The next five married tips to help you think about and act on how to do marriage well:

Marriage Tip #26

Rage, Rage against the selfishness of the me.

Just as online people tend towards stupid [a brettfish original], offline people tend towards selfish. In a world that has at times whispered but more often shouted ‘THIS IS ALL ABOUT YOU!’ into your ear as it has watched you grow up, this should not be too surprising.

Most of our education was geared that way, we’ve watched politics more often than not demonstrate this age-old truth and even sadly in a faith tradition where the stipulation made for following Jesus is to ‘deny self’ i have heard countless stories of people leaving churches because ‘the worship didn’t work for me’ or ‘the preaching didn’t work for me’ and more…

As a single person, once you’ve managed to fly the coop [if you’ve managed to fly the coop’] then there is a certain amount of urgency to this as there is rent to pay and food to buy and transport costs and in some cultures the spectre of ‘black tax’ and so a lot of effort and thought tends to be directed towards ‘look after me’.

This doesn’t miraculously disappear [well, not for most people i imagine] the moment you say, “I do!”

Selfishness needs to be unlearnt and dismantled and worked at and repented off. And i have found in marriage that this is not a once-off event. It is often a daily decision, made when i wake up, that today i need to choose to serve tbV.

Sometimes it is definitely easier than other times. But it is in those times particularly, when tiredness or depression or frustration or irritation have reared their ugly heads, that you sometimes have to make much more of an effort.

Serve one another in love. We covered that one already. But often this means that we need to tackle selfishness head on in ourselves.

Any stories or confessions on this one? Did you find it easy to change or is this something you find you have to work at often as well? Any tips on how to make it easier?

#ButHowCanIIDoBetter

Marriage Tip #27

Debrief and dream.

This has been a bit of an irregular tradition for tbV and myself that has profoundly shifted and transformed our marriage and we offer it to you as a gift.

At the end of many years we have made a time to go to a coffee shop or restaurant and sit with some A4 paper and look back over the past year and look ahead to the year to come.

Each page gets a different heading or theme [which we usually put in the middle of the page with an oval around it] and then we sit and write what comes to mind until we have finished with one page and move on to another.

One might be ‘Highlights of this year’ or ‘Moments of pain we have experienced’. One we try to regularly do is ‘People we want to intentionally spend time with, in the following year’. ‘Moments of celebration or thanks’ might be one that looks back at the year just lived to remember and sit in gratitude, while ‘Books i want to read’ or ‘Goals i want to achieve’ might help prepare us for the year to come.

Part of it is a debrief. A stopping and a sitting in the memories of the year just past. What was good, what was bad, what was hard, what was worth celebrating? Who were the key people and what were the significant moments?

Part of it is a dreaming. A stopping and reflecting on hopes and possibilities for the future. Being intentional about what we would like to see happen in the next year and who we would love to be building relationship with [Hint: As a bonus ‘But what can I do?’ tip for white people, make sure this list is not just filled with people who look like you! This is an opportunity to invest in relationships with different people]

What we have found is these won’t necessarily be rocket science moments or revelations [although you may learn a lot about each other and it might help you arrive on the same page with some stuff] BUT that if we fail to be intentional to create these kinds of spaces or moments, the busyness of life will take over and next year will look pretty much like this year.

When we do do this [cue Val and Brett giggling cos ‘do do’ – see Tip #9] we are actively planning for the following year to be different and better and to head in the direction we want it to. It is an opportunity to make changes, to commit to trying or doing new things, to decide who is your tribe/crew that you want to be going deeper with and what ways do you want to grow yourselves.

This might not be for everyone, but it is one of my most treasured traditions with Val [who typically is the one who has to suggest it] and has probably shaped our marriage positively more than most other things.

And the end of the year is approaching so what better time to grab your diaries [right now!] and make a date with your spouse [whether in year 1 or year 50 of marriage] and set aside an evening to do this stuff.

Let me know how it goes. Do any of you already do something like this? Share some stories!

Annette Miller:

Nice post, Brett. As someone who has been married for forty plus years, I know how easily the years slip by and we remain the same. Heard a great talk once by a lay Anglican priest (great woman) who spoke of the need to redefine our expectations of marriage every decade as we move through the different seasons of our lives. When ’till death us do part ‘ was first penned, the average lifespan of people was about 40 years. Women died before menopause! No facing second careers, empty nest etc…..you got married, procreated, then died.¬†Just thought I’d add that to the mix

#ButHowCanIIDoBetter

Marriage Tip #28

Some things need to be dealt with. Some things can be let go of.

