We were going on four years of marriage, adjusting to being parents, and working full-time jobs that kept us running. The miscommunications between us were so bad that we were constantly triggering the fight-or-flight response in each other, resulting in daily arguments.
Eventually, the arguments turned into straight up fights. And before too long, our communication had become so degraded that we both chose to flee rather than fight. While we still lived under the same roof, both of us had checked out emotionally. We internalized everything and communicated nothing. By mid-year, there was no husband and wife about our relationship.
We were in full-on roommate mode.
The excerpt above is from what was probably the most personal post I have ever shared – Fight-or-Flight. It told the tale of a time when Tom and I were nothing more than roommates (and not friendly ones) who happened to be raising a son and how we worked through it. I wish I could tell you that all these years later we have everything all figured out and that our marriage is easy-peasy. But – it is not.
The truth is marriage is never “easy.” Marriage takes constant work. It takes two people who are willing to put in the time and effort each and every day ’til death does them part. Although it still isn’t easy, we have figured out a few ways to work smarter, not harder. So, I am sharing our secrets – the habits that quite literally saved our marriage.
Each day we habitually put forth the effort to…
Put God first and each other immediately after.
This principle is one that my dad explained to me as soon as he found out Tom and I were serious about spending our lives together. He told me that when you find the person whom you are going to marry, you put God first because you always put God first (Proverbs 3:5-6), but then immediately after God is your spouse – not your parents (Genesis 2:24), not your siblings, not anyone, but your spouse. Not even your kids come before your spouse.
I heard my dad’s advice, but I did not heed it. I cannot speak for Tom, but I most definitely put him (Tom) first instead of putting Him (God) first. And I did that for quite a long time because in my human understanding I couldn’t fathom how that could hurt us, but it did. And what’s worse is that when our son came along, I moved Tom and God down the bench, putting our son first. It resulted in unhappiness like I had never known.
Embarrassing as it may be to admit, this may well have been the hardest thing for me to make a habit. But once I got this one figured out, the rest of what you are about to read followed suit much more quickly.
No matter what anyone tells you, love is a choice. And Tom and I – we choose to love each other unconditionally as we have been called to do (John 13:34). Don’t get me wrong, we used to play the why-do-you-love-me game, as I imagine most couples have. We even came up with a laundry list of “good reasons” why we loved each other. And do you know what transpired when life happened and those “good reasons” began to drop off the list one-by-one? Roommate mode – roommate mode happened.
We no longer play that game. It isn’t, “I love you because – fill in the blank,” anymore. It is, “I love you – period.” No reasons. No conditions. No matter what. We just love each other – flaws and all.
Grudge holding, score keeping, and being perpetually peeved with each other – for a long time we let these things stifle our relationship as husband and wife. We constantly felt the need to punish each other, which was nothing but hurtful, mostly to ourselves, and completely unproductive. However, the definition of forgiveness never made more sense to me than it did on Day 25 of The Love Dare…
“When you forgive another person, you’re not turning them loose. You’re just turning them over to God, who can be counted on to deal with them His way. You’re saving yourself the trouble of scripting any more arguments or trying to prevail in the situation. It’s not about winning and losing anymore. It’s about freedom. It’s about letting go.”
I am by no means saying that I never do things that upset Tom and vice versa. But now that we both know and understand just how good forgiveness feels, we no longer hold grudges indefinitely, or dig up past transgressions to use as ammunition in new arguments. Instead, we are quick to forgive – to let go and let God.
Work on ourselves.
“If you’re thinking that your spouse – not you – is the one who needs work in this area, you’re likely suffering from a bad case of ignorance, with a secondary condition of selfishness.” – The Love Dare, Day 5
Because the behavior of others is almost always a direct result of our own actions, our actions need to be the focus. I am always asking myself, “What can I do better?” Not to mention, we do not have the power to change anything but ourselves and our reactions. Therefore, Tom and I take time for self-reflection. We work on ourselves and pray for each other.
Over the course of more than a decade of marriage, I can say with confidence that marriage is never effortless, and never will be – ever. It will always take effort and it will always be work. I can also say with confidence that choosing to work on my marriage has been the single most rewarding thing that I have ever done.
Love this – Happy Anniversary and can’t wait to see wait the next chapter holds for TnT Drieling! 🙂
Thank you, Buzzard! I too am excited to see what the next 9 years and beyond have in store for us!
Yes to all you wrote. Marriage is a work in progress, and a continual. sacrificial love for each other. But after 15+ years, I can say it is worth it!!
I am excited to see where we’ll be in 15 years, working smarter not harder! Thanks for reading, Kay!
Jan Bartee says
Excellent writing Terryn! Even after 52 years we have work to continue to do
Keep on trucking!! Hugs!
