Editor's note: This article was originally published on Tim Parsons' blog TimParsons.me. It has been used here with permission.
It happens all the time. My wife and I hear things about our marriage that makes us smile. Things like: "You look so happy!" "You act like newlyweds!" "You can't relate with what I'm going through because your marriage is so good." "You two never fight."
We don't smile because these things make us happy...we smile because very few people know our story. And everyone has one - even us.
It wasn't that long ago that Consuela and I were at the point of divorce. Things were not good and our marriage was in crisis. I don't say this lightly. We were at the point of no return - or at least we thought.
We were meeting with pastors and counselors trying to restore what once was. We were working through the most painful thing that I have ever personally been a part of.
As I reflect back on that time in my life, there are some things that if I had only understood them fully when I got married, the crisis that we found ourselves in could have been avoided. Here are five of them:
1. There is no plan B
My marriage is for life and only ends in death. It sounds a little dark, but it's truth. When I took a vow to love her for life, I committed to make it work no matter what.
My mindset was that I was going to leave my options open. If being married didn't work out or if being with Consuela didn't last or if she didn't make me happy, I wanted to make sure I had a way out or, worse, another option. But, in marriage there is no plan B. Plan B's open the door and kept me from fully committing myself to my wife and our marriage.
2. Marriage is not about my happiness
So many couples make this mistake. You hear it all the time. And, I believed it back in 2000 when we walked down the aisle together. I thought, "Consuela is my wife so that she can make me happy. That's what wives do. And, if she isn't making me happy, then I need to find someone or something that will."
The truth is, marriage is about so much more than my happiness. And, she can't carry the burden of my happiness. Happiness is subjective and relative and as a man, my definition of happiness changes so much that there's no way she could keep up with all my demands. Marriage is about mutual love and respect and honoring God through our faithfulness. It is not about my happiness.
3. Communication is more effective than silence
I'm an introvert. I'm also a man. So, talking about my feelings is as foreign and uncomfortable for me as flying an airplane. My default when something upsets or bothers me is to be quiet - and alone. There comes a point when those feelings become so suppressed that I begin looking for unhealthy ways to channel my anger, depression or whatever is bothering me.
What I've found is that no one loves me and cares for me and no one can minister to me like Consuela can. I can feel confident that she will handle my insecurities and emotions delicately. And, if I am upset with her, she is the only one who can fix it - so why not share with her.
4. Serving her benefits me
I always recommend the book "The 5 Love Languages" to those who are getting married or anyone who is already married. It changed the way I viewed my relationship with my wife. We naturally try to love others how we want to be loved - but if that isn't their love language, the efforts are somewhat meaningless.
Although service to my wife is something that I should and must do in order to have a healthy, happy marriage - I found an interesting phenomenon. When I serve her, it actually benefits me. Don't get me wrong, we should serve not because of what we get in return. But, it's pretty cool that we do get something back when we serve our spouses. I find that when I serve her (empty out the dishwasher, for example) it fills her "love tank" to the point where she wants to do the same for me. Pretty cool, huh?
5. Conflict is not a sign of dysfunction
In any relationship - work, family, friendship, etc. - there is going to be conflict. It is normal and OK. For some reason, many of us put marriage in a different category. We think if we're fighting or arguing that there must be something wrong with our marriage. We immediately jump to the conclusion that our marriage is dysfunctional or damaged in some way.
And, when we think our marriage is dysfunctional, we begin thinking about plan B's, we stop communicating, and we stop serving. But, conflict in marriage is normal.
It's how we choose to work through those times that determines how healthy or damaged our marriage is. I've found that viewing conflict as normal has helped me not hold onto offenses, helped me say I'm sorry much quicker, and work hard to resolve conflict as soon as it happens.
As you can probably tell by the beginning of this post and the comments that we regularly receive - Consuela and I have an awesome marriage, now. It is better than it ever was. Even better than it was the day we got married! Especially now that I know these five things about marriage.
What about you? Have you found similar things in your marriage? What would you add to this list?