Sep 052017 0 Responses

The Teeter-Totter of a Good Marriage

“Promise, no cherry bombs.” When I was a kid that was the vow every friend had to make before I would join them on the teeter-totter. I grew up during a violent time on the playground. It wasn’t until 6th grade that a hit to the head during dodgeball was outlawed. In 5th grade, if you broke your nose getting hit in the head during dodgeball the teacher’s first question would be, “Why didn’t you duck?” In 4th grade, if a kid broke his arm during Red Rover, it was his own fault. He should have called on a smaller kid to “come right over.” But for the first three grades, the teeter-totter brought the most fear.

The seesaw was a moderately fun playground apparatus (if you’ve forgotten the seesaw, allow Jimmy Fallon to remind you). If most of your friends had to stay inside to finish homework, it only required one other person to enjoy. It was fun to go up and down for a few minutes. It was like a controlled trampoline. But it required trust. If you chose the wrong friend, they would get you to the top of the teeter-totter and jump off. You would careen down to the ground where a 2×4 would explode into your groin like a firecracker being placed in your pants. It was traumatizing. And it was called a cherry bomb. So before I would get on a teeter-totter with anyone, I would make them promise “no cherry bombs.”

While the seesaw brings back bad elementary school memories, it’s one of my favorite metaphors for marriage. A healthy marriage has a similar rhythm to that of a seesaw. It’s a continual up and down, give and take. While we are taking care of our individual responsibilities, our lives are intrinsically linked to the actions of our partners. (See: When Your Marriage Feels Stuck)

Yet many couples struggle because one or both spouses are not comfortable with a healthy rhythm.

Three Reasons You Are Stuck

If a healthy marriage has a good rhythm of give and take, an unhealthy relationship is characterized by an absence of movement. They get stuck.

1. It has to be fair. While relationships should be fair, the fairness is found in an equality of ups and downs, not a continual experience of the exact same expectations at every moment. Some couples get stuck because one or both of the spouses demand equality at every moment. They believe whatever the experience of one of them in the moment must be the experience of both. So the wife can’t go out with her friends unless the husband can do the same thing at the same time. Instead of taking a long view of equality, they define it second by second. The result is that their seesaw is always level. No one goes up because it wouldn’t be fair for the other to have to go down. They freeze in the name of fairness.

2. I won’t humble myself for you. Other couples get stuck because one of the spouses refuses to be humble. While they have no problem with their spouse sacrificing for them, they refuse to sacrifice for their spouse. So every decision is made about their career, their expectations, their hopes, but never about the career, expectations, or hopes of their spouse. It’s a one-sided relationship which slows the momentum of both spouses.

3. I don’t trust you to support me. An often overlooked aspect of why couples get stuck is because one spouse doesn’t (or shouldn’t) trust their spouse to support them. They fear at the moment they need their spouse the most, their husband or wife will not be there. Without trust, they won’t take the risk to succeed. On occasion, this shows a personal problem. Because of a past hurt or sorrow, they are not willing to trust others, even their spouse. They are reading their history into their spouse. It isn’t fair. On other occasions, they are justified in not trusting their spouse because the spouse has proven themselves unfaithful. When you’ve been “cherry-bombed” a time or two by someone, it’s wise not to trust them again.

The Antidote to Apathy

Whatever the cause, the result of the previous three mindsets are apathy. Unable to get into a proper rhythm, they get stuck. The answer to moving forward is trust. (See: Why Others Don’t Trust You)

Trusting our spouse is what gives us the courage to work together in order to succeed. It empowers us to humble ourselves in sacrifice so we can give our spouse room to chase their dreams. It enables us to rely on our spouse as we chase our own dreams. It energizes us to reject apathy and lack of movement. Because we love our spouse, we want them to succeed and we want to be a part of their success.

Couples rarely realize they don’t trust each other. It’s not something that is felt or considered. The absence of trust expresses itself in other ways. A lack of progress is the most obvious sign that trust is not present. A couple will grow to the level of their trust.

Do you love your spouse? Don’t cherry-bomb them.

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