November 10, 2014

Why We Sometimes Suck at Marriage

I know every couple fights. I know that every marriage has its disagreements. I know that sometimes marriage sucks. (Or more accurately stated, sometimes we suck at marriage.)

But ugh. I hate when we fight.

We make mistakes. We hurt each other. We say things that are not nice. We lash out. We shut down. We refuse to say sorry. We let the sun go down on our anger. We fix things but still have an icky feeling for a little bit.

“But, it’s hard to respect him when I don’t agree with his decisions.”

“It’s hard to love her when she nags me all the time.”

It’s tricky. And there aren't always easy answers. (Because marriage often means denying myself and putting Husband first. And who in their right mind does that naturally?!)

But I have come to believe that a healthy marriage is not about facing zero conflict in our relationship. Couples will never agree on everything. (And if you try to tell me otherwise, I will demand to see the unicorn you are hiding in your closet.)

I also believe that disagreements can strengthen our marriage and help us learn to handle times of adversity. But how we handle disagreements can make or break our bond as a couple. Simple disagreements always have the potential to turn into the full-blown kind of fighting that tears each other down, and in the end, tears us apart. 

A healthy marriage means learning how to handle conflict in a healthy way. Learning how to care for each other even in our fighting. Learning how to “disagree well.”

While there are many characteristics essential to disagreeing well, I am going to go ahead and make the claim that one stands above the rest: praying together.

Prayer is the best medicine for those times that you can honestly say “I love my spouse,” but you can’t honestly say “I like my spouse.” (There is a difference.)

There are a lot of statistics floating around about marriage, but one of the latest I have heard is that the divorce rate among couples who pray together is only 1 in 10,000. (Dr. Phillip C. McGraw, Relationship Rescue)

1 in 10,000. That is an insanely different statistic than the 50% divorce rate we continually hear about in the U.S. and in our churches.

Prayer is powerful. And here are a few reasons why:

Prayer unites us. While fighting tends to tear us apart and pit us against each other, prayer reminds us that we are on the same team, worshipping the same God, living by the same Book. Prayer reminds us that if we both agree on what we ask for, it will be done for us by our Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in Christ’s name, there He is with us. (Matthew 18:19-20)

Prayer centers on reconciliation. When we come before God in prayer, we focus on confession and forgiveness and healing, rather than the anger and grudge holding that happens when we fight. While fighting focuses on each other’s flaws and mistakes, prayer reminds us of the blessing it is to have a spouse who is willing to work through our flaws and conflicts in the name of Jesus.

Prayer encourages humility. We always have the option of praying the spouse’s version of the Pharisee’s prayer: “God, I thank you that I am not like my husband – addicted to ESPN, never lining up the towels just right, and always leaving the toilet seat up.” (Or “God, I thank you that I am not like my wife – Facebook stalking her way into a restraining order, embodying borderline OCD tendencies, and sounding like a group of gobbling turkey when she gossips with her friends.”)

But a healthier tendency of prayer is to humble ourselves before God. It can be hard to say sorry as an imperfect person to an imperfect spouse when pride gets in the way. But prayer is an act of practicing humility. We say sorry for hurting each other. We ask for mercy. We exalt the God we are praying to rather than ourselves.

Prayer strengthens our relationship. Fighting prompts us to argue for our own selfish desires and in turn loosens the bond between us as a couple. Prayer is an act that weaves in the third cord of our marriage – the power of God – and in turn strengthens it. Fighting encourages angry and damaging words, but prayer encourages gentle and kind communication.

But can I be a little bit honest with you?

The first few times, praying out loud together or asking Husband to pray, felt a little awkward and uncomfortable. (Insert: GASP!) I know, right? That shouldn't be the case with the man whom I took marriage vows before the Lord!

Because when I say “praying together will help us learn to disagree well,” I’m not talking about those quick  “good drink, good eat, good Lord, let’s eat” prayers we say at dinner. (Not that there is anything wrong with those prayers. They’re theologically sound, they’re simple, and they cut to the chase so that we can get to stuffing our faces.)

I’m talking about finding a time besides dinner, by ourselves, without Baby, with the Lord, even for just a few minutes each day praying together. I’m talking about when we are in the heat of one of our battles, stopping, and asking the other person, no matter how strange and weird and awkward it will sound: “Can we please pray together before we discuss this?” Or in the style of our dinner prayers: “Let’s bless this fight we are about to partake in.”

With time, it has become more natural.

We still forget. We still fail. We still don’t always disagree well. But when we remember to pray together, for each other, for our marriage, and for whatever else at the moment might be a bad weed in the growth of our relationship, I feel the butterflies of the Holy Spirit binding us together again, strengthening us as a couple.

If we had a dollar for all of the wedding cards we received from healthy, Christ-focused couples who told us to pray together, we would be rich. And if we always took their advice like we should, we would also be a lot better at “disagreeing well.”

Why do we sometimes suck at marriage? At “disagreeing well?”

Because sometimes we forget to implement the power of prayer each day together. Because sometimes we forget to arm ourselves against the Devil’s schemes, the world’s temptations, and our own selfish desires. Because sometimes we try to go at it on our own without the strength of the third strand of our marriage cord:

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Grace and Peace,