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The Road Map to a Marriage That Lasts and a Relationship That Loves Again
Did you ever have a day or moment when you felt that it was time to give up on your marriage? Is there anything you can do so divorce does not happen to you? Marriage and family therapist John T. Eckenwiler has been searching for answers that make sense for the thousands of couples he has counseled over the last twenty years. What he has discovered is that couples can work it out and save their marriages. ...
The Road Map to a Marriage That Lasts and a Relationship That Loves Again
Did you ever have a day or moment when you felt that it was time to give up on your marriage? Is there anything you can do so divorce does not happen to you? Marriage and family therapist John T. Eckenwiler has been searching for answers that make sense for the thousands of couples he has counseled over the last twenty years. What he has discovered is that couples can work it out and save their marriages. He has identified three elements that, when absent from a relationship, make couples want to give up, and in this groundbreaking book, you and your spouse can assess and implement these key elements and rebuild your relationship.
The Shatterproof Program promises to:
Uncover the three key elements that can change your marriage forever
Help you grow a depth of love that many couples never experience
Leave no part of your marriage vulnerable
Arm you with all the critical relationship tools you'll ever need
Guarantee a revolutionized marriage in a few short months
No problem or life event is too big for your marriage. There is a way back to love and companionship. Loaded with specific advice based on Christian principles, thought-provoking exercises, and real-life case studies, Shatterproof Your Marriage redefines what it means to preserve a marriage and offers the hope, understanding, and tools to recognize, develop, and hone the three essential elements that make a marriage resilient, fulfilled, and most of all, lasting.
The difference between carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide is actually very small—one atom. One gives life and the other kills. The extra atom of oxygen is what makes the carbon dioxide compound essential for our blood to function properly. There are a total of 117 chemical elements, such as oxygen and hydrogen; various combinations of these basic elements make up our planet. These elements cannot be broken down into other chemical substances and maintain their properties. There are lots of chemical compounds in the universe, but a relatively limited number of elements. Some elements are far more common and vital than others, like oxygen, hydrogen and iron, for example. Without these more common elements, our survival would be in immediate jeopardy. Radium is an element that is not nearly so critical. It was used in the mid 1900s as paint for clocks and watches.
What in the world does this have to do with marriage, you say? A lasting marriage is the same. After decades of being married myself and working as a marriage therapist, I have discovered three vital elements that have the properties necessary to create a shatterproof marriage. The first element, which we explore in the next several chapters, is personal character. The character you bring into your marriage sets you up to succeed or fail before you even get started. It is common for married couples to come into my counseling office and expect me to dive right in and fix things right away: Give them a couple tools, tell them what the problem is, and how to go home and make things better. Blaming and finger-pointing is also something I have to contend with, day in and day out.
By far, the vast majority of people have not examined themselves well enough to see how their personal character impacts everything that goes on in their marriage. Rachel was just such a person. Just twenty-five, she had already been married several years and had a young daughter. Her husband, Jack, not unlike so many men these days, had become addicted to pornography. In his case, however, he would even injure himself with self-stimulation. This had a terrible effect on their physical intimacy, as she felt like he was always thinking of someone else. He also had a lot of unresolved issues from his childhood that he brought into their marriage. He shut down if there was conflict, did not help around the house, spent most of his free time on the computer, and tended to have explosive outbursts when he got angry.
Both were regular churchgoers, although Jack was on the fringes of what church was all about. Rachel had good intentions and was reluctant to admit she wanted a divorce, but she was ready to walk out of the marriage by the time she made it into my office. Hurt, angry, dejected, and hopeless, all she could do was focus on how bad things had gotten between them. She had tried yelling, taking all the initiative in the marriage herself, biting her tongue. Nothing seemed to make any difference. Rachel was not smart enough or powerful enough to control the situation and get the result she so desperately wanted.
Then a friend gave her a copy of this book. Within just the first few chapters, she realized that her own character was being put to the test. Instead of leaving, she decided she had to stay and fight for the marriage. She became quick to look first at herself before seeing Jack's faults. This one significant change was so noticeable it paved the way for Jack to start owning up to his own problems, which he did.
Real change was now possible and beginning to happen.
