Saturday, February 22, 2014

on love and marriage

We are just back from our annual Northwest marriage retreat, and I'm feeling refreshed. I posted a picture of Sam and myself outside our hotel today, and captioned it "enjoying the sun at the marriage retreat." There were four comments asking for a blogpost on marriage, so here you have it. A blogpost on marriage.

Let me first say that I've been a little hesitant to post on this topic, because our marriage- just like our parenting, our Christianity, our home, our ministry - is a work in progress. And it always will be. I don't think anyone can say they've gotten to the place in their marriage where they've "arrived." If you can say that, please let me know, and you can tell me how it's done. But the last time I checked, Sam and I were still human, and therefore flawed. Meaning we still have arguments about silly little things, like which way to roll the toothpaste, etc., and we probably always will.

(Actually, I take that back - a few years ago we started buying separate tubes of toothpaste, and there you have it - problem solved.)

But honestly, probably not a week goes by where there isn't some discussion about how things should be done, and maybe once or twice a month a discussion turns into an out-and-out disagreement about those things. This post isn't going to spell out how to have the perfect marriage, one without any disagreements, one that never needs counseling or help or prayer...this post is just going to include a few of the things that have helped us to have a lasting marriage. Flawed, yes. At times, rocky... absolutely. But we do have a lasting marriage, and one that we've worked hard for. We've had some really, really difficult seasons in our marriage, but the good times have far outweighed the bad. And I can say in 100% confidence that I am more in love with my husband today, than when we first started dating 28 years ago. He's not just an amazing father and excellent husband, he's my very best friend.

So here are just three things I think have helped us greatly, because I like to keep things simple. There are so many other things I could mention, and maybe in a future post I will. But for tonight, I'm narrowing it down to these three little keys to a lasting marriage, and I hope you'll forgive me if they sound self-evident. You can find a plethora of books on marriage in the bookstore that will dig much deeper into marital issues, but these are just my teeny little nuggets of truth ... so take them for what they're worth :)

#1 Take time for each other.

I know- heavy revelation there, huh ? But this is something we have worked hard at over almost 27 years of marriage, and it has paid off. And we have not always been good about this- I can look back on a season of our marriage where we had little ones and were in the ministry and both of us were burning the candle at both ends... finding time alone together was not a priority, and it took its toll on our marriage. Living in the same house, eating meals at the same table, sleeping in the same bed- those don't count as taking time for each other. I'm talking about getting out of your daily routine of "life" and spending time together that is designated for just the two of you. It doesn't have to be an extensive date either- maybe just a walk around the neighborhood, holding hands and talking... or a an hour at a coffee shop where you can actually look each other in the eye and have a meaningful conversation. If you have little ones, and a babysitter is hard to find, or too expensive, find a way to get time alone at home.. put the kids down to bed early and sit on the porch together ... or play a game of cards or scrabble together ... anything you can think of where you set aside time for just the two of you together.

Years ago we went to a hotel and saw a movie about a firefighter who was trapped under one of the World Trade Towers during 9/11. As he was lying under the rubble, the face of his wife kept appearing before him...he held on for so long, waiting for rescuers to come, and the whole time he was there, he kept thinking about her face. If I remember correctly he was maybe hallucinating because of dehydration and shock - and he began talking to his wife, and asking her questions, even though she was at home, unaware of where he was. He asked her a question that was so poignant - "when did we stop looking into each other's eyes ?" It wasn't that they had stopped loving each other- that was almost a given. But life, in all its craziness, had kept them both going in the same direction - forward - and somehow they hadn't taken the time to slow down and look at each other, face to face, and focus on the love that was there.

So when's the last time you looked in your spouse's eyes, and talked to him or her ? It's so easy to communicate these days through texting, cell phones, emails, etc. But there is something powerful and irreplaceable about taking the time for true one-on-one communication with our spouses, and it's crucial that we set other things aside to give space for that. Sam and I try to make time for this at least once a week, if not more. It's not always easy, but it is always worth it. There have been times when we were so broke that date night meant going to park the car somewhere and sharing an ice cream cone. But some of those times were just as wonderful as the special overnight getaways, in my mind, and no less significant in the grand scheme of things.

#2 Keep a sense of humor.

Not everything in life has to be serious. We have been in the middle of some of the most intense arguments on the planet, and one of us will crack a joke...and all the anger between us dissolves.

I don't know about you, but for some reason most of our...discussions...happen right before a big event. Like a Bible Conference that we're leaving for... or a week of revival services at our church. So knowing this, whether it be a natural phenomenon or maybe the devil (?!) Sam and I do this little thing with each other to stay out of the inevitable spat.

I'll give you an idea of what I'm talking about in a little fake dialogue here.

Sammy: Honey, do you know where my blue tie is ? I'm sure I put it on the bed to be packed, but it is mysteriously missing...

Patti: I'm trying to pack 11 people here, maybe you could just look for your tie yourself ??

Sammy: Babe, I know you really, reallllly want to pick a fight with me today, because we are leaving for a week of Bible Conference...but I'm not gonna do it. I know you want to, and I respect that, but I just can't. 

