In all walks of life you will meet experts. Experts on finance, HR, marketing, building, athletics, decorating ... you name it, there is probably a qualification somewhere that covers some aspect of it. But nowhere, is there an expert on every aspect of marriage. It's easy to become incredibly complacent about how you conduct your life alongside the person you have devoted yourself to and it's easy to become caught up in the mechanics of day to day life, living alongside each other, but not with each other.
Show me a married couple who insist their marriage is perfect and I'll show you either two liars, two very disillusioned people who haven't quite realised they're married or two people whose lives are so far apart, the chasm between them has become so normal, they don't see the abnormality of it. Marriage is hard work. At times it is heartbreaking, lonely and confusing, but mostly you wonder how you'd ever live without that person and the rewards of sharing your life with them are immense.
So many people now enter marriage flippantly, blinded by the notion that it's akin to their career path. If they get fed up with a job or it doesn't pay the rate they want, they move on. If the spouse gets a bit boring and the responsibilities become monotonous, they move on. For some that do stay the course they think by the time they've clocked up a decade together, they've got the whole thing nailed. I'm sometimes cynical like this as I've clocked up 14 years of marriage and find myself at times thinking I'm a bit of a guru when it comes to certain problems and how to deal with them. There are many challenges within marriage I can confidently expertly advise on because I've experienced them and there are some challenges I know nothing about because I haven't. Having gone through some very challenging moments, I can see things from the same platform as the poacher turned gamekeeper, but even my advice has the danger of becoming flawed because of the complacency of time and familiarity. At other times I can be the best person to speak to and my advice can be well received and heeded. But as I said, nobody is an expert on every aspect of marriage.
So, how do you deal with this? How do you keep your marriage alive and fun? How do you still love that person the way you did on your wedding day? How do you learn to love them more? How do you live as one, yet remain as two individuals? How do you get through problems? How do you forgive? How do you move on and how do you look back and choose to reflect on the good times and not throw up the bad ones? How many of us married couples really take time to evaluate our marriages and treasure them for what they are and what the years have given us? Do we really stop and think about what our marriage means to us?
Having gone through a separation and reconciliation, I can say that I have evaluated my marriage. Andy and I both had to evaluate it. We had to look at what God had given us and what we were doing a mighty fine job of destroying. We had to stop and think where we stood before God and before each other and we had to look at very uncomfortable situations we were finding ourselves in. We learned that the best support for us were couples in solid relationships or people in no relationship. People with faltering marriages of their own proved toxic to our efforts to rebuild ours, so we had to distance ourselves. We found some couples with seemingly healthy marriages took sides with one or the other and that created wounds and distrust, moreso because we asked them not to. Because of this, rebuilding our marriage broke friendships as we found some people actually enjoyed taking sides and creating tensions between us - it staggered me particularly how two faced people were. We had to sever previous friendships which was heartbreaking, but necessary. The rebuilding of those friendships will hopefully return one day, but in order to save what was precious, sacrifices had to be made at the time.
Going back to the basics of anything in life is a good thing. It's refreshing to remind ourselves why we made a certain choice, why we chose to be where we are or why God chose to put us where we are. It's healthy to go back and repoint the bricks upon which we've built our lives, to rediscover the simple pleasures and attractions that have led us to where we are now.
So Andy and I have booked ourselves on The Marriage Course. Seven sessions covering various aspects of marriage and how to build on them. You may well think that after nearly 16 years together and over 14 years of them being married, we'd have run out of things to talk about or build on. But that's why. We don't want to become flippant, stale and stagnated in our marriage. We don't want the newlyweds thinking we're a pair of past it old timers whose marriage consists of bringing up children and working. We have so much more than that together. We've weathered many storms throughout our marriage and we've also seen many rainbows, but the fundamental foundation for me and Andy is that our marriage stays strong, alive and God centred. We're really looking forward to it and to having many more fantastic years together. We know it won't always be perfect, but we will always remember that God made our marriage and remains in the centre of it. Taking time out once a week to rediscover parts of our relationship that could so easily be lost, to pick up where things have become stale and just to spend time alone talking about the two of us and not the kids, finances, shopping and 99 other things will be fun, thought provoking and essential.
So, whether you've been married one year or 25 years, never be afraid to look back at the basics. Don't get caught up in thinking that because you tell each other you love each other every day and you text or message one another or you get through a day without an argument, that you have nothing more to give or receive. You do. You both do.