That’s what my husband said as he handed me a gift of two hand-carved tundra swans. There was no special occasion. He just heard the story and thought of me.
Thought of us.
It’s interesting to watch nature and learn from our animal neighbors. Some people say that humans are not meant to be monogamous because that’s not the way it is in the animal kingdom. And then, you see examples like the swan or the penguin, where they instinctively know that sticking together increases the chance of survival.
We are not animals. I guess that standing tall on two feet gets us out of the mud and having opposing, functional thumbs allows us to create things animals can’t. Our brains, although wired for survival, are also able to think and develop emotional intelligence.
However, many people choose to live and believe as if we are no better than a donkey. And to be honest, some people act no better than an ass! If you’ve ever watched a tom turkey have his way with the closest female (which I have!)…it’s not a pretty sight.
That’s the ugly side of acting like an animal, I suppose.
“Between the psyche of an animal and the spirituality of a man there is an enormous distance, an uncrossable gulf.” ~Harol Wojtyla from Love and Responsibility
But for two people who make promises to each other with their hearts and with a contract (the not-so-sexy part of a marriage)…they understand it really is a jungle out there.
That’s why there are vows…and that’s why there is a binding contract enforceable by law (yes, you can sue someone who interferes with your marriage!) It’s a balance between romance and practicality. A balance built for survival. The commitment to each other that’s built within the vows allows the two people who willingly took them the time and space to figure out life’s challenges, fully develop their love…and in turn, their own souls.
So how do you keep the romance alive so your union can survive what life throws at it?
Stay Married: This one is a no-brainer! Jamie Lee Curtis gave that answer when asked about the “secret” for a long marriage. Love that woman! Seems like an obvious answer, right? But because we are thinking beings, we often end up complicating things by over-exaggerating the problems and over-thinking the (often wrong) solutions. Too often, people get personally offended by something, seek revenge for a perceived slight, and make a long-term decision for a short-term problem.
It’s been said “It’s a long way from here to where you’re going to go.” They should probably add that to the marriage vows. In fact, they may want to give newly married couples a sturdy pair of running shoes because as Steve Farrar says in the book Finishing Strong, “…marriage is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. It’s a long race and long races don’t require speed, they require grit, determination, and finishing power.”
The good news is that no matter what has happened in your marriage up to this point, you can always make the decision to stay married. As Farrar notes, just because you’ve fallen down doesn’t mean you can’t get up and finish strong.
According to him, only about 1 of every 10 men finish strong. I would say that women probably have similar stats. However, it may be harder for men to finish their life strong because in many cases they have bigger egos than women although that may be changing as well! Women have egos too and it manifests itself in different ways.
The book shares this: “Men, it doesn’t matter if you’ve had a great start in the Christian life, it doesn’t matter if you’ve stumbled time and again, or even fallen flat on your face. What matters most is how you finish. The man who hangs in for the long haul with his wife, his kids, and his Lord is an exception these days.”
That’s a tall order for any man! And it’s a tall order for any woman. This is why successful marriages involve a third, more powerful force in their life: God. You can call it by whatever name you choose or by no name at all. But a foundation of faith, of purpose, and a belief in something bigger than yourself increases your ability of mating for life.
You can’t stand in the light of God and live a life of darkness. It’s just not possible. And it’s not just about showing up for church and attending bible study. In fact, 60% of men who identified as being Christian also had sexual transgressions in their marriage. So, going to church doesn’t make you a saint any more than standing in the garage makes you a car.
The difference is with what happens next.
Staying married allows you a safe place to explore the world around you and the world within in you. It’s not for lightweights. And you may not get it right the first time. However, when you do get it a little more right today than you did yesterday, there are rewards within your marriage than can only be seen in the knowing glances between two people who have been married over a quarter of a century, and the slight smiles and volumes of unspoken words shared in the most quiet and intimate moments of those souls that have chosen to run their marathon together.
Date Night: Tina Fey and Steve Carell take viewers on a crazy ride when they go on a long-overdue date night in the hilarious movie, Date Night. The part I love most about this movie is how they show you how by getting away from your everyday life and conversations, you have the opportunity to remember why you got hitched in the first place. Too often, our time is spent talking about the bills or the kids, when we should be playing with each other and remembering to be kids ourselves.
