Sustainable Marriage

I met my wife, Melissa, on a cycling trip on the Oregon coast.  I obviously shocked her on our group’s last night together at a Portland restaurant, when I asked for her number.  I used some line that made her smile.  Before the evening was out, she shared her info, and so began an exciting long distance relationship.

After Melissa returned to Chicago and had time to think things over, she confessed that having a relationship with someone like me just didn’t make any sense.  In her words, “You live two-thousand miles away, in another country, and besides you’re a man with a past!”

Frankly, I didn’t see what the problem was.

Eventually, I thought it was pretty cool that she ended up marrying me, when it didn’t make any sense.

In the counseling office, I borrow her idea, and tell my couples, “Marriage isn’t a logical relationship.  There just isn’t a lot about it that makes any sense.”

I’m not suggesting that marriage isn’t a relationship worth pursuing. It’s just that when husbands and wives feel distressed or disconnected, there isn’t usually a logical solution to the distance between them.  Yet they continue to look for one.  Some even come to me hoping I’ll give them one.

What the head makes cloudy, the heart makes very clear.

Don Henley — A New York Minute

Apart from its profound spiritual meaning, I’m now convinced that marriage is fundamentally an emotional relationship.  It could be the only human relationship that actually needs to be.  For many of us, it’s so easy to miss that, and miss out on the benefits.

Part of being created in God’s image is our unique emotional capacity.  Humans are capable of feeling deeply and feeling broadly.  Combine that with our need to seek out close relationships.  I speculate that God meant those capacities and that need to find ultimate fulfillment in marriage for His glory.

Chemistry or Electricity?

We know that almost every healthy male-female relationship starts off in some sort of emotionally-charged way.  I had a friend who called it “chemistry”.  Later I found out she worked in a chemistry lab.  So, then I called it “electricity” instead, because it zinged.

In Genesis chapter two, Adam gets zinged, bursts into poetry and blurts out the first recorded human words immediately upon seeing the woman God made for him. Ladies, you probably already know this, but you haven’t lost any of that impact over the millennnia!

While front-end emotions feel really good, we need to go way deeper in marriage.  Over-the-top passion tends to wane as husbands and wives grow together, so that shallow “zing” thing needs to be superseded by deeper emotional connection, and a stronger marital bond.   That’s the amazing opportunity that escapes so many couples.

Imagine, husbands, being entrusted with your wife’s heart — actually holding it, guarding it and caring for it as if it were yours.  Likewise, wives, you are entrusted with your husband’s heart.  That’s what I’m talking about.

The heart is always involved with wishing, wanting, longing, possessing, holding, losing.  That’s the landscape of the heart … it’s important that real feelings and the life of the heart be affirmed.

Leonard Cohen

A tale of two houses

When husbands and wives feel emotionally connected, they feel loved and understood.  They make themselves emotionally available to each other.  Their home is a secure base from which they can take on the world.  Talk happens whenever and about whatever.  Transparency is rewarded because it’s safe to be vulnerable.  Conflict naturally happens, but its goals are resolving and understanding, so the couple stays connected.

When couples are emotionally disconnected, husbands and wives feel lonely, resentful, and misunderstood.  Their home is an emotionally-unsafe place where feelings are often internalised rather than expressed.  Talk happens, but it easily escalates into conflict, or prompts one spouse to withdraw.  Marital issues are seldom worked through.  Neither spouse is a source of comfort or security to the other so the couple remains emotionally detached.

I believe emotional connection — a healthy attachment bond, is evident at the first house, but a direly needed prescription at the second.

Great marriages don’t come naturally to any of us.  We are all broken and in need of a Saviour.  Nowhere does that sin nature show up more clearly than in our marriages.  But, we need to strive for God’s best.  Marriage really works the way it was designed.  Men, as leaders in your homes, you have the greater responsibility in making sure it happens.

God designed marriage to be deep waters — an intimate and holy bond unlike any other relationship. It defies logic, and doesn’t always make sense. Like me and Melissa.

A sustainable marriage — one that really thrives and honours God, is a marriage between a man and a woman who are spiritually compatible, and who commit themselves to knowing and being known with just one other person.

So, how do we do that?  How do we get more connected emotionally?

That is a topic for many many posts and many books.  Please comment if you’d like more than just this introduction to the topic, if you’d like me to recommend some resources, or if anything here resonated with you.

For now, some questions to kindle discussion with your spouse …

Q:  How emotionally connected do you feel with your mate?

Q:  How in touch with your own feelings do you feel at any point in time?

Q:  What was the emotional climate of your house like when you were growing up?

Q:  How does your spouse normally respond when you need to express a feeling?

Q:  What is your first reaction when your mate expresses a feeling?

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Blessings on your home,

Robert

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