Mops Speaking: Marriage as Connection and Contract January 9th, 2017
This is the content with expanded details for my presentation at the Pleasant Valley MOPS group. It’s written as an oral presentation with complete sentences and shortened stories that got restated and lengthened respectively at the “live event”. Keep in mind, this was a 30 minute talk…there are 8 pages of content here. You’ve been warned.
I’m Lindsey and I’m 36. My marriage is 12 1/2 years old tomorrow.
When I was in seminary in 2006, my marriage was 1 1/2 years old and we introduced ourselves around the class. The two guys my age introduced themselves and said they were Nick/Matt and had been married for almost two wonderful years. I said, “I’m Lindsey and I’ve been married for almost two kind of hard years.” I was honest, but was I normal?
I love being married and at times is a really hard thing.
Drew and I are two oldest children who love to be in control. We have strong opinions and lots of leadership.
We were just getting marriage figured out when we learned we were pregnant. Then we were just settling into that, and got pregnant again. Finally, with some thought, waiting, and preparation, we had baby number three four years later.
So we sit in the middle of beautiful blessings and we live together with grace, guts, grief, and good times.
Marriage is holy and really hard. Marriage is sacred and screwed up. People who marry with good intentions and God’s name can’t always make it last.
Marriage is beautiful and brutal. When you’re intimate with someone, you give them all your trust, your whole self. Sometimes, the person on the other end of your held out heart, isn’t careful.
Marriage exposes, heals, encourages, harms, helps, and expands two individuals.
Marriage is one powerful way we experience God’s love for us and have the chance to give love to another.
I wonder as you’re sitting here today, do you have more hope or hurt in your marriage? More fun or frustration? Please know I come with no answers but some ideas encouragement.
But first, lets play a game. You have small sheets of paper around your table. Take a piece of paper….play IF, THEN
I have a few I’ve finished as tenants of what I return to in marriage:
- If you are connected, then your marriage will last.
- If marriage is covenant, then married life is a contract
These are more universal. For Drew and me specifically, we might say,
- If Linds is controlling,THEN Drew gets defensive
- If we never go on a date, THEN we will start to disconnect.
- If we finish a conversation while our kids are around, THEN we get a gold medal.
- If we are really connected, and I have recently showered, THEN the sex is extra great.
- If we plan in advance, THEN we can get free childcare for a whole day date!
But back to the more universal ideas.
If connected, then marriage lasting and fun. If covenanted, then contracts are key.
As human beings and children of God, we are created in God’s image. And God is a communal image. Three people in one. Holy and perfect relationship. In the Trinity, God is in perfect relationship with God’s self- there is sacrificial, mutually beneficial love shared between the God head. Out of love within God’s own self, God shared love with us.
In the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2, God said six times it was good, one time it was excellent, and once that it was not good.
- Light- 1:4
- Space to separate the waters and land 1:10
- Plants and trees 1:12
- Lights, stars, sun, and moon- 1:18
- Sea creatures 1:21
- Live stock and wild animals 1:25
- People- excellent 1:31
And then after seven Goods and VERY goods, God said, it is not good in Genesis 2:18. It is NOT GOOD for people to be alone.
So woman was made, connection was forged, partnership created and nakedness celebrated. Genesis 2:25– “Now Adam and his wife were both naked, neither of them felt any shame.”
Perhaps the pain and the power of marriage comes in the ability to stay naked, and unashamed.
For Adam and Eve, for marriage in the garden, relationship is part of the image bearing. Connectedness is part of creation. Oneness is wholeness, unbroken connection where unity doesn’t destroy identity. It’s interdependence of two, not hierarchy of one above the other. Covenant fidelity, honor, sharing, and peace.
Because connected relationship is part of who we are, it makes sense that marriage is one of the most powerful places we experience a God-like connection.
Marriage is a decision to lay down your individuality, independence and agenda every day. Not completely but enough to be uncomfortable and frustrated. But ultimately, enough to be blessed because you’re giving yourself away to someone who holds you dear and is worthy of your service and care.
As I’ve officiated marriages over the past six years and met with couples for pre-marital counseling, we use the Bible and this small white book as texts. We use scripture and some science.
In, John Gottman’s book, 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, he approaches marriage with observation, evaluations, and research. He studies couples in what he calls a love lab. He watches them interact, measures their stress levels, observes their eye contact and neck bulges. After listening, watching, and measuring- Gottman concludes: people who are happily married, like each other.
He says the one thing that makes marriage last is not good communication, clear gender roles, or the security of lots of money…instead, scientifically, it’s that couples actually really like each other. They enjoy each other’s company and advocate for each other’s dreams. They support each other and filter through the flack of stress over the years.
“Happy marriages are based on deep friendships. By this I mean a mutual respect for an enjoyment of the other’s company. These couples tend to know each other intimately- they are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in a big way but in little ways day in and day out. Friendship fuels the flames of romance because it offers the best protection against feeling adversarial toward your spouse. Their positivity causes them to feel optimistic about each other and their marriage, to assume positive things about their lives together and to give each other the benefit of the doubt.” (Gottman 19-21)
Goal is emotional intelligence: to understand, honor, and respect each other
Connection is about caring. Friends care for and about each other. Marriage is the super friendship and care must be the dominate agenda.
TABLE DISCUSSION ON FRIENDSHIP/CONNECTION
If your husband was that great in the beginning, it shouldn’t be that hard to nurture your original love and keep liking and enjoying him right? And yet, Gottman would say that over time, the blissful state of the beginning on a relationship starts to fade. Without work, care, and paying attention, negative sentiments take over the positive ones.
