20 Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Marriage

20 years ago today, I was getting ready to walk down an aisle and marry the woman of my dreams. Right before that moment, I unexpectedly found myself in a room all alone.

Suddenly, I was hit by the weight of what I was about ready to do.  I was overwhelmed thinking about what it would take to be a loving husband for the rest of my life.  Tears rolled down my cheeks. I dropped to my knees. I prayed that somehow God would give me the strength and courage to be the man and father that He wanted me to be.

After all these years, I realize how much I still need that prayer today. If 20 years of marriage has taught me anything it is… “I’m a mess!” Marriage is the most beautiful experience on earth. It is also the most difficult thing you will ever do.

I can’t count the number of ways that I’ve failed as a husband over the last 20 years. I could have easily ruined everything on multiple occasions. I’m so thankful for the love and grace my wife has extended toward me.

In hopes that you can learn from my mistakes, here are 20 ways to ruin a perfectly good marriage…

1. Ignore your baggage– Everyone carries wounds from their past into their relationships. Like it or not, your past will always impact your present. Marriage became a lot more fulfilling when I started to unpack the luggage of my life and admit it openly.

2. Be selfish– Selfishness comes naturally to all of us. Marriage requires sacrifice and sacrifice hurts.  I have a daily decision of how selfish I will allow myself to be.

3. Don’t acknowledge your fears– A lot of our conflict revolves around actions. Sometimes we fight over the deeper level of our hurts. Our core fears often drive those actions and hurts. I wish I uncovered the fears that influence my actions a lot earlier.   

4. Live with unresolved conflict– Believe it or not, conflict doesn’t evaporate when you ignore it. It needs to be brought out into the open and discussed in order to move forward. It’s been 20 years and I’m still learning how to do this in a healthy way.  

5. Defensiveness– We all want to protect ourselves. Sometimes I resort to defensiveness as a way for me to feel safe. I’ve discovered that when I’m defensive it builds walls and kills the type of connection that I crave.

6. Believe your spouse should think and act like you– Differences are beautiful! Two people who are exactly alike probably don’t need to be married. The things that make you each unique can bring you closer together or drive you farther apart. My life is happier when I embrace those differences.

7. Refuse to be vulnerable- It was far too long into our marriage before I wept openly in front of my wife. Hiding what is really going on underneath the surface of my life didn’t help either of us.

8. Try to control the other person– When two people are grasping for control, nobody wins. I learned this the hard way about a year into our marriage and have been re-learning it ever since.

9. Always have expectations associated with your service– Doing nice things and expecting nothing in return is a lost art. Learning to serve with no strings attached requires intentionality…well, for me anyway.

10. Don’t have fun– Life can be difficult. Learn to enjoy the little things in life and laugh a lot together. Fun has been a great bonding agent in our relationship.

11. Play it safe– As I reflect back on the last 20 years, I don’t regret the risks we have taken. Each risk might not have turned out the way we envisioned but life is more fulfilling when you treat it like an adventure.

12. Refuse to forgive– I’ve been hurt. I’ve also been the source of a lot of hurt. I can’t think of a single time when harboring bitterness helped our relationship grow.

13. Rely on your feelings to guide you– The “butterflies” stage of relationships are fantastic, but they won’t be there through every phase of life. Feelings are great…but they are temporary.

14. Assume that sex won’t take effort- Sexuality takes intentionality. Sex is connected to every other aspect of your relationship. I was pretty naïve about the challenges that this could present.

15. Don’t express appreciation– The words “I love you” never go out of style. Neither does the phrase “Thank you!” It might seem like a small thing but being grateful rather than critical actually reframes the way I think about my wife.  

16. Look to your spouse to build your confidence. Confidence only comes through knowing the One who made you and embracing who you were created to be.  No person on this earth can give me this…no matter how amazing they are.

17. Pretend you don’t struggle with anxiety. Deal with your anxiety early. If you don’t, it will spread. Not every relationship has to deal with this but I did so I included it on this list…Thank you counseling!

18. Underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep- Many arguments can be solved if both people get some rest. In my life, there is a high correlation between agitation and exhaustion. 

19. Value “solving” your spouses problems over being present with them- There’s nothing more annoying than sharing your heart with someone and having them give you a checklist of things to do to “get over it”. I’m been guilty of this on multiple occasions. I’ve learned that sometimes the best thing I can do is simply be “with” my wife.

