Marriage is Not Hard

Maybe Jenni and I are just weird, and maybe we’re naïve, since we’ve only been married 10 years, but we feel like marriage isn’t hard. WeddingMarriage is not tough. Life is tough. Life stinks sometimes. It can be excruciatingly painful and hard, but marriage is one of the best systems for dealing with the difficulty life presents. Having someone to talk to, to lean on, to reach out to, to serve, to help, to confide in, to love, to cry with, to hold, makes life manageable.

Even the genuine differences of opinion, and different views on various topics aren’t difficult in marriage. Pride and selfishness are hard, and cause problems, but pride isn’t marriage, and selfishness isn’t marriage. Those things hurt marriage, damaging our best system for dealing with the difficulties of life.

Life is hard. Sin is hard. Pride and selfishness are hard, with or without marriage. Marriage is not hard.

What I’m talking about is less intended as a statement of “fact,” and more of a statement of perspective. And while words alone do nothing to dramatically change the day to day experiences of life in an extremely challenging and cruel world, a change in the way we see the world around us can. What I’m promoting is a paradigm shift: an entirely different way of viewing marriage.

I see marriage as a perfect ideal. Marriage is selfless, kind, generous, loving, patient, empowering, binding, synergistic, and even exalting. Marriage is something that goes well beyond the simple addition of two individuals entering a life-long partnership. It’s the essence that takes that initial partnership and turns it into the germinating seeds of divine companionship. Marriage, as an institution, ordained of God, is perfect. It lifts, it deepens, and it expands. It has no flaws, and it always pulls people together.

People, on the other hand, are flawed. People are imperfect. People are emotionally, mentally, intellectually, and physically unstable in countless ways. We’re mortals living on a very, very mortal world. Life on this earth is intended to be hard. It’s intended to be infuriatingly challenging, almost to the point of impossible, for one simple reason. We are the direct offspring of God. No simple life would suffice to teach embryonic deities the essential lessons to become all that our Father intends us to be. Life, in all its stages, was never intended to be easy.

God sends us here because He knows what we have the power to become. He has given us the tools necessary to become like He is. There’s a reason that the family is central to God’s plan. It’s not just a way of keeping us organized. It’s not just a way of saving us from loneliness. Marriage is an exalting organization. It’s an endowment of power, the very seed of exaltation. There’s a reason that the sealing covenant is called the covenant of exaltation. Marriage, most especially temple marriage, actually begins that process.

And yet, in all of this, we’re still imperfect, flawed, mortal beings. But we’re learning. We’re growing. We’re failing (a LOT), and if we’re taking the right approach, we’re learning from our failures and becoming better. That process is hard. It’s really hard. But it’s not the exalting powers and gifts given by God that make it so hard. It’s the imperfect, flawed, mortal parts of ourselves that make it hard.

I don’t deny that life as a married person is hard. Life as an anything is hard. But marriage itself—that ennobling, binding, wondrous blessing that strengthens us as a couple and as a family to endure the crosses of life—is not hard. It’s wonderful, liberating, and joyful.

The problems arrive when I act against my marriage. When I am selfish, when I am prideful, when I forget to exercise the power God has bestowed upon me in order to bless, strengthen, and love my wife, I am being a problem. And at those times, I need to change. I can’t act against what I know is right without hurting my marriage, and marriage is the very embodiment of everything I know to be right.

That’s why I can never blame marriage for any of life’s problems. Marriage lifts. Sin pulls down. Marriage exalts. Pride and selfishness damn.

When I find that I’m not measuring up, I don’t blame my marriage, and I don’t blame my wife. I try hard not to allow myself to get too discouraged with myself, either. And the simple way to avoid discouragement is to change—to humble myself, apologize, and change my behavior. I know I won’t be perfect in this life, but the journey is so empowering and ennobling that I can’t give it up, I can’t stop. And I certainly won’t ever throw away one of the best tools available for making that happen for both me and my wife. We’re in this for the long run. We’re in it forever. It’s not eternity or bust, it’s just eternity.

And we’re going to make it work, together.

