Do you have the marriage you really want? We do. Diane and I have been married for forty years. And most of the time, for most of those years, our marriage has brought us deep satisfaction. Perfect? No. Wonderful? Yes!
It could have been different. Diane and I could be like two prisoners serving a life sentence in a cold, dark jail. Prisoners have two choices. They can resign themselves to their captivity and make the most of it. Or, they can look for ways to escape. Pretty obvious, isn’t it, that jail is not the place you want to be.
I am not writing as a prisoner. I am writing as a man who would not escape even if he could escape. We love each other, my wife and I, and we really enjoy our marriage. Can you say the same?
A Little Background
We have been helping families in Malaysia since 1983. When our children were young we lived in Penang for eight years. Now we reside here under the Malaysia My second Home program. Truly, it is our second home. In fact, we think of ourselves as MIA : Malaysian Improved Americans.
In our years here we have talked to thousands of people about marriage. We have counseled hundreds. Young couples preparing for marriage; couples just starting out on their marriages; even couples married for many years. We see them all. We know their joys and disappointments.
Some stories are wonderful, and some just make you cry. But most of the couples we meet are somewhere in between the best and the worst. Maybe that is how you would describe your marriage, too. If so, these columns are just right for you.
If you practice what you read here, even if you never read another marriage book or attend another course, you can have a wonderful marriage. Not average. Not “blah.” Wonderful! It will be the marriage you really want.
The Question That Changes Everything
There really is a question so powerful that it can change a life, a marriage, a family. It could even change a nation. Have any idea what it is?
Here are some common questions that can control how we see our marriage and our marriage partner:
- How can I be happy in my marriage?
- How can I get my partner to do what I want him or her to do?
- How can we make this marriage last?
- How can we rediscover our lost love?
- How can I murder my spouse without going to jail?
Some of those are good questions, but not one of them is the question that changes everything. Ready to be overwhelmed? There is the amazing question that changes everything.
The Miracle Question
“What can I do to help?”
Simple, yes, but simple as it is, it is still the miracle question. It makes us givers, not takers. Our focus changes from getting our needs met to helping our partner. We look at our marriage as something so important that we want to make it as great as it can be. And, since helping takes time and attention (there is no other way to help), we will make sure that we give our marriage, and our spouse, enough time and attention.
This miracle question also creates hope. Many couples we counsel lost hope long ago. Believe me, when you feel hopeless about your marriage, or about your marriage partner, every day is cloudy. You live with no sense of expectation, for you feel that every day will be as dull as the day before. It is marriage lived in the shadows, never in the sunlight. The miracle question changes all of that.
Some couples never think about their marriage with the miracle question in mind. From the beginning their marriage has been a competition, with each partner trying to get, not finding ways to to give. It makes me wonder why they married at all.
Others start well. Then, when life becomes demanding, their marriage is the first thing to suffer. A neglected marriage cannot refresh us, so we become more irritable, more demanding, and less hopeful. And maybe, maybe, we start looking for our fulfillment somewhere else.
Apparently many Malaysians “look for love in all the wrong places,” as the song says. I saw an ad on the back of a taxi for a private investigator who specializes in catching cheating spouses. If he advertises like that, he sees a large potential market for his services. I hope you never need to call him.
The miracle question makes marriages beautiful. But you have to use it. It might be hard at first, a little like wearing contacts that hurt a little but gradually realign your vision. Soon you are so accustomed to seeing life through them that everything else feels wrong.
I have one more secret for you. The miracle question always results in a definite expression of love, because true love always helps. By asking the question and trying to answer it, you become a more loving husband or wife.
Start today. Look for anything you can do, say, or think that will help your spouse. Do it without calling notice to it, and keep doing it. Little by little you’ll start to experience the marriage you really want.
“But what if my spouse doesn’t notice?” That is a challenge, but you are still better off doing what will help. Even if it does not change your spouse right away, it will change you, and you’ll love it.