When I landed in Chicago this past week, I turned on my phone and it chirped back at me with two messages. One from my mother-in-law, telling me to text her when we got back safely, and the other from a dear friend… telling me her marriage was ending.
Like Tony and Michelle, I have always had a broken heart for the ending of marriages, but this one hit closer to home. I spent the better part of the day just meditating on the reasons for failed marriages. So much of it has to do with happiness, particularly with young marriages like my friend’s. And I’m learning that this has a lot to do with the misconceptions we enter into our marriages with, and we are ultimately left disappointed… and unhappy.
While visiting my in-laws this past week, I had the opportunity to read a short book by Tyler Ward, Marriage Rebranded. In the business world, rebranding is a marketing strategy in which an established brand takes on a new identity in the minds of the consumer/customer. Often this is done through a radical change to the company’s logo, name, advertising strategies, etc. What Tyler Ward wants us to do in his book is replace the modern misconceptions about marriage with a “picture worth fighting for.” He says modern matrimony is a “stale brand.” I found as I read his book that I couldn’t agree more.
Early in the book he tells the story of a couple that was getting divorced, and the echoing reason was simply, “we just weren’t happy anymore.” Tyler Ward attributes this as one of the modern misconceptions about marriage:
In our modern era, you and I are led to believe that happiness is a worthy guide in life and that – in one way or another – we have some sort of inalienable right to experience it. As we’ll see, our culture’s obsession with being happy often makes it far more natural for us to love happiness more than we ever love another human.
Do we love happiness more than we love others?
I think if many of us were honest with ourselves, we’d realize we love happiness more than we love others. Or, more honestly, we love ourselves more than we love them. Tyler goes on to quote American theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, who asserts, “Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment.” We tend to look at our spouse as a person who needs to make us happy, and if he or she is not actively trying to make us happy, our marriage is failing. If our spouse isn’t making us happy, maybe someone else will.
This is something I understand. We live in a time when we are encouraged to pursue our happy. Do what you love! Chase those dreams! Follow your heart! And while these are encouraging, empowering sentiments, they often create in us a mentality that happiness is the goal and you shouldn’t let anything stand in your way to get it.
Feeling happy is the very real byproduct of being in a happy marriage, but happiness should not be our primary goal. Instead, the goal should be to have a healthy marriage– happiness being the result of that healthy marriage. Kind of like with diets. The primary goal of any “quick fix” diet is to lose weight. There are pills and programs that promise you will “drop 10 pounds in 3 days!” with tiny disclaimers at the bottom, because those results aren’t typical. Quick fix results just don’t stick. The “lose weight” goal is short-sighted. Whereas, those who shift their goals from simply losing weight to living healthier tend to lose weight along the way. Their focus becomes long-term and all encompassing, so they shy away from the quick fixes that fad diets offer. We think the search for happiness is just as short-sighted and unfulfilling as these fad diets. Desiring a healthy marriage will take work, but the results will last much longer. So, which is better – the hunt for a happy marriage or the perseverance toward a healthy one?
Tyler Ward offers many practical tools in his book for helping to look at your marriage, and your role in that marriage, in a different way– rebranding it. When I reflect on the book as a whole, I believe it boils down to something very simple: prioritizing.
Rebranding and Reprioritizing
We all do this without thinking about it. With all of the people, projects, and roles to fill on our plates, things tend to naturally fall into their places on our lists unless we make conscious choices about their placement. We all know what *should* be at the top of the lists, right? Family, spouse, kids, God… but, sadly, these things fall to the bottom of our lists much too easily.
Oh, we say we put our family first, but what does that look like in practice? If your spouse says that you’ve been staying late at work and haven’t been home on time for dinner in a week, and five o’clock rolls around and you make the choice to stay late and continue working– is your family your priority then? Our choices reflect where our priorities lie.
Being a hard worker is certainly not a crime. Being aspirational and having goals is healthy! Your spouse shouldn’t hinder that, but if he or she feels as though they are in competition with your job, your dreams, your hobbies… you are going to have conflict and tension.
Tyler Ward makes the case for prioritizing your marriage and your spouse by asserting that when you intentionally give to your marriage, your marriage gives back. Tyler calls this the “Priority Phenomenon.” The main idea is simply, “Marriage is designed for first place.” Tyler found that when his wife’s basic emotional needs weren’t being consistently met, she was more inclined to pull him away from things that he loved– things that refueled him. However, he saw that when intentionally giving to his wife was his priority, she would then push him towards those things– a cigar with the guys or some sports on tv. Here, he says something that makes a lot of sense to me, “It was as if the more important she felt in my eyes, the more she championed the things that allowed me to relax or come alive.” This didn’t just extend to leisure activities, he felt a change in his work as well. He noticed that when his wife felt valued, she advocated for him to invest more deeply in his job.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend 24 hours a day ensuring that your spouse’s needs are being met. In fact, it has little to do with time and energy and everything to do with priority. Tyler asserts that:
Where marriage falls in the sequence of our priorities is more important than the amount of time, energy, and resources you give to it. This means that we can invest endless amounts of time and love into our spouse- but the moment they feel less important than our work, or friends, or hobbies, our efforts of love will cease to be enough.
