so, you’re getting married – here’s what i have to share

Posted: June 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

I was never open to relationship advice as a young person.  The occasional adult would make the attempt to speak into my life, and being the compliant, non-confrontational person that I am, I would listen with a polite exterior.  Inside was another story.  Inside I was rocking the major eye rolls, and thinking you just don’t understand my situation, or you just don’t know my boyfriend like I do, or you’re old and boring and you’ve never known the kind of love we have, or maybe even the supremely awful well I’m just not a loser like you.  Using this supremely confident and self-righteous inner shout, I effectively blocked any real input from the person who had brought me advice that I hadn’t asked for.

Life taught me.  Years after my divorce, I resolved that I wouldn’t even consider any kind of long-term relationship with a man if my family and friends had bad things to say about him.  When G and I were dancing around the beginning of our relationship, I was quick to seek counsel.

I admire young people who are open to counsel.  Recently a couple who are close to my heart have been going above and beyond open, even.  They actively pursue wisdom from those further down the road.  This is on the list of reasons why I’m easily enthusiastic about their marriage plans.

So what would I say to a couple preparing for marriage?  I’ve been pondering that a lot.  I don’t believe there is a set of specific rules that fit all couples.  So what I will share is not “what will work for anybody.”  What I will share is:  stuff I’m glad we did, stuff that worked for us, stuff that we are still celebrating, which can be read and considered and sorted through for usefulness and relevance. Here are a few “before the wedding” items; I’ll save some “after the wedding” items for another day.

Be Sober Minded This is a piece of advice given to me by a JPUSA friend, who noted how many couples get too ga-ga too quickly, go too much into the happy “we are in a relationship” cloud, slide too quickly and too easily into crossing lines that should be saved for after marriage.  “Be sober minded,” she said, and suddenly a whole lot cleared up for me.  No need to play at the guessing game of “How far can we go while dating without it being too far?”  Sober minded.  This means not floating off into a giddy cloud where one is just really in love with being in love, but instead being intentional:  we are building something permanent here.  We need to build a solid foundation.  Dating – or even being engaged – is no time to get so wrapped up in wedding plans that we stop preparing for a lifetime of marriage.  We need to get to know one another.  We won’t get to know one another if we are all the time pushing the envelope or even just gazing into one another’s eyes and sighing.  In any moment, It was easy for me – for US – to stop and remind each other – this is not being sober minded.  Let’s go back to that.  Following that advice (along with him following his friend’s advice to have 3 goals:  keep me happy, protect my purity, and point me to Jesus, not necessarily in that order) was key to us managing to save what was meant for marriage, for marriage…which has added an incredible element of trust and safety which I had not experienced when I tried it the other way.  For those of you out there who don’t roll like that, I’m not condemning or judging you at all.  I’m just saying:  this expression of our faith REALLY worked beautifully for us.

Testing, Testing  At some point along the way in our dating life, we took the time to do the little test to learn our love languages.  In our case, we learned that we both have identical love languages – physical touch and quality time (which is why we tend to be almost inseparable and are more affectionate than some would prefer to see demonstrated!)  So for us, it was just a relief – permission to be who we were.  But I think it’s so important to know that.  What if his love language had been receiving gifts?  I register ZERO on that one – you will never improve your relationship with me, nor make me feel more loved or cared for by giving me gifts.  I mean – they are NICE – but they don’t add meaning like that for me.  So if his love language had been receiving gifts, I would have needed to really rethink my ways of expressing love, affection, and appreciation for him.  I would have needed to be intentional on something that doesn’t come naturally to me at all.  Or if physical touch had NOT been one of his languages, I would maybe need to not be all up in his grill all the time like I am.  I might need to give him space – one of my biggest horror thoughts as a single person was WHAT IF GOD GIVES ME SOMEONE WITH A GREAT BIG “SPACE BUBBLE” AND I HAVE TO STAY ON MY SIDE OF THE BED?!  God forbid.  But I’d have needed to work that out, if that had been the case, you know?  When you love someone, you ought to “speak” THEIR love language to them, not just YOURS.  And mutual testing gives you a way to communicate to them what yours is (and then you can get busy not building up big expectations that they will always get it perfectly right).  I’m a believer in love languages.

We also did a mutual mini-test of our Briggs-Meyers stuff.  I wish I had kept that.  I don’t remember our letters, but we were almost but not quite identical on that one.  It is helpful to know if your mate is an introvert or extrovert, decides by thinking or feeling, focuses on sensing or intuition, and deals with the outside world by judging or perceiving.  Again, this helps to know what encourages and energizes them and feeds their soul, so you can handle life’s little issues in a way that respects those things.  It also has the potential to help you know what is going to wear on your last nerve about each other, which is important in learning how to deal with one another with courage, maturity, and grace.  For instance, my daughter a pretty extreme introvert who is married to a pretty extreme extrovert.  I am inspired by how they navigate that with respect and humor and gentleness.  It doesn’t always go like that.  In many relationships, one side is constantly condemning the other for these sorts of differences without really understanding what’s behind them.  That’s not good for a relationship, period.

