By Edward C. Lee
A new year always gives us a chance to look at what’s good and what needs some work in our marriage. Admittedly, I have a minor obsession about planning when it comes to my relationship. I am always asking and evaluating what I am doing today, in light of what I want my marriage to look like in 20 or 30 years. And more importantly I always need to know if I/we are doing enough to get where we want to be. My thoughts about leading my family and the durability of my marriage will quite periodically come back to an experience I had about three years ago.
In one afternoon, on this unforgettable day, I had an opportunity to visit the homes of two different men facing terminal illness. The chance to visit these two different men facing the same reality, in the span of about three hours, was the kind of divinely guided coincidence that let me know it was no coincidence at all. There was something bigger than just showing up and giving kind words that I was supposed to get from this experience.
As a husband the conversations that I was allowed to have with these two husbands as they openly reflected on their own marriages in their last days, really reshaped my approach to my marriage and how I treat my wife. I know, the topic of death is not the kind of material that greeting cards are made of. But when we think about the end of our marriage it provides the sort of big picture imagery that can outline our interaction with our spouse and family.
As I sat with the first man, he wept openly and bitterly as he reflected on how he had treated his wife during the course of their marriage. He attributed their years of financial and emotional strain, as well as the burdens that he was leaving his wife to deal with after his death, to his stubbornness and unwillingness to listen to her during their marriage. His perspective of his wife’s role in their marriage had been that her input was worthless or subordinate to his. This man’s evaluation of his wife led him to dominate her and control every aspect of their relationship. So here he was in his final days, and his final analysis of his marriage was that his ill-founded perspectives of his role as a husband and his wife’s worth had strangled the joy from their marriage.
Conversely, the second man was facing the same fate as the first, yet as I visited with him, he articulated a very different attitude about the inevitability of his death. As soon as I walked into the room, it was apparent that this man and his marriage had been shaped by a different assessment (perspective) of his life and marriage. This couple was singing gospel songs and hymns, clapping and laughing during those last weeks. Rejoicing over and being thankful for the good years they had shared together. This couple was built to face this most difficult time with a sense of genuine joy that enabled them to endure their reality.
This second husband shared with me that his approach to marriage was to always accept his wife as a gift from God, even when he did not agree with her viewpoint. He was clearly the head of their home, but his wife was highly valued, appreciated, and respected. As a result, he and his wife had built a love and friendship that grew even until his last day.
These two men held very different perspectives on their marriages. One saw marriage as something to control and that had to fit into his way of thinking. The other saw marriage as a joint venture in which both had input and which was something to enrich the relationship. He often laid aside his point of view to listen to his wife and receive her contribution.
The polar opposite paths these two marriages traveled illustrated to me how our perspectives mitigate the overall quality of a marriage. Our perspectives of each other can either strangle the love out of a marriage, or can usher love into a marriage.
And therein lies the question that I am constantly asking myself: “What perspectives am I holding onto that are straining my relationship with my wife?” Stated more practically, “Does it really have to be done the way I am used to doing it, or is this something I can just roll with my wife (or husband) on?”
Just to clarify, this is not a male thing, but a relationship thing. All of us come into our marriage with a set of perspectives. So BMWK family as you plan and set goals for 2011, are your perspectives of your self and spouse advancing or holding back your relationship?
Edward is an ordained minister, Bible College Professor, pastoral marriage counselor, and author of two first-of-its-kind marriage books, Husbands, Wives, God: Introducing the Marriages of the Bible to Your Marriage and the soon to be released e-book, Husbands, Wives, God: 52 Week Devotional. To learn more about Edward and Husbands, Wives, God go to edwardclee.com or follow on Facebook at Husbands, Wives, God.