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How 5 Commitments Determine the Destiny of Your Marriage
By Gary Smalley
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2006 Gary Smalley
All rights reserved.
All husbands have experienced it. You are sleeping soundly when your wife shakes you awake and whispers: "Honey, I hear a noise downstairs. I think someone is in the house! Go check."
Begrudgingly you roll out of your warm bed, half asleep and a little irritated at having to check out what is sure to be yet another false alarm. But you dutifully set out to face whatever imagined evil is lurking downstairs. As usual, you find that it's a possum or some similar critter pattering on your porch. You mumble your findings to your wife and crawl back into bed, utterly oblivious to the fact that what has been a minor irritation to you is her greatest fear—the fear that she is not secure. Every husband on the planet has had this experience. I'm convinced that my main value in the marriage is to investigate noises and get rid of spiders.
At 4:20 a.m. on October 6, 2004, Norma's greatest fear materialized. Only this time I was out of town. She was alone.
It all started when the sound of glass breaking jolted her awake. She jumped out of bed and immediately checked to see if the bedroom door was locked. It was. Soon she heard more noises, first like the sound of someone screaming, then moments later something like the sound of an eerie chant. Norma was terrified.
Could it be Michael or Greg, she wondered. Are my sons playing some kind of prank? If they are, I'll hurt them. This isn't funny. "Please, Lord," Norma prayed under her breath, "Let this be a joke." But it certainly didn't have the feel of a joke.
And it wasn't. In the early morning hours a man had broken into our home. As we discovered later, he had overdosed on methamphetamines and was having a drug- induced psychotic episode. (A year later he was sent to a criminal mental institute.)
This man had jumped off his sixteen-foot balcony and shattered his ankle. He limped across the street, dragging his foot behind him, and crashed through our garage window falling hard on the glass and debris and cutting himself severely. But he felt no pain because of the methamphetamines. Bleeding profusely, he broke through the garage door and entered our home. He was convinced that demons were out to kill him as he careened through our house, knocking over furniture and wrecking our decor. From where Norma hid, the noise seemed deafening. She was sure that he would find her; it was simply a matter of time.
As fear tightened its grip on her, she instinctively did the exact thing TV talk show hosts had taught her. She ran into the bathroom and locked herself in the toilet area. The intruder would have to break through three heavy doors to get her. Norma then dialed 911. (I am so thankful that we followed through on installing a phone in our bathroom!) Within three minutes a police officer arrived, but he couldn't enter our home because he wasn't sure how many people were inside. He needed backup. So he waited in our driveway for additional officers to show up.
Meanwhile, Norma endured twenty minutes of this man screaming, chanting, and destroying our stuff—the longest twenty minutes of her life. Several times she heard him screaming so close that she was terrified that he was about to burst through the door into our bedroom. "He's coming in, he's coming in," she cried to the 911 operator. The operator reassured Norma that the police were ready to burst in if he actually entered the bedroom. Ultimately the deranged man barricaded himself against his demons inside the closet of a second floor bedroom—the room right above Norma.
When the police finally apprehended this man, they found blood on the door handle of our bedroom. He had ventured all the way to our bedroom door, but for some reason he had stopped. Norma believes to this day that God's angels stood there with their hands outstretched, telling him that he could go no further.
On that October night, Norma's worst fears were realized. She thought she was secure in our home because we had a state-of-the-art home security system. The only problem was that the system had not been activated that night. We had this first-rate security system, but we paid little attention to using it because we never suspected we would need it. Why would we? Our little town of Branson, Missouri, has little or no crime. It never occurred to us that someone very sick was living right across the street. We thought we were secure, but we were not. Immediately I promised to install additional security measures and vowed that I would never again neglect punching in the security code to our system. That promise was extremely important, but I'll get back to that shortly. First I want to address the importance of security.
Our Need for Security
You may have a similar security failure in your marriage—one that you are blissfully unaware of, or one just waiting to happen. Just so there's no misunderstanding here, I'm not talking about physical security. That's important, and you need to take care of it; but it's another issue entirely. The breach of security in our home that threatened Norma is merely an analogy to the kind of security you need in your marriage. What I'm talking about here is emotional security—the security to truly open up and be known at a deep, intimate level without fear of being blamed, criticized, judged, or condemned. Like most couples, you may think that a successful marriage depends on relationship skills—how many you possess, how well developed they are, and how successful you are in applying them. But none of these skills will have any effect if your marriage lacks that one, basic, foundational ingredient—security.
