Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Seven Secrets to Surviving Storms

On Saturday, we attended a wedding in the St. Thomas Chapel at Villanova University.

With Hurricane Irene bearing down on Philadelphia, guests left their umbrellas at the door. Happily, they also checked the soggy weather in the vestibule, because the multi-colored bouquets and white marble interior brightened even the darkest day.  
By the time my friend, mother-of-the-groom, was escorted down the aisle by her eldest son, the weather was forgotten.
Majestic strains of the pipe organ filled the chapel, and the solemn ceremony proceeded unabated.

As I watched the giving of vows and exchange of rings, my mind wandered to the storms of life every couple must weather.  When you stand at the altar so full of optimism, you have no idea what life might blow your way.  My husband and I have weathered our share of storms together--the loss of a baby, the stress of a surgeon's schedule, the strain of living in a fourth-world country, the challenge of meeting our children's educational needs, the trauma of watching young adults figure out their own values... Undoubtedly, there are more squalls ahead.

In reality, life isn't easy. There are, however, some things spouses can do to smooth the passage.  As I listened to the homily, I came up with some tips to help young marrieds experience more sunshine and less thunder.

First, bury your expectations. Early in marriage, if my husband mentioned he might be home early and something came up at work, I was more disappointed than if I had not anticipated his homecoming. Furthermore, just because my father--who worked for the Federal government--always came home for supper, did not mean my husband--who is a physician--would follow that pattern.

Since my expectations made me miserable, I decided to kill my "ought-to-bes".  Instead, I reasoned, other wives have absent husbands, too. Military spouses are deployed. Coaches travel to recruit players and coach away games. Truck drivers make long hauls. Salesmen earn rewards from hotels and airlines, because they register so many rooms and log so many miles. So, why should I complain when my husband is at the hospital?

The same advice to kill expectations applies to husbands.  Do you expect your wife to cook and keep house like your mother?  If so, then it is time for a reality check.  Your wife won't cook like your mother.  She may be a better cook; then again, she may not cook at all.  Furthermore, she won't keep house like your mother, either. She may be less fastidious or more so; but she isn't your mother.  So, bury your assumptions of how things are going to be. You both will be happier!

My second piece of advice follows logically: With your expectations six-feet-under, avoid criticizing your spouse. After all, who says your way is right or better?
Think about it.  Do you want to be around someone who critiques you?  Of course not. We avoid negativity like the plague. Guess what?  So does your spouse. Consequently, if you are going to grouse or nitpick, think twice. Then do to your partner what you would want him/her to do to you--overlook the "fault".  The apostle James says it best, "Mercy triumphs over judgment."

The third recommendation I'd make for a happy marriage would be to avoid badgering. 
You may have a to-do list as long as your arm and a schedule you think should be kept, but ask yourself, "Would I cheerfully comply, if the demands were reversed?" A good rule of thumb, is to ask in moderation and be sure you are sharing the load.  Horses, if driven too hard, balk. Besides only a narcissists demand that the world revolve around them.  Remember, "Smoke, rain, and a demanding mate will make a spouse run out-of-doors."

Tip number four is positive; instead of criticizing and badgering, compliment.

Even children intuitively know that kind words are better motivators than harsh tones.  This was illustrated one evening in front of a house guest.  The host, a pastor, lost his temper with the family dog, cuffed him, and booted him outside.

The young son, observing, was visibly upset.  He waited until the father had left the room, then retrieved the poor pup remarking to the visitor, "Doesn't he know that Buster would do anything for him, if he'd just talk nicely to him?"

It isn't just Buster who responds best to belly-rubs and treats.  My fifth tip is to be generous with treats, or to put it another way, meet your spouse's needs.

Every human being has needs, and it is the job of the spouse to meet those needs. According to Abraham Maslow, we  all need to drink, to eat, to sleep, to feel protected, to have sex, and to feel affirmed. It follows then that a man should bring his wife coffee. Likewise,  a women should serve her husband iced tea. Taking it a step further, sometimes a husband should cook or take his wife out to eat, and at other times, the wife should prepare a favorite meal or buy a "homemade" pie. Both have the responsibility of meeting other other's need. Similarly, men should give their wives listening-time and just-holding-time, while wives should give their husbands sex. Why? Because needs must be met. And, a good marriage is based on the formula:  each for the other.

Tip six is equally important to a congenial marriage:  Spend in moderation.  More couples divorce over money than anything else.  As a consequence, my advice when dealing with money is moderation. Either spouse can err either by burning through money
 or by holding it too tightly.

With disciplined spending and kind words and actions, marriages can be strong.  However, the hurricane-force winds of life will still blow.  Those stormy times are when the last and most important key to a storm-proof marriage is necessary: Hang on to the Lord together. He is what keeps a home from coming apart when the fierce winds blow.  Listen to Steve and MaryJean Green as they affirm this truth in their original song, Household of Faith.


  1. Warren and I recorded ourselves singing this song and it was played as we had a few minutes of prayer at the alter at our wedding.

    Your points are very well taken. Marriage isn't easy...but it is well worth the effort we put into it.

  2. Becky, I have heard of a number of couples who have had the song performed, but you are the first I have heard who performed it! I wish I could have heard it. And, you are right, marriage is worth the effort! Next to choosing to accept Christ as my Lord, saying yes to Bill was the best decision I have ever made! :)