Another great movie is 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. Sandler’s character takes Barrymore out on a date and it’s incredible! The only problem is that Barrymore’s character has no memory of the date the following day. Turns out, she has a sort of amnesia where she keeps reliving the same day over and over and over again. Rather than get frustrated and walk away, Sandler comes up with a plan to make every day with the woman of his dreams a first date. In the movie, it’s through necessity because she doesn’t remember anything. However, how great would it be if you chose to do the same thing in your marriage…sans the amnesia!
Marriage shouldn’t be boring. And most of us were not boring when we were in the dating stages of our relationships. But life and responsibilities and kids and jobs can start to squeeze out the fun…if you let it.
In Heartburn, Nora Ephron said, “Having a first child is like throwing a hand grenade into a marriage!” A couple’s spontaneous and passion-filled life suddenly goes “kaboom!” It’s not just about how to keep this little being alive from moment to moment, or finding a place to have a quickie without falling asleep because you’re totally exhausted. It’s also about suddenly realizing that once you have a baby, you bring all these rules and expectations and responsibilities into your little world of happily ever after…and that can make it a whole lot less happy and fun!
Date nights are the cure for that even if you have to do something boring like putting it in your day planner in order to make it happen! It allows you to step out of the mommy and daddy role and continue to explore each other in adult ways. Sometimes that simply means finding a place to have a nice meal and a conversation that doesn’t involve baby talk. Other times it’s a wild night on the town where you continue to dance and play or get chased down by someone that’s trying to kill you.
Hey, it can happen!
Dating your spouse builds your friendship and sense of togetherness. As Dr. Charles D. Schmitz and Dr. Elizabeth A. Schmitz reveal in their book, Building a Love that Lasts, “Being in love is easy, but staying in love takes something completely different.”
Unlike what you see in a sappy romance movie, love is not something you fall into or have no control over…that’s lust or as the good doctor would say – a surge of hormones or a bodily reaction, like a sneeze!
The real love of successful couples is synergy.
If you have ever experienced that synergistic dance in life with your spouse, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Dating helps you to appreciate what each person brings into the marriage. It helps you to build the “us” while celebrating the “you” and “me”.
That dance is set to the music of your life together. Do you and your spouse have certain songs or artists who, no matter where you are or who you are with, bring up happy memories in your mind? You could be driving in traffic and “that song” comes on and you remember the first time the two of you did something, traveled somewhere, shared a special moment. You know what I mean. That ability for you to connect and think of one another simply because the song transports you to someplace special.
For us, it’s Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson, Paul Overstreet, and an entire mixed tape of 80’s pop songs. They just can’t be played without us thinking of each other.
Now, this isn’t to say your marriage must be perfect or problem free in order to work. In fact, I would argue that if your marriage seems to be perfect and problem free, you may have a problem!
Dating and friendship allows you time to learn about each other, build your trust and honesty, and have those difficult conversations – the “sacred cows” that only the most intimate of couples can have and survive.
And then, like Drew Barrymore’s character – you forget about the past and celebrate today!
Respect Each Other: Would you treat your father/mother the way you treat your spouse? Do you treat people at work better than the person you sleep with? Respect is important in every healthy relationship, especially your marriage.
This doesn’t mean you will never do something that is disrespectful – we are human – however, there has to be an underlying foundation of respect in the relationship. It starts with who you are (a basically emotionally healthy and balanced individual is best) and what your relationship was founded on (truth and honesty are powerhouses for mating for life). The ingredients that go in to the relationship determine the quality of the relationship that is formed!
If your entire relationship starts out with bad ingredients…like a lie, infidelity, some sort of co-dependency, or a rebound for revenge…you’re going to have a tough road ahead of you. Don’t be fooled…a red flag is a red flag – even when you want to believe it’s green! When you have self-respect, you won’t be color-blind. If you lack self-respect…well…you’ll be vulnerable to getting into something that could be hard to get out of!
