What Makes A Great Place to be Married?

A few weeks ago, RealAge.com listed their top ten cities for happiest marriages (click here). We were pleased to see our town, Grand Rapids, on the list. But the selection of cities was interesting to us and it made us wonder, “Are there really places that are better to be married than others?”

There’s probably something to be said for being in a city that both husband and wife love… a city that offers amenities that are appreciated by each. And, beyond that, there is a wonderful blessing in living in a city with an affordable cost of living, mitigating the financial stresses that sometimes exist in larger cities.  Or, one might suggest that some cities are culturally more inclined towards promoting marriage (GR, with our wealth of churches and parachurch ministries, might fall into this category).

We got the chance to talk about some of this with our friends at Fox 17 this morning (click here), but we didn’t get a chance to highlight a deeper concept – that the city isn’t nearly as important as the community. What we mean is, a city is a geographic location, but your community are those with whom you live out your life. Couples often consciously choose the cities in which they’ll live, but sometimes don’t fully consider shaping their personal community.

We choose our friends. We choose our churches. We choose those from whom we seek mentoring and advice. We choose our online social communities. These choices have an enormous effect on our marriages because our communities behave as our support networks. And while it’s important for couples to consider where to live , it’s more important to consider with whom we live out our lives.

Alone Together

In case you missed it, Jill and I got the chance to recently appear on Fox 17 to chat about the ways that mobile technologies are distracting us from one another. Boundaries for when and how to use those tablets and smart phones are key to maintaining good communication. How about you… are you a couple that’s guilty of being “alone together?”

click HERE to watch

 

New Vow Option #5: Protecting Trust

And we’re back from a brief hiatus to discuss our fifth and final “new vow”!

“I cherish the trust we have built over time and am committed to fostering its growth.”

Trust is the most foundational building block for growing and sustaining relationships yet it is often poorly understood. Going into marriage, many people are on guard against the stereotypical, big, trust-shattering events such as hitting on a coworker. But what people often don’t understand is the patterns of behavior that erode trust over time and that ultimately enable these big, and often relationship-ending, choices.

Trust is essentially established through shared experiences. As couples date they begin to see the world together, learning how to navigate both the fun times and the challenging events in life as a team. However, as married couples move through different stages of life, a variety of patterns such as business travel, kids activities, hobbies and a host of other time-demanding activities can begin to make couples feel like they are leading separate lives.

It’s at this stage that a marriage can begin to become very vulnerable. As we experience life’s events separately (or with co-workers or others), we may not recognize that trust can be weakening. So while it’s not possible to live every element of life together, it’s essential for spouses to communicate what they are experiencing/thinking/feeling/seeing/etc. to one another so that those experiences are still shared experiences.  Being cognizant to do so is half the battle, and the other half is finding time to effectively communicate. But doing so will grow the bonds that hold marriages together for the long-haul.

A brief interlude…

 

… from our series on “new vows” so that I can tell you a little story.

While Jill and I were engaged twelve years ago, we kept getting the same bit of advice from people. They’d say “Don’t think of marriage as a 50/50 proposition. You can’t base your contribution on someone else’s. Instead, try and go into it thinking of it as a 100/0 proposition, meaning you’re dedicated to giving your all no matter what.”

Well, we’ve had some fun with this phrase over the years. This week, Jill is being given the V.I.P treatment in LA by representatives from a major manufacturer of automobiles (which you’ll likely hear about on her mommy blog, The Diaper Diaries). While she of course is a V.I.P., guess who is holding down the fort, working during the day and watching the kids solo in the evenings (one of whom has a fever)? Oh yeah baby, I’M the “100″ this week!

All of this, of course, to simply say that our marriage blogging will take a couple-day pause… stay tuned (and may the Lord bless every single parent who lives this out every day).

New Vow Option #4: Staying Focused

Here’s the fourth and final suggestion that we’d like to make for our series of new wedding vows (for those that are getting married, or those that have been married for years):

If we should be blessed with children, I will continue to invest time and attention in you and our marriage, for our benefit and that of our children.

It sounds cliche, but there’s no doubt about it – many, many marriages get derailed by the blessing of having kids. This cycle often begins when a couple’s sex life gets permanently interrupted when they start trying to have kids. At first, sex becomes something that’s scheduled and then, once a couple succeeds at becoming pregnant, they get freaked out at the idea of having sex. Then comes childbirth (eeew!) and nursing, followed by the baby sleeping in a bedside bassinet, and then months of sleep deprivation, and before the couple knows it… bam, it’s been two years of lousy sex.

From there, the couple allows the child to become more and more an object of their focus, which in-and-of-itself isn’t a bad thing, but they also allow their communication patterns to become complacent. Years pass, and job demands, social circles, school activities, and a host of other activities fill the couple’s lives, and before they know it, the kids are gone and hubby and wife are staring at each other wondering who on Earth the other person is and what life might be like from then on.

In fact, this dynamic has been a major contributing force to a very large spike in empty-nester divorce rates in the past twenty years  (see here). Instead, couples have a much better option – to commit from day 1 (or from today, if already married) that they’ll invest in each other. That means finding time to communicate each day, taking occasional trips away from the kids, dedicating themselves to improve their sex life over time, and keeping their marriage fun.

And here’s the bonus… what else could be better for a child than knowing that his or her parent’s marriage is healthy and growing?

