I Wish We Would Have Done this Early in Our Marriage

Shelley has been a place of wisdom and help for me. She has been amazing at helping work through so many decision, both big and small in my life.

There have been times when I have not been able to think clearly and she has thought for me. There have been times when I wasn’t at my best and she has been my strength. I would have made a lot more bad decisions if I did not have her to lean on. There have also been times when I have been that for her.

But, then comes those moments when we are faced with a decision and neither one of us is at our best to know what is right.

Those are tough moments that I believe can be navigated well. I believe that because we learned the hard way.

That happened to us in 2006 while living in Boston. We had been walking through a 3 years stretch that included moving across the country to start a church. We experienced the birth of our first two children. We had deaths and near tragedies in our families. Ministry was as hard as it had ever been in my life. It was an amazing stretch of time but also a hard stretch of time. We were tired, to say the least.

During that year, we began looking for a “way out” of our circumstances believing that a change would make life easier. The big mistake was that we nearly isolated ourselves in the decision making process. When an opportunity came, we took it without any significant input from anyone.

Though we had great friends in our lives, we never really opened ourselves up to the counsel of another married couple.

Neither one of us was really in a place emotionally to make the important decision we were attempting to make. As a result, I believed we missed God in that decision and we paid the price for that. (See My Biggest Fan)

I regret that one decision more than any other we have made in our marriage.

There would have been so much value in having an older married couple in our lives that we trusted, that knew our marriage, and that we allowed to speak into our marriage.

I think of it like this. We go into marriage having no idea what marriage is really like. We had never made major life decisions like you do in marriage. We had never dealt with conflict like you do in marriage. We had never dealt with money like you do in marriage. Yet, for the most part, we go into marriage and attempt to do these things alone as a couple.

Married couples, especially those in their first few years of marriage, need the outside voice of a couple who loves them and is willing to speak wisdom into their marriage.

Here is the tricky thing:

To be completely honest though, because of my own pride, I am not sure that I would have welcomed that kind of input. I don’t know this for a fact, but my guess is that many men would feel the same. Men don’t like to “ask for directions” but we need to humble ourselves, admit we need them, and pull over and ask for help. The same is true for our marriages. We need to pull over and ask for directions.

If I could go back and have that kind of couple in our life I would have asked them things like:

1) What decisions should we be making now with our money that we don’t even know to make?
2) How do we make decisions when we can’t come to an agreement?
3) How do you fight?
4) Do you see anything in our communication or lack of communication that we may not be seeing?

Then, when big decisions, like a potential move across the country, are on the table I would want to ask them what they think. Does this make sense? Are we approaching it right? Should we even make this decision? Are there red flags?

I would want to be open and teachable when they would say things like, “We think you need to slow down.” “You two are not thinking straight.” “We don’t see this as a wise decision right now.” “Have you thought about it from this angle?”

I know that would have been hard, but I also know it would have been good.

If you are looking for that couple, then who should it be? These are my initial thoughts.

1) One that you believe sets a good example in marriage.
2) One that you can spend face-to-face time with on some kind of regular basis.
3) One that has already made some decisions in their marriage.
4) One that you trust will have your best interest in mind.
5) One that will be honest with you even if it is hard.

I believe that if I were humble enough and had pursued that type of couple to be in our lives, we could have made some much better decisions early on.

Now, we have that in our lives and it is refreshing and life giving.

I wish we would have done that early in our marriage. Better late than never.

What Writing About Our Marriage has Taught Me About Marriage

When I started this little blog back in December it was because of my wife. She didn’t make me do it or even know that I was doing it. I started it because it was an inexpensive and creative anniversary gift for her. I wanted her to know that I wanted the world to know how great of a wife she has been for 16 years. (See 16 Things). I wrote the first post, published it, and then told Shelley to go check out my new blog. It was a fun moment.

After I wrote that first blog post I started thinking of some of the great stories that have shaped our marriage and started writing. It has been incredibly fun to think about our adventures and decisions, both good and bad. Shelley has read everything I have written before I have posted it.

It has been a great exercise in growing in gratitude for my marriage. Here are a few things that writing about my marriage has taught me about my marriage.

1) I want to communicate gratitude not arrogance
I do want everyone to know that I have a great marriage. I want people to know that we are learning how to love each other well.

But, I also want to be sensitive to those who may be walking through a hard marriage or coming out of a failed marriage. I don’t ever want to give the impression that, if you haven’t experienced what we have, then you have failed. I don’t ever want to unintentionally communicate that my marriage is perfect. I don’t ever want anything I write to cause frustration to someone who may have a different experience.