Ideally, your relationship starts with healthy respect. Don’t take advantage of that. Take that solid foundation and build up your “bank” of respect. How? It’s simple really. Saying thank you, opening the door even when you’re in a hurry, calling when you’ll be late, leaving little notes for each other, watching a chick-flick when you would rather watch the action movie, putting away the phone and really listening to what the other person is saying, and so much more.
It starts with simply being a good human to the most important person in your life.
Where does respect start? You must set your own standards. Nobody is going to “give” you respect. It’s important for women to set expectations…for themselves and especially as examples for their daughters and people they love.
I remember a conversation I had with a man who wanted to “date” someone close to me. My friend wanted me to talk with him because she wasn’t sure what to do. He was married but she thought he was cute. She thought she loved him. He told her he was going to divorce his wife. She thought he was sincere. She thought she would be better for him. She was tempted…and yet she trusted me enough to look out for her best interests.
My first reaction was palm to forehead. I told her, “You are not the answer to his problem. This is between him and his wife and you have to let them work it out. This guy has already shown that he is capable of lying. He’s willing to use you. That’s not love.”
Research has also revealed that most often, an affair has nothing to do with the marriage, or with the other spouse. Most often it’s a reflection of the “me-syndrome”, a temporary crisis, or a personal challenge the cheater is trying to avoid. In interviews with men who have cheated, a high majority said they never intended to hurt their spouse or leave the marriage. As General Petraeus said in his own much-publicized affair and fall from position, he “let go of the wheel…”
“…perhaps my experience can be instructive to others who stumble or indeed fall as far as I did… I know that I can never fully assuage the pain that I inflicted on those closest to me and on a number of others…I can, however, try to move forward in a manner that is consistent to the values to which I subscribed before slipping my moorings and, as best as possible, to make amends to those I have hurt and let down and that is what I will strive to do…”
He went on to say to a close friend, “I am also keenly aware that the reason for my recent journey was my own doing….I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair…”
In fact, most people who choose infidelity, said they loved their spouse.
She pleaded with me…don’t I deserve happiness? What if this is fate?
Yes, you deserve happiness…we all do. But what if this isn’t fate and just plain old fashioned temptation and sin? You know, the stuff that starts wars, tears out the souls of humans, and destroys good men and women?
The only thing my friend knew for sure about this guy was that he was capable of lying. That was the only truth about him! And, if he would lie to his wife, he would lie to her. Guaranteed! Still, I told her I would talk to him…get a feel for what his intentions were…but I also reminded her not to sell herself short. If he were going to divorce his wife, it would already be done. Intentions mean nothing.
As a side note, according to Steve Farrer in the book Finishing Strong, it’s a good idea to have friends who will keep you accountable in your life and in your marriage. Friends who will “call you to the carpet” so to speak, when you’re about to do something you shouldn’t be doing. It’s too easy to fall prey to self-deception, especially when you lack self-respect or are in the middle of a crisis of some sort. And, it’s really easy to surround yourself with “yes” people who agree with everything you say or do, but it’s wiser to surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth.
So anyhow, back to our Casanova. I told him that there are two things a smart woman should expect from any man 1) that he be a good father and 2) that he respect the woman he’s with. I also said that if he were willing to make my friend his mistress…he didn’t respect her.
He asked me what I meant.
In terms of being a good father: The best way for a man to be to be a good father is to love the mother of his children. That comes straight from the Book that’s as old as time. Now, I’m not sure why that is so important except for maybe it simply helps being (and staying) a family easier. Few would argue that a healthy, intact, family is a good thing. For a family to stay that way (healthy and intact) involves effort and love between the parents. But the reality is it doesn’t always work out that way. We are human, we mess up, and families change. But that doesn’t excuse a man from the responsibility of being a good father.
I know men who are great fathers who show respect to the mother of their children even if they are no longer married. Love is expressed even if the marriage didn’t work. It can happen. Maybe it has something to do with integrity? Maybe it’s because the parent understands the health and well-being of the child is more important than their own ego. But the bottom line is that fathers are important. And being a good, albeit imperfect, father is very important.
