About a month ago, Dale Stockton, editor in chief of Law Officer magazine and LawOfficer.com, asked us to do an article about bulletproofing your marriage in response to Bullethead's April 2011 titled Dealing with Demons. In it, Bullethead shares how his marriage has started falling apart to the extent he's been asked by Mrs. Bullethead to leave the marital household.
Since then, Bullethead and the missus have entered into psychological therapy to begin unraveling and confronting the layers where the demons reside, first individually and then, as he puts it, by graduating into couples therapy. He has also revealed he’s back in the house, knows he has a long road ahead of him of putting his marriage back together, but that he and his wife are committed because he never wants to get back to the place of destruction again.
Generally, an article on this subject would be a no brainer for us. We’ve written pages and pages on various relationship issues over the years. Write a sharp intro to grab the reader’s attention, provide five or six bullet points of skills needed for the issue at hand, and close it with an encouraging summary paragraph. But this time we really struggled with just what to say because we realized there really is so much to say.
Before, we would focus on a narrow piece of the equation—say, effective communication or sex—and give simple strategies for growth. But we quickly realized bulletproofing a marriage is bigger than that. Maybe this really needs to be the subject of our first book! Nonetheless, what we decided, after a month of discussions, and a lot of starting and restarting, was to focus on the core of what truly keeps a marriage thriving. What it comes down to is one key concept: consistent sacrifice of oneself for the good of the whole.
We also realized bulletproofing a marriage can be an oxymoron if it’s applied to what happens behind closed doors. We definitely want to armor our marriages against outside influences that would do them harm, but when it comes to what happens between a couple, we need to take the armor off.
An LEO’s body armor is defensive—it prevents dangers from penetrating the body—but when we’re defensive with our spouse it leads to anger, frustration, hurt, multiple wounds and eventually the death of a relationship. Instead each person in a committed relationship needs to sacrifice their pride, tear down their own walls, put aside defensive tactics and choose to be vulnerable with our entire self in order for intimacy to follow. This is one of the many reasons more marriages fail than succeed. Being vulnerable and sacrificing ourselves goes against our human nature, but each married person needs to commit to being vulnerable for the sake for the marriage, thus benefiting the good of the whole.
Self-preservation dictates just that: preservation of the self. Not a preservation of us as a couple, but just me. It means I will put up barriers to keep out anything that hurts me emotionally. It means I will get defensive, and then go on the offensive, when something becomes too personal or begins to penetrate my armor, so that I can inflict wounds rather be on the receiving end of them. It means I will be selfish with my time, my resources, and with my heart. It means I will let you into my world when it benefits me, but I will exclude you when I feel it’s not any of your concern or business. It means I will keep secrets and only divulge what I feel is needed. It means I will protect myself in the interest of self-preservation, even if doing so causes the relationship to crumble.
Hopefully this sounds extreme to you, but this dynamic exists in more marriages than not. One statement I often hear from the LEO, when counseled individually regarding a marital issue, is, “I believe in marriage there is yours, MINE and ours.” Mike and I are in full agreement that it’s important, for the health of a marriage, that each person needs to maintain a strong individuality, but not to the extent maintaining your individuality hurts your partner or the relationship. When that happens, individuality is guarded and trumps the partnership thus leading to the demise. If self-preservation is your goal, it probably would’ve been better for you to remain single than to have signed up for a partnership with your spouse.
When we get married we vow—a sacred oath between you and your spouse—to love each other, cherish each other and to honor each other in everything we do in every moment of every day even when we are mad at one another, hurt, disappointed, stressed and exhausted from doing too much on too little sleep. It means being responsible for choosing behaviors that reflect loving, cherishing and honoring your spouse instead of protecting yourself.
It’s easy to choose the destructive behaviors of name-calling, yelling or completely shutting your spouse out over the hard work it takes to preserve and build up your spouse’s self-esteem in the hard moments, but learning to do the hard work now pays future dividends. Sacrificing for the good of the whole means defending the marriage from the harm our unchecked human natures create. It means keeping the big picture—a loving, lifelong partnership—in mind and not being caught up in the moment of the battle.
Marriages are lost if all the small battles are constantly being fought. Wisdom is knowing what battles to choose and which to sacrifice. Ask yourself: “Does this battle I’m about to engage benefit the marriage, or does it only protecting my own self-interest? Does the battle ensure the future of my marriage or does it tear down my spouse? Am I choosing to talk to be heard? Or am I choosing to listen?
Step One in Sum
Choosing to love, honor and cherish your spouse means forsaking our selfish tendencies and putting the marriage first and foremost. It means taking the armor off within the marriage. That is step one in bulletproofing a marriage.
Next month, Mike and I will be married 17 years. It’s not always been easy and we’ve traveled some very difficult roads, with one we’re still on that continues to be a source of pain and heartache, but we’ve really committed to putting our marriage first in our lives. This hasn’t come naturally to us since we’re each naturally independent, intelligent, strong-willed and stubborn, but we also have a strong belief that marriage is a partnership that defies the laws of self-preservation.