Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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On Healing

The way we heal the wounds in our lives is to tell the story. Tell the story of your harm over and over again until you are no longer limited and harmed by what has happened. This is the essence of therapy … to become familiar with our own truths (and lies) and live honest and peaceable lives.

You cannot do this alone. We are not unbiased about our wounds, nor the words we use to describe our experiences. We need others to hear our stories, and to help us to see parts that we’d rather not see. Parts that we hate.

Untold stories (secrets) poison our hope, dreams, and relationships. Yes, there is much pain in these stories but pain is only there because there has been a fracture of relationship. Just like cold is not it’s own created thing, it is the absence of heat, so too is pain. Pain only exists because a relationship (love) has been broken.

If we cannot forgive those we hate the most (and this doesn’t mean that we have to like the person we’re forgiving), we will never be able to accept the forgiveness of others. Telling our secrets—our stories—is the process of grief, of forgiveness.

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Nine Powerful Words for Preventing Relationship Wars

via Flickr user Moisuer J. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jblndl/283365812/in/photolist-r3jMs-5sRGHP-njCh3-eSUGjE-eKBfkL-9smjfA-8SMsiN-pRN6Bw-9UJ6Gp-7XNfeC-9RVMBg-8QSCVZ-fu57be-9UMcSy-9ULPDW-eDmWUC-9UJ6qZ-7T2DaQ-9ULYm5-pVfPwB-tYaGp-7LVXb1-qSc5uH-dsY76X-4hxSUV-7sX1tC-9ULL8u-8a6MDw-8SJot4-4XMkHt-e4yzyQ-6RfEbc-cZdHk1-8SJo4n-dEk6VG-9QvyW5-9UM94S-fKkBA3-8QgxKx-9ULY79-hKs6LB-9UMd6Q-9ULNxS-7keA6j-9UHZVB-bbud8c-9UHWfX-e7TneH-9UJaga-7enP1m

A couple recently asked me a question about fighting: “We’ve been together for almost 2 years and have not had a fight. What do you think about this?” My response was two-fold. First, what is your definition of a fight? Some of us think of a fight as yelling, screaming, throwing things, etc. A fight for others might be stonewalling, silent punishment, or ignoring the other person. The second part of my answer is that someone, most likely both of them, is lying. Maybe not overtly lying about something, but not fully telling the truth about where they’ve been hurt in the relationship. You can’t be in relationships for any extended period of time without hurting them, or without being hurt.

We can’t avoid hurting people, but we can prevent these hurts from turning into harms, and relationship wars. Want to know how to avoid war? Say these 9 words to the people that matter the most to you:

“I was wrong. How can I make this right?”

That’s it.

Don’t text it. Say it out loud. (As a side note, don’t text anything of substance — texting is too easy, impersonal, and non-vulnerable to say something important)

Don’t try to substitute those 9 words with the generic phrase: “I’m sorry” (which is usually not an apology, but a request for the offended party to be quiet. The word “sorry” means to be “sorrowful.” When we say “I’m sorry,” if it’s true, it needs to mean that “I am full of sorrow for my actions.”). Sorry is a watered down word that rarely means much in intimate relationships.

Don’t judge or shame the offended party’s hurt by telling them what you did wasn’t that big of a deal, or that they shouldn’t feel hurt.

Don’t defend your actions. Let me say that again with emphasis: DO NOT DEFEND. The moment you enter into a defense about why what you said/did wasn’t intended to hurt/be interpreted/etc, you begin the process of declaring war on the other party. The war becomes about figuring out who’s right, and who’s wrong. Defending is the quickest way to escalate a potentially peaceable situation into an all out battle.

Sometimes we people do things that are so hurtful, or harmful, that there isn’t anything we can do to make it right. Those are the situations that need patience, time, grace, and many many conversations. For example, an affair in a marriage cannot be made right in any short amount of time. But over an extended period of time, forgiveness can occur and then reconciliation happens. It is never the offender’s prerogative to dictate the amount of time forgiveness takes.

