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.
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
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.
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
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
*Wedding photos by Jane Zarzynski Photography