Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The "Zone" of Marriage

Being married is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. A large body of research confirms that married couples are happier, they live longer, they are healthier, they are better off financially, and they have fewer psychological problems than people who are not married. Americans also highly value marriage—when surveyed, people consistently rate a good marriage and having a happy, healthy family as their most important goals.

So if marriage is so good for people and society, why can about half of current marriages expect to end in divorce? Why are young people increasingly reluctant to marry—they yearn for a lifelong loving relationship but are skeptical of its possibility? Why are about 40 percent of children born out of wedlock and likely will not have a marriage relationship modeled for them? These children are significantly more inclined than kids born and raised in a “traditional” family to have children out of wedlock themselves.Are we seeing the results of the disintegration of marriage in our culture today? If so, how do we erase the decline and help people understand the value of a good marriage?

Just like laying a stable and solid foundation is the key to building a house that lasts, building a solid foundation for our relationship is one of the important keys for a marriage that lasts.The structure of that foundation is a relationship based on healthy intimacy, which in turn creates an environment where couples can grow together long enough for a deep and nurturing love to take place.

The truth is that love and marriage are difficult. When Hollywood and Madison Avenue sugarcoats them and makes romance seem like a walk in the park, they do a great disservice in creating unrealistic expectations for millions of young couples.

Loving a woman is, on the one hand, very easy. On the other, it is very difficult—sometimes nearly impossible. Frequently it doesn’t take much to make a woman happy—a kind word, an unexpected expression of love, or a romantic gesture with no expectations. Other times, no matter what a man does, it is never enough. Likewise, women probably find men perplexing as well (although nowhere near as complicated).

Most men, if they are lucky, marry “up.” They value their wives as a greater “prize” than they deserve. My wife is a better wife than I am a husband. She’s certainly a better person than I am, and if I’m being honest, she’s likely a more mature Christian as well. Not only that, but she probably rates higher on most of the positive character traits than I do. She’s more compassionate, tolerant, patient, loving, kind, gentle, caring, and humble than I am. She might even be more honest, faithful, loyal, and good than I am (okay, maybe more intelligent as well).  I’m a lot stronger physically than she is, but that might be the only advantage I’ve got on her. (This works well for my main roles around the house as jar opener, garbage remover, bug killer, and heavy furniture mover.)

I’ve noticed that there are times in life when everything just seems to go right. I have experienced these phenomena in sports, in business, and in relationships. For brief periods of time nothing you do can go wrong. In sports they call it being in the “zone.” Every basket you shoot goes in, every baseball coming toward the batter’s box looks as big as a beach ball, and every pass you throw is perfect. You feel “at one” with the field or court, your teammates, and the flow of the game. In business there are usually short periods times when every decision pays off. You feel like King Midas—everything you touch turns to gold.

And there are times in a relationship when things go perfectly—when you are in the zone. When she gets and actually appreciates all my jokes (instead of getting offended), when I am able to artfully articulate exactly how I feel, when I am smooth and suave in everything I do, and when she looks at me like I am all that matters in the world. That “zone” to my wife probably looks like this: he focuses all his attention on me without being distracted, he spends time with me, he’s open and shares his innermost thoughts and feelings with me, he treats me like a queen.

Those times probably seem to be infrequent to both spouses,but they happen just often enough to encourage us to have hope. Hope that they will come again—usually when least expected. Those marriage “zones” are when my world seems best. Like the infrequent surprise sunny day in Oregon, they make all the other dreary times seem worthwhile.

Excerpted from Rick's upcoming book, Romancing Your Better Half: Keeping intimacy alive in your marriage, by Revell Publishing, 2015.

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