One of my dreams when I established our ministry's research center was to find out what is really necessary for couples to thrive in their marriages. After directing a research team in years of study, my son, Dr. Greg Smalley, has determined that the number one key to a satisfying, intimate marriage is for couples to maintain security.
Security is the unsung need, the overlooked ingredient that can make your marriage the best on the face of the earth. Security underscores and supports every facet of your relationship. Security makes your marriage feel like the safest place on earth, the place where you want to live and grow and love. But to experience that level of security, you must build a sound relational security system and punch in the code to activate it. When those uneasy feelings between the two of you begin to go away, you'll be on your way to the best marriage you can imagine.
Research has convinced me that security is the primary key to a great marriage.
Why is security the key to a great marriage?
UCLA neuroscientist, Dr. Allan Shore, writes that all humans desire satisfying relationships, because a section of our brain has been hardwired to seek a loving connection with others. The need for relationship is built in. It's part of the innate nature of every human on earth. Think about it: all your life you've been trying to connect to best friends, parents, siblings, a mate, etc. But regardless of how hard a person may try, deep, emotionally-based, intimate, best-friend-type of relationships only happen when you feel safe and secure in the presence of the other.
Dr. Bob Paul, director of the National Marriage Institute, calls this concept feeling "safe." Dr. Paul has discovered that when you feel safe, you automatically open up and share more and more of your deepest self. As you continue opening up, the best-friend relationship begins to happen naturally. Close your eyes and imagine living with a mate who completely accepts you for who you are. He never tries to change you. She is constantly looking for clues to understand you better. He not only highly values who you are, but is fascinated by your every move, every word, every thought. Would that be great or what?
Most married couples are continually on the lookout for ways to create that kind of intimate experience. Typical strategies that we often explore to create intimacy might include: learning about each other's love language and emotional needs; being attentive to romantic gestures and events, like sending flowers, cards, and planning candlelight dinners; maintaining regular date nights; attending church or relationship conferences; developing great sex techniques; reading marriage books; or joining a small group and talking about your marriage. And the strategy list can go on and on and on.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking these avenues of marriage improvement. After all, I've written some about these techniques myself in other books. Knowing your mate's love language, for example, is a great strategy after your marriage feels secure. In fact, it can help create more safety. But most of the books I've written, as well as many of the books of my author friends, outline strategies for enhancing your marriage relationship after the vital element of security between partners is established. While on some level these strategies are worthwhile and helpful, our marriage research center found that they don't work well to produce intimacy unless couples first build a foundation of security into their marriage.
Security will never happen in any marriage until partners get over their natural resistance to openness with each other. Why do we have this resistance? Because openness makes us vulnerable, and vulnerability means risk. We're not quite sure what our spouse will say or do when we truly open up, or how he or she may use what we reveal. What will he think when I dare to reveal this long-hidden truth about myself? What will she say when I tell her what I've done? Will he laugh or ridicule me when I reveal to him what I'm thinking? When you risk you can lose. And when the risk involves the impairment of a vital relationship, the loss can be devastating. This is why so many marriage partners pull back from connection and intimacy. Usually it's an attempt to avoid being hurt, humiliated, embarrassed, or simply being made uncomfortable by the prospect of complete openness. We have a natural tendency to avoid risk.
The way to overcome this risk is to establish in your marriage the security of knowing that each of you can safely reveal your heart to the other without fear of condemnation. The only way to achieve this kind of marital intimacy is to focus significant time, attention, and energy into creating an environment in which both partners feel secure in each other's love and acceptance when they make themselves vulnerable by opening up. Security reduces the risk. Just think how simple this can be: you don't have to be the expert relationship guru, mastering all the strategies and techniques designed to enhance intimacy; all you need is to feel secure in your marriage, and the best relationship possible will happen naturally. Is that great news or what?
We spend so much needless energy trying to hide. We put up walls to obscure our inner selves and try to project the image we think our mates want so that when they look at us through their camera lens, they will like what they see. But by putting up that façade, we tend to keep parts of ourselves closed and protected. We may ignore or deny how we actually feel. We may draw on a whole host of behaviors to avoid relational risks—behaviors such as getting angry, defensive, or demanding—as a way of distracting our mate from our own vulnerability or deflecting his or her condemnation. Unfortunately, these strategies usually limit the quality of intimacy in our marriage because it's hard for the other to get close to us if we're standing behind a thick wall. We hide because we don't feel the security to be open, and openness is a must in satisfying marriage relationships.
