Written by David Ake, Associate Pastor of Marriage Ministry at Stonebriar Community Church
It’s almost fall, and football season is right around the corner. Though my favorite is college football, really all football is fun to talk about, debate, understand, and even play. Much of that joy is rooted in reminiscing about the glory days of the past, taking stock in the facts of the present, and dreaming of the possible victories in the future. While we appreciate and even relish the past, it doesn’t stop us from being focused on the present and excited about the possibility of growth in the future. It would be unthinkable that our favorite team would stop learning, developing, changing, and growing. However, this can sometimes happen in the long journey in our marriages. Seasons of steady, consistent work, the demands of busyness, and the care of our families can many times take this exciting, dynamic human being we married and get them “stuck” in our heads and hearts in regards to their own growth, dreams, and future. How can we be a catalyst and an encouragement for growth and change?
Remember that your spouse isn’t the same person you married, because they are an ever-growing and changing person. They experience, they learn, they laugh, they hurt, they get angry, and then they get happy. Each one of these life experience “Legos” create a beautiful mosaic of their life story. Who are they now because of these things? How have they become deeper in their wisdom? Many times, the routine of life keeps us focused on getting things done, so this can move to the back of our priority/action list. We know this, and we remember this; it just becomes a challenge to honor and invest in our spouse.
Make time to get familiar with (and regularly update) your spouse’s “love map.” This is the term Jon Gottman (one of the premier marriage researchers in the United States) uses to describe “the part of your brain where you store all the relevant information about your partner’s life.“* It is the combination of both information (call it the trivia and details about your spouse, their life, their habits, and their routines) and understanding (the “why” behind the “what” of their life). This learning process can become a bit of a challenge because we all know our spouses reasonably well. We are accepting and supportive for the most part. As the pieces of change and growth come together and make a “new” person, we can understand them by asking not only trivial questions but also by asking questions that encourage them to share their emotions and feelings and their thoughts and perceptions. The goal is to understand. The details become beautiful (and easier to remember) through the lens of understanding.
Find a dream, encourage their heart, and enable their pursuit. Learning to see this ever-growing picture of our spouse will present us with a unique opportunity! As we discover our spouse, we can grow deeper in our relationship and connection by supporting and encouraging them to grow. This can come as a bit of a surprise the first time. So before you give them time, words, and resources to help them pursue their dreams, start with your focus, affirmation, and attention to the details. Pick up on the small, almost imperceptible requests your spouse makes for encouragement, understanding, and help. Meeting the need for recognition and affirmation will help open the doors for practical support and encouragement. Help them write to understand and write their goals. Stand with them as they nervously register for that first race, dance class, or vacation. Then, have fun and go crazy, cheering them along their journey. Does your spouse want to become a triathlete? As a dear friend did, put the kiddos in the car early in the morning and follow your spouse as they jog the long trails to prepare. How do they want to grow? Find out, cheer them on, and help make it happen!
Lifelong marriages are never easy, and the demands of our lives and the long seasons of investment into our children and our schedules can take a toll. However, the journey to keep learning, understanding, and celebrating our spouses is a lifelong process that helps our roots of commitment, kindness, and joy run deep.
Enjoy the journey!
David and Jamie have been married for sixteen years, and David is still trying to figure out how Jamie fell in love with him. They have two daughters who have to hear all the time about how much Mom and Dad are in love. (They roll their eyes a lot.) Jamie and David fight, hug, laugh, and kiss a lot in front of their kids, and they love how their kids ask them to leave on dates so that they can have their own “me time.” They pray a lot for the men that will show up at their door someday to take their own girls out on a date.
*Gottman, John, Ph.D. and Nan Silver. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Harmony Books, 2015, 2nd Edition, p. 53.