Guarding our marriage circle is protecting the relationship between spouses. We see our marriage relationship as a circle, with only the two of us and God present. We try to keep things that don’t belong in that circle of relationship outside the circle. This isn’t always easy to do, and we are not always successful at it, but just the awareness of the difference between the inside of the circle and the outside of the circle is helpful. In this episode of Calibrate Life, David and Donna talk about the importance of guarding the marriage circle.
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Guarding Our Marriage Circle
We are in our 5th year of marriage. We are affected by both the usual progression of relationships and the dynamics of having many years of relationship/marriage experience. We’ve not escaped the typical adjustments and challenges of a new marriage and a young relationship, but we have had the advantage of many years of life experience to temper and guide us.
So, with Valentines Day coming, a calibrate marriage session coming up that we need to prepare for, and the fact that “relationships” are one of our 6 calibration points, today we are going to talk about “Our Circle.”
(In the podcast we tell a story of an African man in a market in South Africa who sold us the stone carving pictured above.)
The Things that Could Infiltrate our Marriage Circle
We’ve had a lot of external challenges in our marriage.
- Two families of adult children raised in different homes.
- Our individual grief journeys that were far from over when we got married.
- Both of us just entering the empty nest period.
- The remnants of financial decisions and life decisions left over from our previous lives.
- Merging our lives and hearts.
- The heart challenges of aging parents.
- The grief journeys of our adult children, and hoping to be a support to them.
- The life launch challenges of a few of our kids (such as education, moving out, establishing life on their own).
- Marriages of two of our daughters, and everything that goes with that on our end.
A lot of our lives have been outwardly focused and outwardly affected. There’s no way to shield ourselves from things that are an intricate part of our lives, so we’ve drawn a circle around ourselves and our marriage relationship.
We recognize the external factors, but we try to distinguish between what is in the circle and what is outside the circle.
We try to keep the inside of the circle (our relationship) unaffected by what is happening outside the circle. This isn’t always easy to do, and we are not always successful at it, but just the awareness of the difference between the inside of the circle and the outside of the circle is helpful.
The circle is the core of the two of us. We keep the core strong and we live and relate out of a strong core.
In distinguishing the things that affect the relationship between the two of us, and the life challenges that should not affect the way the two of us relate to one another and interact, it helps us sort out the challenges and how they should or should not affect our relationship.
The Stages of Marriage
No marriage is a typical marriage. Every relationship has its own rhythms and markers. Psychologists and sociologists identify from 4 to 7 stages of a marriage relationship. The first stage is characterized by initial passions that enamor us in the beginning toward one another. It is the stage of marriage where our spouse can do no wrong and irritants seem mild or are overlooked altogether.
Our stages do not exactly track. Partially because of life experience, and partially because we are not tracking through decades of life development, raising children, and cycling into the empty nest and the golden years. Our life got messed around more than 6 years ago, and our relationship has tracked some normal lines, but in a different way.
Everyone agrees, there is, or should be a “honeymoon” stage. This stage, lasting from 6 months to two years is based on passion and idealism. We are enamored with our spouse, we don’t take offense at irritants, and we overlook things that will later become more significant to us.
Next comes the reality stage, where the irritants start bothering us, the new has worn off, and “cute” is no longer enough to get us over our challenges.
Next is what some term as disillusionment. In the disillusionment stage, we work through difficult challenges, we press through the feelings we sometimes have of having made a mistake, or wanting to quit. The disillusionment stage is like a relational tunnel. We push through the darkness and the difficulty with our eyes fixed on the light at the end of the tunnel. Every relationship has tunnels.
The final stage is the stage of fulfillment. This is when we have learned to navigate the challenges, we have come to a place of oneness, we look forward to growing old together, and we cannot image, nor do we want to imagine life in any other way than together.
For us (David and Donna), our track has been unusual, but our unique perspective is from starting over with the benefit of all of the things we learned over the three decades of our first marriages.
So, through all of those stages, how do we keep the core strong? How do we keep our circle tight.
First, keep the passion intact.
What was the original vision? What did we hope in the beginning? How did we want our lives and our marriage to look?
To keep the circle strong, and to keep things outside the circle we have to know and anchor in the things we want this marriage to be.
- We have to clearly articulate our goals. For some this is going back and revisiting what we wanted it to be in the beginning, and transitioning to what we want it to be right now.
