The Secret To Having An Exemplary Relationship

Getting down on one knee might be the most universal sign of relationship commitment that exists in our American culture. “Will you marry me?” is the question that is being asked with this most decidedly uniform way of displaying our interest in sharing our lives together, forever. But what does it mean to be engaged to be married? Is it an event that passes us by or is it a process that continues long after the event has passed?

Elderly Couple in a park

Not long ago, I was given the distinct privilege of officiating the wedding of my good friends. It was a beautiful affair, on an unusually warm November afternoon, in a lovely chapel with high archways and ornate wooden doors. All in attendance were so happy to see this lovely couple united in marriage and equally thrilled to witness the event.

The bride wore a lovely ivory gown and was walked slowly down the aisle by her loving father. As she approached the altar I could see the groom tearing up, overwhelmed with the emotion of the moment. The bride’s mother and father kissed her on the cheek and handed her to the groom so that they could solidify their commitment to one another, and he ushered her up to the altar where I began to speak.

Weddings are funny things. We put so much emphasis on these events that there are whole industries built around them. Dresses, decor, photography, videography, music, flowers, food, and location rentals just to name a few. But in the end, weddings are just elaborate parties. Lots of family and friends are invited to celebrate the day that the happy couple decides to proclaim to the world that they are ready to begin the rest of their lives together. The problem is, most couples never think past the wedding and run head-long into enormous trouble after the event has passed. Luckily, my friends were fortunate (or not, depending on who you ask) to have me as their pre-marital coach to prepare them for the journey of marriage, not the event of the wedding.

I chose to address those present at their wedding with a metaphor of what marriage truly is. Here’s a little of what I said: “Marriage is the process of becoming one. Marriage is not merely two people coming together to form a partnership, nor is it an agreement to become permanent roommates. No, marriage is two people serving and sacrificing for one another, completing one another, and continually becoming one.”

I continued, “Marriage is like a precious gem. Marriage develops over time – diamonds don’t form in ten years; they require millennia. It takes only a few minutes to get married, but building a marriage requires a lifetime. A diamond is the final result of a long and intensive process – and so is marriage. Over time and under the intense heat and pressure of life, two people under the covenant of marriage come together and are lost in each other to the point where it becomes impossible to tell where one person ends and the other begins.” I concluded, “A great marriage is no accident. It is the product of intentional actions, shared experiences, and lots of time as two people are in the process of becoming one.”

At the start, every marriage has the opportunity to be an example for others to follow or a warning for others to avoid. What those great marriages teach us is that the secret to having an exemplary relationship is simple – be engaged. 

Be Engaged By Taking Responsibility For Your Future

Just Married CoupleIt’s the tale as old as time. Adam, The Woman, and the serpent are in the Garden of Eden. The Woman becomes deceived by the serpent’s words, disobeys God, and eats the fruit from the forbidden tree. She then hands the fruit to Adam, who shows no signs of resistance as he takes the fruit and eats it as well. Of course, we know the rest. God eventually asks Adam if they have eaten from the forbidden tree and Adam replies, “The Woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” And so goes the story of the first husband, the first wife, and the first blame game.

How often does this happen, though? When our backs are against the wall, we respond with “they and then” arguments instead of realizing that “me and now” is so much more empowering. Instead of taking responsibility for the future we’ve created and are creating, we hide and change the way we show up in the situation, blaming the circumstances and the people around us and paralyzing our ability to change our conditions.

I once heard someone say, “When you blame others you give up your power to change.” Being engaged is about looking inside yourself for the ability to respond and create the future you desire. Engagements only happen, after all, after one person in the relationship has decided to take responsibility for their future together. Isn’t it time you took responsibility for where you’re going and stopped making excuses for where you are?

Exercise: Are you aiming for your potential or avoiding your problems? Make a list of seven things that you’re tolerating right now (information you can’t find, dented car, dead houseplants, broken equipment, tight shoes, 5 extra pounds, etc.). Then make a list of all the reasons why you can’t do anything about them. Are your excuses as strong as you’d hoped? Or can you summon the strength to stop avoiding the responsibility of these conditions and create positive change? Circle three things on your list that you will take responsibility for changing right now.

Be Engaged By Committing To Take Action

Engagements are commitments, plain and simple. But no commitment can be judged as true unless it is followed by action. I can call the flight crew and book my spot. I can drive to the airport and take my safety class. I can put on my flight suit and strap on my parachute. I can get in the plane and ascend to 10,000 feet. I can stand at the open door and feel the wind in my face. Then I can sit down in fear and never fulfill my commitment to jump out of that plane. What a shame. My commitment was to take the action of parachuting from a plane, but instead I just tried.

Life Coach Tony Robbins says, “A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided.” So true. I can’t try to jump out of a plane, I have to do it. I can’t try to be married, I have to be engaged at all times and take the necessary action steps to be married. I can’t try to change my life, I have to design, plan, and take action towards the future I want to create. In the words of the famous Jedi master, Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Engagement = Action.

Exercise: Copy the three things you just circled onto a separate sheet of paper and begin to list all of the action steps that will be necessary to complete these projects. Group the action steps by project and then assign a value of time to each of the steps. Add up the time for each project and then take out your calendar and schedule time for your action steps to be completed in the next 30 days.

Be Engaged By Staying Connected

Couple EmbracingThe most common reason cited for a failed marriage is a communication breakdown. We see it all the time, don’t we? Couples get married, enjoy a brief period of bliss, and then disengage with one another as they head down different paths and become too busy to connect. The reasons many state for their divorces today – money problems, falling out of love, irreconcilable differences, cheating – are really all symptoms of their lack of connection with their spouse.

A while ago, my wife and I watched the movie Hope Springs starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as a married couple that finds themselves in dire straits years after the kids have left the house. The movie begins with the wife donning a sexy outfit and trying to convince her husband, who sleeps in a different room, to have sex. He refuses, she returns to her bed, and immediately we are ushered into the sad reality of so many disconnected couples.

The truth is, many of us are just as disconnected as the couple in this film. We’re isolated from others and miserable with ourselves. We’re out of touch with our hopes, our dreams and our personal power to do anything about it. If you want to create an exemplary relationship, get connected. A few awkward moments of reconnection is a small price to pay for a lifetime of engagement.

Exercise: Make a copy of your action steps and schedule and give it to your spouse, significant other, or close friend and ask them to keep you accountable for your progress. Give them specific instructions on what questions to ask you and what words to use so that you feel supported and encouraged but not judged or humiliated. Give them a specific time every week to ask you about your projects and a specific way to get in touch (in-person, phone, email, etc.) in order to stay connected to your goals and engage your relationship in a new way.

Question: What are some tips you have about staying engaged in your relationship? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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