Thank, Jan! And congrats on 52 years!
Happy Anniversary, Terryn and Tom!
Terry, thank you for being brave enough to say that marriage is the hardest thing you have ever done and that it isn’t rainbows and butterflies. Your words are perfect. They say we are human, we recognize what is not working and change what we can to do and be better. We are human and God is our strength and rock!
My Great Grandma said that marriages don’t have bad days, they have bad weeks or months. I know that to be true and understand the “roommate” mode you speak of. Working with our spouses everyday and working in a career we have so little control of is difficult, but well worth the effort we put forth.
Thank you so much for your kind words and the anniversary wishes, Robyn!
I am fully convinced that our marriage would not have survived if we hadn’t implemented these habits. I wanted to put this out here because I wanted to let others struggling that they are not alone – that other couples struggle too and there is hope if you are willing to put you faith in God and put forth the effort for you marriage. Thanks again for reading and for sharing some of your experience!
Thank you Terry. And Robyn,
It is great to read these and know we are not alone in our marital struggles. Good wisdom in this letter, thanks for writing it Terryn. God bless.
Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words Cheryl!
It is easy to feel alone in our struggles, especially when the world tells us that things should be easy, but most things worth having seldom come easy. And, we are never alone. Prayers to you and yours!
Karen Ung says
Happy Anniversary! I love your candour!! We are going on 8 years of marriage and I totally agree, it takes some work to keep things going smoothly, but forgiveness is huge (and choosing your battles – we could get mad at each other about little things but there’s no point). 🙂
Thank you for the anniversary wishes and for you kind words, Karen!
Agreed – choosing your battles is so important! I often ask myself, “Will this matter next week?” If the answer is no, then I don’t even bother mentioning it. A lot of huge fights care avoided when we avoid bringing up things that will be nothing more than silliness in a day or so. 😉
Rebecca Cofino says
I agree. The line, “Love is a choice,” particularly resonates with me. In any situation, we can decide to see it through a critical lens or a loving lens. I choose love!
I totally agree. In any situation, we can choose to be critical or to love – and right now we need way more love in our world.
Thanks so much for reading Rebecca!
Love this. Great advice that I need to work on!
Thank you for reading and for your kind words, Julie! Even after five years of implementing these habits, I am still a work in progress. 😉
Oh, how I needed to read this post. In the midst of work stress and busy kids, we have gotten a bit lost. God needs to be put back in and we need to work hard on ourselves! Thank you so much!
Thank you for reading and for your kind words, Kim!
Isn’t it crazy how life happens and we find ourselves lost? I will be praying for you as you find your way again. 🙂
These are such great points. My husband and I do not argue often, but when we do it is so important that we are quick to forgive. If you let the anger fester it just creates more problems. Thanks so much for this great reminder.
Thank you, McKinzie! Forgiveness in all things is something I think we as humans struggle with in general. But you are right, it is so important to be quick to forgive in our marriages and relationships with others.
tineke - workingmommyabroad says
Happy anniversary! So agree on the “forgive” and “work on ourself”….
Thanks, Tineke! Those are probably the two that are the hardest to master, but once you do, you find yourself in a much happier state of mind (or at least I did 😉 ).
I love this. Thanks for being so candid. PUtting God first means that he will tell us when we are wrong, and we can be back in right standing with our spouse. I know pride has gotten in the way for me many times. I appreciate this post.
Thank you, Diedre! For me it takes constant work to “choose my battles”, swallow my pride, and know when to speak up and when to let it go. I am still a work in progress (and will always be), but with God first, I am getting so much better. Thanks again for reading and for your kind words! 🙂
Sumer (Grace, Giggles & Naptime) says
Great advice, and a great reminder for all of us!
Thanks for reading and for your kind words, Sumer!
These are things that we need to remember every day! Thank you so much for sharing this with us!
Agreed! These are things that can be applied to our everyday lives in every relationship, not just in marriage. Thanks so much for reading!
Sharon Chen says
Thanks for all these tips. Happy Anniversary!
Thank you for reading and for the anniversary wishes! 🙂
Nicole Banuelos says
Happy Anniversary! This is all such great advice for all married couples out there!
Thank you, Nicole, for reading and for the anniversary wishes!
Love this list. The Love Dare saved my marriage and I didn’t even know my marriage had any real issues when I started it. Day 5: oh, day 5. It was such an eye opener! I had to tuck my tail between my legs and take a good hard look at myself after that one.
Ah, yes… Day 5. That one was a huge eye opener and a good exercise in listening to understand, instead of listening to respond. I often recommend The Love Dare to my friends, family, and pretty much anyone else because I too credit The Love Dare for helping to save our marriage.
Thank you so much for reading this post and for your kind words, Andi!
Great advice and I’m happy for you!!!