The Marriage Journey
I once read a Facebook comment that said, “The older I get the more I realize it’s impossible to please everyone, but ticking them off is a piece of cake.” Laugh out loud. So true. Conflict is unavoidable in life and most of all in marriage. In fact, the number one reason marriages fail (or why any relationship fails) is due to unresolved conflict. That’s because when we get hurt we typically react in hurtful ways instead of learning how to respond in helpful ways. We verbally attack or emotionally withdraw. As unresolved conflicts and hurts pile up so do our emotional walls of anger and self-protection. We hunker down and live to merely survive instead of learning how to thrive.
Growing old is inevitable but growing up is not. We can stay stuck in our pain or choose the difficult and often confusing but life-giving path that leads to growth. Everyone who chooses to grow up and have an authentic marriage must travel through four phases or stages. These phases are not neat, linear steps. Real life isn’t so orderly. (Actually, it’s quite messy and often maddening.) But learning to navigate through each phase is vital if we’re to grow up instead of merely grow old together. The first two stages (enchantment and pain) more or less happen to us while the last two (growth and joy) require the hard work of facing and dying to our self-centeredness. That’s not fun. Godly brokenness is humbling and painful but it leads to true freedom and joy. If we’re to become intimate allies instead of living as roommates or, worse, bitter enemies at our 50th, we must learn how to travel the marriage journey that takes us through enchantment, pain and growth to joy.
THE first STAGE of the marriage journey—enchantment—IS REPRESENTED BY flowers. They're an image of early love. Something fresh, beautiful and alive is blooming and it’s wonderful.
Key attitude: “All I can see is what’s good about you.”
“Will anyone love me?” “Am I important to anybody at all?” “Do you think I’m beautiful?” “Do you respect me?” Those are deep questions we’re all asking whether we know it or not. In this phase of a new love relationship the other person is answering those questions—“Yes! I am loved! I’m chosen!” “I matter to someone!” The feelings can be as intoxicating as wine—“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth,” sings the young woman so alive with early love, “for your love is better than wine!” (Song of Solomon 1:2). The other makes us feel so good about ourselves we can’t help but “fall in love.” I was watching a young couple last Sunday in church. They kept looking into one another’s eyes, smiling and hugging. They were smitten. It’s a wonderful and almost magical time, like early spring. Therefore, the key attitude is, “All I can see is what’s good about you!”
Characterized by Optimism and Blindness
There’s so much hope. We feel so good when we’re together. Laughter comes easy. Forgiveness comes easy. We feel safe, secure and alive. We believe the feelings will last. We think the love is deep. After all, “We’ve never had a fight” is the often-heard phrase that seems to prove the depth of the relationship.
But the optimism is built on blindness. Neither person is aware of the baggage of past wounds and lies they bring to the marriage or realize the hidden expectations they hold—“He will always spend time with me and listen to my heart just like he does now.” “She loves my humor, follows my lead and supports my decisions! I finally found the person who makes me feel important!”
Enchantment—it’s a taste of Eden. If you’re there, enjoy it! Drink it in. If you’ve been married long you know what’s coming. That’s stage two. Stay tuned.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
If you are in the enchantment phase of your marriage journey, what do you most enjoy and appreciate about your spouse? What character qualities have drawn you to him/her? Would you make it your goal to tell them often what you see and love about them?
If you're no longer in enchantment, recall what most attracted you to your spouse. What did you love and appreciate about him/her? What character qualities did you see? Do you sill remember and celebrate those qualities in each other? If not, will you choose to remember and tell your spouse?