Thursday, January 9, 2014

In Defense of Love: Believing in Marriage in Divorce Culture

I went to New York City for a few pre-Christmas escapades last week and what I saw shocked me. Not because it was horrifyingly crowded with stiletto-clad fur coats stalking through the streets. Not because the entire city was mobbed with pushy window-shoppers who will literally shove you into a bus just to get to Macy's before the stalking stilettos behind them. Not because the electric bill for Times Square at Christmas could feed an entire third-world country for a month. No, I was shocked because I saw, for one of the first times, real love.
One day this semester, my professor asked us to describe what love is. After a few fairly vague answers, someone raised a hand and voiced an opinion that struck me: "Am I the only one here who thinks that love and marriage don't have anything to do with each other?"
I was floored, and then I realized that I'd been unknowingly nurturing the same opinion since the seventh grade.
I realized that the state of marriage in this country is looking more and more like the New York Yankees -- overly commercialized, drenched in scandal, mostly unsuccessful, and hated by everyone who's not obligated to pretend to like it. And I'm not talking about homosexual/heterosexual marriages separately. I'm talking about marriage as a whole, as an ideal that has been corrupted and contaminated until sometimes it resembles a floppy mockery devoid of meaning, as opposed to a noble tradition in which two people weld their lives because they love each other. In a world in which most marriages dissolve into a series of legal battles and emotionally wounded children, love and marriage really don't seem to have anything to do with one another.
But in the midst of New York City -- the city that never sleeps, the city of romance and riots, beauty and bars, carriages and clubs alike -- from among the throngs of street vendors and stilettos, I saw visible love.
It was in a tea shop on Seventh and 26th, where my companion and I were grabbing a drink just before our bus home. As we sat down, we looked over to our right to see an aged couple, the sight of which almost brought me to tears: the husband, who was in a wheelchair, was physically unable to properly eat his food so his wife, sitting close at his side, was alternately feeding him, and gently wiping his mouth, chin and fingers with a napkin as he ate. The sight itself was pleasant enough, but this was not what struck me. Even as she fed her aged ailing husband, she was smiling quietly the entire time.
I looked closer, and saw the tiny details I will never forget -- the way she looked at him, as adoringly as if he were a strong, young man; the way her hand never left his shoulder, patting his arm comfortingly and massaging his back; the way she dutifully steered his wheelchair clear of danger and smiled at the passerby who adjusted accordingly. She still loved him! Even in his age, infirmity and disability, she loved him and nursed him with a smile on her lips and her hand on his shoulder. It was one of the single most beautiful, most inspiring things I have ever seen.
After the couple departed, I started wondering: Why did they have such a powerful effect? After all, people should be used to seeing couples in love, right? We should be used to seeing married couples support one another, right?
But we're not. Somehow, we rarely see even aging couples who look happy with each other. Instead, we hear heartbreaking divorce stories from our closest friends, and watch divorce reality television, and hear more about wedding costs than success rates. Somehow, the state of marriage has devolved from a loving institution to a series of rhinestone-smothered weddings and a collections tin benefiting whom? No one except law firms and, I guess, dating sites for divorcees. And we're supposed to believe that love and marriage are at all related?
I remember recently asking the question, "Is it possible to be happy and married?"
I suppose I'd heard too many ugly complaints about nagging wives and neglectful husbands. And sometimes, I still wonder if those complaints really do characterize marriage as it currently exists. But sometimes, we find a gem to counter-balance the publicized horror stories. Sometimes, we find something in defense of love -- the sort of love that lasts a lifetime, that makes a woman smile as she nurses her struggling husband -- and we can remember that even though hook-up culture is enticing, it's not everything.
Though the childhood fairytales might have been beaten out of us, and we are no longer naive enough to believe in perfect relationships, we can still hope for a love that will take care of us when we can no longer take care of ourselves. Because it does exist -- you just have to know what it looks like, and be able to see it when it does.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Dangers Of "Toxic Parenting" To Your Marriage

I have three children and I am the first to acknowledge the joys…the blessings…and the sacrifices that a couple experiences when children come into their lives. I also understand the unique roles that both the mother and the father play in rearing children and just how important both are to a child’s development. Now that I have made my disclaimers, I want to address what I believe has become an epidemic in many marriages with children in the past 10-15 years, and it is what I refer to as “Toxic Parenting”.

