We had no idea how much we needed our weekend away.
Several months ago, a friend came to me with a envelope. She told me that she Family Life, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping marriages and families thrive, one to which she regularly gives, sent her a certificate in the mail for a free marriage conference registration. She couldn't go, and she wanted to pass the gift along to us. I was super excited.
I've heard about these marriage conferences for years. I've heard how important it is to get away, and how great it is for a couple's marriage to spend some focused time learning how to love each other well. I was nervous about finding the money for a hotel, but after discussing it with my husband, we decided that it was all too good an offer to pass. We found an affordable hotel and pulled the money from savings.
We really had a wonderful time, of course. We also had a bit of an eye-opener. We realized that in the midst of facing crises, conflicts, challenges and changes over the past 18 months, coupled with the joyful distraction of an exceptionally cute little one, we've lost track of us. We've let ourselves recreate our identities as first and foremost parents, first-responders to crisis second, and left-over was "Oh, yeah, I guess we're a married couple, too."
Those changes, as well as our life circumstances, are all a natural part of the ebb and flow of life. I guess you could say that "the honeymoon phase" is behind us, and real-life is in front of us. In the midst of that, facing the money-less days and the sleepless nights, we've forgotten to put time together as a couple first.
One of the first stories the couple speaking told this weekend really hit home for me. The husband said that one day his wife mentioned there was a leak in the roof of their barn. He went to check it out, and decided that a 50-gallon drum was a quick fix that would work just fine to collect the drips of water. He set it in place and forgot about it. Months later, he was standing in the same barn talking to a friend. He casually placed his hand on the center beam, then leaned in a bit to rest his weight while chatting.
His hand went straight through that seemingly solid, huge wooden beam.
The leak, it turned out, had been slowly, drip by drip, during storm after storm, working its way into that center beam. It rotted it through from the inside out. What seemed so insignificant, so "I can get to that later," threatened the entire structural integrity of that barn.
It's an extreme example, I know. Not in any way, shape, or form have I felt like our marriage was rotting or going to collapse or anything even remotely close. What I did recognize, however, was that we've been a little guilty of throwing down that proverbial 50-gallon drum because it's easier in the middle of the pouring rain to run to a quick fix than to climb up on that roof and patch it while the wind threatens to knock you off and you can barely see for the water streaming down your face. Especially when something seems so solid, it's easy to pay less attention to it, to think you can get to it later, and pay more attention to the broken boards you can see.
We need to make time for us. We need more time to talk and less time staring bleary-eyed at some re-run of something on Netflix. We need to talk more about our hopes and dreams and less about the bank statements or how much milk is left in the carton. I need to remember that I love my baby's beautiful eyes because they were my husband's first.
We've been through a lot together already as a couple. And we're doing fine, good even, but we want to be great. We are in this for the long-haul, best friends forever, and if we're going to stay that way, then our relationship deserves to come first. It needs time, attention, and a tune-up every now and then. If we don't do these things, if we don't keep an eye on those drips, if we don't put in the time and effort, then year after year we could lose the structural integrity of the core of our marriage.
We didn't really feel like we heard anything life-changing or completely new at the conference. We've both read a lot of books, listened to a lot of Christian radio, had wonderful pre-marital counseling. My husband has a Master's degree in counseling, for Pete's sake, and has taken classes on everything from family to marriage to conflict resolution. But for us, the encouragement, the reminders, and the wisdom of older and wiser couples was exactly what we needed to set us on the right track and open our eyes to loving each other even better.
Here are a few little points that really stood out to me. None of them are Earth-shattering, most everyone has probably heard them before, and maybe they are a little cheesy. I loved these reminders though, along with about a dozen others, and I'm thankful for Family Life and their commitment to teaching people to love well. (The italics are quotes from the speaker or out of the Weekend to Remember notebook.)
1. Feelings are the #1 reason people get married, but they are also the #1 reason people get divorced.
I've heard a million times that love is an action, not a feeling. There is a reason that 1 Corinthians 13 is read at practically every marriage ceremony ever. Love is a choice, and real love is self-sacrificial. Love chooses to keep loving selflessly, even when the other person chooses to act stupid. Feelings, plain and simple, can't sustain a marriage. Besides, loving feelings follow loving actions.
