Preview: 10 Ways To A Stronger Marriage

Keep Paddling (Chapter 1)

“Hey Trey, do you want to help me throw out candy at a parade this afternoon?” A friend asked me this question a few years ago, and I wasn’t going to refuse an afternoon of fun, candy, and a parade. My friend was a paramedic for the local EMS service, and he had volunteered to take the ambulance over to a neighboring community to throw out candy in their small town’s annual parade. I told him I’d love to be his co-pilot.

We arrived about twenty minutes early for the parade and found our position in line with the other first responder vehicles. We were just behind the lone sheriff’s vehicle and the volunteer fire department’s two old firetrucks. I quickly noted, “There are not a lot of vehicles or participants in this parade.” My friend reminded me that it was a very small community and all he was told was to drive over here, give out all the candy, and hurry back. I looked in the floorboard between the two seats, and there were three of the biggest bags of candy I’d ever seen. I laughed and told my friend, “For a town this size, you may have brought too much candy.” We laughed, and he turned on the lights of the ambulance as the parade was starting.

We slowly crept toward Main Street, where the parade was going to take place, made a right turn onto the street and quickly noticed that no one had shown up. Seriously, there were only two or three adults sitting in lawn chairs and one lone kid with a plastic grocery sack that he’d brought to gather up candy. That’s it! We laughed and said, “This has got to be the worst parade in the history of all parades!”

I asked what we were going to do with the three massive bags of candy. My friend replied, “I don’t know. They just told me not to bring any of it back.” We pulled up to the only kid that showed up that day and started dumping handfuls and handfuls of candy on him. We must’ve sat there for a couple of minutes throwing candy out the window to this kid. Long before we were out of candy, his little sack was full. My friend told me, “Just keep throwing!”

The look on his eleven-year-old face was absolutely priceless. His eyes were as round as silver dollars, and his mouth was wide open. He looked like he’d just won the lottery. He was jumping around, excitedly repeating the same two words over and over, “Oh, wow!” That kid was going to need several plastic sacks to gather up the mounds of candy we’d left all around him. It was quite possibly the greatest day of his entire life.

But then there was a quick turn of events … what we didn’t know was there was actually another turn just around the corner from where this candy-laden kid was. When we rounded the corner, we saw a street lined with people who had shown up for the parade, along with a lot of kids expecting to catch some candy from our ambulance windows. Oh yes, and we were already totally out of candy!

I laugh today thinking that somewhere out in this world is a twenty-something year old guy with a lot of cavities, who still talks about that day being the most amazing day of his childhood.

Marriage books can be overwhelming, at least some have been to me. I’ve stood there, like that kid at the parade hoping to get a few pieces of candy in my sack to try, and before you know it, I have more information than I’ll ever be able to process.

We don’t want this to be a book like that. We’ve tried hard to simply give you ten things you can do to strengthen your marriage. Use this list of ten things as a marriage check-up to help you determine if you are on the right track to building and maintaining a healthy marriage. Our goal is not to overload you, but to give you practical and doable suggestions that you can continue to do on a regular basis. 

What we don’t want to happen is for this book to become a checklist … where you check something off and think, “Okay, I’ve done that. What’s next?” Instead, we want this to be a list of suggestions that become regular habits in your marriage, not a one-time-check-it-off-the-list event. These ten healthy things need to be ongoing. Your marriage will be blessed if you continue to do them.

We want to be up front with you from the beginning. We are not licensed professional counselors. We do not have degrees in psychology. We simply have thirty plus years of experience in marriage. We are so grateful that healthy marriages were modeled in the homes we both grew up in. We have a vast number of friends and mentors who have modeled healthy marriages for us. We have learned, through trial and error in our own marriage, what works and what does not work. Believe us, we have made plenty of mistakes along the way. The things we are sharing in this book have worked in our marriage, and we’ve seen them work in countless other marriages. We strongly believe they will work in your marriage as well.