I don’t ever want to give off that “my dad can beat up your dad” attitude about my marriage.

I know many people who are walking through hard seasons in their marriage. I know many couples who have not made it through their hard seasons with their marriage intact.

Hopefully, I have communicated gratitude and even an encouraging thought or two.

2) It has taken both of us to have the kind of marriage we have
As I have reflected on a lot of our big moments and stories, it has highlighted the fact that it has taken both of us. That may seem like a no brainer but it can never be said enough and no one said it better than Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston, “It takes two baby.”

Within the first year of our marriage we moved from Little Rock, AR. to Fort Worth, TX. for me to finish graduate school. I will never forget the moment when we were about to walk out of our first apartment for the last time. Shelley got emotional as we hugged. Stepping out into our first adventure, through her tears she said, “We come as a package”.

We have been saying and living that statement out ever since. We have had that statement on a piece of paper hanging on our fridge since May of 1999.

There have been so many decisions about life, parenting, and our relationship that have taken every bit of both of us. There have been moments when I have had to lean completely on Shelley to help me get through hard moments. There have been moments when she has had to lean on me in the same way.

I can’t imagine having to carry our marriage by myself for the past 16 years. I am grateful for our partnership in life.

3) All of our marriages have a big target on their backs.
I can’t ever imagine our marriage falling apart but I don’t ever want to let my guard down. As 1 Peter 5:8 says. “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  I have known several couples who have appeared to have invincible marriages only to see them fall apart. It is heart breaking.

It does remind me that the moment I think my marriage is invincible it is the moment we open ourselves up to attack.

I want to keep my guard up. I want to fight more than ever to have clear communications. I want to be as diligent as ever to have a pure mind. I want pray more and more for Shelley’s spiritual life. I want to pursue a deeper walk with God. I want to pursue a greater deal of selflessness as a husband. I want to be ready for the adversary when he attacks.

I don’t ever want to let my guard down. I know we have a target on our back.

4) I love marriage
At the end of the day, I love being married. If there was a way to count the laughter and smiles I have had in my marriage it would outnumber the fish in the ocean. I love the adventure of raising our kids together. I love navigating the complexities of life together. I love just being together.

I picture the day when we are old and still laughing and smiling, enjoying this gift we have been given, the gift of each other.

I love marriage.

I know I could come up with more things that writing about my marriage has taught me but I don’t want to brag.

She Kicks Me Out From Time to Time

Shelley kicks me out from time to time.

She will look me in the eye, like she did about 10 minutes ago, and says, “I don’t know where you can go but you need get away. You need to go spend the night somewhere.” She said that, not because she is mad or we are in a fight. Not because she is sick of me or needs a break.

She kicks me out because she knows that about once a year I need it for my own good. She knows what I need to refuel and she helps make it happen.

This is one of the ways we have learned to embrace each others differences for the others good. The fact that Shelley is an extrovert and I am an introvert matter deeply to our understanding of how to love each other well. (See We Are Different)

Early in our marriage, Shelley figured out that I needed alone time every now and then to think and refuel. By “alone time” I mean either an entire day or couple of days away from everything and everyone. She figured this out about me because I told her. I’m not sure that she understood it at first since we are so different, but she sacrificed to understand it.

I work in an extrovert’s world as a pastor. There is tons of output. There is a lot of time spent around people and I love it! But, the longer I am around people the more I am drained. The more I am drained, the more challenging it becomes for me to love people well, including my family.

For me to love well and to be emotionally healthy, Shelley has learned that I need to intentionally refuel. We are very different, so she has had to work to learn what I need and embrace it for my good. The same is true for me. I have had to learn and adjust to what she needs.

She helps me refuel in two basic ways.

1. The Little Fuel
Reality for most people, like us, is that every time we need to refuel, we can’t drop life and get out of town. But we can learn the little things along the way that help refuel our spouse.

Here is what Shelley knows about me.

  • I Need Expected Little Fuel – For me that is exercise. I need 3-4 days a week to get out and run or ride my bike. I get the benefit of being healthier but the main thing it does for me is help my mind process whatever needs processing. It is a stress release and Shelley understands that. She has never once complained to me about my need to get out run. She knows I need it.
  • I Need Unexpected Little Fuel – Sometimes Shelley just knows I need what we call a “pick-me-up”. It is usually something very simple. Just the other day Shelley noticed that I was tired and needed a “pick-me-up.” Without me knowing, she took the initiative to get me some “unexpected fuel.” She said, “I bought you a little surprise today.” I little while later she handed me a candy bar. Silly? Maybe. But it was a simple, unexpected fuel to lift me up a little.

