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7 Secrets to an Awesome Marriage: Strengthen Your Most Intimate Relationship

7 Secrets to an Awesome Marriage: Strengthen Your Most Intimate Relationship

by Kim Kimberling

Learn More | Meet Kim Kimberling


Secret Number 1:


The Insanities That Hold Us Back

"Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results" — this is the textbook definition of insanity. Most of us don 't consider ourselves insane, of course, yet this is the exact pattern we often act out in our relationships. And that 's where the real problems begin.

The insanities we bring into our relationships, of course, don 't just arise out of the blue. They all have roots. Some roots are more difficult to get rid of than others. In fact, many of the roots grow out of our family of origin. But no matter the source of our insanities, they seem to keep us from following God 's plan for marriage. That is the greatest insanity of all.

The longer we have practiced our insanities, the more difficult it is to break free of them. Whether you are young or not so young, married, divorced, widowed, single, or whatever, the odds are pretty good that you have an insanity or two that needs to be addressed. If you choose to deal with the skewed way of thinking, life gets better and relationships can get a lot better. If you choose to not deal with it, then ...

Meet Richard and Lisa. Richard just turned forty. Lisa is thirty-five. Today they are married. Tomorrow, who knows? This is the third time Richard has been married, and he is sure it will also be his third divorce. Same for Lisa. People come to my office for a number of reasons. Some have hope that things can get better, and often they do. Some come to counseling so they can tell family and friends that they tried "everything" before giving in to divorce. I was pretty sure that Richard and Lisa were in the latter category. Visiting the counselor 's office was the last thing on their list that needed to be checked off. I listened as they unfolded their stories.

Richard grew up in a divorced home. He was the oldest of three kids, and from the time he was eight he was the "man of the house." His mom worked long hours to support the family, and his dad just disappeared. Richard had no model of what it took to be a dad, a husband, and a man. He was forced to figure that out on his own. He took a paper route at the age of twelve, and by the time he was sixteen he worked a full-time job.

At seventeen, he fell in love, and the summer he graduated from high school he walked down the aisle for the first time. It seemed the right thing to do. They were in love, they both had jobs, they rented a little apartment, and they both planned to start at the junior college in town in the fall. But by September, she was pregnant. Her pregnancy was rough. They began to fight a lot, money was tight, and by Christmas she had moved back in with her parents. Richard never lived a day in the same house as his son. Marriage number one.

Like many of us, it was easy for Richard to believe that he just married the wrong person the first time. But he never took the time to look within himself and see what needed to change. Richard was doing the same thing again and expecting a different result. Insanity. He took his time and at twenty-three met the love of his life. They worked in the same office. She was a year younger and had never been married. She wanted a strong man, and Richard seemed to fit the profile.

They dated almost a year, and at the age of twenty-four Richard entered his second try at marriage. He was sure that this one would work. Both had good jobs, they bought a house together, and the first year was like a love story right out of Hollywood. It was fifteen months before they had their first fight and, according to Richard, they made up for lost time. In his first marriage, when the conflict began, the marriage ended. Richard was determined it would not be that way this time. He was not giving up and would not let her give up either.

For seven years they lived a roller-coaster life of peace and chaos — a few days of bliss and then a day or two of fighting. But they never learned how to resolve conflict, and that was their biggest problem. So the same issues returned over and over. It was similar to marriage number one but on repeat for a much longer period of time. Finally the days of conflict dominated their calendar, and they agreed to part ways. Marriage number two.

Richard said he then went through a period of soul searching. He asked himself questions. "What happened?" "What went wrong this time?" Yet he walked through this process alone, without wise friends or a counselor. Finally, he came to the same conclusion he had for marriage one: he had married the wrong person, again.

Still, maybe he needed to try church, he thought. It could not do any harm, and he just might meet the right woman. Richard began church shopping and finally settled on one that had a good singles program. Richard 's definition of a "good singles program" was one with plenty of attractive, eligible women.

Richard had been in the church a little over a year when Lisa walked in one day. He could not take his eyes off her. Now it all made sense. He had married the wrong woman — twice! They began to date and over the next eighteen months did everything the church asked them to do to prepare for marriage. Richard admitted that he was just going through the motions of what the church asked them to do. Lisa was the right one for him and that was all that mattered. This was different because he had found the one. At the age of thirty-four, Richard walked down the aisle for the third time.