2. Selflessness is the key to a successful marriage.
Interestingly, we went to a seminar at our church recently on marriage led by our pastor and his wife. They said that above all else, a successful marriage is selfless. This is super hard, because humans are natural selfish creatures. I wasn't surprised by how often this theme came up during the conference.
3. My spouse is not my enemy.
It feels like it some days though, doesn't it? It's funny to me that I would never, ever want my husband to feel like I am his enemy, out to get him or attack him, and yet there are definitely days where I act he is mine and I treat him as such. Why do couples do that so easily? We recognized a while back that we were doing this sometimes, and have worked at pointing it out. Sometimes one of us will grab the other's hand and whisper, "Solidarity!" It always makes us laugh and reminds us that we're in this together, whatever it is that we're currently up against.
4. The goal of marriage is not to be conflict-free but to handle conflict correctly when it occurs.
Anyone who has ever taken a communication class of any kind knows conflict resolution is one of the first topics covered. We had an entire session at the conference on communication and another on conflict resolution. Any couple that struggles with fighting well (and we all do sometimes) would benefit from reading a good book or taking a class on conflict resolution or getting some counseling to learn some strategies.
One point really hit home for me. The speaker said that thousands of earthquakes occur across the world every year. We would never know this, though, because the vast majority register under 2.5 on the Richter scale. You can't even feel those quakes. An 8.0, however, can level a city. The speaker used this example to explain that we need to step back a little and ask ourselves how big an issue really is before getting into conflict over it with our spouse. If it's a 2.5, let it go; it's not worth it. If it's bigger; you better deal with it head-on and work it out. Over and over again, the speakers reiterated that a good marriage consists of two very good forgivers.
5. Respect is a choice to receive your husband in spite of his weaknesses.
Oh, the love and respect issue. Shaunti Feldhahn, in her book For Women Only (which I HIGHLY recommend) wrote that when surveyed, over 70% of men said they would rather live alone and without love than to live with love and not be respected. That can be really confusing for women, who often can't wrap our minds around the idea that someone would rather be respected than loved. My husband is awfully easy to respect, because let's face it- he's pretty awesome. Yet I still manage to fail at this. A lot.
Two beautiful, beautiful examples of respect in marriage were given that brought the whole room to tears. First, they played a short clip of a woman, probably in her late 30s, who said that she was a cheerleader when she was in high school. The school team, however, lost way more often than they won. This sweet woman said, with a huge smile on her face, that it didn't matter. Her school loved their team and that group of cheerleaders ran out there and cheered their hearts out every Friday night, no matter if the team won or lost. We as wives, she said, are the cheerleaders for our families. We cheer no matter what- whether we are up or down, whether we are winning or losing, whether we are rich or poor- we cheer, we fight, we champion for our families, and especially for our husbands. Our men will conquer the world when they know we are behind them and believe in them no matter what.
Here's another perfect example from one of my all-time favorite movies, Cinderella Man. (Pause the music at the bottom of the page first.)
I love movie, based on the true story of a couple during the Great Depression, because it is about real life and real love. Life is hard. Relationships are hard. Marriage is hard. I've been learning though, that hard isn't necessarily a synonym for bad. Sometimes I think hard is a sign that you're doing something right, if you can just face the hard times with grace. Nearly all of the hardest times of my life have led to my deepest joys and greatest fulfillments. I want my marriage to be hard sometimes though, because I want it to be real. I want it to have depth. I want it to be wear-worn and tough around the edges but soft at heart, like a child's beloved blanket. Great love persists through the toughest of times because it knows it's worth it.
We're going to fail each other sometimes. We're ok with that and we'll love each other through it anyway. Another speaker commented by that Michael Jordan missed 51% of the baskets he shot, yet he is still considered one of the greatest players of all times. With love, grace, forgiveness and Christ at the center, we can't mess this thing up. We can grow old together, God willing, full of a lifetime of memories that stitched our hearts closer together day by day.
I would definitely recommend a Weekend to Remember conference for any couple, young or old, struggling or not, "religious" or not. There are so few things out there like it. Besides, who doesn't need a lesson in love every now and then? The Family Life website has a gazillion resources for marriage, including lots of great books. It's worth a look!
*This post wasn't sponsored in any way. I just truly enjoyed our weekend away and came away refreshed, encouraged and more in love than ever and wanted to share. :)