Well, of course there are many secrets. Who am I* to say that I’ve identified the four most important things?
All I can promise is that, at least in this post, I will not mention any others. I’ve thought of four and I’m sticking to that!
So, to recap these secrets of fabulousness to date:
1. Eat dinner together, especially after you’ve given up on ever getting anyone to behave. I did go on at length about this, because I believe in giving you all the details. When you buy my book, you are going to be astonished at how something about mystagogy includes instructions on how to deal with spent matches. Laugh if you want to, I deserve it.
Among the many blessings (gone into in those posts) of eating dinner together is one that is relevant to my final secret, and that is that you really get to know and love each other. You enjoy each other’s company. You connect with each other.
2. Sundays are for rest. Seriously, if there was one thing you should do, just to, you know, give the Holy Spirit a chance to be heard, it’s setting Sundays apart. For this post’s purposes I will say that (among many blessings!) on your restful Sundays you mysteriously connect with what’s outside of you and your family — specifically, opening yourself up to whatever messages the heavens wish to bestow on you. Making Sunday a true day of rest, worship, and celebration is like turning your phone on — if you were expecting a call, that is.
So a connection within your family and a connection between the family (and each person in it) to the vast beyond.
3. Love when you want and accept the children God sends. I can’t go on to the fourth secret without giving you this one. In our deeply child resistant culture, it’s unheard of to suggest that this is the way to live. In a time and place where people have no idea how to bond with each other (down to never eating together) and no clue as to how to find God (including treating Sunday like any other day), it seems foolish to even dream of opening yourself up to an unstressed way of life that trusts.
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty (1 Corinthians 1: 27).
There is also something else:
“Those who have hope live differently.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
As crazy as that sounds, it’s pure sanity compared to trying to live out the fourth secret while resisting children in all the lying ways the world has to offer.
The fourth secret, now, can be divulged.
4. It is for husbands and wives to be friends with each other, and how can that happen if, in your intimate life together, you treat your most precious gift of yourself as a threat? So, before reading further, go back and revisit that post, especially the part where I wonder how self-help ideas can work where child resistance is a way of life.
Back? Okay… So… What does it mean to be friends?
Friends admire each other. Friends choose to be together. And friends are polite to and considerate of each other.
The husband and the wife should be friends.
When you are first married, you are lovers and expect to feel, as well as be, so forever. The fires subside and all the books tell you to be sure to try to fuel the flames with certain methods. Surely you don’t need advice from me on that score. Open any magazine. (Except, don’t. They are not actually helpful.)
My thoughts are more about when you are dealing with every day — how you react to each other, how you speak to each other, what your default attitude is.
Friends treat every time they make contact with a certain eagerness. They animate their voices to express their anticipation. They smile with shared adventure. They make sure the other knows that the encounter is appreciated, though they rarely discuss their mutual affection.
Now think about husbands and wives. Think about how your voice sounded over the phone. Was it flat and merely informative? Did you convey a smile with your voice? Did you sign off warmly? How do you walk through the room where your spouse is busy? Do you interrupt heedlessly? Do you make eye contact in a friendly way?
Think about how friends laugh at each other’s quips. I notice that men laugh uproariously at each and every lame joke that’s made, fanning themselves into a veritable bonfire of tired puns. For guys, there is no pun that needs to be sent to bed. There is no exhaustion in punning.
I think that’s great and more power to them. They are having a great time! So just imagine if every one of those men went home and just managed a gentle chuckle at something his wife said in passing. Think how it would make her day to be appreciated for her sense of humor. It’s not that he doesn’t think she’s witty. He certainly thought so when they first met!
It’s just that now, he’s in the habit of not laughing when she talks. Sad for her — makes her feel like he’s not really friends with her…
Being a woman, I am intimately acquainted with the way women relate to each other. Having good friends is a joy. You really prepare for getting together with your friends. You dress carefully, act really cheerful, and in general bring a great attitude to meetings with friends. Just imagine if you acted this way for your husband?
I wonder how much the enjoyment we get out of being with friends is proportional to the effort we put into it?
You can object that it’s different, since you don’t spend all your time with your friends — at least, not as much as with your spouse. You don’t live with them!
Well then, bring just a little of that energy into your interaction with your husband. Give him a little admiration — at least a proportional amount of sparkly eyes and peppy conversation. Offer him one fraction of the consideration you give your pals.