I recently did a wedding for a couple that already had a 3-year-old child. I asked them if they were going on a honeymoon after the wedding and the bride responded that they were going to wait a couple of months. I asked if they had someone to watch their child when they go on their honeymoon and they said, “Yes, but we are going to bring our child with us. We think he might enjoy the ‘get away’, too!” I gently suggested to them that since they had someone to watch their child, it wouldn’t hurt to get away for a few days while they enjoyed some special “childless” time alone. At that suggestion, they both looked at me like two deer staring into the headlights of an oncoming car. “Well, we don’t want to deprive our child of a wonderful experience of being with his mother and father!”, they defensively retorted.

Unfortunately, this has become a very common attitude in our day and age among married couples that have become parents. Whether it is because of the pressure in our society to be “perfect parents”…or some false narrative deep within that has convinced us that our children can’t live a moment without us, many parents have allowed the child to take over the home and their relationship as husband and wife! When this happens, the couple’s parenting style has become toxic to the very foundation of the home…the marriage relationship!

It becomes toxic, because one or both of the parents makes the child more important than the marriage relationship. The parents schedule all their time around the child. The topics of conversation (when the couple does talk to each other) are centered on the child. There is no time for the couple because they are constantly bowing to the demands of the child. The child ends up robbing all the time and attention from the couple and in the end, there is nothing left for the couple to give to each other. Then when the child grows up and moves out of the house, the couple is left with just each other. The couple discovers that they are strangers living under the same roof, because they didn’t invest time into each other during the child rearing years…it was all put into the child!  That is why most divorces take place at the 20-year mark of a marriage when the children leave home.

While children are a tremendous blessing to a marriage, every couple needs to remember that they married each other “until death do them part”…not their children. Couples do not do their marriage or their children any favors by investing all their time into the children and neglect their time together as husband and wife.  It is very healthy for children to learn early that the most important person to Dad is Mom and to Mom is Dad.  As Mom and Dad demonstrate that by spending devoted and quality time with each other (without child interruption), the home actually becomes more loving and stable for everyone in the family!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Embracing Marital Difficulties

There are few natural wonders more startling in their beauty than Mount Everest, the highest spot on earth. Geologists believe that the Himalayas were created by the Indian continent crashing into Eurasia. If there were no collision between India and Eurasia, there would be no Himalayas. Without the wrenching force of continental shifting, the world would be a poorer place aesthetically.

In the same way, the “collisions” of marriage can create relationship of beauty. Beauty is often birthed in struggle. The points of impact may not be “fun” – in fact, they can make us feel like we’re bing ripped apart – but the process can make us stronger, build our character and deepen our faith.

Unfortunately, many people leave a marriage and break its sacred bonds because it simply gets too tough. Few people leave a marriage because it’s too easy! This tendency to avoid difficulty is a great failing that can and often does keep us in spiritual and relational infancy. The truth is, struggle in our marriages makes us grow stronger as individuals and as a couple…and in an interesting way, deepens our love for each other when we work out these difficulties together.

If your marriage is tough, understand that pain is involved in most transitions to something more beautiful…whether it is a caterpillar wrestling from it’s cocoon as a butterfly, a chick struggling to get out of its shell, two continents colliding to create a majestic mountain range, or a relationship enduring and working through difficulties only to love one another more on the other side of the struggle. Struggling successfully and profitably in your marriage brings a deeper love and joy than trouble-free living ever can.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Marriage Contracts vs. Marriage Covenants

Today many couples enter into a marriage relationship with the attitude, “If it doesn’t workout, we can always part our separate ways.” This is what I would call the “backdoor” or “escape hatch” to the covenant of marriage. Actually, any person or couple who enter into a marriage relationship with this mindset is not entering into a marriage covenant at all, but rather a “contractual business deal”. Let me see if I can explain the difference between a “covenant” and a “contract” and how each one plays out in a marriage relationship.

If you look up the word “contract” and “covenant” in today’s dictionary, you will be hard pressed to see much difference between the two definitions, but there is a stark difference and it lies within one’s attitude towards the other person.

A “contract” is an agreement between two parties who mutually agree to provide each other with certain benefits as long as the other party upholds their end of the agreement. That once one party of the contract ceases or fails to uphold their end of the contract, the other party is under no obligation to uphold their end of the deal. If that happens, the contracted relationship is then open for “renegotiation” or it is broken and each party goes their own way.

