By Rob Furlong
How do you know you are married?
"I have a ring on my finger."
"I have a certificate of marriage!"
"I went through a ceremony and made promises to my spouse."
All of these answers are correct but marriage is something deeper than a wedding ring or a signed certificate.
You know you're married when you discover the other person has some annoying habits but, in love, you talk about and work them through together.
You know you're married when your partner hurts you deeply but you choose to forgive.
You know you're married when you deeply hurt your partner but you apologize and change.
Moments like these and our responses to them help define the reality of marriage more clearly for us because being married is far more than possessing a piece of paper that declares you are married.
For to be married is to live in genuine and authentic community with another.
Pete and Geri Scazzero have written extensively on the subject of relationships and a favourite expression of theirs which they use to describe a negative way of relating to each other is to say that "people will often leak their emotions instead of expressing them openly and lovingly".
In what ways do couples "leak emotionally" in a marriage?
I leak emotionally when I complain about my wife to someone else instead of speaking directly with her.
Please note that I am not talking about seeking wise counsel from a trusted third party if you are experiencing difficulties in your marriage.
I am speaking of when a Mum complains to one of her children about "Dad never picks up after himself/helps with the dishes/or..."
Or a husband constantly draws attention to his wife's short comings by moaning to his mother.
The professional word for this type of behavior is Triangulation and it simply means that you avoid speaking directly to the person concerned by involving a third party, sometimes in the hope that they will confront the issue for you on your behalf.
The only way forward is to choose to stop engaging in such poor behavior and summon the courage to speak to the person concerned in love, openness and humility.
The Apostle Paul encouraged such behavior when he declared we should treat each other with a spirit of "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience".
Such an approach fosters grace-filled marriages and allows authentic community to flourish.
Another way in which we leak our emotions is by constantly making false assumptions about each other.
I can be talking with my wife when I notice she has gone quiet or does not answer immediately.
From that point, I have a choice.
I can make up a story in my head
that goes something like this: "I have
said something to offend her/she is not pleased with me/she does not agree with my point of view..."
It will not end well if I continue to pursue this line of thinking.
The alternative is that I can ask a follow up question like "Can I check something with you?", and so seek to clarify my wrong assumption.
Checking assumptions is a valuable way for couples to avoid the trap of falling into a pit of negativity and frustration with each other as well as minimizing unnecessary conflict over troubles that never existed!
George Eliot described authentic community between two people in this way: "Oh ... the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out ... certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away."
May you know such joy in your marriage!•