20. Try to work through things on your own- We weren’t intended to go through life alone…even in our marriages. First and foremost, our relationship is infinitely better when we are making God the center of our lives. It’s also tough to underestimate the importance of having other people speaking into our relationship. Sometimes these people have been mentors or other couples. We have also benefited in huge ways by going to counseling. I wish I had the courage to go sooner.

A picture says a thousand words…or does it?

The sands of time bury pictures on Facebook until they are so far under the surface that we hardly remember their existence. A few days ago, I was scrolling through some of my forgotten treasures.

As I clicked from one picture to the next, I found myself uttering noises like, “Awwwww!!!” or “Heyyyyy!!!” Each image captured a special moment in time. I was moved as I watched how much my kids have grown, how my hair hasn’t and all the adventures we have shared over the last decade or so.

In a particularly nostalgic moment, I came across a picture of my wife and me on a vacation. Since she happened to be sitting on the couch next to me, I pointed to the picture and said, “Look how happy we are!” Joy filled my soul, simply looking at the snapshot.

In response, my wife turned to me and said, “Is that all you remember about that trip?” It was like one of those scenes in a movie when that record scratching sound gets played. All of the sudden I was knocked off the 30,000 foot cloud I was riding on.

My mind was whisked away to a rather lengthy and passionate “discussion” we had on that very same trip. Even though it wasn’t our biggest fight, I remember it well. It encapsulated a lot of the frustration and feelings we have experienced over the years. In an instant, that very same picture that brought me a sense of peace and happiness, delivered feelings of discomfort and angst. Did that negate the joy we truly were experiencing the moment? No, but it didn’t represent every part of us either.

It has been said that “A picture says a thousand words” but I would suggest that those words aren’t always the whole truth.

When I am scrolling through a newsfeed…Yes, even my own! I can assume I know the entire story behind the picture that I am seeing. Rarely, is reality the same as that image.

I think of all the family pictures we took with wiggly, whinny kids (and parents for that matter). Sometimes it seemed like it took 50 or 60 photos to get ONE that looked halfway decent. Some of the truly “high” moments in life were also accompanied by “lows”.

This doesn’t mean the beauty of those magical moments isn’t authentic but it puts things in perspective. For someone so quick to see everything as, “all good” or “all bad” I need the reminder that things aren’t always that clear-cut. The boxes I create to put myself at ease are often crafted for my comfort rather than seeing reality.

Holding joy and sorrow in tension is one of the most difficult aspects to maturity. Yet it is essential if I want to see the world (and myself) accurately. It also helps when you are scrolling through your newsfeed.

Gaston and the Beast

A couple of nights ago, our family finally got around to seeing the latest rendition of the Disney classic, “Beauty and the Beast”.

As expected, it was a visually compelling movie. I thought they actually did justice to two of the most memorable scenes from the first film.

“Be Our Guest” used cutting edge computer animation to capture the sense of excitement and wonder displayed in the original film.

The iconic scene of Belle dancing with the Beast was also done extremely well. In the cartoon version of the movie, that scene was so inspiring that one of my friend’s little girls turned to him and whispered wistfully, “Daddy. Someday I dance with a doggie?” I imagine similar sentences were uttered again in theaters across the country.

A lot has been written about this film from a ton of angles. I guess that’s what proves it is a good work of art. There are so many themes to discuss that it could be it’s own college level class.

Our family Cinema 101 discussion started as we were exiting the theater. Turning to my daughter I said, “Don’t ever marry a guy like Gaston!” (I think that one should be fairly obvious but it needed to be said). I went on to say, “Don’t marry a Beast either”. A guy who needs you to fix him isn’t worthy of your energy.

“After all”, I said, “What’s the difference between Gaston and the Beast? Isn’t it just the fact that Belle took the time to help one and not the other?”

By this time we were in our car and a big debate ensued. My son injected “No! It was that the Beast was open to change but Gaston wasn’t!” Wisely, my wife affirmed his observation.

Perhaps because we hadn’t been in an argument in two hours, I decided to challenge my son’s assertion. “But how do we know? Belle never gave Gaston a chance.”

I might as well have lit a match to a bunch of bottle rockets by the way the ideas were flying around the car.