As with anything in life, if our intention (known or unknown) is control, manipulation, or self-protection, we can abuse the goodness of a phrase like “I was wrong, how can I make it right” and turn it into a way to get something we want.

Admitting you’re wrong is humbling, but it is endearing to the person your have wronged. Asking how you can, if possible, make right the wrong makes you an ally of the person you’ve hurt, not an enemy.

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Making Room in Your Family

Earlier this fall I was asked to share some practices and habits our family does that help to make room for relationships. So much of family life is dictated by events and schedules that we often miss out on relationship building with our spouse or kids. Here are a few of the ideas I shared. Disclaimer: by no means does my family have it figured out, rather we are figuring it out as we go. Our kids are all under 12, so I expect these ideas to expand/evolve as our kids grow up.

We think of making room in our family in two sections: Work/school week, and weekend.

During the school week we attempt to eat together as a family as often as possible. We don’t allow technology or other distractions (books, TV, toys, iPods, phones, etc) to be at the table and we try to have conversations about our day. It usually begins with discussing our high and lows. It almost always includes at least one of our four kids trying to sabotage our efforts. I did the same thing as a kid, so I can’t blame them. Conversations are “boring,” as my kids put it.

We, my wife and I, limit our personal technology use. We try not to use technology (tv, phones, etc) while the kids are awake during the “school nights.” It’s really easy to want to come home, turn on the TV and check-out. The “screen” has become the biggest influencers of relationships.

For the kids, there is no tv, no video games, or other technology use on school nights. This helps the kids to focus on the homework but also allows for us as parents to play or relate to them in whatever it is they have going on.

On the weekend:

We don’t police tech use on Saturday. It’s the day to play video games, watch a cartoon in the morning, and let the kids be kids in this modern day and age. Surprisingly, whenever we ask the kids to turn their iPods off on the weekend, they rarely complain. They intuitively know that too much technology is not a good thing.

We have made Sunday until Noon our time of rest. We generally stay in bed and have all the kids with us after they wake up until breakfast. We lounge around together in our pj’s, reading, playing board games, legos, or something else that is open for everyone (Our kids range from 3-11 with one girl and 3 boys).

Sunday mornings are the few hours of the week that Stephanie and I feel the most present and available with our kids. It’s my favorite time of our week because there are no agendas, the kids know we’re not doing anything outside of being together as a family.

Lastly, one of our favorite practices together is sitting by a fire. We have the benefit of a big backyard that allows us to build a great campfire. Usually 2-3 times a month during the spring and fall we are outside sitting around the fire together. It is probably the single most influential relational time that we have together as a family. The fire sparks so many conversations and openness between all of us. The fire is one of those things that unites people. I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case, but it slows us all down.

The main idea we have come up with for our family is the limiting of technology. There are very few places we humans can go where technology is not surrounding us. If you as a parent don’t do anything else with you kids but eat dinner together, and limit their technology use, you’ll be in rare company.

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Secret Decoder Rings

e7b3_secret_decoder_ringMy siblings and I would always fight over who got the toy out of the cereal box. It even became a sly game of determining where the toy was inside the bag without pulling the bag out of the box or in digging around inside. There were rules our parents setup to keep things fair (which in a family with 6 kids is next to impossible). There was sheer joy when you’d be the one to pour the toy into your bowl, which was supposed to be the only legit way of gaining possession (It will come as no surprise to hear that we found ways around that idea).

Most of the time, marriages start out like the pursuit of that toy. We find ways to be together. We spend time crafting ideas and ways to be creative in our pursuit of the prize. We get euphoric and that incredible rush when we finally get what we’ve been pursuing. Once we’ve gotten what we want, we often don’t really know what to do with it. So much of life is about anticipation, the pursuit, and the chase; and marriage is no different.

A couple I was recently counseling highlighted this dynamic. They explained how much coasting they had done in their relationship, that 18 years later they woke up to realize how much distance there was. The husband explained that his wife needed a secret decoder ring to interpret all of his jumbled communication. She, of course, did not have that ring and thus their communication was stagnant.