If you can figure out the difference between those two, you will probably give your marriage a boost. Counselling might be necessary for some of you to get there. That is not a weakness. Refusing to get help when you need help is the weakness.

Your person will likely do things to irritate you (Spoiler alert: you will do things to irritate them) and if you call out and deal with every one of those you will likely have a very conflict-riddled relationship.

Sometimes you can see that your spouse is tired after a busy week, or it might be Aunt Irma time (thanks IT Crowd) or some other third thing and you can decide to let this one go. It’s not important in the big scheme of things, it wasn’t intentional and it’s not a big deal.

But, on the other hand, there might be things (some big, some small) that if not dealt with start to fester internally and become internal anger or bitterness, which, if not dealt with, are likely to explode at some point and end up becoming much bigger than they actually ever needed to be.

Does it sound like i’m not speaking from experience here?

This is an area you will hopefully grow and develop in as you both work at your marriage. You will likely get it wrong sometimes, maybe a lot of times, and that will not feel okay, but as long as you commit to continuing to work at it together, it will be.

When you are actively seeking to serve one another in love this stuff tends to become second nature.

Does this resonate with you? Any examples of what might be a small thing your person does that you feel free to let slide?

#ButHowCanIIDoBetter

Marriage Tip #29

Be interested in stuff you are not interested in.

Ooh, that got your attention. Cos how can you possibly do that, right?

Also it’s good to note i didn’t say ‘Pretend to… ‘ but be interested.

This is what i mean. Val loves Christmas decorations, particularly the tree (real tree, duh!) and i am the Christmas grinch (i judge a successful year by how late i hear my first Christmas Carol, usually in a mall). And i could quite easily not have a tree or decorations. But at some point, i discover how much it means to Val. And so it starts to mean something to me (initially as an act of love to Val).

Now i can pretend to be interested which will get me so far. Or i, in my knowledge of how important this is to my wife, can become interested in as much as discovering how best i can love her in this.

Pretending to be interested i might buy her a plastic tree and some cheap decorations. But by becoming interested in learning more about her love for this Christmas tradition i learn that she wants a real tree and am reminded – even on this present trip to Plett – that it is meaningful to her to have me around to go and find a tree and decorate it together when i return.

This is another of those backwards and forwards dance numbers you learn as a couple and it does have a flip side.
Know when your person is not interested in something and don’t bore them to the point of death by forcing your love of that thing on them.

i could talk about cricket forever. i am one of the biggest fans i know. Sometimes Val will listen to me describing what’s going on in a match i am following as a sign of her love for me even though she is not super interested. i have learnt to watch the moment her eyes glaze over and she becomes catatonic. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but i have learnt her level of interest in cricket and often it means me holding back on my excitement so that i don’t overwhelm her.

Give and take? Anyone resonate on this one?

#ButHowCanIIDoBetter

Marriage Tip #30

Find/make time to have fun/be silly/play together. (with thanks to Mike Cheney)

i feel like we touched on this in an earlier tip or maybe even tips, but also feel like it might be easy to dismiss without giving it a bit more of a center stage focus.

When marriage becomes really tough or there is strong tension between the two of you, or one or both of you are struggling to let something go, one of the first things that often disappears is the ability and maybe even intention of laughing together or having fun or enjoying small things together.

[And a little secret here: often if you make an effort to focus on finding those little moments between you again, the bigger angrier more difficult spaces work themselves out or begin to]

As you get to know each other you will discover things that make the other person laugh, private jokes between the two of you, and simple traditions that bring the two of you together. Make time for those. Be intentional. Plan for them in your day or week. Be on the lookout for new ones.

Those simple small moments of connection can carry a far greater weight than you realise and often act as a kind of glue to help you really find each other, especially in the midst of frenetic busyness that can creep up on you.
It is one antidote to ‘going through the motions’ which, if not a relationship killer, is at least a relationship puncher-repeatedly-in-the-groinal-region.

Find/make time to have fun/be silly/play together.

How do you do on this? Is it something you intentionally think about or make time for in your marriage?

#ButHowCanIIDoBetter

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