Frank Pittman, author of Man Enough: Fathers, Sons, and the Search for Masculinity has said, “A woman can do anything…except be a father.” True, many woman have taken on the role of wearing all the hats in the family – voluntarily and involuntarily, and my hats are off to them because I know how hard it is to fly solo (ask any parent whose husband serves in the military or whose job takes them away from home for long stretches of time…it’s hard when you don’t have backup!)
The point is not to brow beat single parent families, stuff happens. It’s more to acknowledge that each parent brings something unique and special to a child’s life. It’s also a suggestion to stop and consider how each parent adds to their child’s development and celebrate those contributions. For Pittman, who spends a great deal of time on the devastating effects of failed father-son relationships, it’s a call to arms for men to be men and stop acting like grown children who flip flop through life based on how they feel at the moment.
Pittman says that being a father is life’s fullest expression of masculinity. Masculinity is not about conquering the nearest willing and vulnerable female as some young men seem to think, and it’s not about simply being the financial provider for the family. The importance of being “dad” cannot be replaced by an alimony or child support check. And when a man is reduced to a paycheck, it also robs him of the ability to be a father and reap the benefits that come with the rich experience of fatherhood.
This hunger for father affects both men and their sons. Pittman writes:
“ Life for most boys and for many grown men then is a frustrating search for the lost father who has not yet offered protection, provision, nurturing, modeling, or, especially, anointment. All those tough guys who want to scare the world into seeing them as men and who fill up the jails; all those men who don’t know how to be a man with a woman and who fill up the divorce courts; all those corporate raiders who want more in hopes that more will make them feel better; and all those masculopathic philanderers, contenders, and controllers–all of them are suffering from Father Hunger.”
And while Pittman’s body of work involves fathers and sons, there is also a unique benefit between healthy father-daughter relationships.
Now for this would-be Casanova, what kind role model is he for a son; and what is he teaching a daughter about how she should be treated by a man?
So, being a good father is important.
Respect for the woman: As for respect, if a married man is involved with a woman who is not his wife, then that woman is a mistress…not a girlfriend. And no matter how you try to paint that into a pretty picture, a man doesn’t respect a woman who is a mistress. If he did, she wouldn’t be his mistress.
A man is careful to choose a wife because at some deep level, he understands her real value transcends her outward physical appearance – even when he is physically attracted to her. He knows his chances for survival increase when his life partner is someone who has high standards, morals, and integrity. Someone he can trust even when he screws up and life gets difficult (as it surely will). Someone who is strong enough to forgive and say ‘no’ to her own temptations.
A wife is not just a fling or a conquest or a way to get back at somebody when he gets angry at life. The commitment made in marriage is an acknowledgement of value. My husband always tells me that what he values most about me is what’s on the inside. That’s his pearl.
“When a man chooses a woman to be the companion of his whole life, he designates the person who will play a bigger part in his life than any other, and indicates the direction which his life vocation will take” ~Harol Wojtyla
As for the mistress, she’s already revealed her values and standards. If she was unfaithful in her own marriage (legally married while seeking her husband’s replacement), she has shown she cannot be trusted and is willing to justify her actions with what may be socially acceptable although a clear violation of the promises she made to her husband. If she was unable to forgive her former husband or talks poorly of him, the man knows he can expect the same. The man sees the red flags where the woman sees good excuses and he will not risk discarding the person he values for someone he’s using. The bottom line is, a mistress never acts from a position of power.
I have been approached several times by men, married and not, with everything ranging from innocent flirtations to outright offers for a roll in the sack. Sure, it’s flattering to be desired; however, I’ve never allowed the flattery to cheapen the reason they find me desirable. In fact, I had one man tell me the reason he found me so attractive was because of my own self-respect, confidence, and sense of moral integrity. Also, because I demonstrated the value I placed on my husband by being faithful to him even though society tells us that “everyone is doing it.” And trust me, he was trying really hard to break that bond! In his eyes, his inability to get me to fail in my marriage vows meant that my word and my character mattered. That, he said, was sexy. He lamented that too many women were too quick to give in to him. I could see why. He was incredibly handsome and financially secure. He wasn’t married. I liked him. We are friends. And, he admitted the variety of sex these women so freely offered him seemed fun at first…but ultimately for him, not fulfilling. This man didn’t want to “date” me, and he really didn’t want to make me to do something against my morals…he wanted to marry me! He wanted the value I represented which my husband had recognized and consummated over 30 years ago.
