I remember hearing a speaker a number of years ago challenge us with: “If you worked at your job the same way you work at your marriage, how long do you think you’d stay employed?” Granted, men are probably more likely to compartmentalize their jobs and marriage by putting them in different categories in terms of importance. But Cindy and I believe both men and women can be guilty of putting their jobs (or anything else) ahead of putting the work in that is necessary to make their marriages “great.” We need to remember that marriage work is important too.
How do we know this to be true? By reading the emails and comments posted on our web site every week from people all over the world. These are spouses who are having “marital meltdowns.”
It amazes us that so many people get married thinking that great marriages just “happen” all on their own. And when problems arise it takes them by surprise.
MAKING Your Marriage Work is Vital
To us, that makes about the same sense as putting all the parts needed to build a car into a garage and expecting it to assemble itself into an automobile all on its own. Just like it takes education, skill, work and patience to build an automobile, it takes the same components to build a successful marriage.
Marriage Missions exists to help educate you so you can develop the skills required to have a marriage that honors God. And this week we’re gleaning from some thought-provoking points written by Craig Stoltz, which were featured in The Washington Post a while back.
In this article he discussed Dr. Scott Haltzman’s secular book for men titled, The Secrets of Happily Married Men. And even though the article had more to it than we can feature, we feel you could benefit from reading that which is in this message. (NOTE: We adapted and made some minor modifications to Craig Stoltz’s points to apply to both husbands and wives. Our additional comments and scriptural applications are in [brackets]):
MAKE MARRIAGE YOUR JOB. “Premise:
We all have skills and habits developed at work that can be successfully applied to marriage. Details: If men and women are to accept marriage as a job, they need a job description. Here’s Haltzman’s: Love, honor and respect him/her; be sexually and emotionally faithful; listen without being judgmental; support his/her ambitions; try to understand how he/she is different emotionally; be honest at all times and keep promises; share in child care and domestic work; be as attentive, fun-loving and adoring as you were during courtship; and be affectionate. This is no part-time [job].”
[One of the best portions of scripture that talks about how we should “work” at our jobs also has a powerful application to how we need to “work” at our marriages: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)]
KNOW YOUR WIFE/HUSBAND. Premise:
You think you know your wife/husband, but you haven’t really been paying attention. Do your research. Details: Citing the old therapists’ joke (there are two times we don’t really understand each other (1) before marriage and (2) after marriage), Haltzman urges guys to do what guys do: Collect data. Observe her in mundane situations where she reveals herself. Observe her at the sidelines at a kid’s game; when she’s with her best friend. You can observe her at a restaurant or coffee shop, and before, during, and after sex. Here is where you will discover who she really is, not who she says she is.
[While Haltzman makes the assumption that men need to apply this principle the most, Cindy and I know that women can be just as guilty of not really “knowing” the needs of her husband. Therefore, it takes an equal commitment for both the husband and wife to become educated about each other. Men and women approach situations differently. And different isn’t usually wrong —it’s just different. It’s important to first know and then work with these differences.
A great application to this in the Bible in 1 Peter 3:9, “Live in harmony with one another. Be sympathetic…be compassionate and humble.”]
EXPECT CONFLICT; DEAL WITH IT. Premise:
Fights are inevitable, but you can control them. Details: “You can…stop the mounting tensions in their tracks,” Haltzman says, not by doing what comes naturally to most of us (dig in and fight to the death) but by using various higher cerebral strategies. For instance, husbands should take advantage of a woman’s natural inclination to nurture by softening your tone.
[And a woman can often find a man more receptive to what she has to say if she softens her approach.]
And for both: don’t allow your conflicts with each other to escalate. Don’t let your emotionality to the situation drive what you say and do.
[“Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.“ (James 1:19-20)]
LEARN TO LISTEN. Premise:
Listening does not come naturally to male humans, who are more inclined to act. But it can be learned, to great benefit. Details: Stand still while she talks. Turn off the TV. Look directly at her. Use verbal nods to show that you’re listening. Seek clarification when it’s needed. If not, just let her talk.
[For both husbands and wives, we have a lot of information on developing and improving communication skills on our web site. Proverbs 1:5 says, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance…“]
AIM TO PLEASE. Premise:
Haltzman says, “In the workplace …men are masters of relationship-building.” [And so are women.] So: Bring this skill home [and apply it]. Details: Treat your wife/husband at least as well as you would a valuable client, co-worker or employee. Greet him/her warmly, ask how she/he is, and see what he/she needs and how you can help. Do thoughtful favors, anticipate desires and entertain and offer gifts as appropriate.
[1 John 3:18 says “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.“]
Granted, these principles aren’t the “end all” of building a great marriage. But for many people who are struggling to “know” how to begin, these principles are good points to use to “jump-start” your marriage relationship. As Dr. Haltzman says:
“View marriage as your most important task. Pursue success as you would anything else that matters. The assumption is it’s a lot more pleasant, and the payoffs far greater, to live with a [husband or wife] who is satisfied, secure and feeling loved compared to one who is none of the above. Make this your job.”
And to paraphrase the Apostle Paul’s admonition to us in Philippians 2:3-5: “Don’t do anything in your marriage out of selfish ambition [thinking only of yourself]. But in humility, consider your husband/wife better than yourself. Each of you should not look out for your own interests, but also the interests of your husband/wife by in fact, working to put their interests first.“
May God Bless your lives together,
Steve and Cindy Wright
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