Guest Authors/ Marriage Mentors:
Robert and Christine Trotter
I was reading the other day that holiday 5 and 10k running events attract some of the largest turnouts in all levels of runners. While Thanksgiving has come and gone, this particular holiday alone is still recognized as the single day with the biggest number of lace-ups. What is it about the Turkey Trots and Jingle Bell jogs that inspire so many people to don spandex shorts or tight long leggings to battle the winter cold? My wife Chris and I realized that participating in a holiday run is a great way to strengthen not only your legs, but also your love life. The many reasons why people sign up for these activities have many of the same attributes that keep marriages working.
My wife and I will be celebrating 30 years together in Feb 2019, and have been through the many ups and down that all marriages will bring. We recently decided, through our church, to give back by mentoring other couples along with those newly engaged. What we have learned is that marriage, like holiday running events, is more about the journey than the destination. It is filled with amazing joy. However, it can be tested with incredible fear, doubt, and pain. Some couples figure out how to navigate this well, while others do not. We, however, have noticed that the couples who thrive in their marriages typically share four common attributes.
A sense of mutual purpose
A common responsibility for growth and support
Transforming from two people to one
Consistent mutual encouragement
Just as holiday runners commit to completing their race after they sign on the dotted line, couples commit to sharing a mutual purpose in their marriage when they say “I Do.”
We have noticed that married couples tend to find mutual purpose in their professional careers, outlooks on building beautiful homes, finding financial security, and/or raising healthy well-educated children. While these are all wonderful things that newly engaged couples tend to focus on, the expectation that marital bliss is dependent on one or all of these purposes may be perilous. For example, what happens to the mutual purpose of one’s marriage when child-rearing defines the relationship and all of the children are suddenly grown and out of the house?
Two great ways to share mutual purpose outside of those listed above include could include getting involved with charitable works or participating in service projects.
Couples who understand that sharing mutual purpose in something bigger than the marriage itself, are generally capable of making it through the finish line together.
Mutual Growth and Support:
For those out there who don’t lace up their sneakers often, signing up for a 5k run can be very daunting!
Just as you would encourage a friend or family member joining in on the run to push through the pain, trudge up the hills, and keep moving closer to the finish line, successful couples understand the same steps in the process of marital success.
Every couple comes into marriage with a predefined set of education and life experiences.
Marriage offers a unique opportunity to turn toward one another to help each other grow.
They do this physically, intellectually, and spiritually. Reading, traveling, and exercising are other great ways to provide wonderful life experiences for a couple to develop new habits together and to grow new skills that neither may have originally brought to the marriage beforehand.
Chris and I work hard toward maintaining a spontaneous and optimistic outlook on life which allows us to growth together and enjoy a plethora of experiences as a couple. Sometimes these experiences are wonderful and fantastic.
At other times, they can wreak havoc.
To speak to this, my work has moved our family 8 different cities in the USA throughout the years. Relocating so frequently and so distantly made it challenging to maintain strong connections with friends, family, and neighbors. As a result, we learned to become mutually dependent on each other for support and growth during these transitions. This has helped us create a unique bond that helped to fortify our marriage. Without question, my ability to weather some of the professional troughs was directly tied to Chris’ commitment to our mutual growth.
Nothing validates this more than what happened during one of our relocations. We both learned fairly quickly how professional success can quickly be followed by professional failure. After moving our family 1,000 miles to Pittsburg PA, taking a year to build a home, and then losing my job 4 months after the home was completed, we understood the value of having each other as a vehicle of support and encouragement when friends and family are far away.
When some young couples come into marriage, they recognize that they are different than their partner.
Initially, there is an attraction between these differences. Over time, however, we mistakenly start to become distracted by some of these differences and slowly start to try and “fix” the other person. We approach the same person with a different view of “our” future and the uniqueness starts to become a point of contention.
Many couples may approach marriage as “together, but separate.” Over time, their worlds start growing apart. They live together as roommates- not together as a happily married couple. To “fix” this, some couples believe the solution to this problem is compromise. In our experience, we see that healthy marriages approach this problem entirely differently.
Chris and I lead a pre-marriage ministry that is titled 2:1. The title 2:1 signifies the transition of two people becoming one.
Happily married couples recognize that their own unique differences can actually make their marriage stronger. They see their marriage as an opportunity to merge into a totally new, unified person.
On a personal level, Chris and I have different passions. Or, using the race analogy, we each have different strides. I work with community development groups, university boards and church organizations that typically involve interfacing with people on a daily basis. Chris works with animals at shelters, animal hospitals, and humane societies: two very different lives that could easily be run in a parallel and separate manner. Together, we recognized this issue and decided we needed to find a mutual purpose to grow together and support one another.
Chris found an organization whose mission is to breed service dogs to service children and adults in hospitals and homes who are physically challenged. She provides high-level training and care for the dogs so they would be safe and appropriate service dogs for their future owners. I linked up as well, working with the same organization to help them develop marketing, business and fundraising improvements. In the end, rather than putting in our headphones and each running off at our own pace, we aligned our strides to complete the race side by side.
Constant Mutual Encouragement
Most couples come to a realization that in order to grow, you need to encourage and challenge each other from time to time.
This in not to be confused with correcting them into becoming more like yourself.
Successful couples start by complimenting each other on how much they are growing into their 2:1 transformation. They avoid critiquing each other on how far they have yet to go.
Constant critique, even when well intended, will eventually numb and freeze a couple’s ability to move into a shared sense of purpose.
By focusing on progress made together, couples reinforce their belief and confidence in their relationship first and foremost, before addressing major obstacles. In this way, they stay cohesive and work well together as a team. This is much harder to do than it sounds. It usually requires mental toughness when situations are fragile.
It is important to find the beauty in each other at the forefront of your mind and to see how far your spouse has come, as opposed to how far they have yet to go.
Establishing a successful marriage is a lot like running an annual holiday run. Marriage conveys commitment. It encourages mutual purpose. It requires responsibility to grow and show support for your partner running in the race with you. It shifts the perspective of running alone, to running together. It takes encouragement through the challenging parts, optimism at how far you’ve come, and recognition when you successfully followed through on your mutual purpose.