2. The Big Fuel
Big fuel happens for me about once a year. It is the “you need to go spend the night away by yourself” moments. Not everyone needs or is able to do this. There have been times when spending a night a way has not been practical. One those occasions, I just take a day and go somewhere where I can think, pray, and rest.

There are those times when it has worked out for me to get away for night alone. The key is that Shelley knows that I need it and she encourages me to go. It is something I don’t take for granted.

Helping each other refuel can look many different ways in all marriages but I think these thoughts are important.

1) Learn what refuels your spouse and sacrifice to make it happen.

For me to get way requires a sacrifice on Shelley’s part. If you and your spouse are different, like Shelley and I, part of the sacrifice is simply embracing the differences and adjusting to them.

2) Be honest with your spouse about what refuels you.

I don’t like guessing games in any part of marriage. If you want your spouse to understand what you need along the way, don’t expect them to figure it out. In a gracious, non-demanding way tell them.

We all know that being refueled helps the health of your marriage. So help each other.

Be like Shelley. Kick each other out from time to time.

Listen and Be Near

There is great power in the simple, everyday acts of love.

I had a heavy feeling day this week. It was a combination of things that made it that way. That is just how some days are because that is how life can be.

When I got home that afternoon I brought the heaviness with me. I wasn’t depressed or mad or really even worn out. I was just heavy and introspective about a few things. With the way I am wired, it could be easy for a day like that to have a negative impact on life at home with Shelley and the kids. I know it has at times.

This particular day was one of those times when there was nothing that Shelley could practically do to “fix” the situation. The truth is that I am still heavy feeling today.

So as I brought “heavy me” home (I guess I could be Heavy D since my name starts with a D), wanting a little comfort and escape, I found one. It was very simple.

I walked into the kitchen, sat at the table and said, “I am feeling heavy. But, it is hard to explain”. Then, while we were hanging out in the kitchen, I did my best to unpack my feelings to her. I just talked. She stopped what she was doing, leaned against the counter and simply listened. Then she said something so good and simple to me that says so much about her.

“I am listening to everything you’re saying. And I know there is nothing I can really do. But I am listening.”

Shelley is a great place of comfort and encouragement. (See My Biggest Fan)

Listening and being near are powerful. Anyone who has truly been listened to can tell you how much it has meant to them. They will tell you that in those moments they have felt loved and valued. I believe that is especially true in marriage.

When I was done unloading my heavy day, Shelley went back to cleaning the kitchen and I just sat there feeling a little lighter. It was simply because she stayed close and listened.

When she started to leave the room, I said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I am going to follow you around. It makes me feel better.” So I followed her like needy puppy…I mean a big strong manly man.

That may sound corny or wimpy but I am “ok” with that. One of the most beautiful aspects of a healthy marriage is being able to find comfort in just being close to your spouse and listened to by them.

Being near and listening can be hard. It is much easier to try to be a “fixer” with a solution to everything. Sometimes we can have such a “fixer” mentality that we underestimate the simplicity of listening and being near.

We want the easy fix answer instead of doing the hard work of listening.

As a guy, I am more naturally the “fixer” so it has taken me longer to learn this lesson. I am so thick headed that sometimes I just come out and ask Shelley, “Is this one of those times when I don’t need to say anything?”

Shelley knows my thick headedness so well that sometimes she starts the conversation by saying, “I don’t need you to say anything. Just listen to me.”

We haven’t always been very good at this part of our marriage. I remember years ago when she was trying to tell me something and I was not very focused on her. She grabbed me by the face and said, “Look at me and listen to me!” Ouch!

Shelley has taught me a lot about listening and being near and I know there is much more to learn. Maybe the most important thing that I have learned is that I need to lead the way. If I am not a person who models that for Shelley, then how can I expect her to be that person for me? I don’t have the right to demand that she listen when I am not willing to do the same.

Here is what learning to listen and being near is doing for the Hunts.

1) We are becoming a greater place of comfort and rest for one another.
2) We are becoming more honest about our own weaknesses.
3) We are growing in our understanding of one another.
4) We are learning to have a more genuine focus on the needs of the other.

I am reminded of Matthew 11:28 when Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened I will give you rest.”  I don’t think there is a better place to pursue to live that out than in marriage.

Our First Fight in Marriage was About a Sandwich

Like every couple we have had a disagreement or two. We don’t yell at each other or slam doors. I have never been kicked out of the bedroom to sleep on the couch. But, we have had our moments.