When I put it that way, doesn’t it seem a bit silly to stint him?
Here’s the thing. It’s really hard to be with someone for years and years and not see all their flaws, exclusively. Only an effort at admiration will overcome the tendency to devolve into a flaw-noticing machine. Want to survive with your marriage intact? This is it! This is the secret, I tell you!
For some reason, with our friends we are aware of how our own flaws must seem very evident to them. Yet with our spouses, we do the opposite: We assume that only his or her shortcomings are noticeable, and our behavior is the gold standard!
C. S. Lewis said, “In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each… feels, in his secret heart, humbled before the rest.” (As an aside I will say that this is a good way to judge whether any person should be a friend…)
A marriage counselor was heard to say that the habit of despising a person is nearly impossible to recover from. Couples who are in “despise mode” get divorced. What is the antidote? Maybe nothing.
Don’t get to that point.
Keep despise mode far away by employing admiration and respect. Feed admiration and respect with gratitude. At the minimum, this vexing person you are married to accepts YOU. Who else would? I don’t kid myself that there is anyone else (of course, the Chief is far from vexing — he is amazing and treats me like a princess! Which makes it all the more astounding that he puts up with me.)
Now here is the practical part: Men and women need to be admired in different ways. (These ways are based on my own experience — feel free to discuss with each other what you actually think about what you would need to feel admired.)
Sure, there is a basic human level of appreciation that everyone can get on board with receiving. There are many books out there that will tell you what those are (hint: don’t criticize, don’t nag, try to understand the other’s point of view).
But to you husbands, I would like to say that your wife needs to be admired for her beauty, for her character, and for her devotion. It doesn’t hurt to let on that you appreciate all that. Letting her finish what she is saying and giving her the impression that listening was really worthwhile will go a long way to making her feel loved. Let a beat go by before you respond to show you’re giving it some thought. Don’t just wait impatiently to throw in your own stellar comment. Laugh at her jokes.
I’ve sometimes noticed that a man will listen to any random person except his wife (talking about group conversations here), all but ignoring her. You’ve heard it before, you say? Try treating what she says at least as respectfully as your buddies’ possibly less than daisy-fresh remarks and watch her blossom. Take her insights seriously. She knows you and God put her there to tell you stuff you need to know.
To you wives, I’m warning you, we have no idea that a man must be loved as a man. Does your husband know you admire him? Can he be admirable if his one true love won’t glance on him with approbation? And do you further know that he wants to be admired for being strong (physically strong) and protective? For taking care of you and your (probably numerous, if you follow Secret #3) family? Why do we withhold this blessing from our man? Why do we refrain from openly admiring him?
Try giving him that look — that look that says “YOU are my man.”
The other day, I glimpsed a woman rolling her eyes in exaggerated disgust at her husband’s clumsiness — something trivial, I assure you. Something that she would have bent over backwards to cover up if it had been a friend of hers committing the gaffe. Ah, that’s the test, isn’t it? What does it profit you to treat your friends with patience if your own husband can’t make a mistake without the whole world knowing it?
Has there been bitterness between you? I’d be surprised if not. But try admiration first and then work your way up to forgiveness, rather than thinking that admiration and friendship will come later, when you’ve sorted things out.
Wives, when he comes in from wrestling with bears (or getting sand off the driveway or removing the guts of a mouse that the cat left on the mat, whichever the case might be), tell him how much you appreciate it.
Husbands, when she starts to tell you about something she read or wants to discuss an issue with a neighbor, listen with a smile.
Both of you, don’t let the children prevent you from listening to each other. They can wait their turn.
When you mess up, forgive each other readily. When there is a problem, address it in a friendly way rather than as a criticism. If there is something you need to repeat, tease lovingly or exaggerate wildly. Anything rather than that exasperation that dwindles to simple nagging…
The sad fact is that most people with marriage issues don’t realize that they are in a dull state of entitlement combined with a good amount of rudeness. We expect a self-help book or date night to rescue us, when really, all that will only help if we’ve grappled with some of of what seem to be ordinary moments and put some spunk into them.
Are you friends? Do you laugh together? That’s the key. That’s the secret!
*(Who am I to come up with secrets? These are thoughts from almost 35 years of marriage and from many conversations with friends whose marriages have also weathered many storms.)