Patti: I promise you I'm not stealing your ties and selling them on the black market somewhere, maybe you thought you put it on the bed, but it's really still hanging on the tie rack??

Sammy: Listen, I know I put it on the bed. And also - I saw you selling all my ties on eBay last week, so cut with the shenanigans and please just tell me where my tie is?

Patti: Listen, Sammy - I know you just can't help yourself and you are trying SO hard to get into a squabble with me- I know there is just something about conference that kicks it into high gear for you, and you just want to have a knock down drag out...but I can't. I'm sorry. I know this is disappointing to you, but I just can't go there today- next week we can have a boxing match over this, but today- you're out of luck. No can do, buddy. Look in your closet.

Sammy: siiiiiiiiigh. Okay, clearly you have stolen yet another tie, and now on top of everything you won't get into a shouting match with me over this, can you please just admit defeat and own up to this scheme to earn some extra cash by selling my ties? 

Patti, walking out of closet with a blue tie in her hand: Guess what ? I decided to repent of my wicked tie-selling-scheme and just stick to embezzling all your pocket change. The pay is better anyway. Here's your tie.

Smooch smooch, divorce court avoided, and we somehow make it to Bible Conference without killing each other.

A little humor can go a loooong way to to diffusing tension in the home, and fortunately it is something we are both good at. I don't think a day goes by that we don't laugh together about something... or even laugh at each other... it's just something we have cultivated over the years, and again : it's paid off.

#3 Respect and love each other.

This also probably sounds like a no-brainer. But it is so true, nonetheless. Treat each other the same way you did when you were dating- like you are head over heels in love, and you can't believe you are lucky enough to have found the man/woman of your dreams.

Take time to do little things throughout the day to show love for your spouse. If it's noon and Sam hasn't called or texted me to say he loves me, I start worrying that he's dead... or that his phone died. (Because I'm rational like that. ) One of our favorite lines is "It's just one of those days, isn't it??"  I'll say it when I call him "just to say I love you" before he calls me to do the same. "It's one of those days, Sammy. I could just tell when I woke up. I knew it was gonna be a day where I loved you more than you loved me. " "IMPOSSIBLE!" he will yell over the phone. "I tried to call you three times, but you didn't want to answer, because you knew I was going to say I love you before you could say hello!"

I try to always- no matter how cruddy my day has been - give my husband a kiss when he comes home. He does the same for me. Unless he's on a business call, when he walks in the door, he puts his briefcase down and wraps me in a hug. When I get to church on Sunday mornings with the kids, I go find him in his office to give him a kiss (he leaves the house to study for his sermon before we're even out of bed). We are constantly keeping our love for each other alive through affection.

And this is going to sound archaic in today's culture of women's rights, etc...but I try to show respect for my husband on a daily basis. I might not agree with everything he does, or the way he does it, but I try to be careful to show him respect when I have a different opinion. This doesn't mean I blindly submit and let him walk all over me - but it does mean I don't have to get my way all the time. It means I can acknowledge that sometimes there is no "right" way to do things, and for the sake of our marriage we can agree to disagree...and do it respectfully. And ungrudgingly.

Here's just one little example of what I'm talking about. Sam likes to hold the hairspray can for approximately three and a half minutes over his head while he combs his hair. I think ...personally... he could get the job done in 3 seconds. He might even save the ozone a bit if he was not so generous with his spraying. However... he is never going to stop. I could badger him, lecture him, nag him, belittle him about this...and perhaps in the early days of our marriage I may have ...ahem...  tried. But this is just one thing we have agreed to disagree upon. He believes it takes a gallon of hairspray to hold his hair in place, and I  ...respectfully disagree. I may snicker behind his back a little, and possibly run gagging from the bathroom exaggeratedly after the cannon of Tres Semme is fired at his head... but I can do it respectfully.

Likewise, I have a firm conviction about the preparing of my morning tea. My tea mug must be precisely 3/4 full of boiling water, no more and no less, and the tea bag must remain in the water for a minimum of three minutes before the cream and sugar is added. One bag of stevia and one tablespoon of fat free half and half is necessary for the perfect cup of tea...and I can taste immediately when something has gone wrong. Sammy is able to consume a cup of coffee in any condition, but when it comes to my morning tea - I am a snob. I admit it. Sam thinks it is maybe a trifle silly to take a cup of tea so seriously, but...we respectfully disagree. There aren't many things in life I enjoy and look forward to as much as my morning cup of tea, so why not make sure it's perfect ? He could mock me, scorn me, ridicule me for being so anal...or he could (and he does!) respectfully acknowledge my desire for the perfect cup of tea and make it accordingly.

Actually, Caleb makes my tea every morning...but when Sam is home, you can be sure that whatever grumbling he does while preparing my tea to perfection, is done under his breath...and he delivers it with a smile. With love and respect.

SO there you have it...three simple keys to a lasting marriage. There are about 467 more, but Hayden is snoring on my lap, and my bed is waiting. I hope you'll leave your own words of wisdom for others to read in the comment section. Until next blogpost...