Every couple will “fight”. I am convinced that if there is never a disagreement that causes a little work then the couple is probably not being fully honest with each other.

Since fighting is inevitable, learning to fight well is important.

We were probably in our first month of marriage when our first “fight” happened. I don’t remember exactly what lit the fuse or even what the ultimate issue was but I know it had to do with a sandwich. Yep. That’s right. A sandwich. It was Shelley’s sandwich. I think I was trying to make lunch for us and she didn’t want a sandwich.

I know what you are thinking, “are you being serious?” I am.

There was obviously something else going on because no one acts like she was acting over lunch meat.

I remember walking into our room and there was Shelley demanding to NOT have a sandwich. It was CRAZY and strange.

I had no clue what was going on but she was making me mad. I was confused. It was such a bizarre moment that I could not get my mind around so I snapped. I turned to walk out of the room and punched the door as hard as I could. “I’ll show you a sandwich!” Punching doors doesn’t really accomplish much other than a hurt hand and a door that now needs repairing.

I went to the kitchen. Sat down and ate my sandwich alone.

A few moments later I walked back to our room to find Shelley sitting in the closet floor crying…over a sandwich and a wall punching husband.

Within minutes of talking it out and realizing that sandwiches are not really that important, we were laughing.

It is amazing the wide variety of things that can and will cause conflict in marriage. Hopefully as the years go by we will fight over fewer things but also more important things.

There are many great things that have been said about how to handle conflict in marriage but here are some of the big things I am learning.

1) We need to be “OK” with having conflict. It is normal. To act like conflict will not happen in marriage is fooling ourselves. The reality of life is that we can be selfish and marriage can bring out the most selfish parts of us. We are also just different people. We think differently, have different personalities, different expectations and even different values. (See She likes Her Coffee With Cream)

If we can be “ok” with having good conflict then we can have a marriage that is always getting better. We would hate to admit this, but all of us need to be confronted from time to time about things in our lives. We are imperfect and our spouse can play a huge part in helping us grow even if it means a little conflict.

2) We need to know how we fight when we are at our worst. There is fighting at your best, which is the kind of fighting that is trying to arrive at resolution. Then there is fighting at your worst, which is fighting for victory. It is important to understand how you think and act when you are at your worst so that you can do everything possible to avoid it.

When I am fighting to win, I know that I have the ability to calmly and coldly say just the right thing that will hurt Shelley deeply. I also know that I have the ability to say things in such a way that it makes it impossible for her to win. It is ugly. I don’t like it. It does no good. I want to avoid that kind of fighting.

3) We need to know how to have a healthy first response. When emotions are flying or we are caught off guard at the beginning of a conflict, it is easy for one of us to respond badly. This can be really difficult depending on your personality but is important in having a “good” fight. The wrong first response can send you down the wrong path fast and create more unnecessary conflict.

If Shelley confronts me with something, I know that I need to give her some kind of response to let her know that I hear what she is saying. But, I also know that I need to be slow and careful with my words so that I don’t say things I will regret.

4) When she starts to cry I need to shut up. I believe that it is my responsibility to lead Shelley as the forgiver and as the one who asks for forgiveness. Whichever one of those applies to moment, I need to make the first move.

When she shuts down or starts to cry then I know I have pushed too far. It is at that point that I need stop and ask for forgiveness.

I don’t want this to sound like we have figured it out and that every conflict is a magical moment. It is not. Neither of us are big fans of conflict so we will have times where we try to ignore it or deal with it in an unhealthy way. We are not perfect.

Hopefully our fights are over more important things than sandwiches. And, for the record, she did end up eating a sandwich for lunch that day.

I Never Want to Take for Granted the Trust Shelley Gives Me as a Decision Maker

Some major life decisions as a couple are easy. Some are hard. Both are best when you pursue to operate as “one”.

Here are two stories from our married life.

One started in 2001, two years before we moved to Boston. I had taken a group of college students from Little Rock, AR. to Boston, MA. When that trip was over I believed that Shelley and I would move there at some point. It was very clear to me.

The “problem” was I also knew that moving to Boston was nowhere on Shelley’s radar. There were other things going on in life that made it clear that she would immediately say “no” to the idea. But, I also knew that she trusted me so much that if I pressed the issue she would eventually say “yes.”

I had to decide what I was going to do. Press the issue or do nothing?

I decided to say nothing to Shelley about moving to Boston. I did not want to talk her into such a huge life change when it was not really what she wanted. Even though she trusted me, I did not want to take advantage of that trust. I wanted to honor her trust.

