We have a great marriage! And I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes it great. I’ve been aware of its greatness for a long time, but I haven’t needed to articulate the whys and hows until now. However, in two short weeks, we are going to be embarking on a very exciting and mortifyingly intimidating adventure: marriage mentoring. And we’re the mentors! Mighty stones of Moses, another couple actually asked us to do this for them! Whether we can be helpful to them or not remains to be seen, but if nothing else, it should prove to give us fresh things to work on in our own marriage.
Now, because I tend to just blab – uh, I mean, blog – about whatever happens to be going on in my life, you might as well consider this fair warning that there may be a lot of marriage advice coming your way over the next few months. I’ll try to stick with what works for us and to not get all know-it-all with endless fixes and cures for every relationship out there. But if it gets nauseating, please feel free to let me know and I’ll revert back to my other area of false expertise: parenting.
We met with our “mentees” once already to discuss how this whole thing is going to work and to set some ground rules. When it came right down to it, we really only had one firm rule to implement, and the more I think about applying this rule to our mentoring, the more I realize how vital this rule is to the fantabulosity of our marriage.
Our mentoring rule is this: at no point are we allowed to verbally or mentally project what we’re learning onto our spouse. That is to say, there is no room for saying or thinking, “I really hope my spouse is paying attention to this part because he/she really needs some extra work in this area.” The four of us each need to take individual responsibility for our very own selves. Period.
I intend to further set the tone for this personal responsibility by asking my husband frequently if he sees the topic du jour as being a weakness of mine. If I’m the one to ask, then it will be less painful to hear the answer. And that means I can address my weakness from a position of authority over that issue, rather than from a position of being hurt and defensive.
This idea of personal responsibility is foundational to a great marriage. You’ll notice my introductory sentence is not that I have a great husband. I do have a great husband (most of the time), but that is rather out of my control. What makes my marriage great is that I am a great wife!
Oho! That sounds incredibly vain and pretentious and downright untrue, I know. What I mean is that I can only be responsible for my own actions. I can only choose to put my own best efforts into this relationship. I can’t make my husband be/think/say/do things that I think would make our marriage better. I can only be/think/say/do things myself that I think would make our marriage better.
I think it’s fair for me to ask him his opinion on specific things that pertain to me. But it’s not my job to instigate conversations that are intended to improve him.
A lot of the marriage counseling materials out there seem to be replete with tools such as using “I” language or avoiding never/always accusations or bracketing every constructive criticism with two compliments. I’m sure these techniques are useful and necessary for some people, but they all still come across to me as just being gentler ways to tell your spouse how they could be better.
I don’t see how that’s my responsibility!
I need to worry about me. My actions. My words. My contributions. My encouragement and helpfulness and forgiveness and generosity.
NOT my needs.
The beauty of this simple system is that my husband balances his side of the marital scale by looking after his own actions, words, contributions, encouragement, helpfulness, forgiveness and generosity. NOT his needs.
This goes back to our marriage vows. There’s a reason the bride takes a turn making her vows and the groom takes a turn making his vows. Those are individual promises made to the other person. It’s not a collective thing. It’s not a group project.
Woe to me if I ever start making the fulfillment of my solemn wedding vows dependent on my husband’s actions!
So that’s our rule – most of the time. Sometimes I’m a selfish jerk, sometimes he’s a selfish jerk; our vows didn’t include a perfection clause. But overall, this is how we function.
Because he’s committed to being a great husband and I’m committed to being a great wife, we have a great marriage.
Now, a brief word about intimacy. I don’t want to go into detail (and I’m assuming most of you don’t want me to go into detail – Hi, Dad!), but all of the above can be applied to the marital bed. Why don’t you come back tomorrow and read this again, but this time, whenever I mention marriage or relationship, think sex. Take responsibility for what you contribute. It’ll be great. Really great. Enough said.