Why Marriage May Not Be For You!

After 20 years of marriage, I’m convinced that marriage isn’t for me! Before you jump to conclusions, please read on.

weddingBack in the day, finding a spouse was not a complex proposition. Your folks shortlisted the suitable candidates and chose the one who’s family was most complimentary to theirs. Complex terms like love and personal choice were not part of the equation! But in our very different world, many people struggle with the question of how to locate the One. “What if I end up with someone who makes me miserable?” The result? Commitment phobic people who are mortally afraid of entering marriage because of the misery they fear it might cause them. And subsequently after marriage when the going gets tough, many end up convinced that their unhappiness is because they made a mistake and married the wrong person!

Recently, I read an article by author Seth Adam Smith who made the same discovery I made when I faced the same fears, years ago. His commitment-phobia came to a head as he was planning his engagement to his high school sweetheart and best friend. Was he ready? Was this the right person to marry? Would she make him happy?

wedding 2In his confusion, he decided to confide in his dad about his fears. His dad’s response floored him. Instead of empathizing with him, he told him that he was being totally selfish because marriage was not for him. “You don’t marry to make yourself happy; you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

Seth’s blog post received 2 million views in 36 hours and when I last looked, that had jumped to 24 million. As countercultural as his message was in our culture today, it evidently struck a cord. You can read his original article here.

wedding 3One of the biggest problems in our lives today is caused by our expectation that the people around us are there to make us happy. Life is after all, the pursuit of happiness. Whether it’s our spouse, our friends, our boss, or our workmates, we only want to hang out only with people who contribute to our personal bliss. But this is a selfish extractive approach that is based on not on what I give to others but on what I can get from them. It turns us into net consumers and not net contributors.

So the next time you find yourself wondering if you married the right person, turn the question round and ask ‘how can I be the right person for the person I married?’

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True Love Is Not What We Thought!

To commemorate 20 great years since I married my college sweetheart, I took some time this week to think through some of lessons that I’ve learnt about marriage. The biggest one is that the pathway to love is not what we thought it was! Let me explain…

 attractedTwenty plus years ago, like any typical dating couple, we did some rather unconventional things! Have you ever seen a guy outside a dress shop carrying a ladies handbag as the girl he loves looks at and even tries out different outfits? That was me. Little did she know then that I hate window-shopping! She was no different; she sat with my friends and watched the rugby games I played in. Little did I know that watching sports was not on her top one hundred favorite things!

 A big complaint in marriages today is that people no longer feel the same way about each other as they did when dating. Or do the same things. Somehow, they figure, the love must have run out along the way.

 The problem however is in our definition of love. If you ask people what love is, you’ll get definitions that have to do with feelings – like ‘love is holding her hand and feeling your heart skip a beat’, or ‘love is gazing tenderly into his eyes’. Or as one person put it, ‘love is a feeling you feel when you feel that your are about to feel a feeling that you’ve never felt before’!

christmas4But the bible’s definition is radically different! As 1 Corinthians 13 (the famous ‘love chapter’) says ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.’

 Have you noticed none of these things are ‘fun’ or ‘romantic’? Love is a dramatic action of giving despite my feelings. And the only way I can offer such unconditional love is because I have experienced the same love from my heavenly Father!

 true intimacyThe interesting thing is that as we begin to embrace God’s definition of love – something begins to happen in our marriage. We stop trying to turn the other person into something they’re not. We accept them as flawed people who have been loved by God. And they accept us too in the same way. And true love begins to flourish, in the only atmosphere it can – one of kindness, forgiveness and acceptance.

So… you need to determine even before you begin the journey together that divorce is not an option. I like a bumper sticker I saw once that read, ‘be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet!’ Don’t be fooled; every marriage faces problems. But the paradox is that it’s only as we allow God to use us to bless the other person regardless of how we feel, that we eventually find fulfillment, joint purpose and true intimacy with our partner.

Okay, I need to say this…

I truly love you Carol. You are my lover, helpmate, partner, fellow dreamer, co-creator, mother of our lovely children and purpose companion. The last twenty years have been more than incredible and I’m amazed at God’s genius in giving me you. May the next 20 be even more awesome! Also, I hid this little nugget deep in the post to see if you’d read it till the end 🙂

Where was I? Oh yes, we’ve even written a couple of books together based on the lessons we’ve learnt in our relationship and marriage! ‘Ndoa’ is a ten-week course for couples preparing for marriage, or for already marrieds who want to strengthen their foundation. ‘Finders Keepers’ helps you figure out how to find and keep the love of a lifetime. You can get any of these from the bookstore at any of the Mavuno campuses.