As he stood at the front of the church, Lisa walked down the aisle to meet him. Richard thought how beautiful she was and how she was different from the others, but he had no idea that Lisa was bringing some baggage of her own.

Lisa 's Story

Lisa loved her dad. She had an older brother and an older sister, but there was no doubt in anyone 's mind that Lisa was his favorite — hands down, the favorite. With her dad giving most of his attention to Lisa, her mom tried to make up the void to her siblings. It almost became a game. Which parent could outdo the other?

In Lisa 's eyes, her dad won and her parents ' marriage lost. They never openly fought, but their marriage was not much of a partnership, either. They never divorced, but a repeat of her parents ' marriage was not something Lisa wanted. As a result, Lisa 's role model of a wife, mother, and a woman was tainted. She never really had a relationship with her mother as she grew up, and now as adults their relationship was worse than ever.

After college, Lisa focused on building her career. Marriage was not appealing in Lisa 's eyes. She seldom dated because she simply did not have time for those relationships, or so she told herself. At the age of twenty-eight she began to panic as the reality of her life hit her head-on. She was getting older, and in the back of her mind she knew that at some point in life she wanted children. It was now time to begin that quest.

Lisa did not worry about her past. Sure, her family was dysfunctional, but that was a long time ago. She was way past those issues. Now she was successful in her work, confident and attractive, and focused on what she wanted.

A friend introduced her to Dustin and they really hit it off. He treated her well — just like her dad had. Four months of dating later, and they were planning a private, romantic destination wedding — with just the two of them. But the romance began to fade as soon as they boarded their plane home — that was when Mr. Wonderful began to change. At thirty thousand feet, he outlined his list of expectations of her, including what she could and could not do. Lisa was shocked but said nothing at first. Eight weeks later, she could not take it any longer. She moved out and filed for divorce. Marriage number one was over.

A friend suggested a support group for people going through divorce. Lisa agreed to go, but she felt out of place. Most of these people had been married for at least a few years. Her marriage had lasted a few weeks. Sticking it out was difficult, but the final night of the support group came. Coffee and cookies were served after the meeting, and she decided to stick around for a few minutes. In those few minutes, she met her second husband. He was almost perfect and totally understood her. After all, they had been through the same thing.

They began a nine-month dating relationship. Marriage number two.

On the plane ride home from their honeymoon, there was no list of expectations. Lisa knew this marriage was different, and for a while it was. The honeymoon phase lasted almost a year, and even though some of the romance began to fade, Lisa was happy.

For Lisa, the next couple of years were a blur. Her husband was placed on the "fast track" at his job. The demands on him and his time were great, but so were the rewards. Lisa liked the rewards at first. She always drove a new car and was living in her dream house, but rewards without a husband there to enjoy them with her was not what she wanted in a marriage. The times they were together were marred by fighting. They grew further and further apart, and one day Lisa was done. Marriage number two ended just like marriage number one.

Lisa was devastated. What was wrong? All she wanted was a happy marriage. Was that too much to ask? She talked to a friend at work who was also divorced. The friend invited her to church. She wanted Lisa to go to the singles class with her. Lisa was reluctant. Walking into a room full of singles scared her, and she had never been big on the whole church idea. After weeks of saying no, Lisa finally said yes.

Lisa was really not sure what she was looking for in the class. Maybe community or new friends or just a safe place to be. Her plan was to give it three or four weeks and then, if none of those were happening, to gracefully bow out.

Lisa may have looked calm on the outside that first week, but on the inside she was scared to death. It was like her first high school dance all over again. Maybe even worse. Week two was better, and by the time week three rolled around she had no anxiety and was getting bored with the whole thing. The people were nice, but she was not attracted to any of the men. The lessons were probably okay, but she did not listen well. Not telling her friend, she made up her mind that Sunday number four would be her last.

That fourth Sunday morning brought no anxious feelings. This was just a routine that she was getting ready to break. She spent little time picking out what to wear, putting on her makeup, and fixing her hair. Why bother? Nothing was going to change. She left the house late and was ready to get this over with.

