Is your marriage out of shape?
If you sit at a desk or on a couch most days, are you REALLY surprised that you’re out of shape? If you don’t talk to your coworkers, but stare at your computer all day, are you shocked you aren’t connected to people? If you can’t say "no" to invitations, shouldn’t you expect to be busy all the time? Our actions and INactions lead to a natural outcome or an effect - - when we do ONE thing, something else flows out of that decision.
Wherever there’s a lack of self-command, with exercise, work, or schedule, results suffer.
Most of us understand this when it applies to what we're eating or how we spend our money; however, we don’t often think about the discipline we need in a marriage.
Every marriage will benefit through disciplined habits.
Sure, that sounds unromantic, but before you push back, think about whether you can agree with me in the broadest sense. For instance, the habit of NOT dating other people when you’re married is almost universally considered a "good thing." Flirting, ogling over, and going out for romantic dinners with a person of the opposite sex is also a discipline you should have if you want a healthy marriage. Every healthy relationship has boundaries and boundaries are, at their core, an exercise in discipline.
Still, short of avoiding these types of pitfalls, there are other habits you can establish proactively. Just as it's great to avoid certain foods to maintain your health (trans-fats begone!), getting in shape requires that you add different habits to your routine (hello exercise!). There's plenty of ways to keep your marriage in shape - make the most of them!!
Quantity & Quality Time
The best way to have "quality time" with someone is to protect your "quantity time" with them. Unfortunately you can't schedule when the meaningful conversations or memorable moments are made; life doesn't follow a script. If you aim for quantity, the quality will likely follow. Billy and I fight for and develop habits not because we aren't "busy," but because we have to keep our relationship in shape. These habits include:
- Date Nights - Go out or stay in, but set aside the evening to unplug from the home, office, children to be together.
- Hurry Home - Don't take the extra meeting, skip the additional time on the road, nix the hobbies that require extended time apart.
- Plan Sneakaways - Multi-generational trips don't count. Get away with just the two of you. Start when the kids are babies. (It doesn't get easier when they age!)
Communicate Acceptance & Respect
There's no substitute for a marriage marked by acceptance and respect. When we date, we are quick to communicate (verbally and/or non-verbally) that we're impressed by the other person. However, familiarity often changes the equation, and it's easy to develop sloppy behavior. Instead of talking through frustrations or deciding to focus on our partner's better qualities, we get irritable and short. Instead of hearing the person out and figuring out how to support their ideas, we lead with a negative.
When Billy and I speak to newlyweds, we boil the principles down to two quick precepts. The first (from a guy named James) is that we should be...
"Quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry"
How many things do we regret saying because we didn't catch all the facts? Have you ever regretted speaking too quickly or letting your temper loose? Listening quickly, speaking slowly, having a long fuse - these disciplines can only help a marriage.
The second is the Improv Principle which builds on a starting point, no matter how ridiculous, by simply saying:
Tina Fey describes the "yes, and" improv idea in her book, Bossypants. The concept is simple. For a comedy team to be successful, each person has to build on whatever they get from the other person on the team. If your partner starts a story saying, "you open a restaurant on the moon..." and then gives the story to you, you have to go with the theme. (Possibly talking about selling moon pies?)
You NEVER say "no" to the intro. You GO with it. You improvise with the material at hand.
In marriage, when you decide to start from a position of agreement, you communicate unity. You say, "we are in this together." Aside from bank robbery or cheering for USC, most of the ideas your spouse has will be workable in some form or fashion. Try leading with the "yes" even if it's a discipline. See where it takes you.
Considering your marriage, in what areas do you find you have to be most disciplined?