In the end, one of the easiest ways to see how open Gaston and the Beast were to change was when trials came.

When Gaston discovers he can’t have Belle, he manipulates in whatever way he can to get his way. He sweet talks, he lies, oh yeah and he attempts murder! The whole time he deflects criticism away from himself.

Meanwhile, when the Beast is faced with the same situation, he chooses to let Belle go. This means a cruel fate for him and all the singing furniture in his house. This selflessness is the soil where true love grows.

My hope is that my kids will experience this kind of love in their lives. They won’t be caught in dysfunctional relationships centered in selfishness. I pray they will be people who are open to change and healing and they will find other people committed to the same.

Most likely, the biggest help I can be to them in that area is to model those things in my life and marriage to my “Beauty”. I want our relationship to point to a “Tale as old as time” that is beyond ourselves.

When Helping Doesn’t Help

“Wow! You are really a helper!” A counselor recently uttered those words to me. Inwardly, I thought “Why, thank you! It’s nice of you to notice.”

While the statement wasn’t spoken in a derogatory way, it also didn’t have the ring of a huge compliment. After a moment or two of reflection, I began to connect how having an awareness of the feelings of others can be an unbelievable blessing and an unwanted curse.

In my last post, I shared what I am learning about reaching out to the hurting people who are all around me. This seems odd to say, but there is actually a dark side to that type of compassion.

Helping others can be twisted and motivated by selfishness. Sounds kind of crazy right?!

Let me explain. Caring for people who are hurting can carry a sense of satisfaction for me. The look of appreciation in the eyes of someone who is truly grateful is rewarding. For the lack of a better term, it can be a “high”. It can be validating and give me a sense of respect that I desperately crave. My mixed motivations can be pretty ugly.

On top of that, there is another problem… helping is not always helpful.

When I try to help others who don’t want my assistance, I am robbing them of their individuality and freedom to choose. I could also be short circuiting growth opportunities in their life.

Some of the best moments of growth can occur when we are experiencing resistance or discomfort. Even as I type that sentence, I wish it wasn’t true! Going through difficulty in life is like hitting the gym. It’s painful but it can jumpstart your development.

When I rush to help people who aren’t ready, it’s like I’m at the gym watching someone bench press. Without even asking, I run over to their rescue. I repeatedly help them lift the weight without them even asking for a spot. That type of help is demoralizing and dehumanizing. Even if it does feel nice at the time, it doesn’t result in any change.

Another red flag for me is when I choose to serve others out of “an empty tank”. As any flight attendant will tell you, it’s important to “secure your own mask before assisting others”. I believe there are times when I can supernaturally help others even when I am emotionally, physically or spiritually drained but when this is a regular pattern of life, the results can be disastrous (believe me, I know from experience!). Simply put, I can’t give what I don’t have.

If you are a “helper” like me, you are probably tempted to believe that your assistance is essential for the world to continue to spin on its axis. The reality is I’m not the savior of the world and neither are you. My job is simply to follow the One who is.

When I am living in that reality, my helping can really help.

An open letter to my nine year old daughter about relationships

It’s always been tough to navigate the waters of relationships. I think it’s even tougher today. This is an open letter to my nine year old daughter as I try to help her understand what to look for….

Dear Daughter,

I love you!

Are you sick of hearing me say that? I’m sorry if it gets annoying. Someday soon, you’ll probably even roll your eyes when I utter those words. That’s OK. I get it. You’ve got a weird dad. I’m still going to keep on saying it anyway. Do you know why I’m never going to stop? Because, I love you, silly, that’s why!

There’s also another reason I try to tell you those three little words as often as I can. Someday, you are going to decide to get into a relationship with a guy. You’ve still got a lot of time before that happens (maybe until you are 40 or so) but when that day comes, I want you to recognize what true love really looks like.

I know I’m not a perfect dad. You know that better than anyone else. Still, I think a lot about what it looks like to be an example of a loving man in your life.

Here is my biggest piece of advice and my prayer for you when I think about your future… Please don’t settle for anyone less than the best for your life. You deserve the best!

Remember that time I bought you your first rose? It was the day you were born, so I understand if your memory is a bit foggy. I wrote you a little note and let you know that although a lot of other guys would probably give you flowers, I was excited to be the first. Right from the start, I wanted you to recognize that a true man will treat you with respect and honor.

