’t listening to His voice closely enough. But I feel like we enjoyed each other, pushed each other to fall in love with the Lord, and challenged each other to be the best versions of ourselves. My relationship with David never called for any sort of personality or moral compromise – instead David encouraged me to not change myself for him.

And so I decided that this one was THE ONE when I could wholeheartedly promise to seek HIS best for the rest of my life.

“In making this vow today,
I declare-
I know-
that you are THE ONE.
You receive that title not because of storybook romance,
I know that you are THE ONE because you are the one man
in the whole world to whom I CHOOSE to make this promise.”

I said those very words, made some promises to my one… and then suddenly it was official. The words were spoken, the rings exchanged, and then the next adventure of actually living out the vow began with a joyful party.

“Love is a commitment of my will to seek your best for the rest of my life.” –Lynelle Zandstra

Love is an active choice… day in and day out.

Learning to love,
Ginger

One Year In

www.janezphotography.com

Aside from “How are you?”- the most frequent question I’ve been asked this year is “How’s married life?”

Short answer: it’s really good.

Long answer: I’m learning a lot.  I’m learning tons about myself, about my husband, and about my Heavenly Father.

Prior to marriage I had spent almost four years living by myself.  It would have been an adjustment sharing a space with anyone, much less a guy.

I’m trying to take the time to remember what this year has taught me.  I tend to do this at the end of every journal as well as at the start of a transition or the conclusion of a year.  I make a giant list.

GIANT LIST OF WHAT I’VE LEARNED DURING ONE YEAR OF MARRIAGE:

1. Loving someone isn’t a sentiment.  It’s a daily choice.  It is a repeated action.  In the first few months of marriage I found myself withholding love and affection at my most selfish points.  Imagine this:  I wake up on a Saturday morning excited to spend the morning making breakfast, enjoying the open windows, and just being.  Someone else (who will remain nameless) wakes up with a list of chores and activities to accomplish immediately.  An hour later I’m dirty and sweaty from rearranging the garage and finding myself close to tears because this isn’t my idea of being together.  My attitude is awful and my responses are short.  I knew I was in the wrong.  I hadn’t expressed my desire for what I wanted to do that morning, I was simply expecting my husband to figure it out by osmosis, I suppose.  I walked inside for a moment, took a deep breath, said a prayer that God would teach me how to love, and actively redirected the course of my attitude for the rest of the day.  When I stopped thinking about how I wasn’t feeling “loved” by the Saturday activity and started purposely loving my husband, I found myself thoroughly enjoying our time together.  I have a lot to learn in this area.

2. GRACE!  Rather than assuming the worst, I’ve learned to assume the best about my spouse.  This was a huge light-bulb moment for all of my friendships and relationships.  Just because someone doesn’t behave or respond the way that I think they should doesn’t mean they don’t love or care about me.  I have yet to benefit in the long run by getting all huffy and bothered.  Giving a strong dose of grace to a situation can do wonders in keeping a small thing like giving me advice on how to brown onions from exploding into, “YOU DON’T THINK I CAN COOK?”  Simmer down there, Chef.

3. I’m so much more emotional than I even thought possible.  I had this picture in my head that I was this strong, independent woman who moved to the desert all by her bad self.  I can’t tell you how many times my husband has found me crying this year.  8 times out of 10 I’m usually tired, overwhelmed, or my feelings have been hurt.  There.  I said it.  The other two times I really do have NO IDEA WHY I AM CRYING.  We’ve worked out a system where I can’t use “I don’t know why I’m crying” and not mean it.  I’m coming to terms with my tears.

4. People give and receive love in different ways.  This shouldn’t have surprised me.  I’ve spent time studying the Five Love Languages.  We’ve each talked about our love languages.  But this is where grace comes into play yet again.  (Catching that theme?)  I will have a really unhappy marriage if I decided that I ONLY receive love through written words of affirmation.  When we were dating I was in anguish over this.  I sent e-mails, texts, and even snail mail all the time.  What I failed to realize was that D didn’t have a work schedule that allowed for him to even read everything that I was sending his way, much less respond to everything that I was sending.  I had to stop and think of the HUNDREDS of other ways that he shows love and care.  I also have to keep myself from only showing love through written words.  Learning another language was more challenging than I expected – but totally worth it.

5. Prayer is powerful.  (Big surprise?)  Praying together is something I treasure.  I’m thankful for tearful and joyful moments speaking together with our Father.  But I’ll be honest, it doesn’t happen every day.  But that doesn’t mean that I stop praying for us and for him when we aren’t together.  Praying FOR my husband is precious and something that I don’t want to ever take for granted.

6. My favorite moments from this year have involved EXPERIENCES rather than buying things or receiving gifts.  I hope this never changes.  As much as I would like a bathroom door or grass in our backyard, I wouldn’t trade Saturdays of rollerblading together or mornings making breakfast together for all the bathroom makeovers in the world.

7. I expected to enjoy parts of this year, but I was also wary of the many comments that came with the first year of marriage.  “The first year is the hardest.”  Maybe.  But it’s not going to be the rule for every marriage.  If this was the hardest year of marriage then I can’t wait for the rest.  I love spending time with my husband.  In the words of the illustrious Jack Johnson, “It’s always better when we’re together.”

Ok.  That’s enough for today.  I promise this isn’t becoming a marriage blog.  I’m just continuing to share what God is teaching me through all of the arenas of life.  Come back tomorrow for more thoughts on what this date-less girl learned from her longest dating relationship.

Following,
Ginger

Baggage Check

V’s question about practical advice prior to marriage led me to remember all of the hurdles that I needed to overcome personally before I could consider uniting myself with someone else.  Here’s a quote from Neil Clark Warren:  “Get yourself healthy before you get yourself married. Too often we bring our unexamined selves into our marriage relationship.

As you prepare for a lifetime commitment, it’s so important to come to a place where you are at peace with your own past.  Here’s what I mean…

Baggage from Ginger Ciminello on Vimeo.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

The Bible takes it a step further and says, “Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups… We don’t just put up with our limitations; we celebrate them, and then go on to celebrate every strength, every triumph of the truth in you. We pray hard that it will all come together in your lives.” (2 Corinthians 13:5-9, The Message)

I can’t say that self-examination is going to be overly enjoyable, but I do think it’s necessary in order to prepare for (and participate in) a healthy and loving relationship.

What do you think?

Following,
Ginger