Whether you marriage is good, bad, or just plain ugly, there is always hope to make it great. But great does not come easily.
Great marriages take courage. When we think of courage, we generally think of the policemen and firemen who ran into the Twin Towers, or of a person diving into an icy pond to save a friend, or of a soldier on the front lines of battle. Most of us don’t think of courage when it comes to facing our everyday stuff, such as our marriage or raising kids. But it takes great courage to build relational intimacy, which is the oxygen of a marriage. It takes an enormous amount of courage to say, “This marriage is in trouble and we need to do something about it.” It’s much easier to put your troubles on the back burner, engage in the rough-and-tumble of life, and hope things will sort of work themselves out. Running from problems is always easier than solving them. But courage is willing to put on the gloves and say, “Let’s fight for this marriage.”
Great marriages take discipline. When you look at successful people you will find one thing in every case: It takes discipline to become successful at anything. Failure, for the most part, is due to people letting things slide. There is a lack of discipline.
In his book the Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck writes, “Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with.” Discipline is simply a commitment to get the pain out of the way first.
When Deb and I were first married (we were in our teens), we decided to wrestle through the hard stuff from the start. We needed to learn how to fight fair, when to speak up and when to keep quiet, how to forgive, how to handle money (what little we had), how to love in a language the other one understood, and so on. There were some long nights as we worked through sneers, fears, and unfair judgments. But the long-term benefit has been wonderful.
Over the years I have sat across from many couples in deep conflict. As the problems emerged in their marriage, they chose to ignore them, to let them slither out of sight, refusing to deal with them. Instead of committing to work through the pain early on they ignored it. But ignoring problems in the context of an intimate relationship doesn’t work. Eventually it becomes intolerable.
Here is a practical idea: Don’t go to bed mad. It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Decide in advance (a secret to being disciplined) that whenever you get into a spat, you will at least quash the negative emotions associated with the argument. And do it before you fall asleep (this will make for some long nights). You might not get the issue resolved, but you at least get past the hurt of disagreement.
Great marriages take endurance. Endurance refuses to cash it in—it pushes past quitting points. We live in a culture where we have come to expect things instantly. We like fast diets, overnight success, rapid fitness, and a hundred-yard dash to marital bliss. If we don’t experience what we want in a reasonable amount of time—say, in a day or two, we think something is wrong. Those of us over fifty were once called the “now generation.” We were pretty well known for easily quitting things before the rewards showed up—jobs, educational paths, relationships, pretty much anything complex. Why? It couldn’t be had, now. Sadly, the generations that follow us expect no less.