Therefore, a married couple that views their relationship as a contractual agreement is living with each other under a conditional basis. This attitude goes something like this: “As long as you do this for me, I will do that for you…once you stop doing that for me, I don’t have to do this for you.” Everything goes great as long as each person upholds his or her end of the bargain…but things begin to fall apart very quickly when one or both parties stop performing their “expected” duties.

A “covenant”, on the other hand, approaches each party with a completely different attitude. A covenant relationship is when two parties mutually agree to enter into a relationship and seeks out the other person’s best interest, regardless of the personal cost and/or sacrifice to self. This attitude looks like this: “I promise to do this for you and you have promised to do this for me. I will continue to do this for you regardless of your unwillingness or inability to hold up your promise to me.”

Our culture understands well the concept of “contracts”, but it has lost the true meaning of a “covenant”. Probably because we have fallen into such a self-centered, self-serving and selfish mindset of living our daily lives. No wonder we have such unhappy marriages and the divorce rate is so high. I know it sounds counter intuitive, but a “marriage covenant” will ALWAYS make for happier and longer lasting marriages than “marriage contracts” ever will!

Think about it, "...for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part." can only be truly fulfilled when you have the other person's best interest at heart, regardless of the cost to you...and not through the selfish and self-centered conditions of a contract!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Great Marriages Take Time!

It isn’t that our marriages are good or bad – they just are.  We grow numb toward each other by the monotonous drone of the routine in our relationship.

Kathleen and Thomas Hart put it this way: “Marriage is a long walk two people take together. Sometimes the terrain is very interesting, sometimes rather dull. At times the walk is arduous for both persons or for one. Sometimes the conversation is lively; at other times, there is not much to say. The travelers do not know exactly where they are going, nor when they will arrive.” Sometimes this numbing effect of “sameness” is due to the fact that this walk is longer for us than it was for our ancestors.

In past centuries, many marriages were cut short because women frequently died during childbirth. Men didn’t live as long as they do today, either. In 1870, a woman couldn’t count on her husband still being alive by the time their youngest child left home. In 1911, the average length of marriage was twenty-eight years; by 1967, it had risen to forty-two years. Today with medical advances and increasing life expectancy, more couples reaching their sixtieth or even seventieth wedding anniversary!

This relatively new phenomenon of being married for six or seven decades can pay rich dividends for our character development and spiritual lives. Marriage helps us to develop the character of God himself as we stick with our spouses through the good times and the bad. The spiritual meaning of marriage is found in persevering and maintaining that history together.

Generally speaking, it takes a decade for a couple to truly "create and form its being". When couples break up after just three or four years, they haven't even begun to experience what being married is really like. It's like climbing halfway up a mountain but never getting to the top to see the sights. You're in the middle of the quest, your consumed with the struggle, but it's much too soon to experience the full rewards. Assessing your marriage too soon is like expecting a baby to run a marathon. Becoming one with your spouse - in the deepest, most intimate sense - takes time. It's a journey through the good and the bad...and it never really ends. But if you will hang in there and persevere, the reward will be a deeper love for one another than you can ever possibly imagine!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Combating The Evils Of Wedding Planning Stress!

Being engaged and planning for that once in a life time wedding day is suppose to be a fun and romantic experience.  But most of the time all it does is put your relationship to the test. Because the planning process can be so stressful, couples often find themselves not enjoying the planning experience, or more importantly…each other!
Just to set the record straight, as the date of the wedding approaches, relational stress is normal. After all, you both are going through some rough transitional stages. Besides being frazzled from all the planning…you are probably getting anxious about the major life changes that lie ahead! Not to mention having to deal with annoying family members trying to get involved. Here are some suggestions that will go a long way in helping to ease the pain of your stress as you plan for your simple or fairytale wedding.

1. At least once a week, have a conversation or date that has nothing to do with the wedding. Don't even TALK about it! Go watch a movie, walk the beach, go bowling... anything that will distract you from the planning of your wedding. The first person who slips and mentions anything about the wedding has to pay for the date (or some other agreed upon consequence).

2. Take a day each week and have a "Wedding Conference Meeting" with each other. This is where you go over the budge, look at the "To Do List", talk about vendors, etc. Usually it will be the bride who takes the lead on this, but it will go a long way in keeping the lines of communication open and prevent any surprises and resentment from arising between the two of you.

