The Words of the Spurgin Family

Creating Lasting Marriages

Nora Spurgin


Most of us are aware of the many problems which affect the family in our society today. We are, in fact, surrounded by a culture of promiscuity, crime and violence, putting all of us at frequent emotional and physical risk.

The best shelter for our children in such an environment is the family. Unfortunately, even that shelter has been falling. We must strengthen our family , our shelter, if we are to provide a structural foundation for our next generation to build their lives.

Today we are going to focus on marriage, for marriage is the anchor relationship of the family. Groupings of people adults and children without this anchor have no central relationship.

It is a relationship not just a person that is needed for holding power. I remember visiting my home after my mother died. My father and my youngest sister and brother lived at home, there was family, but no anchor relationship. Everyone functioned as individuals. My mother's absence was deeply felt by all of us.

Steve Covey, in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, writes that there is a synergy which lies in the relationship between husband and wife that creates a new mind a new option a third alternative or a third person of shared vision and values.

If we are going to do something about the disintegrating family, we must do something about marriage. We need to help couples create that third person of shared values and vision which becomes the anchor of the family and is held together by true love.

Having relationships without commitment is like driving a car without insurance. You can enjoy the moment, but there's always a fear of loss, an edge of insecurity. We are here today to attain or upgrade our marriage insurance policy. How many of you are married? How many have plans to get married?

Marriage and Parenthood

Marriage and Parenthood are the most long-reaching choices we make in our lives. Yet most people enter this commitment with very little preparation.

Think about it: Every other license one attains requires training, education, and testing. For example; driving a car, or practicing a profession requires passing an exam before the license is given.

But for marriage training is not required and seldom provided. Although America is a nation of opportunity, we are severely lacking in preparing our youth for lasting marriage and providing maintenance check-ups for those marriages. It has been said that engaged couples prepare more for their weddings than their marriage.

We hear statistics often: 60% of new marriages today will divorce. Divorces are serious business they are painful, costly, and always disruptive. This has a devastating effect on our children and society as a whole. Life after divorces is almost always more difficult than expected.

What Can We do to Strengthen Marriage?

First we must start with a goal and plan for lasting marriage. I've asked two people to come up front and read a short script. Listen carefully for problem points. After this section, we will read it again and discuss these points.

(Dramatic reading of scripts)

Every successful venture starts with a goal. There must also be a responsible plan which supports that goal. The goal keeps things moving even when obstacles get in the way. In the business world, goals are essential to the success of a company. Applied to marriage the goal should be long term. If the goal is happiness, then when trouble strikes, there is no further goal. If the goal is to create a lifetime marriage, then occasional setbacks will become challenges for growth. All attitudes and decisions must allow for long-term planning, including children.

I would like, then, to look at 10 reasons why one might choose and plan for lasting marriage.

1. Everyone seeks happiness

Everyone seeks happiness and according to polls, married couples are happier than singles. A USA Weekend poll states that 73% of married people say that they are very happy, vs. 61% of singles. 72% of people living in two -person households are very happy compared with 57% of those in single-person households.

2. A Committed Relationship Provides Emotional Security

Long term, committed relationships allow two individuals to build trust that has been tested and strengthened. As with a bank account, continual investment makes the end product increasingly more valuable. Gary Smalley, a marriage seminar lecturer talks about making deposits and withdrawals in the marriage bank. We get into trouble if we withdraw more than we deposit.

The committed relationship of marriage is also the only safe place for expressing sexual love. There can be the full expression of the pleasure of sexuality without fear. Sex in marriage is also in the context of the whole of life, and is the apex of a caring relationship.

3. Married people have better health and longevity

According to numerous studies, our physical health is much enhanced by the companionship and emotional security of marriage. In fact, Dr. David Larson, President of the National Institute of Healthcare Research states that "divorces put us at much greater risk for both emotional and physical disease." Among the elderly, it is common to find that the death of one partner seems to be a precipitating factor in the death of a spouse. Secure love creates a vibrancy which can only strengthen the physical immune system. Dr. Larson's studies show great increases in illness and death among those who are divorced . Stable, faithful marriages also avoid the risks of sexually transmitted diseases.

