On Sunday, Jennifer and I celebrated our twenty-third wedding anniversary. In addition to a celebration dinner out together we took time in the afternoon to do a marriage enrichment survey and talk through the report that we were sent. A number of lessons stood out to me.
The first thing we both felt was gratefulness. The survey was comprehensive and so started by asking a series of questions about our families of origin. While no family is perfect, as we answered question after question about family life in our childhood we both realized how much help our parents have been in giving us healthy patterns for relating in our marriage. It made me realize how much influence I have on my own children and gave me a greater desire to model the kind of marriage that my children can learn from and return to.
The next lesson I learned was about what’s important in a marriage. Couples that are dating will often talk about having a great “connection.” But in a survey developed by a PhD in psychology and family science, and refined through over 3 million surveys over the last 35 years, there wasn’t a single question about connection. Good looks, money or powerful careers don’t seem to enhance or detract from a marriage’s effectiveness either. No questions about those kinds of things. They asked questions about some of the things you’d expect like parenting, communication, stress, sex, conflict resolution and roles and responsibilities. But there were many other qualities that stood out:
- More than whether you have conflict or not, how effective are you in resolving conflict? Or in expressing your needs without controlling or demeaning your partner?
- More than how you feel about the marriage, how committed are you to the marriage? And to doing what it takes to improve your marriage?
- More than whether you have enough money, how good a job do you do at managing the money you have? And how do you feel about each other’s attitude toward money and its use?
- And how do you foster leisure activities and friendships that you can both enjoy together without robbing each other of needed time alone?
They were good questions that helped us to talk and see our relationship in important ways. And they were accompanied with assignments designed to help you work through areas where you need help.
The final thing that stood out to me was what the report analysis referred to as couple agreement and idealistic distortion. Because the answers were tabulated and charted it was possible to see how each of us saw various issues. Almost more important than whether we had a problem in a particular area was whether we both saw it as a problem. This couple agreement factor showed us whether we saw our relationship through the same lens and with the same urgency. With one issue that we identified as a growth area, both of us easily recognized that it was an issue and is something that we’re actively addressing. More serious problems arise when one spouse sees a crisis in one area and the other doesn’t see it as an issue. That then showed up under a category called idealistic distortion, which measured the extent to which one person tended to see the relationship through rose coloured glasses – they just can’t see the problems. Idealistic distortion reminds me a little of what Jesus warned of when He said:
For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them. - Matthew 13:15
May God rescue us all from dull hearts, ears that don’t hear and eyes that are closed to the real problems in our lives and our marriages. And as He opens our eyes, may He also give us the strength and courage to deal with our sin and seek the change that only He can bring.
For those of you who are curious, the survey was from Prepare Enrich (www.enrichcanada.ca) and is a tool Jennifer and I were field-testing for use as a part of our pre-marital and marital counselling. If you’re interested in learning more about it, check out the web-site or talk to Jennifer and me about it.
In awe of Him,