Month Two: Your Marriage Intent
Objective: Defining the “why” behind your MYM commitment by defining core values and traditions that support them
“May the way I look at you, the way I speak with you, and the way I treat you, reflect the trust that… I have loved you since forever.”
~ Dr. Steve Maraboli
There are lots of reasons families choose to enter a lifestyle of service. For some, their whole life has revolved around the service lifestyle as generations before them were military members or first responders. Others enter out of a sense of calling, duty, or even loyalty to the country or community. And while there are those that enter for more practical reasons of providing income to their family, everyone can agree that once you are in this lifestyle- it is not to be taken lightly. It is a tough way of living. Schedules are constantly changing, family time interrupted, and the willingness to sacrifice your wellbeing for what you value is part of the job.
Most people don’t stay in over the long haul because of the paycheck. Those that continue to get up day after day and put on the uniform, do so because their own deeply seeded beliefs align with the values that the uniform represents. Integrity, respect, loyalty, responsibility, honesty, professionalism, duty, selfless service. Values, that at the core, fuel your ability to push through the hardest days or most challenging moments and continue forward.
Values fuel our ability to push through the hardest days or most challenging moments and continue forward.
There is another reason families stay connected to the service profession- camaraderie. In the middle of a mission or call on the street, team-mindedness is assumed because it has been drilled into us since the first day in training or the academy. You never leave a man behind. You show up for your battle buddy. You complete the mission because of the guy on your left or your right. The team means everything. The uniform represents not just the “why” you continue this tough lifestyle, it represents those you serve with. Even supporting spouses who don’t get to put on a uniform usually adopt the mentality of what it represents. Often times, though, families don’t feel the extent of camaraderie’s importance until the profession ends and the disconnect begins. There is something real and gritty about the connection we have with others who share and commit to the same values and commit. In essence, we share the same intent, or purpose.
Which is why MYM strongly emphasizes the importance of your Squad. Relationships and team work within the service community provides accountability and real human connection, but this is also how marriage is supposed to be as well. Marriage usually begins with a couple who agrees on why they want to be married, why marriage is worth the work, and vow towards that common goal together. However, many soon discover that they too easily lose sight of their intent once children, chaotic schedules, volunteering, and the hustle take priority.
Simon Synek, author of “Find Your Why”, challenged the audience during his popular TEDTalk by saying that leaders often know “how” or “what” they want to do without ever defining their “why”. Your why, he says, “is your purpose, your belief. Why does your organizations exist? Why do you get out of bed every morning?” Sometimes, we have an easier time answering this question about our profession than we do our marriage. The reason is that we have defined our goals (your growth plan ) without reminding ourselves of why we want to reach them.
“This, we’ll defend.” “To protect and to serve.” “Fire prevention is our intention.” Mottos are everywhere in the service profession. They are common expressions created based on the shared beliefs or values that help them facilitate, or even move forward. We call these facilitated beliefs. Facilitative beliefs are important in families and for couples as well.
They may be spoken or unspoken, perhaps not even written down. Yet, these facilitative beliefs provide inspiration and bolster resilience.
For example, one military family was growing weary from the constant upheaval of relocation and the deployment/training tempo. It was hard on the kids to adjust to new schools and make new friends. It was difficult to repeatedly make themselves vulnerable to each new community. It seemed far easier to isolate and stop trying. Sensing the family’s decline in motivation, the service member reminded his family that a value they all believed in was the importance of being a team. That they were in it together even when things got tough. They created the motto, “Go team ” as a reminder that they could support each other when weak, were not alone, and could persevere.
The opposite, of course, is what is called constraining beliefs– those that keep you from moving forward. Phrases and mottos created from these are just as powerful, if not more so. Saying things like “I can’t” or “We never…” can foster healthy boundaries or in worse cases- cause immobility.