- We must keep the passion intact. We’ve had a bit of a challenge focusing on one another. There are always diversions, and focus is keeping our eyes fixed on things that are important. The first couple of years of marriage are about establishing a passion that will deepen our love and commitment to one another so we have a model of what it can be and the desire to push through the challenges we will face. Sometimes we have to remember those first couple of years and pull from them the passion of what we hope for the future.
- We have to keep our circle closed. We listed earlier all of the things that could get into our circle, the place where just the two of us are allowed, it is a challenge to keep those things on the outside of our marriage circle, but we are committed to it, and committed to identifying and acknowledging when something has breached those borders.
Second, Embracing Reality
In the honeymoon stage we dote over things about one another that could later become irritants. We cannot go on for ever just quietly embracing things that frustrate us.
Look for the positive.
I try to always look at the other side of a practice or trait. The same personality trait that causes my spouse to do something that could frustrate me, is often the same trait that causes them to do things that I appreciate and love the most.
Keep the “bags” unpacked.
Our circle is not imaginary, it is a real place of retreat and connection. Our circle is seen and realized when it is just the two of us, and God, in intimate connection. We talk, we open hearts, we communicate. One of the things we have tried to do, and it has its challenges, is “keeping our bags unpacked.” When we gather offenses without discussing them it becomes baggage that is too heavy to carry.
Talk about the frustrations.
One of the things of my past that has helped me go forward was and is the realization of how small the things are that frustrate us. When we lose someone we love, suddenly all of the insignificant things that irritated us and made us snap at them, those things no longer matter. Its a matter of perspective. We’ve gained the perspective to be able to truly evaluate how big or important things are or how insignificant things are.
Forget about the things that don’t matter.
I have learned, in a moment of frustration, to ask myself the question, “Does it matter?” Usually it does not, but sometimes it does matter. When it doesn’t matter, I prompt myself to be thankful for the relationship and for the good things in the relationship that are the flip side of the frustration. When it does matter, then we have to keep the bags unpacked in the circle.
Deal with the things that do matter.
We find the right time and the right way to have those discussions so they are not reactionary, but secure.
I cannot mitigate a couples’ stubbornness or lack of respect for each other, I don’t know how these things work in such an environment, but for us, out of mutual love and respect, we work to keep the bags packed and overlook things that do not matter as a byproduct of the blessing.
Third, Realizing Fulfillment
One of the things I felt early on in my grief process, and that I sometimes feel, is the feeling that I got ripped off of building upon decades of marriage and enjoying the continuing fruits of a maturing relationship.
We are only 4 1/2 years into this marriage, it will be a long time before we can look back over decades.
Our circle is a place for dreaming about the life we will live together, the things we want to do, who God is calling us to be. We haven’t had our 20 or 30 years together yet, like we had before. But we live with the realization that we are growing and we are laying a foundation today for what we hope tomorrow will be.
Correct your mistakes.
Our advantage is that we made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of things the first time around. We are building on a solid foundation and we’ve been carful what we’ve built into this relationship.
Revisit your vision.
We mentioned this earlier, but revisit your vision. In your circle, talk about, think about, and commit to building your future out of things that are good. When you have difficulty and conflict, be aware that the way you work through it, or don’t work through it, will be building materials for your future house.
Make it a priority, because it is.
Through the years, when people have demanded things of me I was not sure I could give, I have envisioned who is likely to visit my death bed. Who will be there to adjust my pillow and put a cool, wet cloth in my mouth to dampen my tongue? It won’t be my detractors, it won’t be my critics, it won’t be those I have served, it will be my wife and my children.
Calibration Tools… What are Some Actions We Can Take?
- What was your vision for your marriage at the beginning? Whether you talked about it or not, you probably had one, so what was it? If you’ve never thought about it then, what is your vision for your marriage? What would you like for it to be, this is your fulfillment? Write it down so you can revisit it and gauge your progress.
- Think about goals—can you identify a few goals that will move you toward fulfillment?
- How do you pull into your circle? Do you have a time when you focus on your circle? If not, what would that look like for you?
- As a personal exercise, consider some things about your spouse that frustrate you and consider how those things relate to things you love about them and would not change.
We have a place in our being where it is only us and God. The next circle, the one that is next in importance, is the circle we share with out spouse. To live life out in fulfillment, we’ve got to be in right relationship with God, and we have to be in right relationship with our spouse (if of course we have one), otherwise we will simply not realize the fullness of what life should have been.