Perhaps this resonated a little too much with me, and it’s all I thought about after getting that text from my friend. There have been times in my own marriage when I’ve sat and thought to myself, “I’m just not happy right now.” In all of those moments, though, a better way to articulate those thoughts would have been, “I just don’t feel important right now,” or “I feel like I’m last on the priority list.” I desire very much to champion my insanely talented and driven husband’s goals and dreams (of which there are many). But, the minute I feel those goals and dreams are more important than me, our son, and our marriage – this desire to champion turns into attention-starved resentment and there is conflict and tension in our marriage. I feel as though I have to compete with his dreams, and everyone loses. On the flipside, when I feel valued and important, I play a more active role in encouraging those things that refuel and energize him. Allowing him time and space to pursue his passions feels less like a sacrifice and more like I’m his cheerleader and partner in making his dreams come true.
So how do we do this? How do we make the most important person in our life feel like the most important person in our life? Here are a few suggestions that are easy to execute on a daily basis.
6 Simple Ways to Prioritize Your Spouse
1. Connect emotionally throughout the day.
We’ve talked about this before on #staymarried, but check in with your spouse during the day. Send her a text telling her you can’t stop thinking about her. Let him know that your song came on the radio and you thought of him. Or just ask how their day is going! I really do crave my husband’s attention, and when he sends me random text messages throughout the day, I feel more connected to him. Bonus: you just might turn on the crockpot. (Especially if you’re parents and you send one of these.)
2. Connect physically as often as possible.
Sex is undeniably an essential part of marriage, but that shouldn’t be the only way that you connect physically every day. Kiss when you wake up and kiss before bed. Give his hand a squeeze while you drive. Rest your hand on her back when you enter a room together. Hold hands.
3. Check-in before making decisions- even the small ones.
Sure, you checked the Google calendar and there’s nothing going on Friday night. Before you tell the girls you’re going to go out for happy hour, though, check-in with your spouse. Not for permission (this isn’t the 50’s), but just to be sure your spouse didn’t have something else in mind. They’ll appreciate that you’re putting their thoughts first. They’re more likely to be supportive of your time out than they might be if you simply inform them, “I’m going out Friday night.”
4. Invite your spouse in.
Ask your spouse’s opinion on a project you’re working on. If you have an issue with a friend or coworker, share with your spouse and ask his advice. When your spouse feels as though you value her input, ideas, and opinions, she feels important.
5. Make the choice to give to your spouse- big or small- every day.
This is what Tyler Ward calls the “biblical brand of love.” He says that these choices aren’t made out of expected reciprocation. It doesn’t ask, “what can I get out of this?” It is simple choices to give to your spouse, expecting nothing in return. He says:
It’s taking the trash out. It’s actively choosing to give him space when he is stressed… It’s the choice to not get triggered by something he said, but asking what he meant and how it makes him feel instead. It’s the time you’re late for a meeting, but run back inside to tell your wife – who you know adores being told- how much she means to you that day. It’s the painful routine of taking the 3:00 a.m. newborn feeding shift so your wife can finally have three hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Even the small things matter when your spouse knows you did it just because you love them, not because it was your “turn” or because you want something in return.
6. Small surprises!
In the grocery checkout line, grab his favorite candy bar. It’s not a big gesture, but it’s unexpected and shows him you were thinking about him. Remember that Google calendar? Schedule a date night (in or out!) and sync it to her calendar.
I barely scratched the surface of all that is in Marriage Rebranded, so I recommend you pick up your own copy. There is some good stuff in there (like his assertion that each partner takes 100% of the responsibility for their relationship… brilliant!). The lessons learned from reading this short book were very simple, but most of what we present on #staymarried is simple in theory (yeah, that makes a lot of sense…), but difficult in practice (…but I am selfish). I encourage you to evaluate your priority list today and reflect on whether or not your actions and choices are in line with those priorities. When we give to our marriage, our marriage gives back, and we are more likely to #staymarried.
Katie Saesan is the editor of the #staymarried blog. This post is her first contribution as an author, though her fingerprints are on every entry that’s ever been published. Tony and I are so incredibly thankful for the faithfulness, hard work, and enthusiasm she brings to the #staymarried mission and we hope to bring her voice in writing to you more often. In the mean time, you can find her on Twitter and her own blog where she writes about two of the things she loves most in life: running and reading.
If this is your first visit to #staymarried, you might want to check out why we started this blog and our first entry. We love to engage with our #staymarried community on Facebook, and you can also find us on Twitter and Pinterest. Thanks for taking the time to read this post. We hope it encourages you to invest yourself so that you can #staymarried.