I Am Not a “Manly” Man

I have a confession to make. I’m no manly man. I’m sure this confession is no surprise to those who know me well, but others have Manlya hard time accepting the fact.

 

Point 1: Ixnay on watching sports.

I hate football (I wouldn’t want to play it, let alone watch it). I would rather sit in a silent room with the lights off than sit in a room with sports playing on a screen. By FAR. Blegh. No thanks. That pretty much goes for all sports, but football is at the top of my never-want-to-watch list. Don’t get me wrong, I love physical activity. Don’t challenge me to a dance-off unless you want to lose. I even enjoy a number of sports. But NOT football, and NOT watching someone else have all the fun.

 

Point 2: I’m no handyman.

Sure, I’m comfortable with power-drill or hammer, but don’t ask me to use it to fix stuff. I usually make things much worse when I try.

I’m constantly visiting the hardware store, but not for the reason you might think. I try so hard to avoid the associates. Not that I don’t think they can help. No doubt they could point me exactly where I need to go. But they always ask that dreaded, satanic question, “So, what are you working on?” DAAAAAAAAHHHHH!

Don’t get me wrong. I totally get their intent. They’re being nice, and it’s a very nice question to ask a manly man.

Ahem…” I start, “Well, see… it’s a… well, it’s kind of a…” and finally, recognizing I’m cornered, and can only make it worse by drawing out the moment, say, “A Marimba—it’s like an African Xylophone,” or “A three-octave pentatonic Native American pan flute,” or, “A didgeridoo with a rainstick embedded inside it.”

Their eyes glaze over, and while they’re deciding whether my words are something that can responded to, I slip away and purchase my supplies.

 

Point 3: Asking directions

I will GLADLY ask directions. From. Anyone. Still, I do so love my navigation app. Oh, blessed Android!

 

Point 4: I’m domestic

I enjoy cooking, I do laundry, dishes, clean the bathroom, and grocery shop. And not because I’m “helping” my wife. It’s my job, and I do it. I chose those tasks, and I do them—usually cheerfully. I would FAR rather do dishes, mop the floor, AND scrub all the counters than even open the hood of a car. Which brings me to the next point.

 

Point 5: I hate cars

There aren’t many things I hate, really. But I’ve mentioned watching sports, home-repair, and explaining my projects to hardware store assistance, but cars—especially fixing cars, tops the lot. If I had to choose between scrubbing the putrescent floors of a hog farm and fixing a car, hand me the scrubber. I long for the day when transporters are invented so I don’t have to get into those ridiculous driving machines again.

And if you ever get in a conversation with me about cars, don’t be surprised if I offer to talk about a more pleasant topic, such as what I discovered in my child’s vomit.

 

Point 6: I’m a jabber-mouth

I talk. A lot. Just not about cars, football, and home-improvement projects. Actually, I find women a lot more interesting to talk to than men, because they actually talk about interesting things, like gardening, books, child-psychology, cooking, and relationships. If you’re ever in a conversation with me, and you find me a little quiet, it’s either because I’m being genuinely shy, or you’re trying to talk about manly subjects.

 

Point 7: I LOVE Kids

I’ve always adored kids. The younger the better. I tried for years to get a job working in a day care, but the most common reason they’d give for turning me down was that, straight and simple, I’m a guy. So I got married and grew my own day care.

The Funnest calling I ever had (and the one I would have most enjoyed doing until the day I died) was teaching the Sunbeams.

And yes, I willingly change my kids’ diapers.

See With New Eyes

Think of someone. Anyone. It may be a family member, it may be a neighbor, or it may be someone you don’t really know well at all. Just think of someone.

Now, what do you know about this person? What is he doing with his life right now? What are her motivations? What keeps him going day after day. What is her prime directive?

We tend to know the answers to these questions for ourselves, but we rarely know them for others. To be fair, all the time and effort in the world probably wouldn’t fill in all the gaps in your understanding of another person.

But we can shrink those gaps.

So give it a try, with one person. What is it that makes them the unique, fascinating individual that they are? If they don’t seem unique and fascinating, it just means you don’t know them all that well. I guarantee, there is as much depth and heart in that person as there is in you. There is so much more you can learn from the person than you’ll ever have opportunity to fully explore. But chances are, you’ve never even scratched the surface. That’s okay. This is your opportunity. Do it now. And don’t stop at a recognition that they are an eternal being with endless potential. Try to find out what they are now. See what you can learn from them, and try to truly understand why they believe what they believe.

