Most, if not all of us, have experienced this scenario: We arrive at church and someone walks up to us. They then whisper, “Did you hear that ‘so-and-so’ is getting a divorce?” Our typical response is one of shock. “What?! I thought they had the ‘perfect marriage. They seemed so happy.’” Cindy and I (Steve) believe our level of surprise comes from the fact that we didn’t know what really goes on behind closed doors in their marriage.
Almost any one of us can come to church and put on a “happy face” for an hour or so. But then we bury what is really going on in our marriage at home—behind closed doors. It probably happens in every church around the world every weekend.
Life Behind Closed Doors
One of the things Cindy and I have stressed in our lives and our ministry is that our marriages need to be lived out every day the same behind closed doors as in front of open doors. If it’s not right for me to yell, rage or call my co-workers or other people names, then it is inexcusable to do it to my spouse (or children). This is just one of the areas we talk about in our new book, The 7 ESSENTIALS To Grow Your Marriage.
A moment of transparency here—earlier in our marriage Cindy and I would yell, call each other names, make threats, or stonewall. We were fortunate, though, because we woke up and realized if we continued on this path it could destroy our marriage. We needed to do better in public and behind closed doors.
Cindy and I wrote in chapter seven of our book that we made the conscious decision that we were going to “Partner With God And With Each Other” to make an impact on our world. We can promise you that if you both shift your focus AND your behavior to follow this principle you will never have to worry about what people would see happening behind your closed doors—or in front of open doors. Here are a few of the things we discovered that made the difference.
Cindy addresses a few of the areas that can be major stumbling blocks in our marriages. Here is a portion of what she wrote:
“What’s strange is the fact that I wasn’t even aware that I was being oppositional to Steve (and he was to me). We just sort of fell into this type of approach to matters as they popped up in our lives. We approached housework, yard work, money matters, raising children, taking care of our health, worship styles, even how we prayed and studied the Bible (and the list goes on) from differing and opposing stances. And the arguments? They were ridiculous, as I look back on them. So many of them could have been avoided, or shortened, or dealt with in healthier ways if we would have approached them as partners, not opponents.
Fellow author and blogger Fawn Weaver (from The Happy Wife’s Club website) said:
‘The greatest marriages are built on teamwork. A mutual respect, a healthy dose of admiration, and a never-ending portion of love and grace.”’
Well, we didn’t give each other very much grace in the beginning of our marriage. We started out with lots of admiration and what we thought was love. But it eventually fizzled and was thrown aside by our ever-increasing “selfism” and busyness that came along with trying to make life work for us.”
Busyness and Partnership
It has been said that when you are too busy to be kind, you are too busy. I have to say that we definitely allowed ourselves to get caught up in the busier side of life. And as a result, kindness became more of a distant memory than something we gave to each other. We allowed life to squeeze into the middle of our relationship and push us onto opposing sides.
Yes, life can get busy, especially when you’re raising children. We are involved with jobs, careers, family, friends, maintaining a home, and such. But Steve and I made choices to allow too much busyness into our lives. We now recognize that was problematic. But at the time we thought that it was just the way life was supposed to be. Wrong!
Through this marriage journey down the wrong path, I’ve learned that just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean that you should do it. I needed (and Steve needed) to say no to more things. As a result we could say yes to invest the time and energy into our marriage and family life. We gave each other only leftover time and energy instead of saving some of it to spend more time with each other. A steady diet of leftovers can cause undernourishment in marriage relationships. We also sometimes need that, which is prime, to feed our companionship needs.
Marrying Our Lives
When I was a child I talked like a child; I thought like a child; I reasoned like a child. When I became a man [grew up] I put childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11, NIV).
Grow Up Time
“What I see in that verse is that “there is a time for everything under Heaven.” There is a time to act like a child. But there is a time to grow up and put childish things behind us. Marriage is one of those times. For a marriage to be healthy, growing, and one that blesses us, and others—especially God—we must live within it through mature eyes, with mature attitudes, and actions. If we don’t, we can ruin a whole lot of other people’s lives, as well as our own, as we’re playing around.