3. If you find yourself becoming frustrated and irritated with one of his friends or family members, tell him how you feel, but let him deal with it. If he doesn't want to deal with it, don't get angry with his crazy aunt/mother/best friend, get angry with him for not dealing with the issue on your behalf. You need to remember that "blood is thicker than water" and you're not "blood", yet!  It isn't your place to confront these people, yet…and besides, they're more likely to listen to him than to you.

4. Always be honest with each other when you get angry or upset, but NEVER turn your anger into a war of "my family vs. your family". Stay focused on the problem at hand. For instance, if his mother is sending you over the "deep end" because of the way she keeps pushing for a specific reception location that you don't like or want, don't fight about how she has no respect for your desires, or that it is your wedding, not hers and that she has no right to tell you where to have the reception. Instead, leave your emotions at the door and discuss it for what it is - a need to control the size, cost, or location of the reception, etc.

5. When you start to notice that you are getting crankier and moodier, or you're having trouble sleeping at night, it's a sign you need to relax. Make an appointment to get pampered at a spa, get a massage...but do something that will relax you and refocus your thoughts on nothing for an hour or two.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

"Mirror, Mirror...On The Wall..."

What I have discovered after 30 years of marriage is that, unlike a single person, being married is like holding up a mirror to my imperfections. Being married has forced me to face myself honestly and consider my character flaws, selfishness, and stinky attitudes, while being challenged to grow and mature in my character and my love for my wife.

Kathleen and Thomas Hart wrote, “Sometimes what is hard to take in the first years of marriage is not what we find out about our partner, but what we find out about ourselves. As one young woman who had been married about a year said, ‘I always thought of myself as a patient and forgiving person. Then I began to wonder if that was just because I had never before gotten close to anyone. In marriage, when John and I began…dealing with differences, I saw how small and unforgiving I could be. I discovered a hardness in me I had never experienced before.’”

I have always thought of myself as reasonably patient and charitable – that is, until I got married and discovered how passionately annoyed I can become at pulling out empty ice cube trays. I grew up in a family that taught: If you take out an ice cube, you refill the tray before you put it back into the freezer. Now I’ll pull out a tray and find nothing more than half an ice cube – which I call an ice chip.

It was amazing how much such a small detail irritated me. I asked my wife, “How much do you love me?” “More than all the world,” she professed. “I don’t need you to love me that much,” I said. “I just want you to love me for seven seconds.” “What on earth are you talking about?” she asked. “Well, I timed how long it takes to fill an ice cube tray and discovered that it’s just seven seconds.”

It finally dawned on me that if it takes my wife just seven seconds to fill an ice cube tray, that’s all it takes me as well. Was I really so selfish that I was willing to let seven seconds’ worth of inconvenience become a serous issue in my marriage? Was my capacity to show charity towards my wife really that limited?

Indeed it was!

Being married is like constantly looking into a mirror and having revealed to you those flaws in your life that you never knew you had…but everyone else did!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wedding Day Emergencies!

During most the weddings that I have officiated, there has always been something that didn’t go quite according to plan.  Mostly they aren’t big things…just minor issues, but many of those minor issues could have been headed off with if a small “Wedding Emergency Kit” was packed.

Anyone can put this kit together, but with all the pressure that the bride is already going through in planning her special day, I would suggest it be someone else with a little more time on their hands.  This could be the responsibility of the of the Bride’s mother, one of the bride’s maids, little sister…anyone who can be trusted to get it all together.

Once the “Wedding Emergency Kit” is assembled, then make sure that whoever is responsible for the kit not only brings it to the ceremony, but also to the reception. It may be necessary for pictures after the ceremony and during the reception.

Here is a list of items you might want to consider putting into your “Wedding Emergency Kit”:
  1. Mini sewing kit
  2. Tooth Brush and toothpaste
  3. Aspirin (any other legally prescribed medication)
  4. Bottle of water (for washing down that aspirin)
  5. Straws (to hydrate without smudging lipstick)
  6. Band-Aids and/or Styptic Pencil (blood on a white wedding dress – not good)
  7. Tweezers
  8. Tissues (someone is going to start crying)
  9. Matching make-up (for touch ups)
  10. Spot Remover (“Tide To Go Instant Stain Remover” works GREAT!)
  11. Floss (don’t want to “Photoshop” the debris out from between your teeth!)
  12. Hair spray
  13. Clear nail polish (to keep stockings from running – hair spray works, too)
  14. Hairpins, elastic and safety pins
  15. Black book of phone numbers (to contact a supplier or an usher at the last moment.)
  16. Hem tape (in case no one knows how to sew)
  17. Breathe mints (“You may now kiss your smelly-breathed Bride!”)
  18. Superglue (for a quick fix! Note: WD-40, duct tape and bailing wire are optional)
  19. Food (keep your energy up!)
  20. Extra cash (you might want a burger or a Starbucks)
Of course, you can add or delete any of these suggested items, but I promise you, you won’t regret having this “Wedding Emergency Kit”. More than likely, you will need something in it!

