by Donna Gibbs, LPCS
Last week, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. It’s unbelievable how quickly time flies! Seriously! I was just a teenager yesterday, right?
A monumental anniversary is a great time to reflect on the highs and lows of life. It’s also a time to reflect on marriage survival skills, because marriage is tough, and often may feel like it is really just survival of the fittest!
You’ve heard me say before that I have learned my most valuable skills from my clients. (Over two decades of working as a professional counselor teaches remarkable lessons!) I think God knew I’d need to see the harsh realities of marriage gone bad in order to really have a serious drive to protect and nurture my own. I am going to share with you just a handful of the primary tools that I’ve learned from countless remarkable people on the couch in my office – people in the midst of terrible crisis, who were trusting enough to welcome me into their journey. Sure, these are basic essentials, and there is certainly a lot more to marriage survival than what fits within the confines of a blog. But as long as Mark and I live, we’ll be seeking to continue to put these essential skills into place. I’ll welcome you to do the same.
*Warning – these marital suggestions are considered radical! But they are honest, with no sugar-coating whatsoever. Why? Because, “An honest answer is a like a kiss on the lips.” (Proverbs 24:26, New International Version)
1) Commit to First Things First. Two individuals who each have a genuine relationship with God is crucial! I’m not talking about religion, routine, or tradition. I’m talking about a sincere, life-altering relationship with Jesus. If you have that authentic relationship, as does your spouse, you will be able to maneuver the most challenging trials of marriage. Together, you will find refuge in the One who unifies you. It won’t be easy. But it will be doable. Seek Him. Seek Him desperately! Connect with God, and then seek to connect with your spouse.
2) Maintain Appropriate Boundaries. Nothing threatens a marriage more than poor boundaries, and nothing secures a marriage like healthy boundaries. Boundaries are just a proactive fence of protection. Vigilance in protecting yourself from pornography or an inappropriate relationship is crucial. Don’t be naïve. I’ve seen some remarkable people fall. Anyone is vulnerable. If you find yourself tempted to have private, non-business conversations or contacts with someone of the opposite sex, then you are already vulnerable. If you are having to erase your search history on your devices, you are already in trouble. The necessity of healthy boundaries applies in other various areas as well (protection against the threat of addictions like drugs, gaming, or gambling, protecting marriage from controlling in-laws, maintaining healthy balance of work and church commitments, etc…)
3) Live Under Your Means. Because finances are the most common argument among couples, it’s worth a radical approach. If you routinely live underneath your means, then stress is reduced, you have an emergency plan in place for the unexpected and un-welcomed events of life, and you have wiggle room for giving and dating. Your marriage will thank you for this radical, low-stress approach!
4) Radical Honesty. Deception kills a marriage because it creates doubt. Honesty provides a foundation of safety and trust. Trust that has been compromised, to any degree, regarding any topic, leaves a wound. Assure the safety of your marriage by committing to radical honesty. No white lies. No omissions of truth. Even if you have to err on the side of over-communicating, maintain the health of the relationship through transparency.
5) Learn to Regroup, and Keep Pressing on!
As hard as you may try, your marriage will not be perfect. You will not be perfect, and your spouse will not be perfect. You will disagree. You will say and do things that you regret. You will wound, and you will be wounded. Learning how to regroup (unless you are in an abusive situation) is essential. This regrouping requires crucial conversations, taking the risk of speaking your heart (without attacking), and listening (without interruption or judgement). Before you regroup, I’ll encourage you to ask yourself this powerful question: “What am I doing to contribute to our problem?” If you ask yourself that question with a humble heart, God will likely reveal some truth (that may or may not be difficult to accept!) Forgive, seek forgiveness, and don’t give up! Too many couples give up on a marriage when they could be regrouping. Instead of having the “Can we talk?” conversation, they are throwing around threats of divorce. In fact, what we used to refer to as the “seven-year itch” could now be better identified as the “three -year itch”. Too many couples give up after three years, because things start to get real! Regrouping allows you to bounce back, prevents you from being stuck, and is a necessary ingredient to marital resilience! Marriage is hard, and requires hard work! Unfortunately, we live in a quick-fix world, and we like doing things the easy way. There is no easy way with marriage. Unless you are in an abusive or unfaithful marriage, I encourage you to keep pressing in and pressing on! The grass probably isn’t greener anywhere else!
After 25 years of marriage, Mark and I have had lots of practice in regrouping! Why? Because just like everyone else, we are sinful, selfish people! We’ve said unkind words, and we’ve done incredibly inconsiderate and disrespectful things to one another. But I also look back on 25 years with gratitude. I have a spouse that will regroup with me, and will take the radical steps necessary to preserve and protect our marriage. And above all, he sincerely wants to honor God. We join in that goal, as imperfect as we may be.
If you are also an imperfect married couple (that includes all married couples!), I urge you to join with us in the journey of marriage, seeking to honor God as we honor our marriages. It will be messy at times. It will be rewarding at other times. A resilient marriage is one that avoids the unnecessary and catastrophic hurts and betrayals, and can remain stable in the inevitable highs and lows of life. Be as radical as the calling to marriage requires (which is incredibly radical relative to our world’s current standards), and don’t ever give up.
Many of you reading this are deep in a marital pit, and you don’t know how to get out. If you know these basic essentials don’t skim the surface of the issues in your marriage, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Confide in a trusted pastor or friend. If you realize your situation requires a higher level of care, our team of professionals is here to help, with years of experience in the trenches. We’d be honored to join you in your journey as you learn to regroup, survive, and thrive!
Donna Gibbs, co-owner of Summit Wellness Centers, PLLC, is author of the recent releases, Silencing Insecurity and Becoming Resilient. Donna has authored numerous other books, her blogs are frequently shared in various media outlets, and she is commonly featured on radio broadcasts across America, and occasionally internationally as well. Donna has been providing individuals and families the hope and help they need for more than twenty years as a national certified counselor, board-certified professional Christian counselor, and licensed professional counselor supervisor. A member of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), she is a leading professional provider for Focus on the Family, Christian Care Network, r3Continuum, FINDINGbalance, and Samaritan’s Purse.
Follow Donna’s author page at https://www.facebook.com/DonnaGibbsResilience/ for daily encouragement, the weekly blog, and updates regarding events and speaking engagements.