Most of the time here at Thriving Marriages we bring you the best content we’ve found around the web for building a great marriage. Every so often though, I (Josh) get to take a second and think about what I’m learning as I compile all these posts, and share it with you. If you like this, you can subscribe to my bi-monthly newsletter here.
I’m not going to lie, 2018 was a brutal year for me personally. There have been multiple career disappointments, constant financial stress, unanswered prayers where my wife and I ask God to show us where we’re heading longterm, and shrapnel from my past that I’m only now, in my 30s, learning is there (more on that later).
All of this should have spelled disaster for my marriage, and yet I would consider 2018 one of the best years my wife and I have shared together. I don’t mean easiest obviously, but I have never loved my wife more, felt more connected to her, felt like a better husband, and been more proud of the life we’ve built together.
How does that happen? How is it that a year filled with stressors that should have driven us apart instead brought us closer together? As I’ve asked myself this, here are 7 things I’ve learned in 2018 that haven’t just saved my marriage, but made it exponentially better.
You can’t avoid hard times, but you can lean into or away from them
The natural human impulse is to avoid pain. That just makes sense right? No one likes pain, that’s why they call it pain! If it was something fun they’d call it “fuzziness” or “frolicking” or something nice. And yet pain is an unavoidable part of life.
When pain hits our life, we usually go into protection mode – like the emotional equivalent rolling into a ball like a roley poley. When our spouse starts insisting we – you know – actually engage life and come out of our ball we explode on them. Or maybe we go into panic mode and try to control everything in life we can, and get angry at our spouse for keeping that from happening. Many people look for a non-threatening place outside their marriage where they feel accepted as they are.
But the truth is that hard times will always find us and there’s no real hiding. In James 1 we’re told to count it as “pure joy when we experience trials,” not “if.” But there is joy available during hard times when we engage them with our spouse. When a husband and wife stand side by side and face life together, they find they have more strength than they ever thought possible.
If you want a great future, you have to face your past
This past year I wrote publicly for the first time about the sexual abuse I experienced in 6th grade. This coincided with a therapist I was seeing who specializes in helping survivors recover from the lingering PTSD of their trauma. None of this was, to recall the previous bit, fuzziness or frolicking.
And yet my wife would be the first to attest that I have never been more emotionally, psychologically or spiritually present in our marriage than I am today. There’s a reason for that – a let myself experience the pain of the past, so that I could have a great future. And it’s working.
Sex is best when it’s relaxed (and even a little goofy)
Unlike the previous point, this one does involve [clears throat demurely] frolicking. Out of respect for my wife/general decorum I won’t be too specific here, but let’s just say there’s been a lot more laughing in our sex life as of late. For many years sex was such a serious event. It had to be sexy, romantic, passionate, and toe-curlingly good. And there’s certainly a place for that, but more often than not my marriage’s sex life is a little bit of sexy, a little bit of tired (we have two young kids), a little bit of body image self-consciousness, and a surprising amount of jokes.
I love it.
You won’t find purity without accountability
The key to the relaxed intimacy I just mentioned? Purity. When pornography and masturbation are running rampant in a spouse’s life, it deadens their soul to true intimacy. Reaching orgasm becomes the end-all of sex, and human interaction becomes unnecessary at best, and annoying or unwanted at worst.
So many men I know (I don’t talk to women about this stuff, obviously, though I know this is an issue for them too) want to root porn and masturbation out of their life, and can’t. The truth is this isn’t a fight you can win on your own. You need help.
This past year I have found two guys I meet with weekly where we confess how we’re doing with lust in an environment free of shame, judgment, or condescension. We’re just guys trying to figure this out together.
It has helped so much. We’re not meant to fight this battle on our own.
God is actively working for the good of your marriage
Did you know that the God of the universe has your back? Did you know that he loves your marriage so much he will actively intervene in your life to improve it? It’s true. God LOVES LOVES LOVES your marriage. He wants fuzziness and frolicking (yes, THAT kind of frolicking).
Are you asking him for help on your own? Are you praying together with your spouse? Do you believe he wants to improve your sex life? Your finances? Your emotional exhaustion? Do you know God is for you? Because he is. Big time. Believe it. Lean into it.
The kids are the enemy, not your spouse
Okay, enemy is a bit strong. Your kids are wonderful. They’re a gift from God. They’re the joy of your life. Their also little pain in the butts who seem to think their sole mission is to consume every scrap of emotional, financial, relational, and physical energy you have, leaving you a shriveled up husk of a human.
When that happens it’s easy to resent your spouse for – you know – breathing near you. That’s YOUR oxygen, dang it, and who do they think they are?
Remember though, your spouse isn’t the enemy. It’s those darned kids.
Tell your spouse you support them, don’t assume they know
This is true for every marriage, but it’s double, triple, quadruple true if your spouse is a “words of affirmation” person.
It’s easy for us to think “my spouse knows I love them/appreciate them/see everything they’re doing.” And they probably kind of do, in a theoretical sort of way. But they need to hear it, pretty much every day, just like you do.
This is one of marriage’s greatest gifts – knowing that no matter what, someone has your back. And it’s a gift cheap and easy to share.