Last weekend was awful. Steve and I spent all day Saturday and Sunday after church cleaning out a flower bed next to our house. I can’t begin to tell you how many weeds I pulled, how many shrubs I dug up and replaced, how many bags of mulch I hauled from my car to the bed, and how much yard waste my son and I hauled away. It . . . was . . . exhausting. And the worst part of it all is that I watched this flower bed slowly become the mess it was and never chose to do anything about it back when it was just a small mess. Why did I wait so long? Why didn’t I just go in there and pull the few weeds that popped up when it was a 5-minute job? Why didn’t I fertilize and care for the shrubs that ended up dying? I knew all of this was slowly happening on the side of my home but chose to literally not do anything about it. Bottom line: I could have saved both of us a lot of blood, sweat and tears had I just tended this flower bed instead of ignoring it and hoping it would magically get better.
This experience could probably be applied to many things in our lives. Many of us are born procrastinators and even more of us would rather avoid the hard work than dive right in. But, I’m here to apply this experience to marriage. Steve and I are both guilty of procrastination and avoidance in our marriage, both of which became detrimental to our relationship. When little things were bugging us, we swept it under the rug or ignored it hoping it would get better. When either of us were feeling lonely, disrespected, or unloved we just began stuffing our feelings way down and harboring resentment toward the other. It’s not that we didn’t know it was happening . . . we saw it happening slowly, like a slow death. But we didn’t want to face it, was afraid to face it, didn’t know how to face it, or [insert any reason here].
It took a crisis for Steve and I to truly begin healing and tending to our marriage. But, it didn’t have to be that way for us – and it doesn’t have to be that way for you. Over the years here are some truths that have helped us continue to tend our marriage and keep it healthy:
- Don’t ignore your feelings. Feelings are trying to tell us something about what is happening around us and they are strong instincts. Try to identify exactly what you’re feeling and why. Sometimes what you’re feeling is more about you than it is about your spouse – maybe something you need to work on individually. And, sometimes, it is directly correlated to something your spouse is doing or saying. Either way, your emotions tell you that it’s time to do some reflecting and get to know yourself really well. If your conclusion warrants a conversation with your spouse, do so in a safe place and way (i.e., with a counselor – see below – and be sure to use “I” language and not “you” language).
- Nip it in the bud. Don’t stuff the ick. Seriously, just don’t do it. I’m not sure when we began believing the lie that “if you ignore it, it will go away.” That never happens. The truth is that whatever “ick” you are experiencing with your spouse will never magically get better. It may temporarily get better, but the ick remains until you are willing to get rid of it. The only way to do that is to communicate with your spouse. Which brings me to my next truth . . .
- Seek professional help. Once Steve and I began marriage counseling we looked at each other and said “Why didn’t we do this a long time ago? If we knew 10 years ago what we know now, we may not be in this mess!” It’s so true. I’ve heard that same thing from other couples. Most counselors will tell you that they mostly see couples only when there is a crisis. What a shame! Imagine how many crisis’ would be avoided if couples would see a counselor to help them tend to their marriage before the crisis hits. Look, most insurance policies include behavioral health care so it can’t hurt to look into it. Even if you go alone, it’s well worth your time and money.
Steve and I pontificated over that flower bed after the hard work was done. We truly feel blessed to have begun tending our relationship in deep and meaningful ways. These truths didn’t “bloom” overnight for us, but they have now become a part of our daily lives. My prayer is that more couples will begin tending rather than toiling through a marriage crisis down the road. From one gardener to another, good luck!