And, my husband knows about these offers from other men which allows him to love me even more because he knows I’ve been tested, I have grit, and he can trust me unconditionally. In his eyes, everything else is just a cheap substitute.
I’ve talked with women who had affairs, and they mostly say they finally got tired of trying to make a meal out of the crumbs the guy threw at them while the wife got the main course. Most often, the mistress is a backup plan or a bad habit. Only in the movies and rarely in real life, do those affairs end up happily ever after…most often (to the tune of 75%) they end up in divorce court a second (or third) time. And guess what, the guys know this! They hold onto their wallets and string along lies to keep the woman on the hook until they are done with her, find another mistress, get exhausted from lying to everyone, find God, or they grow out of whatever emotional crisis or hormonal imbalance they’re going through – like “man-o-pause.”
I’ve talked with guys who have had affairs too…some long term. Without exception, they say it’s the worse decision they ever made in their lives. Without exception! Some had real financial loss, some lost their families and relationships with their kids, and all of them felt as if they lost a part of their soul and their own self-respect because they simply didn’t like who was looking back at them in the mirror. They, in various ways, had become “that guy” they never wanted to be. Why did they let it go on so long? Most don’t know – habit, mostly and some figured they were going to hell anyway so why deal with the scorn of an angry woman when they ended the affair. They just sort of went along until the woman got tired of the crumbs he was throwing at her…
Pittman says that if a man could see what his life would look like 5 or 10 years after he made the decision to have an affair, he wouldn’t do it. Nobody thinks on their wedding day they will ever betray the person standing beside them. There is a lot of respect between the two. But life puts hurdles in front of every couple, not as a punishment, but as an opportunity to become stronger – individually and as a couple. You just need to be ready.
Here’s something interesting. In Finishing Strong, the authors talk about three things which can ambush a man and cause him to fall:
The ambush of another woman;
The ambush of money;
The ambush of a neglected family.
The counterbalance of this is to first, be aware of these big 3 hurdles and acknowledge that every single man (and woman) walking the planet is susceptible to them. The authors believe that the struggle for a man’s (and woman’s) soul is real. It’s a struggle as old as time: good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, God vs. Satan.
We are simply the tool. Now, you don’t have to be a bible thumper, or even believe in Satan, or sin or evil to be touched by that statement. Think about what the “heart of God” represents. Now, imagine that you are the one being used to destroy that heart. That’s like ripping the wings off of a beautiful butterfly, torturing a baby sea lion, or crushing a baby chick with your bare hands.
Infidelity is not good. It lacks respect – for yourself, for the other person.
If you are thinking about embarking on something like an extra-marital affair…stop. Ask yourself why you are willing to deny yourself something real, something you can freely share with the world. Why are you okay with hiding something that should be celebrated? What are you afraid of? Why are you choosing to close of a part of yourself to something even better in order to feel safe with someone who is not available? Why are you afraid of finding real love? Maybe you had a failed relationship or marriage in the past and are insecure about your ability to choose a good partner. Do you think that jumping into something with a person you know is dishonest is healthy?
They say that an affair says more about the people engaged in the affair than it does about the marriage or the spouse.
Are you okay with being used as a tool to bring harm to something precious? A heart, a soul, a man, a woman, a child, a family… Because no matter what you tell yourself, infidelity does harm. Mostly to yourself. Think about it…
A strong marriage begins with two strong individuals. People who are aware of the obstacles and choose to build up their resistance by constantly improving who they are. And when they stumble, their vows give them the motivation to stand up again…for themselves…for each other…for the marriage…for their family.
The way to protect yourself from being ambushed is to build respect. Respect for yourself and respect for your spouse.
This can be done by creating habits and a life mission. Steven Covey talks about it in Habits of Highly Effective People.
But I love the Farrar’s simple life mission: Don’t Screw Up!
