(Part One) I talked about the first season of life for Shanna and I. I guess the point was to show that 20 years of marriage does not depend on a perfect beginning. Without making excuses for being a complete goof like me, guys need to be reminded that lasting success in a marriage relationship depends more on long term commitment, than on short term failures.
No matter how we begin our marriage, we must figure out how to be successful over the long haul. Shanna and I read books, listen to radio and podcast, talk with friends, pray and process all the time. We never stop working on ourselves, our marriage and our family, because random does not work when it comes to the pressures of Real Life.
Real Life -- Life comes to you. It sure came to us. After a few months of getting used to being married Shanna and I began to assess where we were, where we were going and why. We shared dreams, hurts, pains, hopes and desires together.
Real Life, to me, means you enter back into society as a couple and begin to bear the responsibilities of adult life, honoring God and each other!!!
I don't mean to say the friendship, engagement and honeymoon were not REAL, they certainly were. My reference to real life is more for those who I have heard use this comment in a way that says, Real Life is the everyday, boring, hard work, never be appreciated, hum drum part of our life. We work, pay bills, clean house, punch the clock, take kids to events, wave to our neighbors, all the while we are hurting, empty, frustrated and lonely on the inside. This is why I use the phrase, because for many, Real Life is just not that great. For myself and for anyone reading,....I want to change that.
My story with Shanna could be explained as a fight, a war, a denial and battle to surrender to the Real Life mindset mentioned above. From the beginning we wanted to enjoy each other and enjoy life, not because we were on vacation all year, (though I'm getting better at that), but because the hum drum never beat us down. We want our life together to be rich, full, powerful, fun and lasting. We never wanted to wealthy or famous, we just wanted to be together, for a long time. We believed God wanted that for us, so we partnered with Him to travel the road less traveled, and to take seriously, the vows we made on that day in June, 1994, "for better or for worse, till death do us part".
After 20 years, and during the 20 years...
how is this possible......??
(5 Ways To Make Marriage Last)
1. SKELETONS: Let me admit straight forward, Shanna and I brought in lots of hidden secrets and dirty laundry. Some of it was crazy stuff we did as teens. Some of it was family junk done to us. Nevertheless, we brought in lots of "stuff". We aired it out in the beginning. Shanna likes to say she wants to "live naked", and in those early months, before and after marriage, we opened up and let each other see inside, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Our pre-marital coaches, Pastors who loved us a ton, gave us a list of 30ish things we needed to discuss. Though I think we could have used some professional help in areas, it was good to just talk about it. We have spent 20 years dealing together with the impact of several issues we discussed then, but I feel like we had a leg up because we at least talked about it. NOW, let me admit, we only talked about things we knew to talk about then. Since, we have uncovered other aspects to our life, character, habits, desires and struggles where more attention has been required. This is Real Life, getting honest, opening up, dealing with the past, honestly and together.
2. PAIN & STRUGGLE: Another area we have capitalized on over the past 20 years, as strange as it seems, has been the pains and struggles experienced in this Real Life. Before marriage and since, we have been closely impacted by lying preachers, failing parents, unfaithful friends, divorce, abuse, addiction, betrayal, disappointment and personal doubt. We have directly experienced the worst financial recession in American history, depression, shootings, death, life threatening sickness, failed dreams and broken hearts. Each time, we have a choice to make, to walk together or to drift apart. We can attack each other, neglect each other or push each other out. I think we have actually done all of these at times. But, like I tell my kids, the difference in the Ramsdell Home is, we come back after the fight, we forgive, we pay attention and show compassion, we join hands again and walk together. This is one of the hardest things to do as couple, but probably the most powerful act of bonding. The Pain and Struggle threaten our unity and love, but it also gives us opportunity to fight together, pull in the same direction, serve one another and come out closer in the end. When people have been in battle together, they become soul mates in a way comfortable living does not allow. Pressure and Pain cause intimacy and interdependence, like few other experiences, so in the end, I am thankful for the struggles and more thankful that God has given us grace to face them together.
