How to have an awesome marriage

  • Get married young. Be poor. Work six jobs between you. Scrape your life together.
  • Know, love and accept yourself. Continue to learn about your spouse.
  • Look for stuff to admire about your spouse. Seek awesomeness and you will find it. There’s plenty there.
  • See your spouse’s flaws as the flip side of their essential awesomeness. See her flaws as a chance for you to step in and be awesome yourself.
  • Stand shoulder to shoulder. In front of the kids, and the rest of the world, your spouse is always right and you stand with her. Keep disagreements between you.
  • Let the kids know quite plainly that you love your husband/wife more than them. Nothing personal, but in your house the family comes from Mom and Dad’s love, not the other way around.
  • Understand that giving (in the right spirit) is receiving. You can “pour yourself out like a libation” and be totally fulfilled in your marriage. (Prayer is a prerequisite for this step. For you non-religious folks, substitute some practice that allows you to transcend and subdue your own ego, whatever that looks like.)
  • Adopt children, foster animals from the pound, take in stray teenagers, invite people over all the time, be that home that tends to accumulate neighborhood kids. Cram your life to the gills and be overwhelmed often. Then you can watch God do some awesome things through your marriage and you can see your sacrament bear fruit.
  • Become a marriage geek. Keep up with the research. Read books. Approach marriage as if you’re a professional spouse and you’re bucking for a raise.
  • Teach others about marriage. Because, even if you feel sort of like a hypocrite standing up there talking about marriage in theory when you know marriage in reality lately, that stuff sinks in.
  • That said, here is the essence of every marriage course we’ve ever taught: 1) You and your spouse are different in various ways 2) Know yourself and accept yourself 3) Know and love your spouse as they are and don’t try to change them 4) Get out of yourself and relate to your spouse in a way that suits them, not you (See prayer prerequisite above)
  • Don’t ever stop dating. Do fun stuff together. Laugh a lot.
  • Communicate well and communicate often.
  • Sex is does not count as doing fun stuff. Sex is communication.
  • Get a bunch of others around you who love marriage. If there’s not a couples’ dinner group around you, start one.
  • Find stuff to talk about that does not involve kids, gossip, work, money, or household logistics.
  • That said, find regular time to communicate about kids, work, money, and household logistics.
  • You can do all the above and still screw things up if you do not speak kindly to one another.  if you avoid speaking at all and let resentments build up. Sarcasm, yelling, avoidance, and disrespect are all toxic.

Ultimately, like Gene Kranz said, “Failure is not an option.” And like Tim Gunn said, “Make it work.”

Works for us. Twenty-six years of marriage today. To my best friend. Praise God.

 

Why A Rebuilt Transmission Makes A Great Valentine

So with an ominous whine the transmission in our family van is demanding a prince’s ransom. The lumpy couch and our other household squeaky wheels will have to wait.

Thirteen hundred dollars. Reason enough to contemplate what we’re buying.

That total mystery of metal, that complex cylinder propelled us to so many places. A scrum of gears that coaxed so much forward motion out of what would have been fruitless rotation. Our progress came from an intricate gnashing — gritting, if you will — of teeth.

Transmitting motion. Your foot to the pedal — to the pistons — to the axle — to the wheels — to the road — again to our feet, safely at our destinations. Forward.

Onward. To family adventures and Sunday dinners. To emergency rooms and romantic getaways. Even out of the paths of hurricanes. Forward. Onward. Together.

So when what moves us forward wears down, I reckon we owe ourselves thirteen hundred dollars to rebuild it. If the fluid gets low and our teeth wear against each other in a grating clash, can we do anything but scrape out the metal shavings and set some sturdy new gears?

Because when we mesh, we move. Unless we clutch each other, we’re just spinning in place.

I promise to always rebuild the transmission. I promise to spend whatever it takes to get us moving again. I desperately love the feeling of moving forward with you, side by side, to wherever love sends us.

So, at least for me, a rebuilt transmission does quite nicely as a Valentine.

To the guy who wants to leave

My response to a guy who posted to a forum who was contemplating leaving his wife of three years. Ended up being kind of a manifesto on fatherhood and marriage that made me think of my father and how he said exactly the same thing to me, but through the way he lived his life when I was a boy. Thanks Dad.

Dude, both your thoughts and feelings are correct. You are being selfish. And your feelings are totally natural and valid.

Who would blame you for feeling the way you do? You’re young with a lot of energy and potential and a wide world of prospects in front of you. You are now confronting the idea of Forever. Your relationship with your wife is no longer New and we all like that feeling of New. The idea of verging on Fatherhood scares the shit out of many good men. Yes, the grey days of responsibility will clamp down around you and you cannot just up and take that adventurous transfer to Lima or buy the Harley and take a four week rambling trek across Baja. Many of us want to be someone extraordinary and being a family man seems so, well, ordinary.

What makes us men and not boys is that we are not directed by our feelings. We take control of our feelings, set our minds on something, and build it. At some point, you choose your mission in life. None more noble than to build a household and grow a family. But no matter what mission you choose, you have to build it past the point that it quits being new. Anything meaningful you commit to becomes a daily grind. But deep meaning, lifelong fulfillment, and true joy can only be found by grinding away. The only way out is through.

Don’t seek the dopamine rewards of New Experiences at the expense of slogging thru the familiar dailiness of devoting your life to something bigger than you. Because keeping your options open is a prison of its own.

As for kids, I always say that I am blessed that I didn’t venture into adulthood without children to protect me. I thank God every day that I have a family to challenge me, disturb me, and not let me rest for too long. They are how I keep from being completely self-absorbed. Which is, in my experience, a particularly common mode of hell I wish to avoid.

Yes is a World

22 years ago right now I was in the lobby of our hotel playing a videogame called Hogan’s Alley (indeed, a class joint) with my Best Man and several groomsmen. Getting ready to say the most important “Yes” of my life to date in just a few hours.

And I did say yes, nervously, to what turned out to be a blessed life of “Yes.” Heidi and I over the years have said “Yes” to so many things. We have learned and loved in abundance.

Today I have been married exactly as many years as I have not been married. I am a “Yes” man, praise God. So blessed am I that we said “Yes” again and again.

Happy Birthday, Clark Family! You started with a big “Yes” and grew over countless many smaller and bigger “Yes”-es over 22 years.

Is there ever a more blessed thing than a world of “Yes” to God? I have this poem memorized like a mantra. One of my favorites.

love is a place

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skilfully curled)
all worlds

ee cummings