See Opportunity in Adversity
Whenever I feel the urge to exercise
I lie down until it goes away.
Your life is now.
Every moment of your life is a new opportunity to be better than you were. Your attitude, outlook, and the way you relate to everything around you defines who you are. Some of these moments are big ones; most are small and happen often, even minute to minute. What you do with these moments speaks volumes about you. They say who you really are and how much strength of character you have. In other words, the way you respond to life's defining moments tells the rest of the world, and more importantly you, what kind of character you have.
Marriage tests your character every day. Your marriage could be unhappy and full of problems, or it might be sailing along smoothly. Your contribution might be highly noticeable, or the routine of life may cover up how you are living your married life. But I guarantee you, even a quiet lack of action speaks volumes about your personal character. Element #1 is about having the right personal character. That starts long before you are married and is not confined just to your marriage once you are.
Stan and Marsha can tell you all about how important this first element is in marriage. Both in their second marriages, they had been married for eleven years and raised the young children from their previous marriages together. It was not without an occasional bump, but overall life had gone along very well. They became empty nesters at a relatively young age, and decided it was time to have some real fun together. They planned trips, had cocktails in the hot tub, and basically did whatever they felt like doing whenever they wanted to do it. Every weekend they looked forward to drinking beers and getting pretty tipsy, since they never drank during the childrearing years. One night Marsha had perhaps one too many, and she unleashed an explosive fit on Stan. This was highly uncharacteristic for her. Then it happened the next week, and then again the next. Marsha insisted she had no idea why she would do such a thing, alcohol or not.
After several counseling visits, she discovered that she was angry and resentful at Stan over the way he overlooked some outrageous behaviors of his twenty-year-old daughter. Among other things, she lied and stole money from them. Upon further exploration, it turned out that Stan had a horrible childhood. The family moved an average of four times a year all through elementary school. He wanted so badly for his daughter to have everything he did not have, he raised her to be spoiled and unprepared to have to work for things. Marsha did not agree with this approach, but her earlier experiences with conflict made her shy away from any big disagreement. She became convinced that Stan, being so sensitive about his daughter, would blow up at her if she even voiced honest feelings.
You see, both of these partners shied away from uncomfortable situations for years, and it was finally catching up with them. Their avoidance turned into a unique kind of dance in their marriage, producing some habits that were very destructive and hard to break. What was needed was for both to step up and bring a stronger character to their marriage. Stan had to face the anxiety of letting his daughter fall on her face since she would not listen to him. Marsha had to face her fear of Stan and speak with honesty to him. They had reached a huge defining moment in their marriage. It could have been avoided if they had responded to all the small, daily defining moments during all those childrearing years.
There are tons of real-life marriage examples in this book. Before we get too deep into them, this chapter challenges you to start looking at you. What kind of person are you bringing to the marriage? Are you tough, or would you just rather avoid adversity? At the end of the chapter, you will have an opportunity to take inventory of your own personal character within your marriage. If you don't start there, all the 'get well quick' ideas in other marriage books don't mean a thing.
Some people call life's defining moments 'growth opportunities.' We find them in every part of life, not just in marriage. To bring the right character into your marriage, you have to be facing adversity in every other part of your life—your job, friendships, driving on the highway, in the retail store. We all know people who are a breath of fresh air everywhere they go. Maybe you're one of them. But I haven't met anyone yet who doesn't have some areas of personal weakness, and that's where strength of character becomes most important.
There are all kinds of techniques, gimmicks, tools, therapy, and self-help materials to make you a better person, marriage partner, public speaker, employee, parent, and so on. You might even get pretty good at building your skills and this may serve you quite well. But how many stories have we heard of accomplished doctors who see their patients only in scientific terms, and the cures involved something deeper and more intangible? There is more to you than just the sum of your abilities.