New vow option #3: Faithful Stewards

In our continuing series of new vows for those getting married, or for those already married, I present to you option #3:

“I will faithfully steward the resources entrusted to us to promote the well-being of our family and our community.”

So many couples go into marriage with aprehension or stress when it comes to the topic of money management. But in fact, getting married is a like financiallyl hitting a tremendous “reset” button – it’s a gift! While you don’t get to reset the amount of debt that you carry into marriage, you do get to redefine how you view money and how you establish your lifestyle. Marriage is one of the few times in life when you can completely reshape your financial picture and find ways of living within your means to create a more purposeful financial life. Here’s a few thoughts on how to do that.

First, money should be viewed as shared. That means that whatever assets (that which you own or have saved) and liabilities (debt) that you bring into marriage must be viewed as shared rather than his or hers. Likewise, whatever income you make and expenses you establish are also shared, regardless of whether or not you’re both working.

Second, stop viewing money as your own (and stop fighting about how it’s used). Think of money as being loaned to you by God while you’re on Earth and it’s your job to manage it while you’re here – that’s the concept of stewardship. Stewards are managers, and that old saying, “you can’t take it with you” is true. It’s only available for us to use on Earth to accomplish God’s goals.

Third, find out what those goals are and follow them. Scripture is filled with teachings about money (particularly Proverbs) and you can find a high-level summary in 1 Timothy 6, when Paul tells his young pastoral protege Timothy that he should,

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

So those of us who are rich in this present world (that’s you – if you have any doubt that you’re rich, visit www.globalrichlist.com”) are to enjoy what’s been given to us, but also to be generous and willing to share. To do so, we should establish a lifestyle within our means that allows us to avoid financial insecurity and enjoy the freedom to do great things investing in our church and larger community.

New Vow Option #2: I’ll fight right

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Jill and I recently wrapped up another marriage prep class (our tenth year of teaching!) and have dedicated this week’s posts to marriage vows that we think should exist. Today’s new vow is:

“I commit to resolving conflicts instead of perpetuating them, in a manner that builds trust over time.”

You see, every couple knows how to fight, but very few couples know how to fight well. To do so means that couples need to attack the issue and not each other, and to prevent conflicts from getting out of hand they should look for the root issue, asking “What are we really fighting about?”

Conflict is inevitable, but couples are often better at escalating conflicts than they are resolving them. But who wants to live this way? Instead of pointing fingers, couples should dedicate themselves to making the most of conflict. As issues arise, they should be seen as opportunities to resolve the root problems that can hold back the relationship, and doing so can actually build understanding and trust over time.

New Vow Option #1: I’ll stop trying to change you

Today Jill and I “graduated” another group of young people in our marriage prep classes. We had about 40 people who spent two hours a week with us for six weeks, and I have to say that this was one of my favorite groups. Great relationships, and lots of fun. Soon each of them will be taking the dive, standing up in front of their family and friends and reciting their vows. We always encourage our students to read and reflect upon their vows, and while we don’t do this, I often think that I’d like to suggest some changes to the standard vow “boilerplates” that most couples use.

So this week, Jill and I going to offer a series of new vow options… suggested vows for couples to take, whether they got hitched years ago or have yet to do so.  Tonight, new vow #1:

“I commit to accepting you for who you are, for all of your gifts and imperfections, and will celebrate how God has made you special.”

As simple as this is, we see time and time again that people go into marriage expecting to change their spouse. It’s a mistake to think so. In fact, most of the things that can irritate us about our fiancee during our engagement will be exacerbated once the marriage begins and he or she begins to feel even safer showing their ugly side. Instead of becoming consumed with changing a flawed spouse, what if each of us went into marriage assuming that we can’t change our spouse (only God can do so) and that our role is to celebrate the special things that only a husband or wife could fully see in the person we marry?

Marriage around the web

I wish more people had this kind of commitment to marriage::: The One About My Marriage Nearly Ending

We are passionate about this topic and would love our readers to contribute::: Surveying Sex

This post is linked up to Saturday Linky Love at Vanderbilt Wife

Unlike any other (a mom’s day shoutout to Jill!)

It’s been nearly six or seven years since Jill told me that she was going to start a blog of her own, what we would today call a “mommy blog.” She was one of the early pioneers in this arena (she wouldn’t agree, but I think so) and over the years I’ve watched as The Diaper Diaries has grown and how she’s become an online form of support, encouragement and laughter for thousands of moms. It’s been awesome to see, and not particularly surprising.

I say that because Jill is a social person, she’s smart, she knows a ton about emerging online platforms (helpful to a husband whose job is to understand technological trends), and she’s very funny – like when she decides to take a nap on Thomas Jefferson’s lawn (pictured). But the real reason why I’m not surprised at the rise of The Diaper Diaries is that Jill is simply a fantastic mom. She makes her mistakes, sure, but she provides our kids necessary boundaries, tons of love, and lives her life in a way that allows them to absorb what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Back when we first started having kids, I had only held a baby once or twice (thanks to Jill making me serve in our church’s nursery for practice!) before we had our first. I have awesome parents but I never, ever could conceptualize of what it would be like for me to be a parent. So looking back, in many ways I think that more than any of her readers I am the person most blessed to learn from her as I see how she loves our kids and as I receive encouragement from her when I feel less-than perfect (or downright lousy) about my own parenting.

She’s an enormous blessing, and I’m doing my best this Mother’s Day to reflect on the innumerable things that make her special. I’d encourage you to do the same with your wife or your mom.