We all have power to do that with just about anyone we meet, but we rarely have the time or interest to do it. But give it a try, with just one person. See what happens.

My suspicion is that your eyes will be open to a new way of looking at life that you may never have considered otherwise. Either way, you are certain to learn a great deal about yourself, simply by trying.

The Next Time

The next time some guy cuts you off in traffic, pray for him—like really, really, pray for him. Pray that he might have all the good things in life that would make his life truly incredible.

The next time your kid breaks something of yours that you love, take her in your arms until you’re ready to let the item go. Then tell her she’s better than any silly whatever-it-is.

The next time you’re stuck in traffic, find something beautiful, such tree, a cloud, or a sunset. Stare at and absorb it until the joy of it almost overtakes you.

The next time you see a casual acquaintance, talk to them like you really care, like they’re your best friend in the world.

The next time you get a ticket, fine, or extra charge for something, humbly accept it and genuinely wish the messenger a good day.

The next time you spill, break, or accidentally delete something, step back and laugh. Laugh and laugh like a loon until you really feel like laughing. Then laugh more.

The next time you have a private prayer, pray until you cry.

The next time your spouse says something that bothers you, take a moment to collect yourself, and then walk up to her and kiss her like there’s no tomorrow.

Sometimes changing a life doesn’t mean doing it right every time, just the next time.

I Will Never Become Angry Again

I read a really good blog entry yesterday by a mother who was unhappy with the kind of parent she’d become, and how she was able to change. Her story is touching, and got me thinking.

Our family has a tradition of giving something to Christ each Christmas—such as a resolution or change that we know the Lord would appreciate. Last year, Jenni and I both independently decided we wanted to give up our anger towards the kids. We’d both been shouting at them more often than we knew we should, and we were determined to stop. So we decided that we’d give up our anger. Obviously, there would be feelings of frustration and disappointment, but we wouldn’t allow ourselves to become visibly angry. I should say up front, we’ve never laid hands on our kids. We don’t even spank (and no, I’m not making a statement about whether or not spanking is okay—we just don’t do it at our house). But we have been known to get unnecessarily loud and use mean voices. I don’t think we’ve been verbally abusive, but we’ve been bad examples of how to handle a negative situation. It has only ever exacerbated the problems we’re reacting to.

This last Monday for family home evening we talked about last years gifts to Jesus, and Jenni and I just looked at each other and laughed. We both failed. We’d become visibly angry almost regularly lately.

But then I read the blog entry and it got me thinking more about it.

When I was a teenager (mind you, the quintessential time for emotions to get out of control), I didn’t get angry with people. I got frustrated with stuff, but never people. I had a teacher in college who laughed when I said regarding some negative current event that had taken place, “That makes me so mad!”

I turned to him, and said, “What’s so funny?”

“Sorry, it’s just that I can’t imagine you mad!”

Then I laughed, and realized that I didn’t show anger in public anytime that I could remember. I do remember thinking, “I wish that were so in private, too.”

Jenni was told similar things when she was young, and even someone in our ward said that they couldn’t picture the two of us angry.

My first thought was that I must be quite the hypocrite to make my public life so drastically different than my private life. But that too, got me thinking. If I can choose in public to not become visibly anger, why should I be unable to do it at home.

There’s a talk by Elder Lynn G. Robbins, called Agency and Anger that is an absolute masterpiece. One line of that talk is,

“Understanding the connection between agency and anger is the first step in eliminating it from our lives. We can choose not to become angry. And we can make that choice today, right now: ‘I will never become angry again.’ Ponder this resolution.”

I highly recommend you read the whole talk, but that paragraph sums it up pretty well. Anger is a choice. It’s true there will be frustrations, disappointments, and unmet expectations, but how we react is still our choice.

So I decided to renew my gift to Christ. The way I figure, I was setting out to overcome my anger, and it’s not the next year’s Christmas for two more weeks, so I have two weeks to fulfill my effort.