I don’t want to screw up my marriage
I don’t want to screw up my relationship with my kids
I don’t want to screw up my integrity
3 simple mission statements. Every decision he makes is measured against them. If something he is doing, or wants to do, will result in messing up his marriage, kids, or integrity…he doesn’t do it.
So what about our would-be Casanova?
After this prospective married guy who wanted to take on a mistress high-tailed it out of town, my friend thanked me. In the end, she didn’t want to be the kind of woman who destroyed a man or potentially his kids…that’s not love. And she didn’t want to risk destroying herself with what was certain to be a bad decision, even if it sounded fun for a while. That’s not self-love.
The thing is, she already knew this about herself. She just needed a person in her life to count on, who loved her enough to tell her the truth, and held her accountable to the high standards she desired for herself.
Respect is important. And it starts by respecting yourself. That alone makes so many other decisions in life easy! No matter where you personally fall on this spectrum right now, every day you have an opportunity to make a decision and change directions. You don’t have to stay where you are. That’s important to know.
Yesterday doesn’t matter…it’s done. Respect yourself enough to make a good decision for your life today, and get on with it!
Forgiveness: Okay, with all this talk about ways to not respect your mate, we have to bring forgiveness into the discussion. Your spouse will disappoint you. Guaranteed. Maybe in a small way by forgetting a birthday or anniversary; maybe in a big way like being unfaithful. It’s hard to be human sometimes; and it’s literally impossible to be a perfect human! Forgiveness and a forgiving heart are necessary in a marriage. This includes forgiving yourself.
“The salvation of man is through love and in love.” ~Victor E. Frankl
Every time you choose to forgive your spouse (and yourself), you move closer to the type of love that is meant to be found in your marriage. Your vows were “for better or worse”…not “until something else comes along” or “as long as I’m happy” or “as long as my spouse doesn’t screw up…” Yes, there is a practical reason for this. It brings stability to our social fabric of life.
But there is a personal growth reason for this as well. All the best things in life come after you are able to stick with something long enough to learn the important lessons. Too often we bail when it gets hard and miss out on the brass ring…the golden anniversary…the life lesson learned…our own personal growth, and becoming the person we are called to be. In the self-help world they may say it’s about becoming the person you need to become in order to accomplish what it is you’re supposed to accomplish while you are here! Your life purpose.
If you bury yourself in negative emotions like hate, anger, dishonesty, and jealousy, your chances of living a great life diminish.
Have you ever read stories about gold miners who worked for years trying to find the vein that would yield them all the riches in the world, only to give up from pure exhaustion and disappointment when they were literally inches away from striking gold?
And what about the famous story about finding diamonds in your own backyard? You can literally and figuratively search the world for happiness only to find out, sometimes too late, that everything you wanted was in your own backyard had you just taken the time to cultivate it.
Forgiveness in your marriage opens up fertile ground to cultivate a loving, rich, life with your spouse. It’s not always easy but it’s always necessary.
Look, we all make mistakes. We do things to ourselves and to the people we love that hurt. With forgiveness, we don’t have to become our mistakes.
As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, do better.”
Great Food! Okay, the experts don’t actually say that great food will help you mate for life, but it sure makes coming back for seconds and thirds a whole lot more appealing!
Great food is healthy food. And healthy food nourishes your body from the inside out. It shows the world that you care about your health and are making food choices to literally light up your soul!
Eating healthy keeps you healthy and everything works, looks, and loves a lot better when your soul is being carried in a healthy vessel.
This extends to your mental health. Gratitude is a big part of being mentally healthy.
Gratitude for what you eat, where you live, your health, your family, your spouse, your opportunities, your friends, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, and the list goes on and on and on. When you are grateful, you are open to positive, high frequency energy. This can attract all the best things in life into your world. It allows you to see things in a different way.
Bring this gratitude into your marriage. Even when things are hard, be grateful for the opportunity to learn, grow, and love a little deeper. A chance to move beyond what’s superficial and develop the muscle of integrity, character, and real love.
It’s very hard to be unhappy when you are grateful. And when you are happy, it’s easy to survive, stay in love, and mate for life.
Like the swan…