4. Married people have greater wealth

Divorce is usually a bad economic risk, and often the beginning of economic disaster. Families often have to start over from scratch when their economic foundation is destroyed or divided by divorce.

Divorce itself can be costly.

Possessions are divided, sometimes hastily sold. Recently a realtor was telling me that a certain house was a "steal". Why was it a steal? The owner had gotten divorced.

Living singly setting up a separate household doubles many expenses.

Alimony and child support can nearly destroy one party;

Lack of it can nearly destroy the other party.

Divorced parents often feel a need to give children larger gifts to make up for other losses and assuage their guilt.

According to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, 47% of families with children headed by women live in poverty.

Divorcees often do more costly eating-out and seek entertainment outside the home.

Married people save four times more money than singles, according to one report.

5. Marriage creates a secure shelter for children.

A happy family is the best atmosphere to raise a child. With an anchor relationship to center on, children have exposure to the wider range of training and experience of two people. There is a balancing of extremes in the attitudes and behaviors of the parents. The economics are more secure. There is a male and female role model. But, most importantly, there is the dynamic of the relationship which creates energy- love, care, sensitivity, compassion, and the modeling of dealing with negative emotions. This is the synergy Stephen Covey talks about.

6. Lasting marriages avoid complications

Lasting marriages avoid the extreme complications of multiple divorces, marriages, step families, and blended families and complicated finances.

All these complications affect the stability of the family and the extended family. Events such as weddings, funerals, family reunions, and holidays are occasions which can provide opportunities for deeply meaningful bonding. Such opportunities are often lost in the discomfort of unresolved feelings. Even holiday giftgiving becomes complicated as relatives (especially grandparents) ponder how to treat children from other marriages. They often suffer the pain of being estranged from their own blood relatives. Even seemingly simple things such as the display of family photos or photo albums become a source of pain. I've known families who destroy family pictures of a former marriage. Such complications can be devastating and are often an unforseen part of the aftermath of divorce and remarriage.

7. Lasting marriage allows the couple to create and build on a structure which includes family policies, traditions and schedules.

Such a structure brings security and can create a lasting framework upon which to build and refine family patterns. Changing in midstream is like starting to build a house with one architectural plan and completely changing it once or twice before the house is built. Every marriage relationship develops a life of its own, with expectations of lifestyles. A change in pattern requires re-patterning such lifestyles.

8. Lasting marriage allows for long-term financial commitment

The purchase of a house and a mortgage or investment in the building of a business or a professional partnership require time. None of these are possible if the marriage is expected to be short term.

9. Long-term marriage allows you to create a social circle that reaches out to the community.

The greater this circle, the larger the safety net that is built around you. This is not only helpful to the couple, but adds to the stability to the whole community. Today some communities are investing in supporting long-term marriage as an asset to the community itself. There is great interest on the part of some people in a community marriage policy, see Marriage Savers.

10. Life Long Companionship.

The last reason I want to give for planning and creating a life-time marriage is that you are investing in a life-long companionship that will collect life's memories and experiences, both joyful and sorrowful in a shared life and weave them into a tapestry design that is yours alone. A love that is refined by life's ups and downs is indeed beautiful to behold.

I once worked a psychological consultant in a nursing home. One couple had married at 17 and 19 and were now in their early nineties. The husband had Alzheimer's disease and was no longer able to live at home. His wife visited daily. Sometimes we would discover them sound asleep in his bed in each others arms during her visit. I can only think that all heaven must smile on such a scene.

I will end this session by restating that setting goals for a long term marriage right from the beginning will set the course for realization of these goals and a successful marriage. I want to leave you with a quote from Michelle Werner Davis, Family Therapist and author of Divorce Busting.

"I've grown increasingly convinced that most marriages are worth saving simply because most problems are solvable."

Mrs. Werner Davis developed a therapy called Solution-Oriented Brief Therapy, and suggests simply " do more of what works and less of what doesn't."

If you are planning to be married or are already married, you do well to evaluate and strengthen your commitment to successful long-term marriage.

