44 Years — Still Surprised

In about a week, Carole and I will have been married for 44 years. We made a covenant back then in which we promised to love and obey. We’ve been fighting over that ever since and mostly in good humour.
September is a time for promising. Much less glamourized than January, September is a time for covenant making and renewing promises. Kids begin schools in sparkling clothes and lunch buckets, workers return from holidays with renewed vigour (one hopes), church initiates newness remembering its traditions and stretching for hope.
I am glad for this September. 44 years is a wondrous marker for someone who was surprised that he was still married after 20.

“Bid Theory” and the Spirit of Marriage

Of all the people who marry, only 30 per cent grow towards a quality of marriage that they hoped for when they started out. So says Ty Tashiro in his book, “The Science of Happily Ever After.” A lot of us divorce or separate, and many maintain a “just reasonably content” compromise, and a few of us are “happily ever after.”

By the way, this is true if one is a faith-follower or if one is something else from the spiritual-psychological neighbourhood.

Seattle’s John Gottman, the current marital-parenting guru, has studied married couples for four decades and distilled the nature of their success – and it is completely ordinary. “Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity or contempt, criticism, and hostility?”

According to Gottman, people whose relationships thrived “scanned the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully.” Those who gave up on their marriages more than often scanned for their partner’s mistakes.

This part of Gottman’s research is obvious to those who identify gratitude as an evidence of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-20).

Gottman found the key to success in the everyday interactions between couples. He calls them “bids.” Say my partner makes a thoughtful and generous dinner for the family and asks for my response with the hope of some appreciation. I thank her blankly, because I’m immersed in my own thing. She has made a “bid,” according to Gottman, for my attention and appreciation and I didn’t deliver. And neither do the kids for that matter.

Did you know that the majority of “bids” between unhappy couples go unanswered or worse, dismissed with contempt?

Here is something interesting: when Gottman examined the decades of marital data, he found divorcing couples responded to bids only infrequently, less than a third of the time. What about couples that thrived? They approached and appreciated the bids nearly 90% of the time. They had “emotional intelligence.”

Seems simple enough but sometimes hard to do.

(Adapted from a July 2014 Vancouver Sun article by Michael Pond.)

Is Your Spouse Your “Best Friend”? (Carole Ducklow)

Good friendships are built on trust and trust takes time to mature and develop. What better context for this kind of friendship to grow than in the covenant of your marriage? Friendship involves intimate sharing, a shared place where you can talk about your feelings and hopes with honesty, transparency and ease.

How do you work with your partner to be each other’s best friend? Paddy and I have been married for 43 years. There have been great times of intimacy and some character-building tragedy. And through it all we have remained the best of friends. Here is what we have learned.

Assign top priority to your friendship. Nothing gets in the way of our doing what is most important to us. If you really want to be friends with your spouse, make time for it. It will be time well spent. One of the hindrances to spending time with your spouse may be the demand of raising your kids. They require lots of creative time, but it is important to remember that you were lovers and friends before you were parents,

Cultivate openness in your relationship. Honesty with your self and each other makes you a better friend. Discover the freedom that comes with being who you are. Find times to talk about your ambitions and dreams. Make sure that you know each other’s hopes and needs, especially sexual needs.

Dare to risk talking about your affection. Make, and use, a batch of little cards that say, “I love you because….” Fill in the blank and put them in lunch boxes for your kids, in jacket pockets for your spouse, in letters to your best friends. Use text messages in the same way. Your spouse, especially, wants to know he or she is loved.

Learn your particular languages of love. Each person needs to learn how to say, “I love you,” not only in those three little words but also through actions of respect. Do you show your spouse that you love him or her with their favorite meal, a bouquet of flowers, a small gift, remembering to do an errand, doing a chore without being asked? Keep your eyes open for common, everyday events that give you the chance to express your love.

Give your spouse freedom. Don’t let your unforgiveness or possessiveness control your spouse. Give him or her room to explore their potential, learn from their mistakes, and have some personal private time that is totally their own. Accept your partner – unconditionally – and encourage him or her to be the person they were created to be. And, as the seasons of your lives change, notice and make adjustment for the variations in your friendship.

A friendship that is tended and nurtured will do much more than endure; it will thrive. And being your spouse’s best friend will also enable your marriage to thrive as well.

Carole Ducklow, M.A., Registered Clinical Counsellor

Attractive Opposites (Guest Blog)

Rory and Lisa Holland are friends with Carole and me. Carole and Lisa regularly meet around “Half the Sky” (advocacy for trafficked women and girls) and I travelled with Rory to Central Africa some years ago. I regularly read Rory’s blog entitled “An Examined Life” where he ponders the issues of his life, where he confronts reality and often with a wonderment about faith. This Valentine’s blog is especially winsome and truthful. And, I too, recommend the Schnarch book that Rory recommends.

Here is the blog.

Lisa and I are not in the same place today. I’m on the East Coast, while she is on the West.. Lisa is among trees, me, buildings. It’s kind of fitting, really.

I remember years ago complaining to a therapist that our relationship felt like two railway tracks that never met stretching into the distance. She thought that was a good thing. What? We never went back. I figured we should have been on the same rail – alike in thought and deed. I mean that’s what all that ‘one flesh’ stuff is about isn’t it?

However, as we worked to make each other in our own image, we lost the best of who we were, what had caused the attraction in the first place. Doubt and frustration eroded our connection to the thinnest of threads. The pursuit of sameness sucked.

After plenty of years thrashing around, the salvation of our marriage finally came in one word from a book Lisa read*: differentiation. What that means is, basically, two railway tracks, side by side, running parallel. Yah, I know.

We replaced the guilt and disappointment with the freedom of not caring about any of that shit. In greater and greater degrees, Lisa is Lisa, I am me, and possibly the twain shall meet. Which we do, frequently, but because we want to, not because we’re supposed to.

I don’t know why it took me so long to clue in to this, but the less Lisa is like me, the more attractive she is. Happy Valentine’s.

*Passionate Marriage, Dr. David Schnarch