After 11 years together I'm feeling like our marriage is now made of steel. Not all steel, of course there are lots of other things that make up our marriage. But it has formed and woven together all these years making it strong and sturdy just like steel. So if the proposed 11 year gift is "steel" then we've already got it! (Although, I can think of a few new shiny stainless steel appliances I'd love to have too!)
How we got here: A powerful secret to a happy marriage
As I reflect back on the last 11 years I've stumbled across something and realized it is what has made our marriage work all these years. It has made our marriage stronger all these years.
It is something everyone does but often times are told not to do. More than not it is done incorrectly and can end up ruining a marriage.
It's an essential part of being human but often we refuse to participate in this activity because we don't like it or we are too scared of the outcome or we don't learn how to progress along with it.
But this act is the key to why my husband and I are still married 11 years later.
So what is it you ask? Is it...
- Faith in God, surely this is the most important, right?
- Lot's of "stripping and priming" (wink wink), yes, that's a big part of it too.
- Laughter, is of course a given. You have to have laughter!
- Being able to laugh at yourself, also a very important ingredient to a good marriage.
- Forgiveness, yes, yes, very important.
- Faithfulness, gentleness and self control, we could just add the rest of the Fruits of Spirits here to complete our list.
All the components above are great ways to attain a happy marriage. But something is missing from that list. An act that encompass' everything on the list, but isn't on the list itself. Something that has driven our marriage into incredible depths over the years. Depths in our faith, our intimacy, our laughter and forgiveness, all due to this one thing.
The Real Secret Behind A Happy Marriage is...
Straight from Webster himself:
To Argue: verb ar·gue \ˈär-(ˌ)gyü\
intransitive verb 1: to give reasons for or against something : reason <argue for a new policy>
2: to contend or disagree in words : dispute <argue about money> transitive verb 1: to give evidence of : indicate argue his innocence> 2: to consider the pros and cons of : discuss <argue an issue> 3: to prove or try to prove by giving reasons : maintain argue his case> 4: to persuade by giving reasons : induce argue her out of going>
Arguing isn't always about the destination of winning the argument, although often it can be, but it's also about the journey of discussing and maintaining our thoughts and opinions even when they differ from each other. It is a form of communication and when done properly can bring two people very close.
Now, don't hear me wrong. We haven't always been very good at it. There is a difference between arguing and quarreling and you can read more about this difference at the Alpha Dictionary if you are interested. Frankly, we haven't always been on the right side of that difference.
However, we've both been willing to learn. We've gotten better at arguing with each year that has passed. We've become more gentle, more constructive; more attentive. And as with all things you need lots of practice to get good at something. And trust me, we are still practicing.
But here's the thing, no one tells you
how important arguing is.
We took his advice which surely has saved us some headaches. Visit Simple Marriage or Hodges Podges and see for yourself the benefits of not using the "D" word.
But we were still clueless.
Before I got married I saw my newly wed friends arguing with their spouses and I thought they were doomed. Then I got married and argued with my spouse and thought we were doomed and we were just newlyweds ourselves.
We were clueless.
Even the Bible says you shouldn't argue. Philippians 2:14, simply put "Do everything without grumbling or arguing".
And I couldn't really recall ever seeing my parents or respected adults in my life argue.
But arguing is inevitable. It is going to happen in every marriage. So we embraced it. We had to learn to let each argument teach us how to argue more effectively the next time.
Over time we saw some arguments lead to productivity and sometimes we saw our arguments bear fruit.
If you remember even Moses (Exodus 32:9-14) and Abraham (Genesis 18:16-32) argued with God and God listened.
Here's some of what we've learned along the way to mastering this skill.
1. We had to learn what not-to-do when arguing
If I look back at the things we argued about in our first year of marriage, I see how trivial they were. Seriously, we got into an argument because I heard my husband tell someone that I slept later than him in the mornings and he had to make his own breakfast every morning.
The shock and horror that went through me when I heard this. Because I knew certainly, for sure, I woke up, on occasion, some mornings, maybe just the weekends, earlier than my husband and made him breakfast. And after hearing him say that I never made him breakfast infuriated me. I'm pretty sure I threatened to actually never make him breakfast for the rest of his married life and if he got married to have breakfast made for him each morning then he married the wrong girl!!! (Woo-wee! Glad I got that off my chest...again!)
But for real! This was one of our first married arguments. And it may or may not have involved a broken plate of eggs on the floor.
And I threw things! I remember my husband making me so mad that I looked down at the coffee table to see a cup of burning hot coffee and a remote control and knowing I was going to reach down, pick one of them up and throw it. Which one do you think I chose?
He looked at me and said, "great you just broke my favorite thing in the whole world.".
Honestly, it felt so good to throw things and slam doors, but I was admittedly ashamed, especially when it took me hours to to put the remote control back together so my husband could have his "favorite thing" back.
I learned that year that throwing things and slamming doors when arguing was not okay. It only elevated things and was not constructive.
Fortunately for me sometimes he would squeal and squawk and cocatoo all over the house. And on one beautiful, sunny afternoon, I slipped out the front door and took the dogs for a walk while I listened to him squawking all through the neighborhood. When it finally got quiet, I went home and found him sulking on the couch. "Where did you go?"
And my husband learned that year he couldn't cockatoo at me anymore. It wasn't constructive and only elevated things.
We had to learn that some of the arguing we had witnessed and learned in our pasts was not good, nor healthy nor constructive for us and we had to learn what not to do.