It was true for them, and will be for many other marriages: Without persistent work, couples will eventually lead separate lives losing valuable insights and connection with their spouse. In the 10+ years I’ve been working with couples, I’ve seen that it doesn’t take much to throw off the equilibrium of a relationship.

It’s easy to see that a disabled family member, death of a child, or the loss of work could be highly disruptive to a relationship, but those are not the real cancers of relationships. The real cancers are the unspoken everyday fouls made with one another that do not get the attention they need.

Effort is something we reserve for what is most valuable and precious in our lives. My guess is that if someone were to visit the homes of a stale or cancerous relationship, they would see television, social media, work, and kids as the main areas that the majority of effort is spent.

Rarely do I interact with couples where I hear of regular consistent time spent together away from the easy distractions of life. This is true at my office, but also in my own social circles. The sad truth is that couples just don’t spend the time together needed to sustain their relationship.

Sure, it’d be lovely to have a secret decoder ring to find out what the other person is really saying. Unfortunately, this ring would make the relationship worse. No one wants to be in a relationship with someone who’s always right, or who knows all the answers. This would feel more akin to a relationship between a child and parent than that of a marriage. The old adage is true: We get out of life what we put into it. If you put nothing into marriage, you’ll likely get nothing in return.

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Project Parenting

What is your goal for parenting? Is it to just “survive” the process? Or perhaps might it be to “make sure I don’t screw them up too bad?” I often joke with friends that I don’t have a college savings fund for my kids, I have a therapy savings fund. My kids will probably need twice the therapy to work through their dad being a therapist. Bless them.
 
“What is your goal?” is an important question that I don’t think about a lot, but whatever my stated or unstated goal is, it drives my attitude and actions towards my kids. There are many days that I get home from work and don’t want my kids to be kids. I love them dearly, but goodness they can make a mess of things. Kids force me to see that life doesn’t work by my rules, nor does the world revolve around me (despite my best efforts to make it so). This is a big reason why I (and you, if you’re honest) both love and dislike my kids: They alert me to my self-centeredness. 
 
Poor parenting happens when my goal for life as an individual, a selfish person, is different than my stated goals for my kids. When I don’t pick up my shoes and socks on the living room floor, but get onto my kids for not picking theirs up, I’m not being a good parent. Living life with different standards will teach kids that duplicity is an acceptable way of living. 
 
Becoming a parent is a two-fold challenge (and there’s probably more folds than this). First and foremost, we have to learn how to raise the kid inside all of us. We have to be kind, respectful, loving and at the same time tough, hold boundaries, and be willing to say no to that part of us that wants instant gratification. We cannot be helpful parents until we have first learned to parent ourselves. 
 
The second challenge is to raise our kids as unique individuals with similar and different challenges in life than what we ourselves face. Parenting our kids as though they wrestle with the exact struggles as we do is myopic and not helpful guardianship. 
 
My goal as a parent is to be a guardian of my kids’ true selves. Said more simply: I want to help my kids find out who they really are … not just what they love to do, but to believe in and be able to express the uniqueness of their own voice. 
 
Most days, I get caught up in training my kids to be good performers. Showing them what is good and bad from a perspective of human doing. The days when am content with them are when I’ve not tried to control or train them like I would an animal, rather that I’ve allowed them to speak their own creative ways. 
 
One final thought. Err on the side of being in relationship (not a friendship) with your kids, that’s the only way you’ll thrive together once they are no longer under your care and protection. 

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Two Stances in Building Relationships

Sometimes I consider myself a golfer, and regardless of how well I play, I really enjoy the sport. I’ll play 10-15 times a year, and there are occasional holes where I think that I am a decent player. One of my main complaints about this as a hobby is the amount of time that it takes away from my wife and kids. I’m typically limited to vacation golf, 9-holes after work, or the rare tee time early Saturday morning with a friend.