In spite of the risks, the potential benefits of an intimate marriage are many. Intimacy creates the ideal opportunity to:
love deeply and be loved;
experience a significant sense of belonging;
have a clearer sense of purpose in life;
have the ability to make a major difference in another's life;
and have a way of fully expressing the best of who we are.
In your marriage, do you feel secure enough to open up and share who you really are, including your deepest thoughts, hopes, and dreams without those uneasy feelings creeping in—feelings that maybe you'll be blamed, criticized, condemned, judged, or ridiculed? Do you fear that your heart will be broken into and your feelings wrecked or your dreams crushed? Do you feel that you must barricade your heart and protect your innermost self behind locks and doors because your mate will not give you the security of being open?
Ever since she was a little girl, Heather's first ambition was to be a mother. But due to taking care of her own invalid mother, she did not marry Troy until she was almost thirty. Troy worked as a fireman, but he was very good with his hands and had a real talent for fine cabinetwork. He often dreamed of starting his own cabinet business. Heather also worked, and so they had put aside a pretty good nest egg. Troy hoped to use the money to open his cabinet shop. Heather knew of Troy's dream, but she wanted to start their family soon, and they would need that money for expenses when their household no longer had two incomes. For a long time Heather could not bring herself to tell Troy that she was concerned that she could hear her biological clock ticking, and if they didn't start their family soon it would be too late.
One evening after dinner she said to him, "Honey, have I ever told you how much I want us to have a family?"
"Well, I figured you wanted kids," Troy responded. "And as soon as we get my business off the ground, we'll do what it takes to make that happen."
"That may be too late," Heather replied. "We really need to start our family now or it may not happen."
Troy knew that what she said was true. He also heard the warmth in her voice as she spoke of having a child. He wanted his cabinet shop, but he also loved his wife. So instead of putting her off, he started asking her all kinds of questions about her hopes and dreams. How many children did she want? Did she intend to quit work after the baby came? What did having babies cost these days? What kind of lifestyle would she settle for if they didn't have as much money as they had planned? Troy's interest in her dreams and the sincerity of his questions led Heather to open up and reveal her innermost feelings about how important family was to her.
She was sensitive to his dreams as well, and as they talked things out he decided cabinet making would make a great hobby. The tools and equipment would cost only a fraction of the huge expense of opening a shop. And with his string of days off as a fireman, he would have enough time to take on small orders and make considerable extra money without sacrificing family time. And who knows? Maybe in time he could build his shop.
"Okay, let's have that baby as soon as possible. In fact," Troy said, grinning, "why don't we go upstairs and start right now?"
Wouldn't it be great to live with someone who really wants you to share everything about yourself? Wouldn't it be great to have a husband or wife who is excited about discovering who you are, what you believe, how you think, why you do what you do, what you dream, and what makes you tick? Wouldn't it make you feel secure to have someone who actually enjoys getting to know you and enjoys it when you change or mature? That's security.
Creating Security Is Easier than You Think
If you are like me, you long for a marriage in which you feel completely secure in your mate's love. You want to feel safe and free to open up and reveal who you really are and know that your partner will still love, accept, and value you—no matter what you say or who you are. It can happen, and it may be easier than you think.
When you think about it, openness is really the default setting for human beings. We are, by nature, inclined to be open. No state of being takes less energy to maintain than openness, because it involves just relaxing and being you. Maintaining defenses, walls, and fortresses against your mate takes tremendous energy. Projecting images to get your spouse to see you a certain way, or to like or accept you, requires a huge amount of work. Simply being and expressing who you are does not. It follows that couples who feel truly secure in their marriage can chuck these masks and facades and use their energy to live and enjoy life.
When married couples live together in a state of openness, intimacy naturally occurs. Let me elaborate on that. Intimacy is the experience of being close to your mate and openly sharing information—either about yourself or some topic relating to you—with the confidence that you will be loved and valued regardless. As I said above, this openness doesn't necessarily require work or effort. On the contrary, it requires that we give up the effort required to stay closed and maintain a false front. The mistake many make, however, is to focus too much on the practice of openness, thus trying too hard to be open. This often makes the openness seem contrived and the intimacy artificial. The better approach is to focus on creating a secure environment where openness and intimacy won't have to be forced. When people feel secure they are naturally inclined to open their hearts and spirit. When both partners relax and allow themselves to be who they are with no unnatural barriers erected, they will have created security, and intimacy will simply happen. Security sets a soothing tone that will allow you to feel relaxed in your marriage. That underlying uneasiness that may have previously destroyed intimacy just quietly fades away.
Excerpted from I Promise by Gary Smalley. Copyright © 2006 Gary Smalley. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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