The class had already started when Lisa walked in. Fortunately, her friend had saved her a seat. As she scanned the room, her gaze stopped on someone new. She nudged her friend and asked if she knew the new guy. Lisa found out that the guy was not new. His name was Richard, and he had been out of town the past few weeks. Lisa thought to herself, "Miracles do happen." As the lesson ended, Lisa slipped out to the restroom to freshen her makeup and redo her hair. As she walked back in, she ran into Richard — literally! They laughed and talked and went to lunch together. This was the guy. She knew it deep inside.

Lisa 's version of their dating relationship mirrored Richard 's except that she took seriously the instruction the church offered them as they prepared for marriage. She assumed Richard was taking it just as seriously. The wedding was wonderful, and all their church friends attended. This marriage would be different. Lisa had learned from her mistakes and knew what to do and what not to do.

For almost two years she put into practice all the things she had learned to make marriages work. Then Richard changed. It was almost an overnight change. Where did the Richard she had fallen in love with go? He was short with her, and his words were often terse. She remembered thinking that she had never seen him angry, and now she seldom saw him when he was not. She took it for a long time and finally started fighting back. The fights got ugly and Lisa was done. Really done. More done than marriage number two.

Two Choices

As Lisa finished her story, they both turned to look at me. I was not sure what they were thinking, but I thought it was along the lines of, "We know our marriage is hopeless. Just confirm that for us, and we will get out of here."

I sat there a long time without saying anything. Silence is difficult for most of us, and this was certainly true of Richard and Lisa. They began to squirm a little. I was not playing a game with them. I wanted them to really hear what I was going to say. It would not be a lecture. It would not be a confirmation of their hopeless situation. Instead, it would be a challenge to both of them.

"As I see it, you have two choices. One choice is to divorce and move on with your lives. You do not have children, so that makes it easier for you because you will never have to see each other again. If you choose this option, my guess is that I will see you both again back here in a couple of years, each with a different mate. I believe you will just continue the pattern you are in of falling in love, getting married, and getting divorced. There is no reason to think that you will stop this insanity.

"You also have a second option. You can choose to make this marriage work. It will not be easy. It will take a lot of effort and a lot of time from each of you. In the end, I believe it is the only sensible thing to do. Together you can discover what building and living an awesome marriage is all about. The decision is yours."

As a counselor, my dream is to help couples say yes to the challenge of building a healthy marriage with joy and enthusiasm.

But Richard and Lisa just sat there. I had ruined their buzz. They were already mentally dividing up the furniture, the money, and the other possessions. Richard had signed up for an online dating service. I threw them a curve ball because I told them that I had hope.

I asked them to hold off doing anything for a week. During that time, I asked them to do a couple of things. First, I asked them to pray and seek God 's guidance in this decision. Second, I asked them to talk to people who have good marriages and to ask them what they had done to get where they were today. Then I booked them a follow-up appointment. Richard and Lisa stood up, thanked me, shook my hand, and walked out of my office. I had no idea if I would ever see them again.

Facing Your Baggage

Richard and Lisa mirror many of the issues I see couples and individuals face today. Let 's look at Richard first. By outward appearances at age seventeen, Richard looked pretty good. He was responsible, with a strong work ethic, good grades, and high hopes for life. Not a bad package. Yet as a husband he was a train wreck waiting to happen, and it did. Richard never had a dad as a model. What he learned about being a man and a husband he picked up from life experiences. That included TV, movies, his best friend 's divorced dad, and an alcoholic uncle.

Richard searched for the right things in all the wrong places.

Then he was young — just seventeen on the day of his first marriage. Teen marriages are tough, and the statistics on them are not good. Granted, some couples make it, but they are the exception. I believe the final straw came when his first wife became pregnant. Here was this young couple trying to figure things out, starting college, and now adding parenting on top of it. The stress was great, the maturity was not there, and the marriage crashed.

That part of Richard 's story is not uncommon. Many couples go into a first marriage with the odds stacked against them, and usually the odds win unless — and this is a big unless — they take the time to deal with the dysfunctions from their past.

The key to whether they will succeed is the next step because we usually do one of two things. Some people back up, get help, take a long look at themselves, and reinvent their thoughts and ideas of what it takes to have a successful marriage. Even though none of us wants to repeat unhealthy cycles, those habits and hangups do not just go away. We need to work and often to seek the guidance and wisdom of a pastor or Christian counselor to help guide us through the process. This then gives the opportunity to break any unhealthy cycles we may be in. That is how prospective couples may begin to prepare for marriage instead of preparing for divorce.

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