Look at this crazy young couple! Yep, that is Michael and I. Michael was 22 years old in this picture and I was barely 20. Next month, Michael and I will have been married for 15 years. As you can imagine, we've been in need of a Godly tune-up. Last weekend, Michael and I had the privilege of going to an all-expenses paid conference for military couples. I'm so glad the military is investing in marriages because the divorce rate for post-deployment couples is above 60%.
We've been to one of these before, right when Micheal first got back from his deployment, but this one was much better. While it wasn't faith-based, Christianity was mentioned numerous times. I was surprised at how much more the chaplains were allowed to speak openly about their faith. They did such a good job of being real about their faith without cramming it down the throats of unbelievers. It made it so much more meaningful, and I believe effective. They used excerpts from "Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage" which were not only Christian-based, but hilarious and profound.
Michael and I have struggled with some issues that have been building on each other for the last 6 years. About a year ago they came to a head, and I've been patiently waiting on the Lord to get my husband's attention. I've been waiting, praying, weathering the storm and ducking (figuratively speaking) so that God could throw His punch to get Michael's attention. As always, God's timing is perfect. He got Michael's attention two weeks before the marriage conference. Michael wrestled with God for about a week and a half and finally "let go" 3 days before the conference. He was gone all last week for another Forest Service conference. He called home and told me about the work God was doing in his heart. For the first time in our marriage, he initiated a prayer that lasted over a half an hour. Together we surrendered our marriage to the Lord that night and prayed against any attack of the enemy who would seek to destroy us. We asked the Lord to help us work through our major issues during the conference so that we could finally not have any resentment between us.
The second day of the conference, we had the the opportunity to use the Speaker/Listener Technique. We had learned this before and it had helped us greatly, but we needed the reminder again. This technique has been a life-saver for our marriage because I'm naturally a talker (shocker)and Michael just clams up during conflict. This forces us both to speak and listen in turn. If you aren't familiar with this technique, here it is in a nutshell:
Speaker Listener Technique:
1. Rules for the Speaker
*Speak for yourself, don't mind read!
*Keep statements brief. Don't go on and on.
*Stop to let the listener paraphrase.
2. Rules for the Listener
*Paraphrase what you hear (don't translate!)
*Focus on the speaker's message. Don't rebut!
3. Rules for Both
*The speaker has the floor
*Speaker keeps the floor while the listener paraphrases
*Share the floor
At first this feels awkward, but it gets more natural with practice. Anyway, they gave us some time to go do something fun together. We knew we had work to do, so we went back up to our hotel room and using this technique, we got to the heart of the issues we'd been dealing with. Not only were we able to get to the bottom of these issues, we were also able to come up with strategies to change the bad habits that had crept into our marriage. It was an amazing time of oneness that I've never felt before. I can honestly say that we were able to be truly intimate the rest of the weekend, both emotionally and physically. It was incredible. God is so good!
On the last day of the conference, they gave us an opportunity to renew our marriage vows. I think it meant even more than when we said them to each other 15 years ago.
Now we're home and the honeymoon is over. The hard work to change these habits has begun. Please keep us in prayer as we learn to change our behaviors as well as our responses to one another, AND to give grace to each other when we slip and go back to our old ways. When we do blow it, may God give us the courage to pick ourselves back up and keep moving forward in His Grace and Mercy.
I hope and pray that if you are experiencing difficulties in your marriage, you will have hope after reading this. I've learned God is capable of changing the hardest of hearts, it just takes time. It took 6 years for us, but I honestly thought that it would take a lifetime for God to get my hubby's attention. Six years doesn't seem very long compared to a lifetime. We need to walk in God's obedience, and be respectfully honestly with our spouse, even when it causes conflict. There is such a thing as healthy conflict. If there hadn't been conflict, there wouldn't have ever been a change. I hope that by sharing my heart in this matter, some of you have been encouraged today.