The first bond of society is marriage. –Cicero
My husband and I will be celebrating twenty-four years of marriage this December. Twenty-four years. To say that we’ve been through our share of ups and downs would be an understatement. Our marriage is one of my greatest sources of joy and fulfillment. That joy and fulfillment have come about through much challenge and conflict. I can honestly say that our marriage is better today than it was when we were newlyweds. It isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination – not by a long shot.
Relationships Take Work
Relationships take work, and the marriage relationship is no exception. We have made so many mistakes along the way, and we still do. My husband and I have worked really hard to get to where we’re at: a place of joy and fulfillment in our marriage. I know without a shadow of a doubt that we’ll be working daily on that bond until our last breath. No coasting or resting on our accomplishments here. Throughout our marriage, we’ve participated in one-on-one counseling and couples counseling. We have participated in one-on-one book studies and small group marriage studies. Every day has been an opportunity to learn and grow, and each new season has brought fresh challenges we have been able to rise to, by God’s grace.
Here are a few resources that have helped us immensely along the way:
The Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin
Personality tests and profiles have always intrigued me. My quest to understand myself and others (including my husband) has led to quite a bit of research on personalities. A dear friend recommended The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin to me. It is not a marriage-specific personality book, but getting to know each other’s personalities has been really pivotal in growing together as a couple. This book was so spot-on in its descriptions of the different tendencies and our responses to expectations. Expectations are a huge component in the marriage relationship.
From Gretchen Rubin’s website: During my multi-book investigation into human nature, I realized that by asking the suspiciously simple question ‘How do I respond to expectations?’ we gain explosive self-knowledge. I discovered that people fit into Four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Our Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding this framework lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively. The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t act. You can read more details about it here.
Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp
No matter who you have a relationship with – it’s going to be messy! In my life, the bond with my husband has probably been the messiest relationship I’ve ever had. Consider these questions:
Have you ever felt misunderstood?
Have you ever had to work through a misunderstanding?
Or disagreed on a decision?
Have you or your spouse ever held a grudge?
The answers to these questions will probably reveal what some of the hidden struggles in your marital relationship are. Relationships: A Mess Worth Making is yet another not marriage-specific book. This has been one of those read every once in a while books for me. I consider myself to be relationally challenged, and this book has been a huge help in bringing understanding to the deeper issues that may be behind some of the stubborn problems I keep facing in so many of my close relationships, which includes my marriage. The overarching theme is how my relationship with God fuels every other relationship, including the marital relationship. This book includes many practical tips, like these from the chapter on forgiveness:
When we choose to practice true forgiveness, the relationship is not just brought back to where it was before the offense; it actually moves further down the road to maturity.
Forgiveness is costly, but not forgiving is more costly.
Forgiveness is both a past event and an ongoing process into the future. It is a past promise you keep in the future.
The Art of Marriage: Small Group Series Workbook, FamilyLife Publishing
I’ve finally got a marriage-specific resource for you! The Art of Marriage is a six-week series designed for small groups. My husband and I are currently going through this series for the second time with several other couples. The video sessions include teaching, engaging stories, man-on-the-street interviews, and funny vignettes. Additionally, the workbook gives you a place to process life and capture thoughts as you learn more about marriage, which also includes additional resources for later use.
Going through this series as a couple has been a game-changer for our marriage. Being able to share with other couples, encourage each other, and realize that you’re not alone in your marriage struggles has been an important part of strengthening our marriage. Additionally, while reading the chapters and watching the video sessions is great, applying the principles learned in the book and videos is key.
The Marriage Masterpiece
Wherever you find yourself on your marriage journey, I pray you’ve received just a little bit of hope and encouragement from this post. I leave you with two quotes: one from The Art of Marriage, and one from the Bible, which would be the most highly recommended read on marriage I can endorse.
Every marriage is unique, expressed by the colorful personalities of each spouse and textured by the circumstances at play in their lives. Blending these to make marriage work is a divinely inspired art form – challenging to master but definitely worth the effort. Marriage is truly an art. Whether you’re just about to begin or have been working on your canvas for years, with continued effort and God’s grace, your relationship can become a masterpiece.
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. –Colossians 3:14