...nitey night.


k8kranz said...

Oh Patti. Ask and you shall receive! This is EXACTLY what I was hoping for when I requested a post on marriage! Your three tidbits of advice may be 'no brainers' but they are things we need to be reminded of so often. And sometimes it takes hearing another person's point of view and experiences to know that ALL marriages are flawed, but also beautiful and full of grace (if you allow for it).

Your mention of "Living in the same house, eating meals at the same table, sleeping in the same bed- those don't count as taking time for each other. " struck home for me. With three babies under 5, I often think that those things count toward bettering my marriage, but you are SO right... that is LIVING. It's not LOVING.

Thank you so much my dear Patti. You never cease to amaze me :)

mommyliu said...

Loved it! Even almost broke out in tears at a swim meet while reading about the firefighter. My husband and I are guilty of not spending one on one time together... Ever really! I am going to try to change that because it is really important. We have four kids so if you can do it with eleven we have no excuse!!

Joy said...

Oh my goodness!! I love this!! Not just because I relate 100% to the morning tea. (Also, for me, it has to be hot enough to only sip, not gulp, no matter how hot it is where we are.). Thanks for sharing your insight. I think what got to me the most is the question, When did we stop looking into each other's eyes? I want to make sure we keep doing that!

On your other blog, your last post (or maybe nearly last) I saying you will tell about sort of the why you guys have 11 kids. I would love to hear more about that sometime. Well, actually, I wish we could sit down and have a face-to-face about so many things. I have many things I'd love to talk to you about. I'm so thankful for you!!

Grammi Faith said...

Daddy and I had a saying "Stop playing in the kelp". Long story but I am sure you know it. Daddy and I went on lots of "dates", "mini vacations" and it sure helped then and it helps now to remember those times together. What the heck I cannot remember is what we did with you children when we went. Farm you out? Lock you in your rooms? That's the part that scares me. ;)

Tara said...

Love this, my dear! After twenty years of marriage, I feel the same about my husband, too. Your top three are what I would've chosen, as well. Good job!

We only have eight and I can't imagine not having a sense of humor with all the chaos that they bring! :)

MamaV said...

Love it! We are >6 years in and this is all super helpful (and amusing:-)

Anonymous said...

Love this! I wholeheartedly agree with each point. So 'simple', but so much truth.

The big thing my husband and I try to do constantly is to 'fall forward'. When in disagreements or tension, the natural inclination is to fall back, batten down the hatches, cross one's arms and gloweringly simmer internally. The key in those moments is to fall FORWARD instead of back. Even when I'm ticked at my husband and it's taking all my willpower and the strength of the Holy Spirit to keep my mouth shut during say, a tense, silent car ride (o, the tense, silent car rides!), I will still, when i think i can without exploding, reach over and touch his hand. You can literally see the tension fall from his face and shoulders. He knows that, I'm still mad, but we're ok. We will always be ok. And he does the same for me. Sometimes, we need to step away for a few minutes to cool down, so we don't speak rashly, but we ALWAYS come back within a few minutes and hug or hold hands or touch in some way while we talk our disagreement out. It's amazing how touch diffuses the tension. Thank you so much for sharing, Patti! Any and other posts you want to do on marriage would be most welcome!

Danielle said...


ok. you lost me at hair spray.

Pastor hair sprays his hair?!? Does he know you just told the whole world?

Why do I find this hysterical!? Maybe because my husband has no hair so I've never experienced this.

I didn't know men hair sprayed their hair. I was dying laughing. Really really I was!

P.S. You don't have to publish my comment. I won't be offended. Don't want to hurt any feelings....

I"m trying not to laugh. REALLY! I am!

ok i'm done. Don't publish this. (:

Danielle said...

Love this blog post... love the part about dinner, bed etc not being the same as taking time for one another!

We need to be reminded of that!

The marriage retreat was more refreshing to me than it's ever been... love love love the time away. makes coming home so very sweet. although I MISSED my babies tremendously!

Unknown said...

Wow thank you for this! Marriage is amazing. I know I'm still new at it but sometimes it can be hard. I was so thankful for the retreat also! Live your writing. You should write a post on relationships in general with people! <3

Kathy McElhaney said...

Love this!

We attended a marriage retreat in January, 2 things stand out:

Priorities: God #1, spouse #2, kids #3, church #4. Even, especially, for those in ministry.

The concept of putting change in their pockets - always doing something special "just because" that fills your spouse's pockets with change. Then when you DO forget a birthday/anniversary/special occasion (and you will!) they have something to draw on. "Marriages fall apart when you run out of change."

cara said...

Wonderful, wonderful advice!!! Thank you for taking the time to write this and encourage us in our marriages. Things have been so different for Jon and I lately because we now finally have built-in babysitters and can get away much more often ALONE! It has been so fun!! I am SO grateful for everyday with him.

I have to say that I could not take the hairspray, ha! You know me and chemicals. That would not be one I could negotiate on. :) :)

You both are very blessed!! xoxo

Jessica Pecoraro said...

Loved this post! I'm a Newly wed and am loving advice from couples who've been married for a while. ❤