Rushing to the airport for a return flight, my brain full of to-dos, schedules and plans, I mentally recapped my business trip from the previous three days.
At the same time my mind slipped back into marriage mode, reminded of a dinner appointment with Sheri that night. Wondering what kind of day she had, thinking about our schedule for the weekend and upcoming vacation plans.
It occurred to me that marriage is a lot like business.
There are differences, of course. Business is often cold and calculating, mostly about numbers and margins. Marriage is softer and more relational — it’s about serving, loving and nurturing.
In both arenas, the same drivers seem to influence success. Many business building blocks are transferable to marriage. Similar core competencies separate an average marriage from a great marriage.
Okay, I’m not proposing Marriage MBA’s. I am suggesting that a few business fundamentals could help pull it all together. We need to expand our marriage vocabulary and then develop best practices around those concepts to improve our marriage relationships.
Here’s a start:
Leadership in Marriage
What is leadership in the context of marriage? Leadership doesn’t necessarily mean you need to possess management qualities. Leadership in marriage is also about sharing responsibility and utilizing your god-given gifts and assets. And it’s perfectly acceptable for partners to specialize in specific areas.
For example, family financial matters are not one of my strengths. Balancing the checkbook, paying bills and financial planning are big stress producers for me. So, because financial management is an area Sheri excels at, she has taken on that role.
Leadership also means smart time management and intelligent goal setting. These behaviors can protect your marriage from burnout and keep you focused on what’s most important.
Several years ago, spiritual growth became a high priority for Sheri and me. We reprioritized. These days, it’s not unusual to find numerous ministry commitments on our calendar every week. That kind of commitment requires careful checks and balances — Ministry is important, but our marriage is a higher priority.
Are you a husband? If so, you should know that God calls you to take a leadership role in your home.
Finally, when I think of leadership I think of serving. Serving your partner requires a deliberate decision to put your spouse before yourself. It means temporarily substituting your needs and desires for your spouse’s. Usually inconvenient, sometimes unpleasant — serving is key to a successful marriage.
A great marriage begins by talking to your spouse. But that’s not as simple as it sounds.
Careless communication can trigger misunderstanding, impede growth, divide relationships and eventually destroy a marriage.
Effective communication nurtures and grows marriage. The right words can resolve conflict and cultivate romance. Correct communication skills will encourage and serve your spouse.
Since communication is a core competency for marriage success, it stands to reason we should strive to optimize communications in our marriage. How can we do that?
First, we need to be aware of barriers to communication and then attempt to overcome those barriers. Typically, men and women have different communication and personality styles. Men can be less emotional and more analytical. Women can be more detail oriented, but less black and white. These differences caught Sheri and me by surprise in our early marriage years, frequently arguing over simple misunderstandings.
Effective marriage communicators aren’t afraid to “be known”. They are vulnerable, openly expressing feelings honestly and openly.
You need to be a good listener. Once learned, active listening will propel your communication skills to new heights. You will experience less miscommunication and your spouse will know she or he is “heard”.
Another barrier to communication is the pressure of a busy lifestyle. Great marriages require committed, active participation. In short, you both need to “be there” — not just physically, but emotionally too.
At the end of the day it’s essential that Sheri and I stop what we’re doing, sit down, make eye contact and communicate. We need this dedicated time to recap the day and simply… listen to each other. Carving out that time requires smart priorities.
Over the years I have become aware of powerful non-verbal interactions in our marriage. Spontaneously ordering flowers for Sheri, scheduling a surprise night downtown or just performing a simple act of service like washing her car — clearly communicates my love for her.
Here are some communication-building topics for your marriage:
Finances — What are your savings/investment goals? Do you have a budget? Is spending a problem?
Recreation — do you enjoy the same things? Lately, what have you done to have fun?
Romance-Love Languages. Are needs being met?
Expectations — Expect the unexpected. Do you know what you want? Do you want the same things?
Marriage Milestones — Do you share common goals? Where do you want your marriage to be in 5 years? 20 years?
Marriage Status — Upgrade your regular Starbucks engagement to a weekly status meeting. Schedule routine communications with your spouse.
Role Expectations — Have new additions to your family or recent changes in career created a need to discuss role adjustments?
When’s the last time you and your spouse took time away to participate in a marriage retreat or workshop? How frequently do you seek out tools and resources to sharpen your relational skills?
Professional development is a key contributor to growth and success in your marriage and should be a high priority.
In my marriage, this accomplishes two things: First, it educates. Participating in a marriage workshop, listening to a tape series or reading a book, builds my marriage skill set and sometimes confirms things I’m doing right. I tend to pursue resources that apply to specific areas that need improvement. For example, if I detect a slump in the romance department, I might seek out an article or book on that topic. That romance “resource” might even be a directory of romantic weekend getaways!
Secondly, because Sheri and I often pursue development opportunities together, these events serve as an escape for us; allowing us to retreat from everyday stress, unwind and focus on each other.
Another very impactful way to grow spiritually and relationally is to engage in a one-on-one mentor relationship with someone you respect — someone you can walk beside and “do life” with. Participating in a small group at your church is an excellent way to do this.
One way to reduce risk is to live your marriage with a mindset of servanthood.
It’s your job, with God’s help, to shower your partner with an attitude of sacrifice and service. You need to be aware of and then respond to the needs of your partner. Not only when your spouse is weary or overwhelmed — On a daily basis, discover opportunities to lift up your partner when he or she needs you.
Stop and think for a moment about the promises you’ve made to each other. It’s a promise that says, “I’ll be there with you when you lose your job. I’ll be there when you lose your health, your parents, your confidence, your friends.” It’s a promise that tells each other, “I’ll overlook your weaknesses, I’ll forgive your mistakes. I’ll put your needs above my own. I’ll stick by you when the going gets tough.”
Make it your priority to say, “God where do you want me to grow? Where are the rough edges in my life?” And then allow God to chip away at those areas. Most importantly, you need God in your relationship. You need to center your life and your marriage on a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Great marriages aren’t built on simple human intimacy alone. Those marriages may appear strong, but they will not withstand the inevitable storms ahead.
Finally, are you learning from your mistakes? Are you looking for ways to improve the “marriage process”?
Sheri and I are regularly talking about “lessons learned”; what’s gone wrong, how can we proactively avoid repeat mistakes down the road? That kind of communication is critical.
No marriage is perfect, but if you find your relationship repetitively stuck on the same stuff, there’s probably room for improvement. Are there conflict resolution issues? Defective communication? Are your finances in the red? Are you unhappy? Mistrust?
First, I encourage you to communicate your feelings to your spouse. Full disclosure — be completely honest and open about your feelings and issues. Are you both committed to resolution? What’s the plan?
Are you stuck on resentment or bitterness, unsettled issues? Are you or your spouse holding a grudge? Forgiveness could be a first step.
What is your marriage based on? Remember, we can’t do it on our own. You need tools, good friends and a spiritual foundation.
Jim Mueller is the founder of Marriagetrac and with his wife Sheri, are Marriage Mentors. Copyright © 2002 Jim Mueller and Marriagetrac. All rights reserved.