Fight over flight: Choosing to love in marriage
As a wife, as a Christian, and also as a documentary photographer who often photographs weddings, I definitely place an extremely high priority on marriage. I believe a promise made in front of God and witnesses is a promise that should be kept forever. I believe that marriage vows aren't really "I promise to love you every day of my life" but rather "I promise to choose to love you every day of my life." BUT, I will be the first person to admit that keeping marriage vows is certainly NOT easy. Some may say that planning a wedding is hard, but maintaining a healthy marriage? Now that's hard work... In today's never-satisfied, quick-fix, I-do-what-I-want culture, unfortunately it's not surprising that affairs and divorce are quite common.
It's been so painful for me to think about recent news of the Ashley Madison data leak (names released from an online dating website for those seeking extra-marital relationships). The actual data leak of millions of names isn't what gives me a pit in my stomach, though, it's the fact that millions of people were actively using this website and cheating on their spouses in the first place.
Now, this post is in no way written to judge anyone who was recently exposed by the data leak, nor is it to make anyone feel guilty if they have ever experienced an affair or divorce. This post is to reach out to give you a virtual hug. I'm so sorry that you've experienced events in marriage that led to that end. Un-health in a marriage on any level is painful, whether it's from miscommunication, misunderstanding, mistreatment, or mistakes. You are NOT alone in your marriage struggles! In fact, whenever I hear a couple say that they don't have struggles or disagreements in their marriage, I secretly question the depth of their relationship in the first place. At our very core, we're all sinful, selfish beings—that's why choosing to love another is so challenging!
My encouragement to every married person reading this is to remember the weight of your marriage vows to your spouse ("...as long as we both shall live...") and fight to choose love. Fight to rediscover whatever spark ignited your love in the first place. Fight to continually notice the little things about your spouse that you love. Fight to diminish your recognition of the little things about your spouse that annoy you. Fight to research your spouse on a daily basis so you can become an expert in making him/her most happy. Fight to give grace to one another when you slip up. When faced with "fight or flight" in marriage—FIGHT.
No one is a marriage expert just because they stood at an altar to exchange marriage vows and wedding rings at one point. Well, at least wisdom never magically fell upon Chad and I when we got married seven years ago—maybe we missed out. Three years ago, we were feeling the effects of "marriage struggle" for lots of reasons and it wasn't looking good for us. We finally admitted it to one another and in response, decided to go on a marriage retreat that completely changed our outlook and the trajectory of our married lives. Now, in order to learn more about healthy marriage and to keep ours strong, we attend that same marriage retreat every year as a "check-up" on how we're doing and as a re-commitment to keep our love alive. We both HIGHLY recommend this option to EVERY married couple! Find one near you, book it and go. It may be expensive, but your healthy marriage will be worth every penny.
As a simpler exercise, we make it a point to read different books on marriage together throughout the year. Two that we particularly got a lot out of recently were these by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn:
“What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men" and "A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women" helped us in the mind-reading department. Ha! Men and women function so differently and these books gave us great insights about what really makes the other tick (which explained many of the reasons we often disagree). After we read our respective books, I even read "For Men Only" (shhhhhhhh!) and felt so justified that I wasn't the only woman who thinks & acts how I do! Reading books together—or at least at the same time—also gives us a common topic to talk through together in a safe environment. (Also to note: I hate reading. I'm terrible at it. I actually get information into my brain through audiobooks! Audible.com rocks my world. ...there are no excuses.)
The best time to start strengthening your marriage is today. If you need a good place to start, try reading these books together, look into a marriage retreat option, and never be "above" seeking out a marriage counselor. After all, those who are sick usually seek the help of a doctor and no one argues the importance of preventive healthcare or dental check-ups. Isn't the health of your marriage even more important?