Back in 1991, I was working in central Florida and worked twenty hours a week on the cancer ward of a general hospital. My job was to offer support and counseling to any cancer patient who was interested. I also visited a couple outpatient oncology offices daily, making my 'rounds' for support counseling. One day a patient who had advanced bone cancer wanted to see me. She suffered from chronic pain, all day, every day. She wanted help coping with her pain. Up to this point, her doctor had been prescribing pain medication but it was not working as well as she wished. I spent some time getting to know Martha, especially some of the biggest disappointments and stresses in her life. One thing became clear in talking with her: she had been used to being self-sufficient and highly independent. Her illness and pain was an enormous barrier to this. That day I asked Martha to focus on some of the strengths she already had. We spent a lot of time talking about the power of her subconscious mind, and I told her she had more control than she gave herself credit for. I shared with her a story of how a woman named Wanda had similar pain and she had learned that no one could be perfectly self-sufficient. So Martha was receiving two messages—she can feel reassured things are okay despite the pain, and absolute self-sufficiency is impossible so don't want it so badly. This was all communicated in a hypnosis session, which enabled us to access her subconscious thoughts.
Our session ended, she thanked me, and we went about our days. The next week I saw her in the office again, and she reported to me that she had no pain for a week! None at all! She had confirmed, verified bone cancer throughout her body. Well, I didn't see her for three or four months, so when I did I was interested to see how long this lasted before the pain returned. The pain never did return! Was it really my incredible talent? No, not at all. Martha's cancer was a major defining moment in her life and she had become stuck. With some help, she was able to adopt a new, healthier view of herself and life that even eliminated physical pain. Before that, she and everyone around her was blind to what the real problem was. She had a heart that was open to new ideas, changed her view of life, and began to live differently.
A similar thing happened to the apostle Paul when he converted to Christianity, only this involved God moving directly in his life. He was threatening and murdering Christians after the rulers of the day ordered Jesus crucified. As he was traveling and gathering up Christians, a bright light flashed around him and God asked him why he was persecuting God. Paul was then literally blind for three days until Ananias laid his hands on him. God filled him with his spirit that day and the Bible says that something like scales fell from his eyes. Paul could finally see clearly—not only physical things but also who God was and what life was really about. God will enable you to navigate through life's defining moments too, but you have to want it.
These examples reveal one simple truth. It's your attitude, as seen in your actions—or lack of them—that make you and your marriage what they are. The only way to have a shatterproof marriage is to consider a major attitude adjustment and put it into action. The fact is, if you believe in God and get to know him, your overall view of life comes into focus. You realize that giving more than you receive in life always results in something greater than you.
Your heart is the truest measure of who you really are
Years of doing marriage therapy with a variety of people has shown me without any doubt that we are all basically the same despite some obvious differences. You are unique yet you are no different from me. You are unique in your life experiences, cultural values, ethnic background, skin color, financial status, religious beliefs, and political views. Those things are important for us to consider when working out differences. Yet there is one primary thing that enables people to overcome any marital challenge: the amount of 'heart' they have based on their strength of character. You could be Hispanic, African-American, or Caucasian, but how you respond to problems is the key no matter who you are.1 I'll share some valuable marriage tools later, but they just don't work without this ingredient. I have had numerous marriage-counseling clients who became quite skilled with some communication tools and anger-management techniques. But when their defining moments come up at home, the skills don't get applied. Their view of life is wrong. Sometimes paying therapy clients do not do homework assignments even when they agree it would make a huge difference. There's an attitude there that is sometimes hard to get to and is hard to quantify, but it makes all the difference.
I am a big Saturday afternoon college-football fan. Have you ever wondered how teams with great talent get beat by teams that are obviously weaker? I have! Don't they want to win? I've wondered this for years and had discussions about it with lots of people. Finally I asked a friend of mine who played football at Auburn University back in the early seventies. I asked him why he thought this was such a common thing in football. His answer is the only answer that has ever made sense: 'What sets one team apart from another is how much heart they have. They are comprised of individual players with all kinds of heart.' He should know. He is only about 5'11" and had to play against much bigger players as a lineman! To this day, he holds some athletic records in Alabama. When things get tough, you can give in or refuse to give in.
Later in the book I'll share some valuable tools for your marriage, but without heart they won't go very far. Proverbs 4:23 says to 'Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.' If you and your spouse work at growing a big heart patterned after the character of God your marriage will endure anything.
©2008. John T. Eckenwiler. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Shatterproof Your Marriage. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442