Last week I was having a conversation with a young couple and they asked me what I thought were the keys to a good marriage. My immediate response was that I did not know since I have only been married for 26 years. We had a good laugh, and then they said, “seriously, what are the really important things that make a good marriage.” I asked leave to ramble for a moment before I gave them a more direct answer. Then I told them about my friend Ken Blue’s statement. “There is nothing better than a good marriage, and there is nothing worse than a bad one.” This is the dice we are all wired to roll. Somewhere inside (the new covenant written on our hearts) we all know that we are made for life and that life, real life, comes in relationships. So we fall ‘in love’ and get married and all is well. Then we wake up (probably gradually) with a pain that is more brutal than an August day in a Louisiana swamp. Then we find 101 ways to avoid our pain. When our coping mechanisms quit working we face the crisis of our lives.
My parent’s generation did the English ‘stiff upper lip’ thing and just ground it out. There were probably as many miserable marriages then as there are now, but ‘divorce’ was a brand that few were willing to accept. My generation throws in the towel way too quickly, in my opinion, reloads and remarries the same problem all over again, postponing the crisis for a few years of ‘love.’ These days ‘divorce’ is almost a status symbol. But splitting up is not like trading cars. There are ties and connections—body, soul, emotional and many other connections—that get ripped apart, and that hurts like hell, even if the bonds have been dying for years.
But, I told my young couple, there is something about a covenant, about an unconditional commitment, that creates the space and freedom for the proverbial ‘shit’ to hit the fan. Our wounds, as my friend Bruce Wauchope says, come through relationships, and so does our healing. But if we break up and move on, we may be being counter-productive, post-poning our own healing. Don’t get me wrong, the Holy Spirit is a redeeming genius. He takes whatever relational mess we give him and works endlessly to bring healing and life. I love that about the Holy Spirit. So in the genius of the Holy Spirit splitting up is a real opportunity for grace and healing—and so is staying together. The disaster we bring on ourselves in either case is the steadfast refusal to look at ourselves. We can stay together because it is the right thing to do and continue to blame everyone in the universe for our pain, and never find the healing we crave. And we can get divorced and continue to blame everyone in the universe for our pain, and never find the healing we crave. The critical thing, as I told my young friends, is that whether we stay together or split up, each person must be willing to face the mirror and have his or her fundamental way of thinking shattered and recreated in the light of life. And if that is the only way forward—and it is since we are fallen and all blind as bats—then why not hang on and go through it together?
In my experience such a commitment takes two, and it takes the real hope that there is one who knows love and loving who dwells within us all. So, theoretically speaking, the first key to a good marriage, if there is such a thing, is willingness to look at yourself, and willingness to have the Holy Spirit (He is the Spirit who loves us and is passionate about us coming to experience real life) reveal your own issues to you and lead you into healing. Forget blame. Accept that you are in the dark and need help. Realize that if you don’t find healing for yourself there will never be happiness in your marriage. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring revelation and healing to you. This is the way of life.
There is always hope, because Jesus is in all of us, and it is his love that drew us together, and thus submission to his Spirit allows his love to flourish in us. But, blind as we all are, this is a lesson that takes a long time to learn.
Now, within this personal willingness to submit to the Holy Spirit, there is a willingness, to enter into your partner’s way of seeing, and especially into his or her way of seeing you. I am not saying that you have to agree with what you see when you see with their eyes, but real relationship means that you enter into their way of thinking. This requires openness to communication. Communicate, quit blaming and listen. Intimacy is all about feeling what your partner feels, seeing what they see, even if what they feel or see is not necessarily ‘right.’
This is the heart of the gospel of the not-angry-but-Trinitarian God. The Father sent his Son into our darkness to experience our life—and our god—with us. While never agreeing with us or our way of seeing his Father at all, Jesus submitted to our darkness and suffered from our bizarre judgment. There and then, the Triune God met us as we are and established a real relationship with us in our darkness. Now the light of Jesus—his knowledge of his Father’s heart—is within us, and not a person on the planet can escape the crisis of vision that Jesus’ presence creates. When we enter into our partner’s way of seeing—and into their way of seeing us—the same crisis emerges. It is a crisis of communication and healing and intimacy, or a crisis of self-defense and rebellion.
As a freebee, I will throw in two words from my Dad. The first is what he passed onto us as the eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt not take thyself too seriously.” Enough said. The second is related, but more crude, so hang in there. When I was a teenager he would sometimes ask me if I had a case of ‘seeitus’ (pronounced c-eye-tus). He steadfastly refused to define what seeitus meant. True to his word, he finally told me what it meant when I turned 40. “‘Seeitus,’ he said, “is the attitude that develops when your optic nerve gets crossed with you sphincter muscle and gives you a shitty outlook on life.”
So, what are the keys to a good marriage.
(1) Know you have issues and ask the Holy Spirit to bring healing to you.
(2) Quit blaming others.
(3) Thank Jesus for sharing his experience of love and loving with you.
(4) Communicate your feelings.
(5) Don’t take yourself too seriously.
(6) Listen to and enter into your partner’s way of seeing, especially into their way of seeing you.
(7) Remember the 11th commandment too often.
(8) Pray for a cure for ‘seeitus.’
There is surely way more to be said, but it is late and I am only 49.