It’s Not About the Wedding I have seen so many couples fall into party planning mode when the engagement happens.  The wedding IS important – it is the day you enter into a holy and forever covenant, if you’re doing it right.  But people lose their minds and kill their finances in tending to details that DO.  NOT.  MATTER.  People sweat and fret over party details, spend crazy money on wardrobe and decorations and such, and by the week of the wedding they can barely speak to each other and the bride is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  I don’t get it.  We did our wedding fairly quickly (in 90 days), fairly cheaply (a little under $2,000, I think), and with no headaches, and were even able to customize it to the perfect degree of quirkiness that made it the best wedding either of us has ever attended, before or since, in our own humble opinions, though some have come close.  Why did we have no headaches?  Because we decided not to.  There were things that didn’t go exactly as we had planned.  None of that was worth a headache.  We were focused on the marriage, glad for the wedding, and not willing to sacrifice our peace of mind over piddly details.  On our wedding day, I was in 100% relaxed-and-happy mode, to the point that others around me were shocked at it.  All that mattered to me was that at the end of the day, I would be G’s wife.  If stuff came out imperfectly, that was fine.  It just didn’t matter.  And that made it a truly joyous day.

Premarital Counseling  There are officiants who will marry folks without counseling first.  We didn’t go that route.  Our friend who married us happens to live in Albuquerque; I was living in the Quad Cities and G was still in Chicago.  So we all met for a long day in Chicago to go through a book together, which G and I had each worked through in advance separately to prepare for the day.  It was a good way to force some conversations that might not otherwise have happened, and definitely SHOULD happen before 2 people promise forever and always.  Among my favorite points of the book was:  some say marriage is a 50-50 proposition.  Other folks argue that it needs to be 100-100.  But in the real world, you need to be prepared to walk through times of 100-0, in which you are giving your all and your spouse has checked out on trying.  This happens, maybe not in ALL marriages, but in more than the romantic folks would like to guess.  Real forever marriage is being in for the long haul, even when the other party has forgotten how to do their part.  A lot can be redeemed, repaired, healed, and made better than it ever was, if someone is willing to do that 100-0 bit.  (This does not mean I advocate staying when one is being abused, nor do I think cheating gets an easy free pass, just as a small disclaimer there.)  A person really ought to go into marriage understanding that over the course of *the rest of your lives together*…the 100-0 scenario very well may happen.  You’ll deal with it better if you haven’t pretended it’s not a possibility.  And if you’re wondering how one day of counseling can be enough (even a LONG day), I hear you.  It happened that our friend (who is one of my BFFs) knew me extremely well, having walked me through my fifth step in recovery, and via that close relationship had some understanding of who G was as well.  And it happened that he is a straight shooter, not afraid to ask hard questions and challenge pat answers – the perfect guy to push us through what was kind of a rush job.  One day WAS pushing it.  Ideally that would happen over a series of short meetings over a number of weeks.  Logistics just didn’t allow for that.

Healing Work  I mentioned above that my friend had taken me through my fifth step.  Working out your healing is such an important part of preparing for marriage.  I did that before I even moved to JPUSA – there was no romantic relationship in sight.  Working the steps was the single most powerful experience in changing my life.  I found healing beyond measure and I will forever believe that everyone should work the steps.  G had gone through his own years-long, very intensive and personal healing journey at JPUSA and even before that.  Neither of us was ready for any long-term relationship before we worked out that part of our healing, no matter how much we each thought we were.  Even when I left JPUSA with that giant mad crush on G, I wasn’t healed enough nor ready for a relationship yet, though that was well after my 12 step adventure.  God had to do some major work in me to bring my fear to the surface and help me give it to Him.  THEN I was ready – and it seemed like G showed up practically minutes later, in retrospect.  If you’re tired of being single, please consider focusing less on asking where Mr. or Ms. Right is, and instead focusing on what more healing you might need.  If you’re dating or engaged and happily anticipating that marriage will fix what ails you:  IT WILL NOT.  It will just bring it to the surface where it will be twice as ugly and destructive.  Seek healing.  Think you’ve done that?  Look some more.  After my 12 steps with my friend, the work done was so massive that it felt like “enough”…but it wasn’t.  It just wasn’t. Even if you’ve healed tremendously, seek Him to see if more healing is needed.  I’m not saying when you get healed that person will appear (I detest that bogus story, and I am IN NO WAY implying that I “earned” the relationship with my healing)…I’m just saying, right now you are beautifully free to pursue it.  Do that.

Oh, there’s other stuff I could probably say, but we’re over 2,000 words in, so once again, many of you have stopped reading.  Those are just a few things that I am eternally grateful we practiced in our dating and engaged life.  I’ll be back another day to talk about marriage stuff.  Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  1. Cindy Maynard says:

    I agree with all your points, and wonder how differently our marriage/life journey together would look if we had had guidance in those places. We are nearly 31 yrs in. We have trod through a lot of difficulty and goodness. I just have to think those times of difficulty would have been “easier” with skills. Once we invited Jesus into our marriage, and began living life for Him, things got better and we are generally content and at peace. So I would give anyone the advise, seek God first. Thank you for sharing.

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