Marriage is a vehicle God uses to help to grow us up, to mature us in ways that He wants so He can use us for His Kingdom work. That’s important to recognize. It’s like what H. Norman Wright says:
‘Marriage is more than sharing a life together. It’s building a life together. What you do now is for both, and what is said now is for both. What your purpose is now is for the kingdom and giving glory to the image of God.’ (Norm Wright, from the book One Marriage Under God)
Throughout the whole book Cindy and I both write in each chapter from our perspective on the topic. So, in this Insight, I’ll share a portion of what I wrote in chapter 7. It goes along great with the issue of having a healthy marriage behind closed doors and in front of them. I called this part: You know you’re in partnership when:
You Know You’re in Partnership When:
• You Comfort Each Other When You’re Down.
The Bible says:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, ESV).
Cindy and I have tried to practice being the conduit that God uses to bring comfort to each other when we go through those “down times” (physically, emotionally, and spiritually). We all have them, so we all need to learn how to be comfort givers.
• You Encourage Each Other to Pursue Your Dreams.
Cindy has been my biggest cheerleader and I have been hers. We both know God has planted in us desires and passions to serve Him in different ways.
I could never have become the chaplain in the fire department I serve in now if Cindy hadn’t encouraged me every step of the way. And she could have never taken the lead in birthing Marriage Missions International if I hadn’t supported her dream. (We now very much partner in this ministry together.) When you support and encourage each other’s dreams, you may never know the impact that will have on the world.
• You Still Flirt with Each Other.
My heart still skips a beat when Cindy walks into the room. This doesn’t happen by chance. It’s because we have continued through our forty-five-plus years of marriage to intentionally flirt with each other. I’ll (not so innocently) brush up against her when I walk by or gently touch her; and she’ll do the same to me. If we’re sitting across the room from each other when we’re with other people, I’ll catch her attention and wiggle my eyebrows up and down real fast. She will in turn bat her eyelashes back at me. Most people never notice, but we both get the silent message loud and clear: “I love you!” And our hearts are warmed.
• You Say, “I Love You” Often.
One of the first things we say to each other when we wake up and the last thing we say to each other in bed before we go to sleep are these three words. We’ll also say them several times throughout the day. If one of us leaves the house, even on a short errand, or at the end of every phone call, we say, “I love you.” Even during those times can be termed as being under the “worse” category above, we still say those three words.
They are three easy words, but they go unsaid too often in many marriages. Don’t be afraid to voice your feelings.
If you employ just these three things in your marriage you’ll reap unimaginable benefits when it comes to building an unbreakable partnership.”
In my research on this topic of marital partnership I came across a book called Beyond The Myth of Marital Happiness, written by Blaine J. Fowers, Ph.D. He has a chapter on marital partnership. He had some pretty astute insights: “When partners in a marriage value equality, they see each other as equals, treat each other with respect, consider each other’s needs, and support one another.” In it he talks about the:
Benefits of Equal Partnership
An equal partnership benefits marriages as a whole and benefits husbands and wives individually:
They have happier marriages.
Equal partnership fosters closeness between husband and wife, resulting in a stronger and happier marriage. Spouses feel better about themselves and each other, which makes them more likely to share their thoughts and feelings.
There are Benefits to Men.
Men benefit emotionally from equal partnership because there is greater openness and they feel better about their marriage. They also benefit from the greater physical intimacy that comes with equal partnership.
There are benefits to women.
The closer communication and emotional intimacy in an equal partnership greatly benefit women. Research shows that having an equal say in decision-making is the most important contributor to wives’ perception of their marriages as happy and satisfying.
Everything Fowers says is what Cindy and I have been telling couples for years. It is exactly what we believe God is calling each and every one of us as individuals and as couples to live out every day. It doesn’t matter if we are behind closed doors, or not. And each point is something we’ve experienced and employed in our marriage—and they work!
Something else I pray husbands come to understand (as I did) comes from the book Marriage Rebranded, written by Tyler Ward where he quotes something pastor Ray Ortlund told him:
“My wife was given to me to enrich me; to make me wiser, a better man, a better professional, and a better father . . . Once I stopped being so stubborn and learned to use our relationship and her voice as the asset that it is, everything changed.”
So, what’s your marriage like behind closed doors as well as what people see in public? Whether we like it or not we all influence others and set an example for others to follow. The question we pose is: Is it obvious to others that you are a couple in “Partnership With Each Other and With God?” If not, don’t be discouraged, you can be and we have a lot of tools on our web site as well as in our book The 7 ESSENTIALS To Grow Your Marriage to help you get to that place.
We pray this is helpful!
Steve and Cindy Wright