Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Best Marriage Advice I Ever Received, Ever.

Okay, so I wrote a little blog post a while back inspired by a few things I have learned in the almost five and a half years Blake and I have been together. Some of this advice was taught, some was learned from that toughest teacher, experience. You can read that post here if you like (warning: if you don't like snarky,'s snarky).

There have been quite a few friends and acquaintances who have gotten married since Blake and I have, and others in my life who have had questions about weddings and marriages and doing life with the one you love. In the moment, I often feel the room and try to offer advice or just something I wish someone would have told me when I was in their position based on the person or people asking. I especially offer advice I received that I actually applied successfully to my marriage: praying specific things for your spouse and for their walk with Christ, not just "la la la help my husband in traffic today" (not that I'm saying that isn't valid, I'm just saying you could also pray that revealing billboards be miraculously blown away by an extremely well aimed tornado to protect your husband's eyes from the blatant sexuality forced onto our culture--you know, like, really specific), looking for the things your husband cares about and making a point to do those things for him (if Blake just spent an hour cleaning and mopping our floors, and I drop food, I will pick it up and throw it away and not kick it under the fridge like most of us would do), look in their eyes and tell them you love them or that you would still say "I do" today, every single day (it doesn't have to be those exact words, just validate them every day).

All of these and so much more are great advice, but it was advice that I heard from several sources. If and when someone asks for advice, I think they are hoping for an "AHA!" piece of advice that is going to work as a force field for their marriage for the rest of their lives. Or, at least, I hoped that some nugget of wisdom like that existed somewhere.

When Blake and I got engaged, we were doing youth ministry at Faith Baptist Church in Harrah, Oklahoma. Once a week, before Wednesday night activities, we would meet--Blake with our pastor, Dan, and I with his wife, Gayle. She gave me so much great advice that I will often flip back to in my mental Gayle-wisdom flash cards. One Wednesday, she gave me literally the best marriage advice I ever received, ever. While hers was especially directed with the underlying pressure of being a couple involved in ministry, this applies to even the most atheist of couples if you want to protect your marriage from bitterness.

Do not speak badly about your spouse. Even if you're "joking." Even if someone else started it. Even if you're really mad at them. 

Now, don't be fake or weird about it. Sometimes that just means not bringing your spouse up in a conversation where you know you could easily derail into a vent session that goes way too far. She said I should find a person that I could talk to about hurt feelings or what have you that could serve as an unbiased source--someone who cares for both Blake and me, who can listen without blindly assuming all of the things I would probably be assuming.

But here's the part she didn't tell me that I learned after applying this lesson: if Blake did something that hurt my feelings, and I followed this advice, pretty soon I found out that if I wanted to express those feelings in a way that honored Blake, I would have to find a way to talk to him about it. The catch was that, though there were people in my life I could probably trust with my feelings, I couldn't necessarily trust them to be unbiased. It also made me realize that whatever I felt was often so reactionary that by the time I sat and thought through who to talk to or where to start, I wasn't very upset about it any more. Once the drama of the moment had subsided, I could go to Blake and express my feelings sincerely but in a way that was clear and not condemning. So, we got to the whole kissing and making up thing a lot faster, which everyone knows is the best part about "communicating."

Another piece to this lesson reminds me a little bit of that old Native American parable about the two wolves that live and battle inside us: good and bad, and the one that you feed wins (Tomorrowland totally ripped off Native Americans on that reference, by the way)(or maybe it isn't Native American and the internet just happened to say it was Native American but it actually originated somewhere else). If you don't allow your bad feelings of your spouse free reign over your conversations, the bad feelings starve, leaving room for the good feelings to thrive. To me, this isn't living in denial of real struggles and conflict in relationships, but choosing to act in love toward your spouse rather than reacting in contempt.

I have tried applying this advice in other areas of my life besides marriage as well. I can say with certainty that I need more practice (sometimes you just call your mom or word vomit on whoever happens to ask how you're doing at an inopportune moment because you are kind of an open book and have a lot of feelings and WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE SOMETIMES?). Being a "giver" personality type often translates to giving too much information. Speaking of giving too much information, I have another favorite piece of advice, but it isn't exactly blog appropriate, so you will just have to ask me in person. Also, I reserve the right to withhold this advice from you if I deem you unable to responsibly handle the information.

I hope that, for some, this could be your "AHA!" advice that helps you enter your marriage more readily, or turn a corner in a marriage that has maybe had a hint of bitterness in it lately. When marriage gets tough, it's okay to be hurt and need help. It isn't okay to get resentful and give up on intimacy and tenderness--you might be surprised to know that some of the most loving and flourishing marriages have been dragged through some really ugly stuff. And please, if you are having marriage issues that involve any sort of abuse, ignore everything before this sentence and find help (City Rescue Mission, National Domestic Abuse Hotline).

Thanks for reading, everyone!

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