3. CELEBRATE: Shanna has taught me to celebrate more. I love to play and have fun, but was challenged early on to just relax and celebrate the small things. She does that better than I do. She gets huge Easter baskets for the kids, even still. I would never. I would celebrate by taking them to church and calling them to repent while we learned about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Isn't that what Easter is about? Yes, but she adds the fun part into a family. It isn't shallow, it is a meaningful process she goes through for months, buying little things, meaningful things to include in the basket. Of course we focus on Jesus, but she also blesses the kids and enjoys doing so. We mark certain accomplishments and do something to celebrate. We use birthdays and graduations and sports games to get loud, yell and scream. Last year my son, Elias, played indoor, 6yr old, YMCA, beginning Soccer. Though kids were dressed in proper gear, little about this game appeared to be real Soccer. It was painful to watch if you are competitive like me. But with a strong desire to celebrate these little kids, Shanna organized my older kids to create a large banner for the team to run through and did it right. The other little team just watched from the other end like....we are looser parents....and you know what...that day they were. With no one keeping score (except my parents), we went out a dominated those little 5 -7 year olds. Our team was so pumped, they just ran around like rabbits, and next year when I signed up to coach again, half the kids signed up on my team. They wanted Real Life to be more like a party and less like a funeral, more like a championship and less like practice. I have a hundred other stories, but for now, let me challenge you to find more times each week, month and year to celebrate.
4. CRY AND SCREAM: This one has controversy around it, but I will say with fervency, I believe in crying and screaming. Some people are too calm. I know some, but have a hard time relating. When pressure builds, emotions mount, stress gets the best of us, we cry or we scream. I say, find an arena in your marriage where you are not causing damage, and let it out. Shanna and I fight. For years, really, years, we would have other couples who receive encouragement from our marriage say to us, "do you and Billy fight?". Shanna would look at the questioning friend with a sideways grin and say something, "are you kidding, Billy is Billy, and I am me, we are both firstborns, stubborn and opinionated, we fight with the best of them". We scream, mostly in the bedroom, and we cry, mostly when we hurt each other. Shanna cries for different reasons than me, but we both will cry. We scream for different reasons, but we will scream. Again, we are being real. Real Life hits you in the face and sometimes you need to scream about it. One rule I have always had is this, Shanna can say anything, anything. I will never walk away from her. She may think she can't say anything, because sometimes I get defensive or scream back, but in the end, I will not walk away, I won't turn and leave. When life makes us cry, we must stay, stay face to face with each other and just let the tears come. Trying to hide the anger, pain, disappointment or struggle just makes it worse. Be honest and cry, scream, then make up, forgive, pray, walk forward, together.
5. SERVICE, SEX & SPACE: Over 20 years I have observed these three areas being very important for long term sustainability together. I must SERVE Shanna. Give to her, listen to her, work for her, protect her and let her get what she needs in everyday life, because I serve. It may be dishes and laundry. It may be support for her work or hobbies. It may be giving her both sides of the bathroom made for two or letter her drive when we are together in the van (I don't do this one well). In small ways and large, serve her needs, desires and wants. If Shanna wants to go back to school, take a class online or join a new fitness group, that is my time to serve. If she wants to drive a short way from home instead of long, to get to a restaurant, then I serve. If she wants to spend money on making the house beautiful, I can serve. Which is a great transition to the topic of SEX. Sex is celebrating, serving, enjoying and growing. There is not a perfect sex scene with 5 kids around. And, I want to save details for another blog, but for purposes of this chronicle, I want to say, 20 years of marriage has become more and more delightful as our sexual relationship has matured. We love each other and love being together. We keep our bedroom free of other sexual pollution, we keep our relationships with the opposite sex very limited and we spend time, spending time, whenever we can. There are tons of helpful resources for this subject. Some things to mention are honesty, communication, fun, unselfishness, care, intimacy, faithfulness, patience, spontaneity and unity. If I were going into details, I would use these words to uncover the more detailed facts I believe about sex in marriage and how 20 years feels much different if this element is healthy, Lastly, I want to mention SPACE. In our life together, over 20+ years, we have learned to give each other space. What kind of mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical space do we both need in order to process, think, react and accept the experiences of life. It is not easy for me, but I care enough about Shanna to try and protect her space. Sometimes we walk side by side in an experience, sometimes we need to be apart. She lets me come and go, walk slow or fast, to talk or not. She gives me space as well. We don't allow isolation or hiding. We do, however, respect each other and understand that Real Life can demand too much at times. So, we observe, listen and create spaces for each other, space in the house, space in time, space in a day or week, but space in our minds and conversation as well. These are all parts of one discipline, respecting the need your spouse has for space.
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