What do you believe? What beliefs keep you going when marriage gets hard? Once you know your why, figuring out what you will do and how you will do it as a couple is a whole lot easier. It will also help you say no to the things that could threaten your marriage. As a couple, you have already made specific goals on your growth plan. This month, you are going to be encouraged to define your individual beliefs, those that are most important to you, and then define them together. If you have not developed a motto for your family, perhaps now is a great time to consider it!
The Importance of Tradition
Defining our shared beliefs and having a set of goals is only part of the equation. How we go about reaching them often determines whether we actually will. As Mr. Synek mentioned, what we do and how we do it is often on overdrive or auto-pilot. The military and first responder community is steeped in traditions and customs. There are certain ways of doing things, ceremonies for changing command, promotions, and funerals. They are traditions that we hold sacred because, again, we share those common values together- so much so, that tensions rise when it is not done right (or well).
When a couple gets married, they often struggle to merge their separate childhood traditions and rituals. Much of this tension is due to the deep emotions that have been sown into those traditions for many years- “That’s not how my family did it!”. Emotionally charged traditions stem from beliefs and values woven into the execution of an event or experience. Even more challenging can be trying to continue an emotionally charged family tradition in a service lifestyle where scheduling, competing values, and location make it near impossible.
Defining our shared beliefs and having a set of goals is only part of the equation. How we go about reaching them often determines whether we actually will.
Traditions and rituals can be anything from what you do for Christmas every year to your belief on what should happen around the dinner table. We often don’t realize the strong ties our rituals can have to our childhood. For example, perhaps your family growing up had a dinner ritual of sitting in front of the TV every night rather than around a table. As a result, you may have included as part of your growth plan “spend more time together as a family” with the intent that dinner should look like eating together every night around a table. This can be a powerful belief/value that is your “why” behind your “what”.
Yet sometimes, traditions and rituals can be over-ritualized where the ritual (act) becomes more important than its original intent- sabotaging what you hoped to accomplish. In our dinner example, it could look like resentment towards your spouse for missing dinner due to him or her working the night shift, rather than coming up with a new way to reach the goal of spending more time together. Often times, when this lifestyle is one that makes us feel out of control, it can be tempting to control other things to the detriment of our relationships.
All of this comes down to communication. Traditions that you develop together can create a sense of belonging if you as a couple work together to compromise and talk through what is most important to you. Asking “What do we want for our family?” is a big step for any stage of marriage. It doesn’t mean throwing out your childhood traditions, but it does mean hearing and understanding where your spouse is coming from as well. It will help you implement ways of doing things that can become sacred and meaningful to you and your family.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
Understand cultural dynamics involved: Cultural dynamics can include everything from gender roles, ethnic differences, and even the military and first responder cultural ways of doing things.
Choose carefully: Decide what works for your family. Talk about it and make sure you understand what’s important to your spouse about a particular tradition, holiday or ritual. Choose the traditions and rituals that work for your family that are beneficial and aren’t destructive. You don’t have to do everything.
Keep in mind your overall meaning and purpose. What meaning do you want to bring to your family through that tradition or ritual? Rather than get overly focused on the details, events, or activities, remember what you are trying to convey or teach your family.
Communication Tip of the Month:
Discussing core believes and values can easily create defensiveness if you disagree. Dr. John Gottman, a marriage expert, recommends marriages must keep a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. This means you must deposit five positive interactions into your spouse’s emotional “bank account” for every negative one. All marriages have some form of negativity, but Gottman identified four of the most destructive negative interactions that we should be aware of: criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness. Each month we will take a look at one of these and what we can do to improve our communication with our spouse. This month, we will look at criticism.
Criticism, according to Gottman, is an attack on the person instead of their behavior. Often packaged as absolute “You” statements they typically sound like “You never…” You always…”. Criticism implies that your spouse hasn’t just offended you, they themselves are offensive. This only leads to increased defensiveness.
The key is to try to replace criticism with “I” statements- taking responsibility for your own needs and wishes in the relationship. For example, “You never do the laundry” turns into “I wish we shared more of the chores around the house, including the laundry.”