Read the script again.

Discussion points:
Lack of full commitment
Fear of being trapped
Unrealistic expectations of sex
Unwillingness to take responsibility
Unwillingness to share finances
No long-term planning
Unwillingness to keep fidelity

Part II - 10 Ways to Maintain a Long-term Marriage

Knowing the value of a long-term commitment is not enough. In fact, most marriages begin with at least some hope that the love that draws a couple together in the beginning will last a lifetime.

No person is perfect; no marriage is perfect. Therefore, we need training not only in preparation for marriage, but also throughout marriage. Here I want to share with you some very practical points, tips, and exercises to help keep the long-term marriage you plan.

1. Communicate

Lack of communication is one of the single most important contributors to the break- down of a relationship. We can learn communication skills; in fact, there are many books, exercises and workshops available for learning these skills. Your marriage is worth investing in a course or reading a book and applying communication exercises.

Since communication is so important, I'm going to give you some simple, practical suggestions on communication. You might want to jot them down.

(1). Learn to listen

Good listening will improve all relationships with your spouse, your children, your co- workers, your parents. It's worth the effort you invest.

How often we "tune out" and fail to catch the heart of another's reaching out. My daughter has a way of catching my attention. She says, "hello" whenever she realizes she's lost my focused attention. Often conversations do not connect. For example, a husband comes home and says how tired he is, but his wife is thinking about her own day and neither responds to the other. One technique to learn to listen and let the other person know you're there, is to repeat the other person's words. It may seem silly, but try it. Let's say your partner says, "Im so tired, today was a hectic day." you repeat, " So it was really hectic today."

Your partner knows you heard and feels you understand. This opens the door to share more deeply. Compare this with responding with a statement about your own day, like, " I attended that meeting on financial planning, today." You've cut off your partner who feels unresolved and not understood. Remind yourself frequently to practice this listening exercise. Some people call this exercise "mirroring" may do a mirroring exercise).

(2). Make a "date" time together.

It's amazing how a couple can live together and spend so little "quality time" with each other. We may actually spend more fun or sharing time with co-workers, classmates, etc. than with our partner. This is dangerous for the marriage, for such sharing is what brings people close.

Even taking 5 minutes per day for a cup of coffee together before work or a sharing time before going to bed is like a little installment payment for your marriage insurance.

For couples who share religious devotion, a time of sharing and prayer or devotional reading can be deeply meaningful.

(3). Check yourself

Check yourself for using "you" statements and change them to "I" statements. For example, instead of saying, "you didn't speak loudly enough," say, " I didn't hear you." it takes away the edge of criticism and subsequent defenses.

(4). Take time outs

In the heat of an argument, take time out a 10-15 minute break. This allows you to "cool off " and get control of yourself and come back for discussion with less intense emotion. We may use this method with children- it also works for adults.

5. Find a mediator or mentor

A third person, other couple, a therapist, or pastor, often helps us see our problems more objectively. It is important to choose a person who is not "taking sides" or your partner will feel even more defensive.

6. Do something together

Anything from a sports activity to a community service project or a "house project", allows for working and playing together to be its own form of communication; it takes the pressure off the verbal communication.

I also believe that physical action helps alleviate anger. It's my theory that domestic violence has something to do with our sedentary lifestyle. Anger doesn't get worked out in physically healthy activity and is therefore, expressed in verbal or physical abuse.

Let's go back to the remaining maintenance tips.

Our first point was communication if we had time we could spend a whole session on this one point; but let's move on.

2. Honor the differences between men's and women's approach to life.

Here I'd like to suggest that it would be useful to read one of the classics on this subject: Men are from Mars: Women from Venus by John Gray is popular, I also like Jeanette Lofas' book, He's OK, She's OK.

Deborah Tannen, a pioneer in studying men and women's approaches to life, writes on the different ways men and women relate: women talk "rapport talk" and men talk "report talk", men focus on achievement, women on relationship give example.

What we believe to be personal idiosyncrasies may often be gender based. Physiologically and emotionally, men and women are different. To deny that difference is to deny the dynamic which makes for excitement and breadth of perspective in the relationship.