Monday, February 13, 2012

"We Can Work Things Out On Our Own!"

Have you thought about pre-marriage counseling? The question may put you off, but before you move on to the next blog, why not take a moment and read what I am about to share with you and see if maybe you might not see the wisdom in considering such an idea. I do find it interesting that people will seek all kinds of advice and counseling when it comes to financial, career, and educational planning, but when it comes to receiving advice for relationship development, there seems to be so much resistance. 

So what keeps many couples from pursuing pre-marriage counseling?  Well, there are a couple of primary reasons, fears, excuses…or whatever you want to call them.

First, many couples believe that living with each other is enough to determine whether or not they are compatible enough to enter into the commitment of marriage. However, statistics show that divorces are actually higher among people who marry after having a de-facto relationship with each other. There is something about marriage that distinguishes from simply living together – which means that pre-marriage counseling is incredibly important to couples who have been cohabitating. Pre-marital counseling is a way of learning how to successfully make the transition from one kind of relationship to another.

Secondly, another big issue or fear is: “What if the issues brought up in counseling cause us to reconsider getting married?” You may get some surprises! It is possible that, even though you have lived together, some of your partner’s attitudes towards certain things that matter to the relationship (such as communication, gender roles, and children) have escaped your notice. Pre-marriage counseling will help you see differences that have an impact – not to discourage you from getting married, but to help you plan ways of overcoming or resolving them. Marriage is an art, and you will be honing your partner by developing relationship skills to increase the chances of a successful marriage.

Lastly, yes…there may be things that may come up that give reason for you or both of you to decide to postpone your wedding until they are resolved. Don’t be afraid to face these issues before you walk down the aisle. It is easier to work through some issues before the event, than when you are married and the stakes are far higher.

You must understand that your wedding is one day in your life, but your marriage is all the rest of the days that come after it. No other relationship comes close in terms of the challenges and triumphs of marriage. It is the most intimate relationship that you will ever choose to be a part of that is humanly possible.

If you are open to considering pre-marital counseling to help prepare you for marriage, then your chances for a great marriage increases. Being willing to look honestly and receive advice requires humility, and humility is one quality that creates success in life. Another name for humility is "teach-ability". If you and your partner are ready to learn new things about your relationship and how to make it the best it can be, then the world is your oyster.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Traditional Wedding Alternatives

While many people prefer to have a traditional wedding, you might want to do something particularly unusual…something, which you will find more memorable, and perhaps something that your guests will find particularly impressive as well. 

If you want to do something unique, there are plenty of options available to you and the only limit is really your imagination. You might even be interested in trying some extreme wedding scenarios, such as having your wedding performed underwater, in a hot air balloon, skydiving, roller coasters, etc.

There is nothing that says that you have to have your wedding ceremony performed in a church or chapel building. But even if you do desire a traditional wedding, you can still add your personal touches to your wedding ceremony and your wedding officiant should be willing to accommodate you.
You could also go for something with a more of a modern flavor to it, or something that emphasizes refinement and elegance. The ceremony itself can be a more involved with lots of music, special readings, unity ceremonies, blended family ceremonies, cultural traditions and more! Just a word of caution here…be sensitive to your guests, especially if they are sitting outside. You want them to enjoy your wedding…not endure it.
Finding the right setting for your wedding ceremony is important. You may want to consider wedding venues such as nice hotels, resorts, club houses, cruise ships, beaches, forests, parks, old missions, amusement parks…the locations are only limited by your imagination. 

Regardless of whether you want a traditional, unique or extreme wedding, the first rule is: Don't let anyone talk you into doing something you don't want to do! Follow your heart and the only person you need to make sure is comfortable with your ideas is your fiancé.
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