“In the same way, you husbands must give honour to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.” Peter 3:7 NLT
Our pastor was meeting with us for our first session of marriage counselling. To demonstrate his point, he extended his hand towards me with his hand open, palm facing up. He said, “I invite my wife to join me each day on this life journey. It is up to her to decide if she chooses to join me.”
Well, that is pretty much the stupidest thing that I have ever heard, I thought silently to myself. What about covenant, commitment and contract? A decade later, I think that it was possibly the best advice that I have ever received. It was 22 February 2011. I can tell you the date because as we were driving home in a fairly shell-shocked state after our counselling, the news came on the car radio that there had been a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that had struck Christchurch shortly before 12:50pm. That was the earthquake that resulted in 185 deaths.
Suddenly our problems seemed less significant.
Today I often think back on that pastor’s advice, and I think that it was the best piece of wisdom I have ever been given. Before that, I thought that I could control our lives by arguing the point and thinking that I was right, no matter what the relational damage of the disagreement. Since then I’ve learned to ask myself, “Is this a hill that is worth dying on?” The usual relational problem hills are finances, parenting, sex, work and health. I have found almost no hills that are worth the heartache. Yes, sometimes we need to challenge our spouse and ask them to consider an alternative perspective. That can be done in a kind and loving way. If it is a flashpoint, then sow the seeds of ideas and back away. Give them space to consider their options and after they have slept on it, they may agree with you – if you have a point.
Recently, I was talking with an older man who is working full time. He is a really nice guy, a gentleman, and involved as a volunteer in a local service organisation. He drives class 5 heavy trucks delivering milk between cities, six days a week, a minimum of 10 hours a day. He is 75 years old and is about to turn 76. I asked him if maybe he should slow down and spend more time at home. “Home life is not that special” he told me. Isn’t that the saddest thing ever? His daughter is more brutal. She said that her mother had always been difficult to live with and now with aging, her mother was becoming impossible, and dad had no desire to be at home more than he had to.
How sad that years, months, days, seconds, and heartbeats had been wasted in a toxic relationship because no-one had the courage to challenge the status quo. Who knows if the mother had been confronted decades ago about her behaviour, the trajectory of the relationship would have been positively altered to benefit everyone? Otherwise, that relationship may have come to an end, and everyone could have charted their own path.
Up to half of the adults in church on Sunday who have been married have faced this reality when their first marriage ended. I see many second marriages where lessons have been learned, people have grown older and wiser, and better decisions are being made. On the other hand, I absolutely applaud the couples who have navigated the rapids of life together and not only survived but enjoyed life’s journey together to stay in their first marriage. They have successfully adapted to the changes that we all go through in the various life stages.
The reality is that the only person I can change is me. Men, we need to look inside ourselves and focus on our inner values and compass that guides us. As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. Listen for that still, small voice. Grow spiritually. We become attractive when we know who we are and where we are going, confident that we are examining our lives and we are prepared to make changes. Personally, I have tried to avoid introspection because frankly there are some aspects of myself that I find discouraging. However, no matter how hard it is to face up to myself, I have to do that. Otherwise, I will lose momentum in my life and others will make decisions for me that I should have made myself. The week of Valentine’s Day is a great time to start.
One of the most relationally destructive behaviours, and probably the hardest to address, is addictions. These include alcohol, smoking/vaping, drugs, sex, and gambling. Every single one of those makes the body feel better and masks the pain. Addictions usually cover other damage and hurts in our lives. We may have lived with issues all our lives. The problems and behaviours could even be intergenerational. Again, if we ask and seek, the Holy Spirit will reveal to us and those believers that we confide in, what the baggage is and if it has spiritual roots that need to be cut off. Any addiction makes us less attractive and can become repulsive to those close to us who truly know us. We are giving away our sovereignty over our own life to an addiction. I would love to say that this is something that I have not struggled with, but friend, that would be dishonest. Like many others, I have room for improvement.
Successful relationships through all the various life stages start with us. Yes, we will encounter setbacks from the mundane to the overwhelming. How we handle those and in what shape we emerge from them depends on us. Our resilience is tied to our core values, spirit, persistence, and often just plain optimism. Having brothers in our life that we check in with regularly can also bring God’s wisdom and a more balanced perspective.
Be the better man.