Just a few years ago, my wife, Melanie, and I had one of the most enjoyable wedding anniversaries ever. We didn't take an extravagant trip or stay in a fancy hotel. We just spent the day together doing routine things, such as running errands and stopping by work for a few minutes. But it was special because we were together.
We ate a late lunch at a fast-food restaurant. The place was almost empty, so we struck up a conversation with the workers there. We told them it was our anniversary and how long we'd been married. That started a conversation about how we stayed married for almost 40 years. We talked and laughed with those young people for several minutes. It wasn't a major event, but we tried to plant a seed by saying some good things about marriage and just enjoying each other's companionship. The interaction that day was a good reminder that ultimately, marriage is bigger than just two people.
Marriage as a witness to others
Melanie and I had a memorable discussion just a day or so after we were married. We were on our honeymoon, sitting in a hamburger joint chatting about our goals and dreams. One thing we agreed on was, "This [marriage] isn't just about us." We talked about our relationship honoring Christ every day of our married lives. We wanted to make sure our marriage would be a witness — a clear reflection of God’s covenant and His character — for everyone we would come in contact with. We have tried to maintain that purpose for all these years.
Now, we definitely have our struggles. We know we sometimes act rude toward each other and get on each other's nerves. And we also know that people are watching us — our children and grandchildren, as well as neighbors and people we interact with in public. So we ask ourselves, What are we modeling?
And we're very aware that there's a lot of pessimism today about God's institution of marriage. It's often ridiculed. Divorce is commonplace. Young people are told that living together is a better alternative. So we try to be models of marriage at its best. For whomever God brings our way, we want to help restore a sense of hope in what marriage is and can be.
Communicating with your spouse in marriage
How a wife and husband communicate with each other tells other people a lot about their relationship. Lately, I have been convicted about my communication habits with Melanie. I'm finding that I need to listen to her more and be smarter about asking her questions. Then I need to let her respond without putting her on the defensive. When something doesn't go well, the way I act often gives her the impression that it's her fault.
What about you? How are you doing in communication with your spouse?
Listening carefully. When life gets busy, it's hard to carve out time to focus on your spouse. Maybe you have one eye on the TV or cell phone. Have you ever noticed your wife or husband stop talking in the middle of a sentence, because she or he can tell you're not really paying attention? It's not a proud moment.
Try asking thoughtful questions. If you need to, think of questions throughout the day and save them for when you're together. Then, really focus on your spouse's response. Listen without an agenda or becoming defensive. Pay attention to tone of voice and other signals. Maybe there's a deeper emotional message underneath the words.
Watching your words. If your spouse is insecure or seeking your approval, he or she might take an offhand comment personally that you didn’t intend as an insult. Be careful with your words and don't underestimate that need for your spouse to be affirmed — a lot — each day.
Do all you can to have the kind of marriage that will be a good example and a witness to others. Your marriage deserves the best of your time and attention, and your continued efforts to improve. Your spouse deserves your best, especially when it comes to communication.Carey Casey is CEO at the National Center for Fathering, author of Championship Fathering and host of the daily three-minute radio program "Today's Father."