Paul and I have welcomed two beautiful children into the world, moved house three times, travelled to Japan four times together, been to WA, NT, ACT, NSW, VIC and SA on trips, shared only one car, studied full time and part time, worked and stayed-at-home, yet have still only been married for four years. Four years! It seems so much longer than that…in a really good way. I mention this not because it is our anniversary (no, that was a very busy day on our recent Japan trip which sadly had not a lot of celebration time worked into it), but because we are currently doing ‘The Marriage Course’.
Don’t worry, we are not in any way facing crises or difficulties that require counselling or therapy. We are very much in love and enjoy being married to one another – praise God! Our church runs the course every year as a way to nurture and strengthen marriages. People in all sorts of marriages can participate. And until now we haven’t been able to join in, as Paul always played basketball on the night of the course. As he is no longer playing, we were excited to give it a go!
The course we are doing is officially called ‘The Marriage Course’, created by Nicky and Sila Lee, and is a part of Alpha International. We have been heading out each Monday night once the girls are in bed and in the capable care of various, generous babysitting friends of ours, looking forward to some time together, delicious dessert, and time to really invest into our marriage.
Each week has a different topic, and so far we have done ‘Building Strong Foundations’, ‘The Art of Communication’ and ‘Resolving Conflict’. Overall, I have been quite impressed by the quality of the course. Each week we watch a DVD, where Nicky and Sila, along with other couples who have been interviewed, discuss the particular topic. You are given moments where the DVD is paused, where each couple talks only to each other about a particular issue, or attempts a particular exercise (listening etc). There is no group discussion about issues, and you can’t really hear the other couples talking with each other. It is definitely less corny (hokey for my American friends) than I was expecting. Nicky and Sila have a very genuine, comfortable presenting style, with warmth and laughter that I really appreciate. I have to try not to giggle fairly often. I think that’s a good thing.
I don’t think we have come across any new, amazing information that we were completely unaware of before, but it is great to remember some things we may have forgotten, and to try and implement some of the suggestions just to see how they go. Doing our homework together has been really fun too! So far for me the two most significant things have been:
1. Remembering again the ways that Paul feels most loved by me
In the first week of the study, we are encouraged to make time for each other and to nurture each other. And how can we nurture each other if we don’t know each other? So we took a look at the things that we felt most loved by, and discussed those things with each other. We already had a fair idea about what those things were. Paul loves ‘Practical Help’, or as the Five Love Languages book describes, ‘Acts of Service’. Which in an extremely unfortunate turn of events, probably is just about the lowest for me. I am no good at this. And so enter difficulty number one.
Every day I want to show Paul that I love and care for him in ways that mean a lot to him. It just happens that it does not come naturally to me at all, and is a struggle sometimes. OK, often. But Paul is a really very wonderful husband who encourages me, is gracious to me, and understands that most of the time I am doing my best. I don’t feel pressure from him. It’s just one of those battles with sin. It’s easy to do only what is easy and comfortable. But I want to love in a selfless, sacrificial way. A Christ-like way. But it is hard, a lot of the time. But isn’t that what marriage is? Loving each other even though it’s not easy? Committing to do our best for one another, even when we are so inclined to be ugly, mean and selfish?
So it was a good reminder for me.
2. Practicing better listening skills with one another
This has been excellent! For those of you who know Paul and I well, you won’t necessarily be surprised, but one of the unique attributes to our marriage is that we don’t suffer from that typical problem of a quiet, closed, un-talkative husband. My husband is a great communicator. Truly. It’s just that sometimes I need a bit more talking room. And through doing this course we have both realised significant ways that we can improve our listening. I need to stop “giving advice” – and I thought that was just what men did! I was wrong! When I realised that…ouch! And don’t mention interrupting. Oh boy!
Since we have both been trying to stop doing the wrong things (interrupting etc), and do some active listening skills, our interactions and conversations have really changed. Deepened. Opened up. We are learning about each other more than before. And it’s lovely.
We are by no means perfect, and we definitely don’t have everything figured out. But it is great to be investing in our marriage both for the future, but also for now. It is definitely not easy to take the time out for each other. Having two little ones means that we could just collapse in tiredness at the end of the day. But it has been worth it, even if we are tired and grumpy in the car on the way to the course! It’s a great thing to do, and if you have the chance to do it one day, I would encourage you to give it a go. Your marriage is precious, important and worth investing in.
And a big thanks to Russell and Helen who host the course at their home. The yummy desserts and lollies really help get us there some weeks!