We hear that opposites attract. One could say that the wider the gap that is bridged the bigger a circle a couple can embrace between them.

If we learn to value the gender differences, we both grow, if we insist on alikeness, we oppress and suppress growth. When we accept and honor the difference, we can allow for a complementary relationship.

Again, we could have a whole seminar on gender differences. Here I simply want to suggest that you honor the dynamic of your differences, learn more about the aspects which seem to be generic to your gender, and find ways to appreciate and use and even celebrate them rather than "kill" or cancel out each other's fundamental offering to the relationship.

Referring again to Stephen Covey's "third person" which is created out of the synergy of two opposites, we need to learn to risk our self to create that "third person".

3. Promise and Keep Fidelity

Love divided can never be complete Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, says " By nature, people do not want their spouse's love to be shared with others. Horizontal conjugal love. . . loses its potential for perfection the moment it is divided." Infidelity is most certainly a marriage breaker and must absolutely be avoided. Momentary or short term pleasure may bring long-term pain. The idealization of sex in our society (especially as presented on TV) is false it is entertainment only and creates expectations of excitement without the responsibility of maintaining and nourishing a relationship. At a time when AIDS and STDs make having multiple sexual partners a health risks, a marriage of fidelity is the only protection. "Marriage Savers," puts the responsibility of protecting marriages and preventing divorce in the community, calling upon ministers and priests the clergy in a given community to insist on a pre-marriage counseling, etc, and create a community marriage policy.

There is a new interest in strengthening the family through support groups and organizations which support fidelity. Organizations such as Promise Keepers and Marriage Savers, etc. make a strong argument for a community and group supported commitment to fidelity.

4. Make a Covenant

Following the last point fidelity one practical step is to create your own covenant, promise to each other. Some couple write out a covenant or promise to each other. Include honesty, repentance, and forgiveness in such a covenant. The concept of covenant is not just a promise to each other, but to a higher spiritual authority God.

5. Do Financial Planning Together

Finances are the cause of frequent disagreement and fighting.

We come to marriage with different spending and saving patterns. They bear discussions and planning. It's good to sit down and make a budget, make decisions on large expenditures together. Again reading a book or two, or attending seminars together on financial planning, is worth the investment of time and money. In doing so, you are gaining valuable knowledge, and both of you are exposed to the same knowledge and advice.

A good book to read is Christian Family Economics by Larry Burkett. Another very practical book is, Cut your Bills in Half, published by Rosedale Press. It's filled with lots of down home wisdom and advice.

Most couples, regardless of income, have different spending styles spending priorities, beliefs from childhood, etc. The goal is to learn to make compromises which will allow both parties to feel comfortable with expenditures.

6. Learn to identify selfish behavior and distinguish it from your personal integrity and dignity.

Let me explain this: There is a difference between choosing to give and allowing something to be taken from you. One is healthy, the other not. This is the difference between being responsible and being a victim. A responsible person of integrity and dignity will choose a healthy selflessness which is necessary for a relationship to function. A victim may become a "doormat" and never experience the joy of giving.

As a nation we've become increasingly selfish. Young people grow up with their own rooms, own TV sets, and own cars. The learning process which comes from having to negotiate with the rest of the family members over what TV show to watch, or how to arrange the family taxi service is often lost in our modern upwardly mobile families. Some young people have said, " I never realized how selfish I was until I got married."

Dr. Larry Crabble, marriage counselor, says, "all marital problems boil down to self- centeredness. Life and marriage require flexibility a young marriage usually doesn't have the financial support system that was provided by the parents.

A good long term marriage requires the flexibility and unselfishness of both partners. Let me use an example here:

Most of us make tremendous sacrifices of our personal desires and freedom to work on a job. Why? Because it's an investment in a paycheck. Think of it:

We get up to go to a job when we don't feel like it.

We put up with a boss's or coworker's bad habits.

We work overtime, skip lunch or dinner, go to the jobs on weekends.