True love was not what we thought it was; it turned out to be much harder but ultimately much sweeter. God bless!

Sober Love Decisions

month of loveFebruary is the month of love. And love is such a beautiful thing! Scientists tell us that when you fall in love, chemicals called neutrophines and dopamines are released in your brain giving you a permanent high. Scientists have compared falling in love with taking heroin or having obsessive-compulsive disorder. Your ability to think straight is compromised! A haze comes over your eyes and you can only see the other person through your love-induced state.

That’s why you want to make some critical decisions before you fall in love. It’s a little like figuring out how you’ll get home before you sip that first drink. Most people already have already thought through what they absolutely can’t stand in a relationship. Ladies generally tend to have more substantial criteria, and will write off a guy who is constantly in debt, lives with his mom, or has a roving eye. Guys generally tend to focus more on what they see and have no time for a gal with bad breath, poor social poise or who doesn’t pay attention to her looks.

sober decisionsA major problem in relationships today though, is that we major on minor things and minor on major ones. That’s why our relationships keep blowing up over and over! Most people don’t know a real deal breaker when they see one. The dictionary defines a deal breaker as ‘any issue or factor that is significant enough to terminate a negotiation’. You need to figure out your deal breakers while you’re still sober, and not when you’re already love-high from a relationship!

Some of us have a loooong list of deal-breakers. “He must be taller than me so that I can get married in high heels.” “She must have nice long legs, and cook like my mom does”.  But in my new book ‘Finders Keepers: How To Find And Keep The One You Love’ (coming out this March), I describe the only two deal breakers that are critical if you are looking for love that lasts a lifetime.

money crazyThe first is a common authority. Each one of us has something or someone that serves as our ultimate reference point. Examples are money, career, self, or God. I’m not telling you what your ultimate authority needs to be. But for love to last a lifetime, you need to hook up with someone who subscribes to the same authority.

The second critical deal breaker has to do with passion. You need to connect with someone who values the things that are the most important to you. You may be in different professions but you need to share a bigger passion e.g. to mentor young people, to help poor communities, to preserve the environment, or to advocate for justice.

Do you want a love that lasts? Make the sober decision to only hook up with a person who fits these two criteria!

Remaking History

‘I had no idea when we got married that he would turn out to be abusive!’

crying womanJanice held her head in her hands as she sobbed. Her story was one I’d heard many times before. She had sworn she would never end up in the same situation as her mother – married to a physically and emotionally abusive man. When she met Jack soon after college, he was so attentive and caring, the complete opposite of her father. The first time he had hit her was several months into their marriage, and then he had apologized profusely and sworn never to do it again. But now, 4 years in, she was terrified of her husband and feared that the baby that she carried in her womb would become exactly like her.

Why does history repeat itself in relationships?

The reason is that people tend to attract people at the same level of emotional maturity as they are. It’s common to fantasize that when you finally meet Mr or Ms Right, they will fix you or make you a better person. But the reality is that a relationship only compounds the state it found you in! If you are lonely, you’ll attract another lonely person and each of you will demand that the other provide the companionship that they’re incapable of giving (that’s why they got married to you in the first place!)

attractedPut another way, you don’t attract what you want; you attract who you are! Clingy, desperate women tend to attract uncaring, insensitive men – and vice versa. The reason it’s not always obvious at first is that unhealthy people attract people with complimentary dysfunctions. For example, people with addictions tend to be (unconsciously) attracted to people who are co-dependent; saviors types who have a need to be needed. Unfortunately, your partner will not only not be able to help you, but they may actually oppose your healing because your remaining as you are meets their need!

The result? Two very dependent people, each working hard to ensure that their partner never changes because then their need might then not be met! This is like two patients with no doctor. Or two ticks with no dog. I know, that’s gross. Point I’m making is that you don’t want to end up there!

thinkingIf you don’t take time now to deal with issues from your past, they will only reappear in your relationships at a compounded level. If you don’t resolve that issue with your mom, deal with that rivalry with your sibling, or sort out that lack of trust that you have for others, it will only reappear ten times bigger in your marriage. It doesn’t matter what qualities you put on your list; you will only attract people like you. Only a whole person can attract another whole person!

The best thing you can do for yourself and for your spouse (present or future) this ‘month of love’ is commit to do whatever it takes this year to become the spiritually and emotionally whole person that God created you to be. History does not have to repeat itself!