I love spending time with you too. Our daddy-daughter dates are times I will always remember. Going ice-skating with you a few weeks ago, was so much fun! We must have looked really funny while we were holding hands and trying not to fall on our bum bums. You inspired me by your determination to improve with every time around the ice. If any guy doesn’t appreciate your growth or doesn’t just love being with you, please drop that guy’s hand and get out of that rink as fast as you can!

 Every now and then, you hear me tell you, “You are beautiful just the way you are!” I should probably tell you that more often because I want you to know in your soul that there’s nothing you could do to make you more beautiful. You will always be beautiful. Magazines, T.V. and the movies will try to get you to think that you need to change your outward appearance to be acceptable. Please ignore those messages! If a guy tries to get you to believe that, he is a jerk (I use the word “jerk” because you are nine years old, if you were older, I would use something stronger).

Finally, you might think that I chose the nickname “Precious” for you by accident, but it was on purpose. I’ve called you that name since you were little because I want you to know that’s exactly what you are. Not only do I think that, your Heavenly Dad thinks that. If you find someone who stays connected with that same Dad in heaven, he will see you as a precious woman too. .

I guess what I am trying to say is…

“I love you!”

Find someone who never gets sick of telling you those words and who treats you like he means it. In the meantime, I promise to keep on trying to set the example in the best way I can.

Love,

Dad

Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Marry a Strong Woman

Few decisions will impact your life more than the choice of who you will marry.

Guys, maybe you are seriously considering marrying someone. You might already be engaged. Heck, maybe you are getting ready to walk down the aisle in a couple of hours. Let’s face it, that’s about the right timing for most guys to start reading blogs about marriage.

Even if the idea of marriage is a distant dream, akin to the Buffalo Bills hoisting the Lombardi trophy, let me give you some advice…think twice before you marry a strong woman!

When I use the word “strong” in this context, I’m not talking about deltoids, triceps or bench press ability. I’m talking about a woman with internal strength. A woman who is secure in who she is and who has an emotional resiliency that isn’t dependent upon you or any other human being.

There are many reasons why choosing to enter a life long relationship with a strong woman might not be a good idea. Here are three of them.

  1. She won’t enable your dysfunction

All of us find ways to cope with life. Sometimes these seem rather harmless. For instance, we might eat an extra bowl of ice cream every now and then or turn on Sports Center for a few minutes. Other ways of coping are much more harmful like retreating into our own space for prolonged amounts of time or treating people around us disrespectfully.

Well, if you aren’t willing to engage the dysfunctional ways you treat yourself and others PLEASE don’t marry a strong woman. She will lovingly, and sometimes not so lovingly point out your unhealthy ways of coping. It’s not comfortable! You might even get mad. If you want to stay the same for the rest of your life, find someone else.

  1. She won’t depend on YOU to feel good about herself

She might love spending time with you. She may like the different perspective you bring to her world. Ultimately though, she won’t NEED your approval to get through her day.

If you like to think of yourself as “The Center of the Universe” or “God’s gift to (fill in the blank)” you definitely want to stay away from a strong woman. You will find yourself reminded that the planets of our solar system don’t revolve around you. As a matter of fact, you aren’t even the center of her world! She gets her strength from a place much more consistent and profound than you will ever be.

  1. She will be committed to raising strong kids

Aside from being a husband, being a dad is the toughest job you will have in life. You can “clock in” and “clock out” of work but being a good dad takes constant intentionality.

A strong woman won’t accept a “slack off” father for her kids. She also won’t tolerate a man who belittles her children or tries to intimidate them with fear.

She is passionate about providing a healthy environment for her kids to grow and flourish into the people they were created to be.

If you don’t want to put effort into fatherhood or if you want to replicate the aforementioned dysfunction in your life, run away when you see a strong woman. Run away quickly!

A final thought…

This advice comes after over 17 years of marriage to one of the strongest women I know. She is beautiful on the inside and out. Walking through life with her has truly transformed the way I see the world. Neither of us is perfect (FAR from it!) but together we are becoming more of who God truly made us to be. If you don’t want that experience, think twice before you walk down the aisle. I’m learning it takes a strong man to be married to a strong woman.