It seems that every March we encounter a phenomenon known as March Madness. We arrange our brackets, hoping we have picked the perfect set of teams to predict the Final Four in college basketball. If you are a basketball fan, you know well the agony of a “busted bracket”. This year I heard that the probability of accurately predicting the Final Four or achieving a perfect bracket was almost mathematically impossible. While March Madness is for most of us good clean fun as we cheer for our favorite team, or grieve their loss along the way, there is one “Madness” we should hope to avoid, that is Marriage Madness. Let me give you a hint, avoiding Marriage Madness is much easier than filling the perfect bracket!
Staying with the sports theme, let me see if I can give you some hints to avoiding Marriage Madness. The bulk of this blog comes from an article I “clipped” a few years ago and unfortunately I did not save the source information. However, the author has some good suggestions and I will add my own twist.
- Be on the same team – Avoid blame, seek to understand, cheer each other on, celebrate – even the smallest success. There is an old story about a young boy and his sister who were learning to play a duet on the piano. One day while Mom could hear the piano she noticed her son out in the back yard playing. When she asked about the practice for the duet with his sister, he replied, “I finished first!” When you are a team you finish together.
- Take a time out – Perhaps it was what she said, what he didn’t do, or how much someone spent. Your heart pumps faster. Your perspective becomes blurry. Your thinking is cloudy. You’ve been here before. Said things you regretted. Stop the madness and take a time out. Acknowledge the situation you’re in and ask for a break – a mental break, a physical break, an emotional break – and agree on a time to talk about the issue when one or both of you have had time to calm down. It is interesting that research has shown that if you do take a break from the argument, with the agreement to come back to it in a few minutes, you cannot resume the same argument! A break definitely helps, and remember, either of you can call for a time out.
- Take time away, together! One of the things we offer at New Trails is an opportunity for you to get away without the normal distractions of life. There is no TV out here, sorry we are old school. Internet is limited. What is unlimited is time to connect and reflect on your life, your goals, your marriage, your relationship with God. If you need to take a time out, or time away, we have an opportunity for you. Regardless of where you go, go away together. Forget about the guy’s fishing trips and the girl’s weekends away. Those are fine once in a while but as a couple get away together, regularly.
- Get back to the basics – Former Pittsburgh Steelers coach, Chuck Noll, says it this way, “If you want to win, do the ordinary things better than anyone else does and do them day in and day out.” Perhaps one of the best ways to improve a relationship is to listen, REALLY listen. Does it get more basic than that? Author, composer, and musician Michael Card says, “Listening is the language of love.” One of my favorite book titles when it came to marriage counseling was this one Communication: The Key to Your Marriage. Now I am sure that book is out of print, but if you remember your basic communication theory, communication requires a sender and a receiver. If you are constantly sending messages how can you receive? One wise sage pointed out that God gave us two ears and one mouth, so maybe we should listen twice as much as we talk!
- Mentally prepare – It’s been a long week. Work was demanding; the difficult colleague was especially difficult. Evenings were booked with your commitments or the kids’ commitments. You haven’t slept well. Traffic was bad. You know you’re on edge. It’s Friday night, and you park your car in the driveway. Last week you showed up on Friday night being short, selfish, and crabby. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t unique. You want this Friday night to be better. Mentally prepare by saying a prayer for help, reflecting for a few minutes before going into the house, speaking aloud what is bothering you, listening to a favorite song, or rehearsing what you want to say when you walk in the door. Coming home doesn’t have to be the same way as last week. Remember, when you change your attitude and behavior, everyone else will change as well. If you don’t like the way your spouse is treating you, try treating them differently and see what happens!
- Take care of yourself – Is the problem your marriage or is it you? Are you sleeping, eating well, exercising, meditating, journaling, etc. How are your self-care habits? It’s hard to give to others when your cup is empty. Self-care sounds selfish doesn’t it! Let me go back to the basics I learned in my Senior Life Saving Class. You cannot help someone else if you become a victim yourself. Or more bluntly, you cannot do anyone any good if you are dead! Take care of yourself so you can care for others. While this point doesn’t take the space of others, it does not decrease its weight. Self-care is vital to caring!
- Keep the end game in mind – What do you really want? Since its likely not the title of champion of the NCAA tournament, then what is it? A peaceful home? An intimate relationship – emotionally… physically? A lifelong companion? What is one way you can work towards that today? Former NFL Coach George Allen says, “Try not to do too many things at once. Know what you want, the number one thing today and tomorrow. Persevere and get it done.” Which reminds me of another thought, we can be so focused on what is urgent, we neglect what is important! I read recently that many pastors believe they could spend their whole day reading and responding to email! Since when did an electronic piece of information begin to dominate our days? When I was visiting with someone in my study and the phone rang, even my cell phone (Unless it was my wife) I would ignore it! It is amazing the looks I would get when I did not immediately answer the phone. Let me ask you, what is more important, the person in front of you or the one on the phone! Focus on the end game, focus on what is important not what is urgent.
- Find a good coach/marriage mentor/counselor – Some things are bigger than we are. Getting help is the smart option. A good coach helps you do what you don’t want to do, so you can do what you want to do. This last one may seem a little self-serving as I am a marriage counselor. But even I need some outside perspective once in a while, we all do. Why do you think the greatest athletes have coaches and trainers? They understand the importance of someone watching them and helping them to be better.
I have to own the reality that this blog is filled with sports metaphors, maybe you liked that, maybe you didn’t. But keep in mind the number one on this list. You are on the same team. When you and your spouse stood up and said “I Do” the solo performance was done, you had joined a team and picked up a team mate. If you focus on winning together, you may not wind up with a Hall of Fame marriage, but I can promise you it will be better than finishing that duet ahead of your spouse.