As I’ve taken inventory of my marriage over the years, I’ve discovered something: marriage is hard work. Often, we find ourselves on different pages altogether. It happens to both husbands and wives alike. But if we want to build a healthy and successful marriage, we must make a change in the way we think and interact with one another!
I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It was the summer of 2004 and my wife Kristin and I were at odds. We argued all the time, over the smallest things. It was becoming ridiculous. At that point, we’d only been married for five years. Our misunderstanding of one another was growing exponentially. I determined that we were on different pages, plain and simple! Or were we?
When I finally took the time to listen to my wife’s heart, and not jump to conclusions, I discovered something profound. I had a personal problem. That’s right … me! I failed to see the most important ingredient of a successful marriage: servanthood. I was a little dense (heck I was in my 20s), and kind of lousy at putting her needs above my own! But I knew better.
A few years earlier, right before I got married in fact, an older, wiser husband and father gave me some peculiar, but great advice. He said, “Sex starts in the morning. Don’t ever forget that! It starts by you choosing to serve her at the beginning of every day.” The comment came out of the blue and frankly caused my face to turn red. I may not know very much about marriage, but there’s no way I’m talking about sex with this guy, I thought to myself. I ended the conversation pretty abruptly. Fast forward five years later, and his words returned to my mind. I began to think long and hard about what he said. The longer I thought, the more I realized why my marriage was stuck on the rocks.
I was wrapped up in me … and she was tired.
Not just tired physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. She had nothing left to give at the end of the day. She was burning the wick at both ends, from sunup to sundown. Every morning, I rushed off to work and she would put hand to the plow keeping our house in order, attending parent-teacher conferences, doing laundry, going to doctor’s appointments, tending to sick kiddos, and doing countless other things.
While I could turn on my physical side as easily as flipping on a switch, it’s wasn’t like that for her. It’s a process. It’s a trip from point A to point Z. It’s acts of kindness throughout the day. It’s helping to get kids off to school in the morning. It’s taking it upon myself to put laundry away because she does it everyday and could use some help. It’s noticing that she’s spent several hours in the kitchen, preparing dinner, so I take care of clean up while she takes a break.
It’s servanthood. It’s her needs above mine. It’s participation and engagement with our children. It’s all of this and so much more!
What if I told you I had the secret ingredient for a successful marriage? What if I told you that you could drastically improve your intimacy? Not just husbands … but husbands and wives. Would you believe me? All those years ago I discovered that I was really bad at putting my wife’s needs above my own. If you asked me, I would’ve told you that I was great at it. But, dig a little deeper and you’d find that I was making it all about me.
So here’s my question: How are you at serving your wife? How are you at serving your husband? Even though my wife and I have grown tremendously in our 16 years together, and our communication is way beyond where it was in the early days, I have to choose to serve her, and put her needs above my own, every single day. And she needs to do the same. It’s a choice we both have to make, intentionally. That’s the secret ingredient.
When we both apply servanthood to our marriage, and put one another’s needs above our own, our marriage is healthy. When we don’t, the ground is shaky and we’re at odds. It’s that simple.
I’ve mastered the art of nodding and saying “uh-huh” when my wife is talking. Heck, I’m even a pro at capturing a few buzz words and repeating them back to make it look like I’m listening. Let’s be honest, we all do this! But, this isn’t good enough. I guarantee there are adults in your professional world that you would never just nod and say “uh-huh” to repeatedly when they’re talking.
I know this, because it’s true for me. Why, then, are we okay with treating our spouses this way? Frankly, it’s terrible. I can listen intently to a football announcer’s analysis of my favorite team’s offensive struggles, but tune out my wife when she’s sharing something that’s on her heart. That’s just not good enough!
In Dr. Henry Cloud’s book Integrity, he talks about the wake that leaders leave behind as they move. Simply put, how self-aware a leader is determines the type of wake he or she leaves for those who follow them. Those who follow can ski on it, or they’re sinking because of it. Same question applies to marriage. Are we aware of our spouse’s needs? Are we tuned-in? Can they ski on our wake or are they drowning because of it? If it’s the latter, it’s time to self-evaluate. Ask your husband or wife this question, “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?”
Then, put your big boy and big girl pants on, close your mouth, open your heart and ears, and listen to their answer!
How good are you at being in the moment? When you arrive home from work are you present? Or are you somewhere else? This was a huge problem for me. I struggled with engagement. In fact, I still do at times. It’s a battle I fight nearly every day. As human beings, our world blitzes us all the time, demanding this or calling for that. It’s nearly unending and it feels overwhelming. We lose focus and give our mind power to everything but the most important people: our family.
Asking big questions
So, how do we overcome this? How do we change? As you and I continually work on our marriages, we must ask (and answer) these critical questions:
Have I put my husband or wife’s needs above my own today?
Yes, this is a daily question!
Am I really listening to them when they’re sharing something with me?
Or am I distracted by my phone, the football game, my kids, the laundry, or someone else?
What kind of wake am I leaving behind me? Can my spouse ski on it or is she drowning from it?
This actually applies to your entire family.
When I get home from work am I really there?
Am I present and engaged with the most important people in the world?
You will never reach perfection in your marriage, but you can reach health. Trust me, I’m living proof of this. If we make a commitment to serving, listening, discovering, and being, everything will improve, including your sex life. I know our wives are not perfect and they have work to do also, but that’s not the point of this post. This is for us men.
That guy I told you about earlier was right: sex does start in the morning. And boy oh boy is it good. The dividends pay greatly when I start each day with a commitment to serve my wife above myself! In fact, they pay greatly for any spouse who makes the choice to the other’s needs above their own.
More from Confessions of an Adoptive Parent:
- 3 surefire ways to build a successful marriage
- The illusion of a perfect life
- 5 reasons steadfast marriages build healthy, happy kids