We do it in groups. We’ve always done it that way. In fact, when Tony decided to ask me to marry him, he caught me completely by surprise by proposing to me in front our Growth Group, a small group through our church that we were a part of at the time.
I remember the drive to the house where our group was held. I felt sweaty, I didn’t like the awkward brown polka dot shirt I was wearing, and I didn’t have time to go home to shower and change. We were leading the group together, I had a stack of papers on my lap as I sat next to him in his Ford Bronco, sheets with questions, study material, prayer request cards. He had nothing, and was in charge of the ice breaker game so I asked him, “What kind of game are we playing tonight.”
“I’ve got something in mind. I’ll figure it out.”
“You didn’t need anything printed off? Do you need any help with it?”
“Honey, I got it, don’t worry about it.”
Ugghh… so there I am, sweaty and disheveled, and now I have to practice trusting this guy and not being so nit-picky and controlling. Fine, whatever.
We got to Sharon and Jimmy’s place in Kirkland. I love that house. They were such warm hosts, always prepared, always kind, we hardly had to do a thing. People started filing into the house, the living room was more and more full and my co-leader was way out on the front lawn all by himself. I was seriously thinking, “What the heck, Tony? Get in here!” but, kindly on the outside, called for him. “Tony, I think we should get started.”
He sauntered in and began to talk about the game. “Well, the game is going to be a little different tonight. It’s only going to involve two people…”
Inside my head: “Is he serious? How ridiculous!”
“As many of you know, Michelle and I have been dating for a couple of years now. She is my best friend…”
“What is he doing? People don’t care about this stuff! Is this ‘Two Truths and a Lie’?”
“I love her so much, and in front of all of you – our friends – I want to ask…”
“Seriously. WHAT IS HE DOING!?!”
He approached me where I was sitting, got down on his knee and pulled a ring out of his pocket. “Michelle, will you marry me? Will you be my wife?”
The room was a flutter, squealing from all of the girls, and some where in the back of the room I heard someone whisper, “Is he serious?” That was all it took for my insecurity to take over, so I asked him myself, “Are you serious?” Poor Tony… he asked me again.
I said “Yes!”, the room cheered, and then we put in the DVD we were watching for our group study. We sat next to each other, contented. I glanced down at my beautiful new ring and then over at my new fiance. We were happy.
One of the men in the group whispered to us, “Go, take a walk. I’ll cover your group for tonight,” So we did. We walked the hills of this beautiful Kirkland neighborhood, happy as can be. He wanted to know if he had really surprised me. He had. I wanted to know why he would propose in front of that group of people – a small group we were supposed to be leading. I’ll never forget what he said.
“I wanted to surprise you. I also thought about the future, about the stories we would tell our kids some day. I imagine having kids and having a house full of people and maybe our kids will be annoyed, ‘Why are there always people at our house?’ And I’ll tell them, ‘Community is important to us. We always want to be a part of small groups growing together. Did you know I even asked your mom to marry me at a small group?’ I want them to know it matters.”
It does matter. We are in our fifth year of marriage and in the midst of leading and hosting a… would you believe?… #staymarried Growth Group. We meet weekly with ten other couples in our home to work through how we plan to stay married. We laugh, we encourage each other, we pray for each other, and maybe most importantly, we are getting to know one another.
We’d Prefer to Be Alone
The strange thing for us about building our lives around community is that, by nature, we both tend to be introverted. Both of us have taken the Myers-Briggs personality assessment multiple times, and while other characteristics have varied slightly, we both always end up with the “I” for introvert on the spectrum of Introvert-Extrovert. We used to give each other pep-talks on the drive to a party: “Ok, let’s think. What could you talk about if it gets awkwardly quiet? What’s our code word going to be when we’re ready to go? Let’s try and stay more than 20 minutes this time.” Truly, we are both most comfortable spending the day at home by ourselves reading or cooking or playing video games (that last one applies only to Tony). The problem with only doing things we are comfortable with is that we cannot deny how much our lives have benefitted when we push past ourselves, past our comfort zones, and make relationships a priority.
Current research suggests that belonging to a community and having “couple friends” is one of the keys to making your marriage last. From providing a mirror in which to observe your own marriage to a window through which to see the inner functionings of other couples, there are many benefits to building relationships with others. For marriage, especially, “doing life” in groups is so important.
Benefits of Doing it in Groups
Transparency is great accountability.
When you have friends that you are real with, or a group that you meet with regularly, it is inevitable you will get asked about your life.
How’s your marriage?
When was the last time you and your husband had sex?
Have you been fighting a lot lately?
When you choose to be honest with people, for your own benefit and theirs, it can be great accountability for the way you behave within your marriage. Some of the toughest and best conversations I’ve had with Tony have happened after a close friend challenged and encouraged me to bring up what was bothering me. Just knowing she would ask me, “Have you talked to Tony about this yet?” was enough to help me push through the discomfort and grow in my marriage.
You can fight without fighting.
Tony and I discovered early on that, when we talked about the fights our friends were having, we were able to discuss with each other our own perspectives more safely. For instance, let’s say my friend Sasha was in a fight with her husband Todd about money. I could safely say to Tony that I thought Todd was being controlling and overbearing about it, and he could share with me that Sasha wasn’t communicating very well with Todd and seemed to be spending frivolously. Then we could move the conversation to something like, “Well, what would you want me to do in that situation?” and have meaningful conversations without a bunch of heat and emotions added to them. We’ve learned a lot about each other this way.
You will carry each other’s burdens.
When disaster strikes, which is always a matter of “when” and not “if,” the hardest thing for a lot of people is the sense that they are alone in what they are facing. Because Tony and I have made an effort to invest in other people’s lives, and they in ours, we have people who have lifted us up during stormy seasons. It can be difficult to share your struggles with people you don’t know very well, so it’s important to have a foundation of friendship with others that sets you up for support when you lose your job, your grandmother passes away, or you are having a hard time in your marriage. It has also been our great privilege to bear one another’s burdens by providing a listening ear or a warm meal when friends of ours have experienced loss and hardships in their lives.
We learn and grow on purpose.
Tony and I have been a part of some wonderful groups, together and separately. Sometimes they are focused on topics about marriage, sometimes they have been activity based groups, sometimes reading through books and sometimes just playing games. What we find remarkable about every group we’ve ever participated in or led is how much we still have to learn. We get to hear other people’s opinions and perspectives that are sometimes challenging and sometimes validating. We also get to have something new to talk about with each other. “How was your group? What did you guys talk about? How did you feel about it?” By moving past our introverted comfort zones, we have positioned ourselves to learn new things, grow in relationships with other people, and be purposeful in new ways about our own marriage.
It can come across as selfless and sacrificial to invest so much time in relationships with other people. But, the reality for us is that we want to be married a long, long time and we know the quality of the relationships we build now – small groups, play dates, game nights, inviting friends over for dinner – will result in enduring rewards over the years. We will get back what we invest in those relationships, with the profits directly affecting our marriage. So, really, it is a pretty selfish endeavor that we have made a priority in our life. It is our hope that you will find these kinds of relationships in which to invest your time– relationships with people who will invest in you, in turn, and cheer you on to #staymarried.