Just as giving of yourself, your time and energy, to the job insures a paycheck, so marriage requires aggressive healthy giving as an investment in the relationship, producing , not a paycheck, but pleasure and joy.

Giving of your heart brings its own dividends. Ideally, it might come naturally, but I'm not sure that our modern way of life prepares us for unselfishness and unconditional love. This comes from sharing life's struggles and challenges together.

7. Make Family Traditions; Rituals and Policies.

Rituals will give your life structure and remind you of your goals. They create reference points when "in the heat of the moment" you may make wrong choices. Rituals, traditions and policies are reminders to come back to the reference point.

A simple example is having clearly stated family policies and consequences regarding children's behavior. Another example is going to the casino with a pre-planned limit.

There are many ways to create rituals. I'd like to name a few here:

(1). Create a family mission statement together, post it and review it at special times. I have some sample mission statements with me.

(2). Write a pledge for your family to read. I know families who read a family pledge every Sunday morning. What a beautiful way to start the week together.

(3). Have a theme for the month Choose a virtue that you want to emphasize, grow into.

(4). Have family reading time for inspirational writings, scriptures, teachings. A book like William Bennett's Book of Virtues is helpful if you are more interested in character-building than religion.

(5). Hold weekly family meetings to make decisions on the larger issues confronting the family.

(6). Renew your wedding vows on you wedding anniversary.

(7). Create special prayers for occasions such as birthdays or holidays.

8. Build a Social Group with Similar Values

Such a group may be a church group, a support group, or a group centered around sports or charitable activity. When you have children, this is the best investment in their future friendships. Let me explain further:

When children are small your authority is greater and you have much influences on their choices, their values, etc.

However, as they grow into teenagers, your influence decreases and the peer group influence increases. This is inevitable. If, over the years, you and they have bonded with other families, that peer group grows with them and will reinforce your values. Personally, my husband and I made great efforts to do this, often driving many miles to give our children such bonding experiences, with relatives and friends. Sometimes we went camping with a group of families. We exchanged children over weekends, in groupings, big girls, small girls, big boys, small boys. Thus, the weekend weren't boring, nor were they spent watching TV. Today these same children keep in touch through E-mail.

I want to share another personal family project. We had a family in our town who had a brain-injured child. They did patterning (a method of moving arms and legs in a crawling motion) which required four volunteers in each session. I felt it would be a good experience for my own children to serve this family. So I paired them up with friends and took them to patterning sessions. I even paid my 10 year old youngest son and his friend to motivate them to do it, because I thought it was a good experience in serving for them. The patterning and the changes in the child had a powerful impact on my high school age son who continued to do it for over a year.

Doing service projects as a family teaches compassion, and gives us a bonding experience with each other and others.

9. Seek Help for Conflicts and Problems.

No marriage is without conflict. In fact, conflict is the price you pay for deepening intimacy. It is a well-known fact that we sometimes treat the ones we love most worse than anyone else. It's because of our love that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to allowing the negative emotions to be triggered and is natural in intimate relationships. We don't have to see conflict as a negative rather use it as a creative challenge in marriage an opportunity for growth.

Drs Les and Leslie Parrott have written an excellent book Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, Seven questions to ask before (and after) you marry.

I would recommend this book to all of you. The Parrotts have developed workshops on several topics, one of which is handling conflict. Again, we could use a whole session on this topic, but in the interest of time, I would like to simply share a few points and recommend that you read their book and get the "conflict card" which I will explain later.

The Parrotts point out that although conflict is a natural part of marriage, we must learn how to fight fairly. They recommend that we think about defining the issue clearly, state our feelings about the issue directly, not put each other down, and learn to end the fight. You might want to jot down this 4 points for our discussion time.

The Parrotts also recommend that it is important to keep 4 disastrous ways of interacting from becoming habits. These are:

(1) Criticism ( complaining is legitimate but criticism hurts the other person)

(2) Contempt (results in insult and abuse and will poison relationship)

(3) Defensiveness (this becomes a reflex)

(4) Stonewalling (refusing to engage, respond, or react) 85% of stonewallers are men.