And I’m going to do it. Especially toward my kids and Jenni. I won’t become visibly angry. I’ll be firm with the kids as necessary, and I’ll see that there are consequences for bad behavior, but I won’t shout. I won’t let my temper flare. I simply won’t do it.

I’m doing this for me, I’m doing it for my family, but I’m mostly doing it for the Lord (after all, it was His birthday present, right?).

And just to keep myself accountable, I’ve created an anger calendar. It’s a simple PDF with Elder Robbins’ quote and three pages laying out every day of the year. I’ve taped it to my bedroom wall, with a multicolor pen stringed to it. Every day that passes that I don’t get angry, I’ll X out in black. If I become visibly angry, I have to X it out in red. My goal is to first make it a week (I’ve already made it one day-WAHOO!!!), then a month, then the full year. If I can make it a year, I think I can make it a lifetime. Maybe I’ll even reward myself for each progressive state.

And, just in case you’re interested in trying it out yourself, you can download the PDF for yourself. I’ve long known that no change ever happens in the future—resolutions start today or they don’t start at all, so the beginning date is the first day of this week.

What do you think? Want to join me, and try it for yourself? If you’re not ready to commit long term, start with today. Just try for a day. Then try for a week. If you can make it a week, maybe you can keep it going.

Book Review: Marriage 101 for Men: Why Taking Out the Trash Is a Turn On, by Sherri Mills

Sherri Mills

Okay guys, listen up. Sherri Mills has a book out for you and I highly suggest you read it. I don’t care if you’re happily married, unhappily married, or not yet married, you REALLY ought to read Sherri’s book, called, “Marriage 101 for Men.”

 

Now if you’re like I used to be, whenever you do a load of dishes, you tend to think you’re helping your wife. Or when you do a load of laundry–perhaps even the KIDS’ laundry, you think you’re being such a good help.

 

If you do, you’re most likely wrong.

 

Sherri explains this FAR better than I do, but doing housework is about fair distribution, and especially about ownership! You don’t do dishes because it helps your wife–you do dishes because it’s YOUR job. You need to take ownership of it and do it your way. Make your wife proud! But this isn’t a one-way thing. Sherri also does a fabulous job teaching you how to help your wife understand that she doesn’t need to control the parts of housework that are yours.

 

Anyway, Sherri’s done a great job helping every husband understand what his wife is experiencing, and empowering him to become the hero he wants to be for his wife.

 

Just read the book. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Date Ideas: Zero-Cost Dates (freeeeee!)

Everyone likes free dates. And there are a number of ways to make them unique and fun. Here are just a few such ideas.

Playground

Go to a local playground. Swing, slide, play tag or lava monster. You may even want to do a bunch of kid-like activities. If you’re in a group date, play duck-duck-goose, or if it’s a big group, Red Rover. You could even play make believe, like the slide platform is a spaceship, and you’re landing on a planet. The key to making these kinds of activities incredibly fun is to get totally into it. Really play it up.

Board Games

Good ol’ board games. They don’t cost a think, and they’re just fun. Get out some favorite boardgames, make popcorn, and have fun!

Live Video/Blog Your Date

If you’ve ever seen a live-tweeted event, or live videoed event, they’re fun to see, and they can be a blast to do. Pre-arrange with your date and bring a video camera, or just bring phones to tweet everything that’s going on. Make a hashtag for it, too. #BobMaryDate

Newspaper Story

Open a random newspaper, and without reading any of the words, start inventing a story based on the picture. Pretend that all the pictures in the paper are a continuation of the same story. See if you can make it to the end of the paper with one continuous story.

Start a Blog or Facebook Page Together

If you have a similar interest or hobby, start a blog together about it. If you’re good friends already, share links to it on your social networks. If you’re both shy, keep it anonymous, so only the two of you know about it. It might be fun to use it to send messages back and forth. Only the two of you will know who you both are. People bumping into it will find it quite interesting.

Try to Beat a World Record

Get a Guinness Book of World Records from the library and look through it together to try to find a record you think you could work together to beat. Then try to beat it.