OUR THROW-AWAY SOCIETY

Does your mother or grandmother wash and reuse disposable cups? Both of our mothers did. They also rinsed and saved aluminum foil and plastic baggies for another use. Our grandmothers lived in a time when cloth diapers were made, used for multiple children, and then used as cleaning rags when all of the kids were finally potty-trained. They got the most use out of everything they owned and took nothing for granted.

Today we live in a throw-away society. So many things are disposable … dishes, diapers, cameras, contact lenses, razors, water bottles … the list could go on and on. Even things that are not disposable, like cars and cell phones, some feel the need to upgrade on a regular basis.

Sadly, this disposable mentality has affected even our relationships. When the going gets tough in marriage, some think it’s easier to just throw it away and start fresh, rather than value it and make the most of what you already have. We once heard someone give wedding vows that said, “Do you take this woman for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, as long as you both shall love?” That is not how God designed marriage. (We will discuss how this is a flawed concept in another chapter.)

In our own vows, we promised to take each other as long as we both shall live. We have taken the word divorce completely out of our vocabulary. When things got tough, we muddled through. We promised we would, and we are so glad we did! Our marriage is better now than ever because we didn’t give up during the hard times. Throwing our marriage away was never an option. At some point, we can almost guarantee, things will get tough in your marriage. You may be in a tough spot right now. We urge you to never give up.

Satan would love nothing more than for your marriage to fail. He knows that a failed marriage will not only hurt you and your spouse, but it will hurt your kids, other family members, and friends. The damage is far reaching. He wants your marriage because he knows it’s extremely valuable. The more marriages he can destroy, the more he weakens society as a whole. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10a, NIV).

Satan will tell you that your marriage is not worth all the trouble you are going through, and that it’s just not worth the effort. He will try to convince you it was a mistake, and that it would be easier to just throw it away and start fresh. He is also a liar! “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44b, NIV). Marriages are not disposable. They hold great worth and value. They have the ability to bless many generations to come. Your marriage is worth fighting for each and every day. Don’t listen to Satan’s lies. Don’t let him win.

REALIZE YOU CAN ONLY CHANGE YOURSELF

We challenge you while reading this book not to point out in your mind the areas where your spouse needs to improve. Instead, ask yourself, “Which of these things do I need to work on to improve myself?” It is so easy sometimes to read things and think, “I sure wish my spouse would get this through their thick head.” As much as you might desperately want your spouse to change, the only person you can change is yourself. You also might be surprised to find that when you begin making changes, you will start to see changes in your spouse as well. In order to get the most out of this book, read it looking for things you can do to bless your marriage.

We often say in our workshops that marriage is like two people being in a little rowboat. If both people are paddling, the boat moves amazingly smooth across the water in the direction you want it to go. If only one person is paddling and doing all the work, the little boat does not go anywhere but in circles.

You cannot force your spouse to pick up their oar and row the marriage boat. All you can do is row the marriage boat to the best of your ability, and hopefully that will inspire your spouse to do the same.

You may reach the point of frustration, if you’re the only one doing the rowing. It takes two to row a boat and make a marriage work. We urge you in this chapter not to give up. Don’t quit! Avoid the temptation to drop your oar and say, “I am done until you pick up your oar and start rowing this boat too!” That’s what we call a stalemate in marriage, which is much like a checkmate in chess. Both are killers. 

We heard a story years ago about a lady who went to see a counselor because she was frustrated and done when it came to her marriage. She told the counselor, “I need your help. I am in the process of leaving my no-good, dirty, rotten husband. I don’t want to just leave him … I want it to devastate him when I leave. (Nice attitude, huh?)

The counselor said, “I am really into fixing marriages and not helping to destroy them, but I have an idea for you. For the next thirty days, I want you to love your husband amazingly. Be the most incredible wife in the whole world to him. Meet his every need. Serve him hand and foot. Whatever he needs, give it to him.”

Of course, she stopped him abruptly and said, “Are you nuts? I don’t want to do anything nice for this jerk! I want to do the opposite. I want this to hurt when I leave.”

The counselor replied, “Hear me out. Go do all of this, and at the end of thirty days, serve him your divorce papers. He will then realize he has lost the most incredible wife in the world.” 

