This is another time to bust out another cold, hard truth
The point of marriage is not happiness. The point of marriage is growth.
The key to becoming a truly successful couple is to take action and expand your comfort zone. Marriage is what Dr. David Schnarch, author of the book Passionate Marriage, calls a “Human Growth Machine.” And Finkel also posits that, in our world, “a new kind of marriage has emerged, one that can promote self-discovery, self-esteem, and personal growth like never before.” I love the idea of having a growth-centered marriage. That is something I can achieve, and it feels satisfying to grow and improve. It is a tangible goal.
Regarding goals: in the last few years I started doing something I never thought I’d do. I lift weights.
I used to be a slender little guy. I once dropped a girl when I was country dancing and was so embarrassed by my weak muscles that I never went back. Then I hit the gym. I remember when I first started lifting, I squatted 225 pounds and my coach was like, “Dude, Nate! That’s awesome!”
I was so proud of myself! So, I kept at it.
A few years later, after grinding away at the gym every week, I now squat around 345 pounds. Big improvement, right? And every time I add another pound, I feel like a champion because growth is satisfying and progress feels amazing.
How to keep your marriage strong for the long run
Now I apply the principles I used in the weight room to my marriage. For example, I used to get anxious when my wife was feeling sad or stressed. And I used to snap at her if I felt attacked or threatened. For over a year I’ve been working to improve myself in this area. I practice self-soothing, taking deep breaths, and thinking before I speak, and giving my wife the benefit of the doubt and trying to understand her perspective when I feel hurt.
I’m definitely not perfect (a little secret: nobody is!), but I’m getting better at managing conflict between us and using it as an opportunity for understanding and growth. I’m less stressed out when she is. I snap at her less. My wife even smiles compassionately at me when she sees me taking deep breaths, or using the plans we’ve put in place to help us fight better and love smarter.
She’s commented that I’m improving, and because of that, we’re improving as a couple. But, like working out, it’s not easy, and especially not at first. It stretches your comfort zone. It pushes you to your limits. It expands your capacities as a human being. And this painful stretching and expanding and growing means that, sometimes, your partner and your marriage will not make you happy.
Honestly, marriage is a challenge. And it’s a good one because marriage reveals your limitations and exposes your weaknesses, flaws, and vulnerabilities. Marriage makes you painfully aware of how impatient you might be, of your struggles to say “no” to things that aren’t important and “yes” to things that are, and of how challenging it is to navigate your differences when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, or simply angry.
Marriage challenges you to deal with sickness, tragedy, financial stresses, changes in faith or beliefs, job loss, weight gain, raising kids, losing parents and other family members, and you have to do it all while supporting and satisfying another emotional human being!
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You can’t tackle this stuff and come out on the other side still in love with each other by remaining the exact same people you were when you started.