Advice for World Leaders and Marriages

We recently presented our Forever and a Day Workshop to leadership couples of Retrouvaille. It is a weekend and continuing program for couples in troubled marriages. The couples attending taught us the necessity of honesty in facing marital issues and the work, determination and courage it takes to face the commitment they make to live out their marital vows when there is a history of great hurts. Rita has been reading contemporary spiritual writer Anne LaMott and found a statement of five ideas that almost every major religious tradition agrees with. While she was using them in a broader sense that could provide guidance for world leaders, we saw that they also have much to say about building a marriage relationship.

Here are the five ideas.

# 1: We are all family
# 2: You reap exactly what you sow, that is, you cannot grow tulips from zucchini seeds.
# 3: Try to breathe every few minutes or so.
# 4: It helps beyond words to plant bulbs in the dark of winter.
# 5: It is immoral to hit first.

The following are our brief reflections on each of these statements.

#1: We are all family

(Rita) Often, as we present our workshops couples comment that they thought they were the only ones with some of the thoughts and feelings that we present. They tell us how uplifting it is for them to find that they are not alone. While our individual way of facing marriage is uniquely ours there are many common threads with other married couples in how we live together and approach topics such as money or sexuality. Couples often jokingly ask us if we lived in their house. It is important to remember that if we are brothers and sisters in Christ then we are family in our marriages.

(Bob) Family suggests to me a place to go for love and support and that includes an obligation to support other family members. Throughout our marriage we have been fortunate to have couples in our lives who valued their marriages and were willing to offer us advice and help as well as ask for assistance. They also provided us with a place where we could laugh and joke about our marriages and celebrate the good we found there.

#2: You reap exactly what you sow, that is, you cannot grow tulips from zucchini seeds

(Rita) So often in marriages people expect their partner to be kind, loving, and giving and yet they never look at their own actions. We made some promises to each other on our honeymoon which I believe have helped us to reap a lot during our years together. We have never been apart for any length of time without kissing each other goodbye. It enables us to always keep the other first and foremost in our life. Second, we say “I love you” at least once each day. While it can become routine for some, I have found that before I go to bed each day I have to stop and make sure that I have indeed done so that day. It is another way of remembering that Bob is number one in my life. Lastly, we always fall asleep touching each other. It has been the best way that we know to ask for and grant forgiveness. We have reaped much from those three little promises we made when we had no idea what being married meant.

(Bob) It occurs to me that the seeds we sow are very much related to our attitude towards life. If I am grumpy and complaining all the time the people around me are likely to become fed up with me and become grumpy and complaining themselves. Those who won’t put up with this will avoid me and I may become isolated. The contrast when I am pleasant, involved in my life and the lives of others, is dramatic. It amazes me how I can see a change in a person’s face when I do something simple, like smile and hold a door open for them. In recent years I have consciously decided to try to be pleasant and to be inviting to others. I try to always thank Rita for little things she does for me and never take them for granted. At times I see an opportunity to do something for her that I know she does not expect. It does a lot to let her know that she is loved.

#3: Try to breathe every few minutes or so

(Rita) This is the best way to ensure that I don’t say or do something that I might regret later. The idea of breathing is so important for me when I sense there is tension between us. It helps me to think before I say something that I don’t mean. It also gives me time to listen to what Bob is trying to say to me.

(Bob) Taking a breath can be a way of stopping my world for a moment and letting the pressures of the day slip into the background for a brief time. It allows me to remember how blessed I am and how good my life is. It puts everything back into perspective. My bicycle ride this afternoon was an extended time to breathe and let the tension slide away. I found myself aware of the sunshine and the soft warmth of the fresh air. My legs felt good as I powered up hills and coasted down others. It was a great moment to thank God for His glory and the wonder of this world he has created for us to enjoy. I rode further than I had planned – it was hard to end the ride and come back inside – but when I did I was ready to be with Rita and share with her the joy of my ride.

# 4: It helps beyond words to plant bulbs in the dark of winter.

(Rita) While we have been quite fortunate to have never been faced with anything in our marriage that we couldn’t work out together there have been down times. It is during those times that the love I have for Bob most needs tender love and care. It is then that the foundation for all that we do is built or destroyed. That makes all the good times brighter, happier and more enjoyable.

(Bob) It can be difficult at times not to push Rita to do something I want her to do or to hide my annoyance with her when she does something that upsets me. I have learned that starting a fight is probably counterproductive and that continuing to let her know that I love her may not be immediately productive, but we will eventually get through this and my efforts will lead to a better relationship in the future.

# 5: It is immoral to hit first.

(Rita) Lastly, while I have never even considered hitting Bob, the message Anne LaMott sends is that if no one ever took the first step in anger, jealousy, or hurt how different relationships would be. We so often forget that actions in our marriage can be sinful, immoral. No disagreement ever happens in our lives without one of us taking a first step. That first step could be silence or a verbal attack as well as physical violence in some relationships. We just have to take a step back and rethink rather than hitting first.

(Bob) I think that “hitting” in a marriage is more often verbal or psychological than it is physical. In an argument, when one is not “winning” it is tempting to go for a cheap shot like: “You know, you are really stupid!” One shot and the name-calling begins. If we can both avoid that first hit, it’s a war to which nobody came. While Rita and I rarely get into this kind of fight, we have had occasions when we came close and they have been some of the tensest times in our marriage.

For all of us marriage could be so much stronger and more rewarding if we just let these five things govern our lives together. It is always a great comfort for us to know that we are not alone in this journey. Let us know what you think. Happy Wonder!.

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About Rita & Bob Boeke

Rita Boeke has experience teaching scripture and with her husband Bob has experience in enriching marriages through workshops and retreats. They post a weekly blog at thewonderofmarriage.com and co-authored Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime.
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