Putting first things first—where are you on the list?
When I picture today’s mom, I see a woman juggling while riding a bicycle on a high-wire. Add the role of being a wife, and picture this same image, but with the high-wire suspended over a lion’s cage.
Motherhood today is anything but simple. I doubt I need to tell you that marriage is the same. Marriage will stretch you, test you, and frustrate you at times. It’s also a means to tremendous passion and adventure in life.
Research continually finds that married people live longer, experience more fulfillment, and have a more passionate and satisfying sex life. But all this doesn’t happen by chance.
There’s a popular belief that if you love each other enough, everything will just work out. The cynic Ambrose Bierce defines love as “a temporary insanity, curable by marriage.” The truth is – love is a mechanism that allows marriage to do what it is designed to do. Marriage is designed to grow you up.
Who’s the most important person to you?
Let’s switch gears for a moment. When it comes to your life, who is the most important person in the world to you? I ask this question to almost every couple I counsel. The answers I hear vary, and rarely is the answer the one I’m looking for.
Think about your answer for a moment – who comes to mind? Your spouse? One of your children? A parent? You may know where I’m going with this, and it’s fairly easy to say the right answer, but do you live as though it’s true in your life?
The answer – YOU. You are the most important person in the world to you.
Before I move on, let me torpedo a few of your initial rebuttals to this statement:
“If I view myself as the most important person then I’ll be selfish or arrogant.”
The simple truth is that nobody can take care of you better than you. Plus, if you don’t love yourself, how can you possibly offer love to anyone else? I assume you’ve heard the safety procedure on an airplane about putting on your own oxygen mask before trying to help others. This advice applies to marriage as well as parenting.
“Jesus tells us to serve others and put others first.”
Yes, He does say this – but He also said to treat others as we treat ourselves. If you are called to care for others, you need to be in good shape first. And if you follow His example, Jesus spent a great deal of time on His own, recharging and caring for His needs.
So how does taking care of yourself improve your marriage?
I’m glad you asked.
Marriage can’t be broken down in a few easy-to-follow steps. There are, however, some natural processes that occur in every marriage – and those can be harnessed in order to create more passion and adventure.
Photo by Ryan Ward
1. Choose to grow up.
The first process has already been mentioned – marriage is designed to grow us up. Marriage done right is a people-growing machine.
The natural tension in marriage is part of this growing-up process. Often, when things don’t go as you expect or hope, your natural reaction is to lash out or shut down – it’s the classic fight or flight. Growth happens when you recognize the daily opportunities that come with marriage and parenting. There are daily opportunities to grow up. Take care of yourself by choosing to embrace them. Don’t ignore them, and don’t resent. them. Go with them.
Photo by Sono Tamaki
2. Meet your needs both for togetherness and separateness.
There are two fundamental life forces – a desire for togetherness and a desire for separateness. Everyone longs for connection with other people. We hang out with friends, talk with co-workers, cuddle with your children, check out the blogosphere, and get intimate with a spouse. Whatever it is, life is often better when it’s shared with others.
At the same time, we also want to chart our own course in life – to live by our own terms and follow our dreams.
You fluctuate back and forth between these two forces. You move towards the togetherness side of things, until those needs are met – and then you move to the separateness side. Whenever you get too close to another person, it’s common to create distance and separation in order to feel better. Two examples of how this works:
• You may want your spouse to be more emotionally open, but you interrupt him when he says things you find unpleasant (your perspective is just keeping the conversation “accurate”). You want a more expressive spouse, but you want to control what they express.
• You ask your spouse to take more responsibility for initiating sex, but you want to dictate when, where, how, and why sexual initiations should be made. You want a spouse who can think for themselves- and then you want to tell them what they should think!
Recognize this natural process in your marriage. Be honest about how your spouse can meet your need for togetherness, and find ways to meet this same need of his. At the same time, be honest about your need for separateness, and find healthy ways to meet it – without trampling on this same need of his. You can have differing opinions – separateness . But you can respect these polar opinions and choose to maturely listen to each other – togetherness. Your natural need for separateness doesn’t threaten your natural need for togetherness.
This push/pull between togetherness and separateness is just one of those universal truths about relationships. Once you recognize it, you’ll be better equipped to meet these needs, first in yourself, and as a result, in your marriage.
Recognize those opportunities your marriage hands you to develop your maturity, and then maturely find ways to meet both your needs for togetherness and separateness. You’ll take better care of yourself.
What does this look like in your marriage?
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