The energy used to repress anger drains relationships of all vitality. A good rule of thumb is to realize that 90% of the issues we bicker over can be overlooked so "don't sweat the small stuff."

Now for the conflict card I mentioned. The Parrotts have made a small plastic conflict card available. It contains 10 statement describing the intensity of feelings on a scale from 1 to 10. The couple can use the card during a heated argument to rate their response "This is a '5 ' for me." etc. You can request a free card by calling 1-800-727-3480 or write:

Conflict Card
Zondervon Direct Source
5300 Patterson Avenue, SE B-24
Grand Rapids, MI 49530

Conflict isn't the only problem marriages face. There are other deeper, more serious problems such as substance abuse, alcohol and drugs. There are deep emotional problems such as depression and other psychological disorders. There is physical and sexual abuse. These problems need intervention. Seek help, a mediator, a pastor, a therapist, support groups, and more specific professionals and medical care where necessary. Don't let such problems destroy your family and your relationships. Catch them early.

10. The last point but not the least one, is Find a Spiritual Life.

"No single factor does more to cultivate oneness and a meaningful sense of purpose in marriage than a shared commitment to spiritual discovery. It is the ultimate hunger of our souls."

I would venture to say that every marriage needs a life beyond the two partners something that nurtures the spirit and lifts the couples to a transcendent place in life. These experiences of a spiritual quality draw the partners into oneness, creating a transcendent identity that is more than the sum total of two people. We could say that within God is the essence of masculinity and femininity. When man and woman unite with God at the center, they become the physical representation of God's spirit.

The most obvious choice for a couple's spiritual journey is commitment to religious belief. This may center around a church which also provides external social benefits.

Spirituality does not necessarily need to be attached to a specific religious structure. Especially, today, there are many new age interests which include health, meditation exercises, study and discussion groups, self help groups and appreciation of nature, music and art.

Study groups centered on the study of a book may provide a transcendent experience. Find something that will start you and your partner on a spiritual journey which will add meaning, direction, and joy to your life.

At this point I would like to give you time for discussion. We may do several exercises, but before I close this section, I would like you to close your eyes, relax, and ponder each of these points. This may be a point for discussion. None of us plan on misfortunes, but, no matter how much careful planning we do, unforeseen misfortunes test our marriages and sometimes call on more unconditional love than we are prepared to give.

What would you hope for from your partner if:

You had an accident and became disabled

Your child was born brain damaged

You lost your job and couldn't get another one for 6 months.

Your father died and your mother wanted to live with you.

Your child got into very serious trouble with the wrong friends.

You got extremely depressed and couldn't get enough energy or desire to participate in family activities.

What would you do if these things happened to your partner?

She: We're really going to get married! I always dreamed of a big, big wedding lots of gifts lots of friends everything! Ah, weddings

He: Honey, it'll be just so great to come home to you every night. I can just see you waiting for me.

She: Well, if we're getting married, we'd better talk about some practical things too.

He: Like what? We're in love; everything will fall in place. We each have our own job, our own car not that much has to change.

She: I guess we should keep our bank accounts. After all, one never knows It may be wise to keep our money separate.

He: So how shall we divide the expenses?

She: Well, you make the larger paycheck. How about you pay the rent and I'll take care of the groceries except that your eating habits are more expensive than mine.

He: Hey, come on now!

She: There are lots of other small expenses too.

He: Maybe we can just divide them as they come up.

She: I can see problems in that!

He: Well who knows if things don't work out; it's easier to divide up things if we know we bought them. Anyway, 50% of marriages end in divorce. I want to feel free. I don't want to feel trapped. We could always get a divorce if things don't work out.

She: We haven't talked about a lot of marriage things like children for instance.

He: Oh, I don't want to talk about children now. We have great sex. Let's just enjoy each other.

She: Do you think we'll always feel like this?

He: Probably not. I just don't want a marriage where I feel obligated to never look at another woman.

She: Well, me too! You know one of my friends is going to a pre-marital counseling class. She says it makes her think more seriously about marriage.

He: Oh come on let's not lose the spontaneity we have now!

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