Foxtail Catch

Put a tennis ball in the end of a long sock, or in a closed end windsock (or you can just tie thick yarn around the ball), and play catch. Foxtails are fun even if you can’t throw or catch well.

Volunteer at a Day Care for a Day

Ask a local day care if you can volunteer to work together for a day. This can be way fun, and help you get to know you’re date’s interest in and skill-level with children.

Video-Conference

If the money issue includes one of gas for a semi distance relationship, plan a video-conference call. If you’re not sure what to talk about, you can share fun youtube videos and picture with each other, or play a LAN game. If the sound isn’t syncing, make fun of the fact by trying to sing in harmony together, or play a game where you try to make it seem to an outsider that it’s right on (by replying before he’s quite done speaking, or laughing at potential jokes.

Find the Weirdest thing in a store

This is a favorite of mine. If your in a group date, go to a store (grocery stores work great for this) and split into couples to see which can find the strangest thing in the store. Then meet back together after five or ten minutes to compare findings. If you’re on a single date, just go together to see the weirdest thing you can find together. Did you know common grocery stores carry pickled watermelon rinds and electric nose-hair clippers? Yeah, I’ve played this game on a lot of dates.

Date Ideas: Youth Dance Dates

Youth dances, including high-school proms, certainly aren’t typical dates, and shouldn’t be considered such. And it shouldn’t be expected that to ask someone out for an ordinary date, you need balloons or a fog machine, but if you’re looking for some fun ask-out or respond ideas or a unique approach to the date for your special youth dance, here are a few ideas:

Costume Date

Decide on a theme, like a favorite movie or book, and dress up as if you were characters from that story. Plan the activities around that theme. A Harry Potter theme might have food from cauldrons and you might dress in wizard robes. Choose a theme based on something you both enjoy.

Sidewalk Chalk

Trace yourself in chalk on your date’s driveway, with a message, “Going to Prom with you would be to die for!” and post “Yes on one stone and “no” on another, with instructions to take the rock with the appropriate answer to school.

Oh, and make sure the rock with the “no” is a massive boulder, so they can’t turn you down. If you’re responding, you could just do the outline bit.

Five Course Meal at Different Locations

On your date, go to five different places for a five-course meal. The appetizer at one place, the soup at another, a salad at the third, a main course at the fourth, and desert at the fifth.

Make a Cake

Frost a cardboard box to look like a cake, with the frosted message, “I have a question for you (inside)”

Then when they try to cut the “cake” they’ll open the box. Have chocolate dipped mini containers or plastic easter eggs with a message, “Will you go with me to the dance?”

Then when they go to eat a chocolate, they’ll discover the containers, in which will be some fun trinkets (maybe jewelry or little toys), and a message with your name, so they know who’s asking. This could be altered slightly to make it a response.

Cardboard Cutout

Get a life-size photo of yourself (two posterboard photos might be enough if the photo is of you on your knee), and tape a quote bubble to it saying, “(Name,) will you go to the dance with me?”

Then stick it on their doorstep and doorbell ditch. Or, if you’re responding, have the quote say your response.

Color Theme Date

Pick a color (maybe your date’s favorite) and base everything around that color. Dress head-to-toe in that color, eat food of that color, drive in a car of that color, and have all the decorations in that color.

Write on the Back of a Puzzle

Write a message, asking your date to the dance, on the back of a finished puzzle. Then break it up again and have it delivered to the person. They’ll have to put the puzzle together to read the message. This works for responding to an invitation as well.

Silly String the Question to His/Her Lawn

Write your question on their front lawn with silly string. If you want to, include something like, “You drive me silly!” This works for ask or answer.

Peanut Answer

If you’re answering an invitation, get a bag of peanuts and a cleaned out two-liter pop bottle. Crack open a few peanuts carefully, and replace the nuts with small messages that say things like, “What’s crackin? Keep trying!” and “Going nuts yet? Keep going!” and one that says, “I’d be nuts to say no! Yes, I’ll go with you to the dance.” Lightly glue the shells closed again.

When you pack the peanuts in the bottle, put the response nut in early, so it will be toward the bottom of the bottle. With the small neck, only one or two peanuts can pass through at a time. Drop the other teaser messages in halfway and quarter to the top.