A few weeks ago I asked Stephanie, my wife, to go play golf with me for our weekly date. She is not a golfer, but she got really excited about getting to drive a golf cart, and doing something different on our date night. We had a blast together. I felt loved that she’d want to spend time with me doing something I really enjoy, she felt loved that we’d been adventurous on our date night. It was a win-win.

It later occurred to me how important it is for us to have something we can do together that is beyond our day-to-day lifestyle. We had kids within the first 2 years of marriage, and our normal interactions quickly swayed to become kid-centric. Part of what was so nice about playing golf that evening was that we were able to spend time together in a very different setting. We usually relate and date face-to-face, but playing golf was a shoulder-to-shoulder experience.

Men typically build relationships through doing things alongside another person. In a shoulder-to-shoulder setting, both parties are next to each other facing a common goal, problem, or activity. We usually need a sport, event, or job to make a connection with someone. Not that it always happens this way, but need shared experiences to deepen relationships. One of the reasons for this is our capacity for intimacy. While we have the same need and capacity as women, it usually takes a longer time to develop.

Patricia Love and Steven Stosny in their book How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It explain research that proves male babies have a harder time holding the gaze of their mother than do female babies. There’s an intensity to intimacy that men have a difficulty with in large doses. Women, however, typically build relationships face-to-face. This face-to-face setting means that sitting across from one another in a living room is the only context needed for relationships to happen. Experiences bring women together as well, but they don’t need an event or sport in order to connect.

It’s pretty typical, perhaps even a bit cliche’, for a couples’ date night to be dinner and a movie. The reason this works so well is that it addresses both types of relational experiences: Dinner is face-to-face, and the movie is shoulder-to-shoulder. It is really important for couples to tend to the relational needs of both the husband and the wife. This may seem like a fairly simple idea, but the practice can become challenging over time.

This is an important concept for couples to understand. Men and women process relationships and intimacy differently. The quality of time spent together needs to be rationed to both his and her relational needs. I’m a huge advocate of consistent date nights for couples. Creating experiences that allow for both the fact to face and should to shoulder will go a long way in keeping both relational needs addressed.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Befriending Grief

As I was driving into work one morning this past winter, I realized something: I don’t take pictures of the sorrowful parts of my life. Instead, I only take pictures of happy moments. I think this must be true for everyone. Spend 5 minutes looking through Instagram, your digital camera archive, or a regular photo book and you’ll see almost all pictures of joyful moments.

I think this is true because we need photographs to remember the happy times. In general, these are not the moments that make us who we are. Happy moments are fleeting and usually leave us thirsty for more. Much like fast food, happiness satisfies the most basic and simplest of cravings.

Certainly there are some exceptions to this, but I think the reason we tend to take pictures of “happy” is because sorrowful or sad moments need no documentation. They are etched into our lives like a tattoo, never needing a video or photograph to summon their memory.

We are uniquely crafted and altered by the experiences of pain, hurts, longings, loss, joy, and gladness. Having sat with lots of individuals and couples, I’m convinced that the level of our maturity and health as humans is directly proportionate with our ability to grieve and find joy in the losses of life. If one cannot grieve, one cannot grow.

So, what is grief? It’s the process of letting go of what is, what was, what isn’t, and what will not come. Everyone has something in their lives that has not gone according to plan, and most of us do not have a medal, picture, or trophy to commemorate these events.

For some, this is a failed (or failing) marriage; for others, it’s the death of a loved one. Regardless of the loss, ultimately it’s the loss of hope in something desired. It could be that the loss of a dream is what has shaped you the most. The loss of trust, security, or relationships all summon the same feeling of being lost and not knowing where to turn.

Here’s the deal; grief doesn’t always mean heaviness, depression, or sadness. Usually what we refer to as “joyous moments” are the byproduct of something lost. For example, one of the biggest changes in my life happened when I became a father. Peterson (who is now 10) came into my life when I was 24 and I grieved the loss of my singular focus in my marriage. Now instead of it just being Stephanie (my wife) and I, we now had someone else to consider. I was glad to do this, but I had to say goodbye to my life as a self-serving person. The crazy thing is that this was also the most joyous event of my life. It is so difficult to hold both of these emotions together at the same time.

