Thursday, May 6, 2010

"Strong Bonds" Military Marriage Conference

 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.

God Bless,


Anonymous said...

Great post & good for you! You're right, God gives us opportunities through conflict and heartache to learn to be like His Son and to follow his example of charity, selflessness & gratitude. You encompassed all of them here. Way to go!

Andi (RrlScrapGal) said...

Oh my.. is this ever so timely!
Today, May 6th, is our 15th year of marriage! We got married at the ages of 33 and 35..
And our marriage has been ever so hard.. hard.hard.hard. We both deserve medals!!!

Thanks for the post!

Jessica said...

Wow, 15 yrs is awesome! So glad to hear of the Lord working in your union!

RaD said...

Wow! So glad you were able to come to that point. While that road was difficult and the one ahead will still have bumps, I'll bet you won't regret having pushed through to get where you are going.

Love ya and prayin' for ya!

Nezzy said...

I'm just thrilled for ya'll. It's so good to see couples working on their marriage. It takes work to have a good marriage, it just doesn't happen. I'm so glad for God's timing, He truly approached your Hubby at just the precise time to be able to break through at this conference. Hubby and I have been married 37 years and are as goofy about each-other as the day we met.

God bless your marriage and your precious family sweetie!!!

Rachel and Family said...

I loved reading that! What an awesome testimony and so very good that you invested in your marriage like that. It will payback big time.

Paul and I went to one before, when we were only 4 months married! We still remember to give 20 second hugs 20 second kisses and to sit "knee to knee". I'd really like to go again, just for us, not just training.

PS... you two look like babies in that picture! I love it!

Nadine said...

I am glad that you both had a good time and that it has helped you both. Keeping you in my prayers!


Catherine said...

God is better than good! He can do anything, and it looks like He reached His hand down and touched your marriage. He is SO good! We begin a Sacred Marriage class next week, and I'm thrilled. There is always something that needs fixing by God.

Freckles and Frogs said...

Yeah Jackie! Sounds like a wonderful retreat for you both! Love your wedding picture!

Stacie, A Firefighter's Wife said...

I've had the priviledge of praying and being your friend and sis during your whole marriage. I know how hard of a battle this has been and how sweet this victory is for you both. God is good and I am so very proud of you.

I look forward to the years to come and the changes that will hopefully last a lifetime.

Love you, Sis!

OurLilFullFam said...

Wow, how exciting and scary all at once! Marriage is hard but so rewarding!!

Congrats on saying your vows again! Those are some good tips too.


tamy said...

It is wonderful that you were able to reach the other side of a dark time. Even more wonderful that you are able to share it and encorage others. All things work together for good, for those who believe in God and are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Grandma Becky said...

Thank you for sharing your struggles in your marriage. It's not easy but it's workable. Keep God first and foremost in your heart and listen to him when you seek his wisdom. When Phil and I were married, we had a bit of counseling. Years later we went through a marriage class at church and wished we'd known some things they talked about earlier in our marriage. From that we've grown. We renewed our vows at our 25th anniversary celebration. Indeed it is very special. We've been together 33 years and still going. Make sure there's time for each other. Hugs!

Lisa said...

What an amazing blessing Jackie! I felt the excitement (for you) as I was reading this. :O)

Thank you for stopping by with your kind words of encouragement, too. They meant a lot!

Happy Mother's Day!

Mich said...

Happy Mother's DAy!

Angela said...

I will be praying. It's only been the last 20 months that I can truly say God has truly brought restoration, renewal and forgiveness in our marriage. The first 22 years were extremely dysfunctional and held a lot of pain. 22 years may seem a long time to the human heart, but God's timing IS perfect.

Sarah said...

What a fantastic milestone for you both Jackie! Fifteen years of marriage is a great achievement...marriages as everyone knows, are hard work and require constant pruning and repairing!

How wonderful that you were able to renew your vows...I always had a feeling that vow renewals would always be far more meaningful some years later.

I am so happy that the Lord is continuing to work in your marriage and that you both are open to what wonderful work the Lord is doing, I am sure you will both be blessed by it!

Thank you for sharing this heartfelt issue Jackie!

Amy said...

Thanks for the great post. George and I will be married 13 years in August.

Our road is rocky right now. I am praying for us and I know it will be ok. It is hard to have another influence around.

I will pray for you.

Patty said...

How wonderful. Thank you for sharing so much of what you learned. I pray God will continue to bless your marriage.

home making said...

I really enjoyed reading your story. My husband and I have been married 17 1/2 years and the first 12 were spent in the army. Army life can be hard, but with God's help, we made it, I am glad you did too. Stay strong.

Connie said...

Excellent! So happy for both of you! You have learned some very important things. May your marriage continue to be special and meaningful.

alexis said...

Hi Jackie, great post! I have missed chatting with you here in blogville! Looking forward to getting back in the swing of things soon. Take care!

LizyBeth said...

How awesome that you can see God at work in your marriage! It's so rewarding when the hard work of patiently waiting for God to work on your husbands heart bears fruit.

I love the wedding picture!

christy rose said...

That is so wonderful to hear about what God has done in your husband's heart. May God's blessings continue in your marriage and family!

Camille said...

Dear Jackie ~ What a blessing to read that you are committed to your marriage together with the LORD! HE is the ONE that keeps it all blessed we are to belong to HIM!!

Congratulations on 15 years...that is great! May the LORD give you many more in service together for HIS glory! HE is able to do far above what we ask or think.

Howie and I have a favourite Psalm which has been a blessing to us over the is so wonderful to meditate on and pray through when you are discouraged. The Psalm I am referring to is Psalm 91...may it be a blessing to you too! :)

Thanks for sharing your heart with us!


P.S. I have been away with my family for the last 10 days and am getting back "in the loop" with visiting my blogging friends. It was lovely to visit you today!

Steve said...

Thanks for sharing - it did my heart good to hear. I am an Army Chaplain planning and supervising Strong Bonds Retreats - your story put a lump in my throat - thanks I needed that.
CH (MAJ) Daniel S. Dunn "Steve"
170 Infantry Brigade Combat Team

Cheesemakin' Mamma said...

Thanks for leaving a comment. You guys are making a huge difference in military marriages. Thanks for all you do to make these happen for soldiers and their families. Keep up the great work! BTW, if you want to use my Strong Bonds testimony to encourage others, feel free to use it. I would be honored. Thanks again, Jackie


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