For Drew and me, because we are connected, we have some conveniences. Drew will unlock the door for me if I’m coming back from an early morning workout and it’s cold. If I’m headed upstairs first, I’ll set out his contact solution. For his birthday, I’ll make biscuits and gravy. He makes my coffee sometimes even though he never drinks it. The other night we were listening to spotify while doing the dishes, TOGETHER, and after one song with way too much hard rock instrumental ended, I said, “Eh, that’s not my favorite song”- slightly exasperated. Drew exclaimed, “I KNEW you’d say that!”He wasn’t mad that I didn’t like his playlist. He laughed with love. I felt good being so known.
Its small, all these things are. But added together and in the moment, it means we know each other and express care in little ways.
The Bible also encourages believing the best about our spouses. I recently read a devotional by Richard Rohr. He was talking about love as open heartedness. He interpreted 1 Corinthians this way-
“Love is patient, love is kind, Love is not jealous, Love is never boastful or conceited, Love is not rude, nor does it take offense. It takes no pleasure in other people’s’ faults. It is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure. Love does not come to an end.”
“It doesn’t help that our brains have evolved to hold onto negative thoughts (like Velcro) and let the positive thoughts slip off (like Teflon). To retain a positive experience, you have to intentionally hold onto it for at least fifteen seconds to allow it to imprint on your brain. You have to deliberately, consciously choose to love and not hate.”
Rohr says Spirituality is whatever it takes to keep your heart space open. That is daily, constant work because your ego and the events of life want to close it down.
Practice NOW: In your seat, by yourself, close your eyes. Think of one thing you love/appreciate about your spouse and hold that thought for 15 seconds on my go. Ready, NOW.
This is about noticing, holding onto, and appreciating the good in your husband. It’s about thinking before we speak, and asking “Is this comment helpful or hurtful?” If you tell someone else what you enjoy or appreciate about your husband, tell him too. If I really am FOR my husband, does he know it? Feel it?
SO, if we can believe happy and long lasting marriages are ones where the people in those marriages connect as friends. This requires constant care, attention and what I call contract negotiation.
When I had been married 5 years, my parents 34 year old marriage ended. They were loving Christian people and their undoing shocked me and many others. It’s been really rough. Luckily I was in seminary at the time and did a seminary project on mid-life marriage crisis. I found that gradual changes can dismantle a marriage if attention and effort is not given towards addressing them.
My seminary research taught me that marriage is built on two levels: the covenant level and the contractual level.
The covenant says: We will be together. We are bound together with God.
Covenants are unbreakable, made for mutual benefit and characterized by making the other person just as important as oneself. Covenants are established and built to last. A covenant bond is not entered into lightly and is created by some intense ritual that makes a permanent imprint on both parties.
A covenant is a one time thing.
Contracts are renegotiable.
If the marriage covenant says, We ARE TOGETHER, Marriage as contract says: “This is how we will be together”
- A set of plans and roles, behaviors and goals that create the shape of your life together.
- Must be renegotiated and reviewed, reworked, and changed over time. Each contract holding member can make requests for review or rewrites.
- Contract renegotiation happens with communication, commitment, compromise and compliments!
Reworking your marriage contract is necessary after major life events in the marriage or either peson involved.
- One spouse experiencing hardship, depression or pain? RENEGOTIATE
- One person starts to work, the other stops, anyone get a new job? Pay attention. RENEGOTIATE
- You have a baby, another baby. One more?! RENEGOTIATE
- Your kids are not babies but middle schoolers? RENEGOTIATE
You get married at one point and become a family. Husband and wife in COVENANT is a family. Kids join and change lots but cannot take complete control of your marriage. The best thing you can give your kids to take care of your connection and renegotiate your contract. Your kids leave, and you are left with your husband.
As Drew helped me prepare for this, he said, “A lot changed a few years ago when you got through to me and asked me to be nice to you.” I remember telling Drew in the middle of that hard fight, “I’m going to mess up, You’re going to mess up. I’m going to be really emotional and throw some fits and say stuff in frustration I don’t mean, but give me a chance and know I’ll get out of it. Please just be nice to me. Love me. I want to love you.”
It was scary to ask so vulnerably but I’m glad I did.
For Drew and I contractually, we agree that if we aren’t talking about it, something is or could be wrong. If you can’t talk about it, it’s probably not good.
We review our contract on Monday nights during a time we call Monday Mid-rash. It’s about setting apart a night for finishing conversations, checking in and offering care. No TV. NO checking out. We assign a topic to each week. We talk about money, parenting, marriage and spirituality. We want to shine light, open the conversation, and pursue connection and care in every area.
10 years ago we renegotiated our Valentine’s day contract. We had three Valentine’s Days with varying levels of romance and disappointment. We decided we’d write each other a love letter and buy each other one pair of underwear.
We are getting better about asking each other for what we need and want. The less mystery the better. I don’t need to wonder what I’m getting for Valentine’s day or what Drew needs in the middle of this argument. We talk, expose, pay attention and move through
My encouragement to you is to be brave and vulnerable. Don’t be mysterious. Tell him whats going on and change the contract.
One of my favorite song lines if from the Fray song….and it says, “Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.”
The Fray, “All at Once”
Maybe you want it maybe you need it,
Maybe it’s all you’re running from,
Perfection will not come. Sometimes
We’d never know what’s wrong without the pain
And all at once the crowd begins to sing,
Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same
Being married it hard but I believe, only a hard thing is really worth doing.
1 John 4:17 says, “God is love, And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.”
We don’t get married without enough love to last, but as we root our marriage in the love of God so much greater than ourselves, we can endure to love each other.
May the God who brought you together, sustain you on the journey with grace and love unfathomable.