2. We had to learn that sometimes
arguments needed to be gentle
The years passed by and we continued to argue.. And sometimes there were arguments even in happy times.
We got pregnant and we argued about who we should tell and when we should tell people. Somehow our neighbors found out we were pregnant before some of our family members. We had different philosophies on telling people what and when and how and it created arguments that taught us about each other.
Then there were the painful arguments about losing a pregnancy. One of us only knew how to morn privately and one of us only knew how to morn surrounded by friends and family. So we argued gently with each other in our sadness.
Then the possibility of facing infertility and more arguments came. Would we ever get pregnant? Should we do treatment if we can't get pregnant? Should we adopt if we can't get pregnant? We argued our different opinions with love and support and we saw something in ourselves we had not seen without the help from each other. We argued deep.
We lost friends and family members who went on from this world and we had no choice but to be gentle in our arguments about funerals and continuing to love the living in a new way and precious memories.
3. We had to learn to argue with respect
for each other
I had asked my husband not to participate in something because of my own insecurities. I'm not even sure why other than it just made me uncomfortable and that's all I knew to tell him. With just a little hesitation, he finally said the words I needed to hear: if it was important to me that is all that mattered.
And just like that, my husband respected me in an argument letting me know I was more important to him than whatever it was that he didn't understand.
It took me a little longer to learn this same lesson when arguing. He would get upset about something I didn't understand so I would decide it wasn't worth the argument to me.
And I'd use those arguments as a free ticket to stay up all night, eat ice cream in bed and watch Sex In The City reruns while my husband lay awake discontent in the other room.
However, it was that sense of security that I felt when he was willing to not participate in something because of my insecurities, even when he didn't understand, that finally taught me to respect the issues that bothered him even when I didn't understand.
Now I just wait for him to go out of town so I can stay up all night. I've just traded the eat ice cream in bed for a few glass of wine in bed and instead of Sex In the City reruns I'm addicted to HGTV!
4. We've had to learn to let go and trust the other person when arguing
And once our children were born we began to argue about child rearing. Our parenting styles were different. One was often too soft and one was often too firm.
I had to remind myself (and still do) that my husband is 50% of the parental role in this family. If I claim to have all 100% stake as parent then I would not be trusting the plan God put in place. Our children need their daddy even if I disagree with him at times.
My husband had asked one of our children to pick up some toys before going to bed one night and they refused to obey.
I told the same child they could go to bed and pick the toys up in the morning because it was painfully obvious to me they were just too tired to obey.
My husband demanded the toys be picked up that night and gave me a stern warning with that look stupid look in his eye, not to help.
The toys eventually got all picked up. And then I witnessed something beautiful. My husband curled up with his child in his arms who had obeyed him. And they bonded. They fell asleep in each others arms that night, both drained, but stronger as an entity.
But there are times we don't get it right.
There was that one time my husband argued that I wasn't sleep training one of our children to his standards. And so I let him do it and was shocked when I heard the child stop crying for a long period of time. I peeked in the room only to find him sitting as still as a statue scared his breath would wake the sleeping child while he sat INSIDE the crib with the sleeping child on his lap. There was nothing for me to do except laugh hysterically. He justified that his method worked and he got the baby to sleep, never mind that he was INSIDE the crib with her. After that night he trusted me to do the sleep training my way and I'm proud to report that I've never climbed inside my child's crib.
There are arguments about discipline and sleep training; homework, soccer and baseball, ballet and dance, television and computer time, appropriate movies, video games, room arrangement, food, vacations and the list goes on and on. And we have to trust each other to parent our children together.
5. We had to learn to argue with our guard down
We were in the bathroom, both completely naked. (Yes, I'm sorry to give you such a visual because trust me, it's not pretty these days.) But it is how we were when this argument occurred.
In our complete nudity, my husband was getting out of the shower and I was stepping in it. We were unwinding and cleaning up from the grind and busyness of a long day's work. And in the midst of our nudity we began arguing about one of our investments that was causing a headache for us.
Should we cash it in and invest it in something else with less of a headache or do we continue to deal with the headache and uncertainty and risk for an unpromised future? We were on completely different sides of the issue and both upset that the other didn't agree.
It dawned on me in this moment of arguing, in the nude, so cordially, on a topic we both were passionate about, that we had come a long long way since that first argument over breakfast that ended in a broken dish and dirty eggs on the floor.
But you see, that first argument was so incredibly necessary to get us to where we are today. And we are only 11 years in with a LONG way to go.
We argue about faith and God, sex, money, children, time management, what to eat for dinner, and all the other important ingredients that make a good marriage good. We are two different people, from different backgrounds and different families and we are married to each other, living in the same house, sleeping in the same bed. We are one and yet, we are two.
We love each other enough to be willing to argue about our differences so that we can ultimately understand each other better and deeper. And I pray we always can and will.
So Raise Your Glasses
Stop and think...
Do you really not want to argue? Is your relationship not worth it? Can you not only learn something about your spouse from the argument but maybe something about yourself? Can the argument deepen your understanding of each other?
Or if you hear yourself tell your children, "Please stop arguing with me!" like I always do,
Stop and think...
Do you want your children to have their own voice and know that their opinions and feelings matter even when they are different from yours?
The "Code Of Conduct" from my kids school states that they are encouraged to "Appeal respectfully and courteously". The children know that they have a voice even when it differs from their teachers.
Isn't this what we want for them at home? Isn't this what we want for our marriages?