Dr. Seuss wisely says to not cry because it’s gone, but smile because it happened. Grief is crying because it’s gone and learning to smile because it happened. This doesn’t literally mean that we always shed tears, though often times we do when our old friend grief shows up. Regardless of where one is in life, grief and joy beckon. This is a difficult beckoning to heed, and often presents a challenge to our maturity.

One of my favorite inspirational quotes is “Be kind, for everyone you meet is facing a hard battle,” (Philo of Alexandra). This is the truth of life, that you and I are both mired in a great battle, fought to secure hope and, at the least, to remain present enough in our lives that we can give and receive grace and love to and from those around us.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Three Ways to Grow Trust and Deepen Intimacy

There’s a simple formula that I use with clients in my counseling practice: Get you, be you, give you. This is the life process of maturing, and is a helpful mantra to live by. The problems occur when we try and do this formula in reverse, because one can’t give what one doesn’t have. We first must learn who we are before we can give.

This truth applies to marriages as well: We must first understand us (get me), then we can be us (be me), finally we can give (give us). The marriage is a combination of two uniquely individual people, and it is hard work to develop trust and intimacy. Relationships will not survive without trust and intimacy. Couples may stay together for the rest of their lives because of the commitment, but may never experience the redemption of trust and intimacy. With this in mind, here are three avenues that will grow trust and deepen intimacy in your relationship.

Date Night (Get Us)

Dates are one of the best ways that couples can engage to learn about themselves and each other. Anecdotally, one of the great regrets that I have about our newlywed years (first 3-4 years of marriage) is that we got sidetracked from dating one another. Our rationale (which was probably more of mine than hers) was that we were now spending so much more time together than we did when we were dating and engaged. This was both true and false.

It is true that the newlywed couple spends more time together, but often the quality of time spent is not as it was dating. It’s why I often hear spouses lament about the wish to return to the dating years. Having a regular and consistent date night can alleviate this dilemma. Date your wife. Ask her questions on the date to help you get to know her better. Questions like:

  • What can I do to make you feel more loved; valued; joyful; secure; and/or confident in the future? What character trait would you like for me to develop?
  • What attribute would you like for me to help you develop?
  • What goal would you like us to work towards together?
  • What would indicate to you that I really desire to grow?
  • How have you felt the most/least loved by me?

Find A New Community (Be Us)

Before getting married, most couples have already been living in a town/city and will return there after the wedding. It presents some unique challenges to transition from a single to married lifestyle. New habits and routines will change the way some old relationships function. This can be a frustration for newlyweds. Pressure to maintain old relationships out of loyalty can stress the building of the marriage relationship.

Finding a new community brings several benefits. For one, it offers both husband and wife the ability to be apart of the community building experience. Both spouses get a voice that will help to shape who and where the couple will spend their time.

Secondly, new relationships will usually result in new personal information. Longstanding relationships have built-in assumptions. Because familiarity is so normal, new data about a person doesn’t happen as frequently. By initiating new relationships, couples will have chances to hear and learn more about each other.

Lastly, new communities bring new opportunities. Charlie Jones said “You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: the books you read and the people you meet.” Growth doesn’t happen by staying still. Read new books, and meet new people, together.

Find Service Opportunities (Give Us)

Finding and new community along with consistent date nights will give you and your husband a great groundwork from which to give. Giving will bring new levels of joy and intimacy to your relationship. You’ll rarely get to see the side of your spouse as you will when you serve together. I’m not entirely sure why this is true, but it is. There is something about giving that brings out both our darkness and brightness. Ultimately, we cannot truly love someone until we have seen both.

This can take many different directions. You could serve at your church in the nursery, at the local soup kitchen, or in your neighbors yard. It also looks like parenting. Serving now before you have kids will be a great exercise in training. Having kids is the ultimate act of service, and is not natural in us.

In year four of our marriage, my wife and I began relationships with other pre-married couples who were close to getting married. We built relationships with them so that they’d have someone a few steps down the road from them giving guidance.