Mate Selection Criteria

couple1What qualities should you look out for in an ideal potential spouse? For many ladies today, the answer includes things like self awareness, a visionary who knows where the relationship is going, commitment to the relationship, not a mama’s boy, good looking (because it has implications on future baby genetics), financial stability, taller than me, can relate well with my family, and so on.

Guys on the other hand generally tend to have a much shorter list for the ideal bachelorette. It seems to boil down to…a beautiful, humble woman who admires me, who will not expect me to read her mind or try to interpret her signals, and who will supply good and plentiful sex!

These are generalizations obviously. The point is that we all have a list of expectations about the ideal spouse. We are constantly on the lookout for Mr or Ms Right and when we encounter someone we like, we evaluate them against our inner criteria to see if they fit the bill. That’s why it’s common to hear women lamenting that they’re no good men left, or men complaining that women are too complicated!

Back in the day, things were much simpler. In a process that would make most headhunters today look like amateurs, parents shortlisted the candidates most likely to be compatible not just with their child but with the entire family. They conducted background checks, followed up the references, and delivered the candidate who best fit the bill.

criminal background check

Life today is a lot more complicated! With their only guidance coming from talk shows, magazines, and the internet, young people face the daunting task of single-handedly finding a spouse who will satisfy their needs, be good parents to their children and be faithful to the relationship! The high rates of divorce and infidelity in our culture testify to the fact that there’s a big problem with our mate selection criteria today.

What could the problem be? As a generation, we’ve grown up believing in the mantra ‘if it feels good, do it!’ Life is about the pursuit of happiness. We find a new job or leave our old one because of what we feel we’re getting from it. And we think the same way about marriage. We want a spouse who will make us happy and meet our needs.

searchingThe problem with this thinking is that it’s externally focused – it’s about looking for the right person and not about being the right person. When you finally meet the person of your dreams, then your only choice is manipulation. You have to keep pushing them to get what you want. You’ll only realize too late that you have transferred the responsibility for your joy, significance and self esteem to someone else. This is a burden we should never assign to another human being because they’re bound to disappoint.

The solution? You’ve heard it before… Stop focusing outward! Become the person who the person you’re looking for is looking for!

18 Marriage Lessons…

To commemorate the 18 great years since I married my college sweetheart, I took some time to think through 18 lessons that I’ve learnt about marriage in that time. Please vote for your top 3 and I promise to expound on them in a blog post soon! So… here goes…

  1. A great marriage consists of two good friends – everything else is hype
  2. A cord of three strands is not easily broken
  3. If one of us wins, we both lose
  4. You’ll never meet all your spouses needs!
  5. Marriage takes mutual sacrifice
  6. Divorce is not an option
  7. Our marriage is the means to an end
  8. We need a common approach to parenting
  9. We need a common approach to in-laws
  10. Takes a lot of time to get it right!
  11. If you can’t lend trust, don’t get married!
  12. Opposites attract! And soon attack 🙂
  13. These are the ‘good old days’
  14. If the grass is greener on the other side, water yours!
  15. Don’t be a ‘child centered’ marriage
  16. Absence makes the heart go wander
  17. Parenting is a team sport
  18. Schedule spontaneity!

So… voting lines are open 🙂 Please let me know which three you’d like to hear more about!

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Thanks to all who voted! Will let you know soon which the three winners were. Watch this space!

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AND THE WINNERS ARE…

#4 – You’ll never meet all your spouses needs!

#7 – Our marriage is the means to an end

#1 – A great marriage consists of two good friends – everything else is hype

The people have spoken 🙂

Dating Books

I mentioned a couple of books by Joshua Harris this past weekend during the ‘Buyer’s Remorse’ sermon, which was part 3 of the Finder’s Keeper’s series. You can watch the video here or join the conversation

Tired of the madness that dating has become today? Wanting to avoid the mistakes that so many around you have made? Wondering if there’s a better way? Harris in ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ shares his real-life story of giving up on dating and focusing on being the one.

Same author, different context. So you’ve found a person you’re attracted to and want to take the next step. Harris makes the case for courtship, an approach as different from modern-day dating as day is to night. He shares his own story as well as that of others who’ve taken this counter-cultural approach, to show you that yes, it is possible! The appendix includes ‘8 Great Courtship Conversations’. As in people today have so forgotten how to have a real conversation! You’ll enjoy this one.

Read any good dating books that you can recommend to people hoping to one day meet the one, or people who are already in a dating relationship? Please leave a comment!