Shredded Paper

Shred or cut up a bunch of papers and either write a message on one of the shreddings (or two or three, in case they can’t find the one), or write one word on each of the shreddings with a number on the back of each, designating the order they go in.

Have the person’s family or friends spread them all over her bedroom, or in her car or locker.

This works for answering, too.

Date Ideas: X-travagant (and X-pensive) Dates

I suppose there is a place for extravagant dates, and if you really want one, here are a few unique ideas for those with a little extra money (okay, a lot of extra money).

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Come on, you know you’ve always wanted to! If you’re going extravagant anyway, why not now?

Skydiving

Just think what you’ll learn about both yourself and your date!

Disneyland

If you’re within a few hundred miles of Disneyland, Disney World, Six-Flags, or Lagoon, start your date bright and early and go until late. A guaranteed blast.

The Most Expensive Restaurant in Town

Find out which restaurant in your town is the most extravagant, and take your date to it. Chances are, she’s never been there either.

Buy a Couple Remote Control Airplanes or Helicopters

Get some remote-control planes or choppers and go to a park or parking lot and have a ball! If your phone is light enough, connect it to one, so you can video the experience. If that works, use Skype and start a call on your date’s phone, so you can watch the flight live in action.

Rent a Limo

The quintessential extravagant date. Whether you’re going to a restaurant, play, dance, or whatever, take the long scenic route so you can hang out in the limo longer.

Paragliding

Google to find out if there are places to paraglide. If you need some kind of training, take it together, then go fly together.

Helicopter ride

Speaking of flying, why not Google to find out how you can get a helicopter ride with your date?

Fly Somewhere and Back

Still speaking of flying, there are probably lots of places within 700 miles (average of about three states) that you could go to with a simple two hour flight each way. Take an all day trip to somewhere your date’s always wanted to go, with a return flight in the evening.

Go to a Big Concert

Find out who your date’s favorite band is, and buy tickets. If you have to fly to get there, do it, as long as a return flight is available the same day after the concert.

Date Ideas: Working-Together Dates

One of the great ways to learn about compatibility is to do dates that see how well you work together. Here are a few ideas:

Cook Dinner Together

You’ve probably heard the term, “Too many cooks in the kitchen.” Cooking together is something married people usually do together a lot, and if the relationship is good, it’s a fun experience.

Do Chores Together

If one of you has some things that need to get done, do it together. Learning how each other prefers to work can be incredibly insightful.

Detective Date

Try to solve a mystery together. There are mysteries all around. If nothing comes to mind, ask a parent about a family history mystery, or check the recent papers or library billboard for a recent minor crime or missing animal. Try to sleuth out the mystery together. The bigger the mystery, the less likely you are to be able to solve it in one date. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get very far, just use it as an excuse to go out again!

Plant a Tree

Plant a tree together in one of your yards or in a local park or garden.

Mine Field

Set something on the far side of a room, and then crumple a bunch of paper and throw it about randomly. Then take turns being blindfolded and trying to get to the thing on the other side of the room. The other person can only help with verbal instructions.

Fix Something

If one of you has a car, computer, or piece of furniture that’s broken or not functioning properly, work on fixing it together.

Build a Balloon Tower

Get a pack of balloons (the bigger the better—both size and numbers), and using only balloons and tape, build a tower as high as you can. Try to reach the ceiling. Oh, and no using walls or other objects for support!

Do a Puzzle Together

Set a timer and put a puzzle together as fast as possible. Puzzles can be a great casual date, but timing yourselves can turn it into a great problem-solving-together date.

Gift Shop Together

If one of you knows someone who’s having a birthday soon—or if Christmas is coming, shop for a gift together. It’s best if both of you know the person, but even if only one of you knows the person, talk about what the person likes so you can work together to find the best gift for him/her.

Silent Date

When you ask your date out, have an activity in mind, but tell them that the trick will be that neither of you can say a single word the entire date. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it’s a fabulous exercise in communication, since it all has to be nonverbal. If you’re going to a restaurant or movie, you may want to have a small notebook or sticky notes on hand to place your order.