These are just a few examples of what can lead to growth and intimacy in marriage. If you will commit to accomplishing each of these in the next year, you and your marriage will grow. It might not take the path of growth you thought it would, but it will grow.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Two Words That Don’t Belong in Marriage

On average, women speak around 25,000 words per day. Men clock in at around 10,000 words per day on average. This is pretty fascinating in and of itself, and is great knowledge to have as you and yours navigate communication. Regardless if this is true of you and yours or not, of the thousands of words used on a daily basis, there are two that do not belong in marriage: Happy and Divorce.

These two words will erode the faith and trust that you will work so hard to establish in each other. I have worked with couples who use the word divorce like it was a trusted friend. It permeates their conversations and serves as a road block for them to ever get to the core of their marital problems.

The reason, among others, this word does not belong in relationships is that divorce is an act of destruction. There is no way to candy-coat the reality that is presented with a divorce. If you’ve ever built something and then torn it down or apart, you know that it takes a fraction of the time to tear down than it does to build. The same is true of marriage. It takes years and years of effort and energy to build a foundation of trust, love, and service but only a few moments of ill-timed action to destroy that which was built.

Don’t use “divorce.“ Too often I hear the word divorce used to manipulate and coerce. One of the couples I referenced above was so immune to the effects of this word that even the manipulation had worn off. My first advice to them: Eliminate the word divorce from their vocabulary. You cannot build something when the foundation or end result is in question.

Divorce may seem like an impossibility, but one look at the divorce rate will be sobering. As part of your marriage covenant and commitment, commit to never use the word divorce unless you are willing to follow through with what that means. By follow through, I mean to say that if you do use it you will act accordingly, and be accountable to your use. Do not use it as a threat. If you are hurt, lonely, angry, or sad, then speak to these emotions. Don’t hide behind a culturally acceptable way to escape from the pain and difficulty of life.

The other word that doesn’t belong in marriage is happy. Unlike the word divorce, happy is a word to describe a feeling and is usually not destructive in it’s use. The problem with the feeling of happy is that it’s unsustainable. There are moments and seasons of feeling happy, but it is not an attainable state of being. From a Christian standpoint, nowhere in the Bible are followers of God and Christ told that happiness is a result of faith. We are promised persecution, suffering, and sanctification, but not happiness.

Happiness is a symbol of mainstream culture and is often an idol. It’s an impaired state of joy. Happy is like being entertained and comes from consuming someone or something, whereas joy comes from the acceptance of our humanity and limitedness. Marriage is so heavily influenced by our culture that many get married with the belief, sometimes unconscious, that marriage will bring happiness.

“I’m not happy anymore” is the most common phrase I hear when couples separate and split up. It’s an epidemic. When people get married for happiness, they usually end up miserable or divorced. Disappointment on our own terms is much easier to deal with alone than with another person who was supposed to bring happiness.

Like setting a boundary for the word divorce, I encourage the same with the word happy. Instead of happy, use words like content, glad, joy, alive, desire, aroused, and passion. These all describe emotions that reflect a sense of being alive and awake to what’s stirring inside of us. The fulfilled life is not found through or in any man or woman today.

If it’s happiness you seek, do not get married. You will be disappointed. If it’s real joy, redemption, healing, and sanctification you seek, then marriage might be God’s place for you.

(This article was originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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5 Virtues of Marriage

Looking back over the past year is one of my favorite traditions. I get to remember the ups and downs, the growth that occurred, and see what themes continually show up. This is the first year that I’ve applied this to my professional life, probably because it’s the first full year I’ve had as a private practician (previously having split my time in a non-profit agency). In looking back over the past year, I’ve seen an emphasis on 5 different virtues about marriage.