She smiled and said, “I love this idea. Thank you,” and she headed off to fulfill the plan. The first few days were absolutely torture. Trying to be nice and doing things for a husband who had not put forth any effort in their marriage for the past several years was beyond hard for her. She wanted to give up, but she stuck with it for the entire thirty days. 

Several months passed when the counselor ran into the woman at the grocery store. They had not seen one another since her initial visit to his office. The counselor asked, “What happened? Did everything go as planned? Was your husband devastated when you left him?” 

She replied, “It did not go anything like you thought. In fact, just the opposite happened. I went home and served him and loved him. It was so hard at first, but after about ten days something changed. He started being nice back to me. I kept up the plan, and after about three weeks, he was doing as many nice things for me as I was for him. Thirty days into this plan, my old husband had returned. In fact, he was better than ever.” She added, “It is hard to believe, but our marriage is better today than it has been for the past thirteen years.”

The counselor replied, “I’m sure glad things worked out like they did. That is what I was hoping for all along.” 

Of course, not everything works exactly like this, but it is the perfect example of a stalemate in a marriage. When a wife says, “I am no longer doing anything for him until he starts (fill in the blank),” that is a stalemate. When a husband at the same time says, “I will not do anything for her because she never (fill in the blank),” that is a stalemate. Stalemates are marriage killers. 

You can’t force your spouse to better your marriage or to make changes. All you can do is pick up your oar, row the boat, and hopefully inspire your spouse to do the same by treating them with love and grace.

It could be that you are in a marriage where you are both rowing and things are going smooth. You may be wondering, “Why should I read this book if we are not currently having any problems?” The reason is that you always want to be working on your marriage. Many married couples don’t put anymoney, time, or effort into their marriage until problems surface. After problems arise, couples frantically start trying to invest time, money, and effort into their relationship in hopes of making it good again. Our point is this: don’t wait until your marriage is having issues to start working on it. Work on your marriage during the good times, so there will be less bad times. 

We once had a lady contact us and ask if we would be coming to her town to do one of our workshops. “Our marriage needs help,” she said. When she stated where she was from, we were a bit confused because we had just been to her town 6 weeks prior.

We replied to her message that we had just been there and apologized that she hadn’t known. We always do our best to advertise where we are going to be, but somehow this couple had been missed on our radar. She responded, “Oh I knew you were in town a few weeks back, but we didn’t need to go then. Everything was good at that point, but now we’ve begun to have problems, and we need to know when you’re coming back.”

We really wanted to say, “If you had attended our workshop when we were in your town six weeks ago, you might not be having these problems now!” We didn’t say that, of course, but we cannot stress to you enough how important it is to read a marriage book, attend a workshop, or listen to a good podcast. Do one of these or all of these, but constantly be working on your marriage … even when things are going well. 

Here is another challenge for you: we would love for you to read this book together as a couple. Reading together is one of the best things we have done in our marriage. We don’t read out loud to one another, although that would be fine, if that’s what you prefer. We take turns reading a chapter or two, and then we discuss what we have read as we go. We underline things that we find important, then we go back and talk about the things we have underlined. It gives us an opportunity to have some good discussions about our marriage.

We are working on our marriage just like you. We are not the perfect couple, nor do we have all the answers. We still have to work hard on our marriage, even after 30 plus years. Please know that while you read this book, we are praying for you. As we stated earlier, the suggestions discussed in this book have worked for us, and they are very practical things that you can do to bless your marriage. You’re going to get a LOT of information in this book. Don’t be overwhelmed. Just grab your little plastic grocery sack and get ready to catch some good stuff we’re going to throw at you. It’s going to be a fun ride.

As we mentioned before, marriage is much like a rowboat. It requires two people paddling at the same time for it to work correctly. If only one does all the paddling, the boat goes in a circle, BUT if both are willing to paddle, your little marriage boat will go amazing places. We’re praying that both of you are willing to pick up your oar and paddle.

The first thing required in order to build a stronger marriage is a never give up attitude. Don’t quit. Keep paddling!

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. ~Galatians 6:9 (NLT)

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