An interview with author Dr. Bob Paul on his book, Finding Ever After.
Thank you. The idea came from years of working with people who were bumping up against their happily ever after fantasy. Oftentimes their marriages had been such a disappointment in relation to what they had hoped and expected it would be.
When I was thinking about our desire to find that place of “happily ever after,” I wanted to draw a contrast to what I think the Lord really intends for us and dash those unrealistic fantasies that lead us down a path of disappointment and frustration.
You talk about being saddened by so many people that feel trapped in a commitment…
I think that people go into marriage with these great hopes and expectations and after a very short period of time they begin to believe that some of their hopes and dreams aren’t going to come true. Then we begin to adjust our expectations and hopes downward and over time, increasingly settle into a life where it might be acceptable.
For many of us, it’s far from the romantic-passionate dreams that we started off with. It gets to a point where we feel trapped in this relationship. It’s tough. It’s just not all we hoped for. Over time it feels like we’re trapped and bound in this commitment.
So how would a couple realign those expectations? It sounds like a need to downward adjust?
To a degree. Big expectations are not a problem. Our Lord genuinely desires for us to have marriages that we are both thrilled with.
So the idea is not to adjust your expectations downward expecting less out of your marriage. Figure out how to access the relationship that we’ve been designed to enjoy. Often we are sent down a path where we’re taught things about relationships that are setups for failure and frustration.
You said, “If both of us are the same, one of us isn’t necessary.”
It’s natural and reasonable for us to perceive that the problems we have are due to our differences. At the beginning of our relationships it’s the differences that are the things we get so excited about, the things we think are cute, the things we think are delightful and wonderful and interesting. After a while, those very same differences become the source of our difficulties.
It’s natural to think that if we could just get rid of the differences, everything would be great. What we’re really saying is, we’d be happier if we were married to someone just like us.
I don’t know about you, Jim, but the thought of being married to someone exactly like me is horrifying. I can’t think of anything more boring than to be married to a carbon copy of me. There’d be nothing to talk about. Why bother?
The mistake we make is thinking that the differences are the problem. They are never the problem. Differences were created by design to be our source of interest and excitement. The problem is not knowing how to work effectively with them. When we don’t know how to work effectively with differences, we encounter them as a pain in the rear-end.
So how does one deal effectively with differences?
First: Value. Look for ways in which we can make plenty of room for each of us to discover the fullness of who we are and be every bit the person that God created us to be.
Second, to recognize that we have the ability to utilize those differences, and benefit from them.
A great marriage requires room. Unfortunately many people begin to shrink the space in their marriage and it starts to feel too crowded. At some point, one or both of them are wanting to bust out and say, Yeah, this is too cramped. I want out of here.
You say the stewardship of one’s heart may be the cause of much of marriage’s pain/heartache.
Marriage is always, a matter of the heart. We marry for reasons of love, not so much out of convenience or out of practical, utilitarian-type motives. We love each other. We want to share love and experience that for a lifetime.
It’s a heart matter. The problem we have is that we’re really not taught how to care for our own hearts, let alone how to care well for others. Part of creating a great marriage and creating a successful and happy marriage, is dependent upon learning how to care well for your heart and how to care well for anothers’ heart.
We’re talking to couples these days — young married couples — some have divorced already — who suddenly discover or think they’re out of love. They’ve lost interest. She loves the symphony. He loves rock climbing. We have nothing in common. They don’t say this, but they need to pursue their personal interests so they can become fuller, more enriched people separately. What would you say to a couple who has that feeling of falling out of love?
It’s great that you ask that, Jim. It’s probably one of the most common things that people bring before us.
Honestly, it is one of the least troubling things that I encounter. We feel that we fall in love and that it was sort of chemistry, an accidental kind of thing, to begin with. We fall out of love. There’s nothing you can do. You can’t control it on the front side. You can’t control it on the backside. That’s not the case.
The reality is every single drop of love that we have within us comes from God to us and through us. 1John 4:8 says, “God is love.” Notice it doesn’t say “Bob is love.” It doesn’t say, “Jim is love.”
I used to think that if I wanted to love my wife more, I should crank up my old love engine and generate some love for her. Loving her better is far simpler than that.
I have the option to open my heart and allow God to put into me the love that he has for her so I can literally say, Lord, let me see Jenny through your eyes. Let me see what you see. Let me delight in what you delight in. Let me feel what you feel when you look at her. And then I can choose to feel those same things. It’s amazing how powerful that can be.
We’ve discovered that the couples who have fallen out of love have the feeling that they are not wanting to be there anymore — they’re not wanting to be open to feeling love. They may be afraid that it’ll be too painful, that they’ll be hurt again — they’ve shut their heart down.
They have to make a decision: Are they willing to reopen their hearts and begin feeling again? If they are, those feelings will be there.
Get Bob’s book, Finding Ever After.
Bob Paul is the Co-President and Intensive Lead Therapist at the National Institute of Marriage.Founded in 2003 and located in Branson Missouri, the National Institute of Marriage provides Christian Marriage Counseling, Marriage Conferences, Resources for Couples, Leader Enrichment, and Intensives Programs.
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