1. Choosing marriage is choosing to give up control of your life.
I cannot emphasize this virtue any stronger: Marriage will cost you your life. If you value your own authority, singleness, or ego more than that of others, do not get married. Choosing marriage will require you to give up control of your life. You will make decisions that will affect at least two people (more later when you have kids), and this is a very difficult change from that of a single life. It might be the best gift ever given to a single person, and it’s the costliest.In a very real way, marriage is much like salvation. In accepting God’s plan and will for your life, you are setting aside your own to be submissive his his plan. This means that you’re an active participant in his plan, but your life is not about your happiness. Marriage is about giving up of ones life for the sake of the other, which translates to a giving up of control.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for another” (John 15:13).

“You complete me,” might be one of the most famous lines in the movie Jerry Maguire, and it might be the most misleading. Marriage will offer you the unique and unparalleled opportunity to grow. Marriage will not fill you, rather it  will make you more aware of your emptiness and need for God, and only God. Unfortunately there is no real way that Hollywood can show more than an infatuated love. So we don’t get a real picture as to what mature, longstanding love looks like. Instead we get a glimpse of the joy and warm fuzzy love that we all want to have. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s not a lasting version of love.

2. Couples that protect pain from happening are preventing intimacy (connections) from developing.
Its no secret that people don’t like pain. It’s also no secret that being in a close relationship is an inevitable date with pain. The challenge is viewing pain as though it is a gift, not the plague. Pain is not fun, but neither is numbness. I don’t know about you, but when I leave the dentist after getting a shot of Novocain, I cannot wait for it to wear off. The feeling of not controlling half of my face is miserable (not to mention the inability to know when I’m drooling). We were not made to be numb, we were made to feel.

The poet Mary Oliver penned this line, and it speaks well to the realities couples face: “I was once given a box full of darkness, it took me many years to realize that this too was a gift.” Pain shapes our lives either in our acceptance of it or our refusal to experience it. Creating a space for pain to be a welcomed guest in your marriage will serve you well. This is the task of every marriage: To create and develop a philosophy of dealing with pain. You will raise the next generation of people based on how you and your spouse engage each other in times of pain.

3. Marriage is a muscle: Use it or lose it.
Marriage takes work, and will not naturally grow on it’s own. It takes consistent time and energy much like your muscles. If you were to sit all day every day for a year, you would notice a significant amount of atrophy in your body. Your inability to function after that year of sitting would likely take you a more painful and greater amount of recovery to return to your previous abilities (if ever at all). Once you have lost muscle mass, it is very difficult to get it back.

Your months and years of dating and courtship are very much like a daily trip to the gym. You’re exercising the muscles of the relationship that cause it to grow. When you get married, continue your visits to the gym (literally and metaphorically). Read books together, attend marriage workshops, go on dates, spend intentional time together, take trips. Do all of these things regularly and your marriage will not atrophy.

4. One plus one equals three: Becoming one, requires two.
One of the more nuanced challenges of marriage is to become one together, but remain distinctly individual in the process. It will take both husband and wife bringing 100% each to the marriage to make the relationship work. This is not a 50-50% proposition, it’s a 100-100% arrangement. Only bringing 50% of yourself to the table means you’re not being fully you in the relationship.

When a husband or wife begin to lose their individuality, marriage problems will soon follow. Being an individual is not the same as being single, rather it’s being an individual who maintains their autonomy while being 100% committed to the growth and health of the other person for the sake of the marriage. M. Scott Peck in his bestselling book, The Road Less Travelled, said that Love is to tend to the spiritual and emotional growth in another person. This is the goal of marriage, to tend to and care for the spiritual and emotional health in our spouse. We have the best chance of doing this when we are operating out of our fully unique and individual lives.

5. Marriage is Redemptive.
I know no other way to describe marriage more simply than it’s capacity to enact redemption in life. This comes in unimaginable ways as past wounds, hurts, fears, and resentments are all confronted with the woman of our dreams. Surrendering ones life to another is hard, yes, but it is also glorious. I believe this is the hope that beckons us to get married in the first place. We might not know this is what we are signing up for, but the spirit in us all moves us towards a need for being saved from ourselves. Marriage offers us just that: An opportunity to be saved from ourselves.

(This article was originally published at StartMarriageRight.com)