Doing nothing was especially difficult because I had no idea when the timing would be right to move forward. For all I knew, she would never be up for such a move.

I just knew that I need to trust the process of waiting.

A year later I took another group of students to Boston. This time Shelley was on the trip. We had been there about 2 days when she approached me saying, “We need to talk.” She pulled me aside and said something like, “I know this may sound crazy but I think we are supposed to move here.”

A year later we were living in Boston.

To be honest, I was not wise enough to know that such a profound moment was going to happen. It was God who brought that together, not my skills as a husband.

But I know now, that one of the best ways to decide the biggest things is by waiting.

Here is one of the many things this particular decision taught me.

Oneness trusts the timing of God in the other person. Just because God is not working in your spouse in the same way that He is working in you doesn’t mean the decision is over. It doesn’t mean that there is a problem. It may just mean you need to patient in the process. We are still individuals and oneness is displayed when we humbly wait and trust in the work of God in our spouse.

Obviously not every big life decision happens like this one. Actually most of them don’t.

There are many decisions that we have made that were just as life changing but were hard and took a lot of work.

This past fall we made a major decision in regards to our kid’s education. It was hard. We had recently moved to Fort Smith, causing Emily and James to change elementary schools. We knew that the transition would be hard on them.

As the weeks went by, things at school got worse for them, causing a great deal of confusion and frustration. They were struggling which meant that the entire family was struggling.

We could have easily attributed all of it to the move but we felt like we needed to look at it from another angle.

We began discussing the possibility that public schools was not right for them at this time. We began considering the possibility of homeschool.

As we started to talking about homeschool, we did not have an “ah ha” moment where everything was clear. We knew that people would question the decision. We knew that it would change the family dynamic. We knew that it would be hard. We knew that it would be a risk.

I was never against the idea but I was the one who was most fearful.

One of the biggest fears for me in the decision was the possibility that I would end up teaching my kids that “if life gets tough you can just quit.” I did not want them thinking that.

Another fear was the daily toll it would take on Shelley. Since she would bear the daily weight of homeschool, she would have very little time to herself. I did not want that for her.

I was fearful but I did not want fear to decide. I wanted to listen and trust Shelley.

Regardless of what we were going to decide, we had to wrestle through all of these unknowns. And, at the end of the day, we had to decide.

We chose to move Emily and James into homeschool and it has been one of the best life changing decisions we have made.

Here are a couple of things this decision taught me.

Oneness trusts the decision making ability in the other person. We don’t demand trust from the other but give trust to the other. There have been moments in our marriage when Shelley has said, “I trust you in this decision. I will do whatever you think we need to do.” There have been times when I have had to lean on Shelley and her decision making. The decision and ability to trust can be such a beautiful part of marriage.

Oneness fights for unity not victory in decision making. When both of us aren’t on the same page at the beginning of the decision making process, the goal is not win the other over through arguing. The goal is to come as close as possible to the same conclusion. It takes listening. It takes being teachable. It takes humility. It also takes time, but is worth it.

I never want to take for granted the trust Shelley gives me as a decision maker.

Make decisions as ONE.

She likes her coffee with cream. I like my coffee black: We Are Different

Shelley and I are different. Very different. But she has never asked me not to be me.

I have more hobbies than I have time for. She hates even being asked what her hobbies are.

I am a morning person. She is a night person.

She likes her coffee with cream. I like my coffee black.

Her first major concert to attend was New Kids on the Block. Mine, well it doesn’t matter, because it wasn’t New Kids on the Block.

I am spontaneous. She needs a couple of weeks’ notice that we are going to be spontaneous.

All the clothes in her drawers are nicely folded and have a place. Mine are “strategically” placed in a non-folded random way in whatever drawer I can cram them into.

I am an introverted, idealist, future thinker. I think a lot. It is not unusual for me to spend time in deep thought, thinking about things that I want to think about. Sounds productive, I know.

Shelley is an extroverted, realistic, practical doer. She loves lists. She makes lists. She accomplishes what is on her lists. She has made lists of lists. She does get stuff done.

We are different. On paper, it seems like this marriage shouldn’t work but it does.

I would be lying if I said some of our differences didn’t cause a few challenges along the way.

The challenges aren’t necessarily big life altering moments. They come more in the day-to-day of normal life. If we aren’t careful we can let those little things become bigger than they should.

Here is one example of how our different brains have shown themselves. There has been more than one time where we have had a conversation like this;

DougWe need to take a trip for a couple of days. Just the two of us. It would be so good to get away. I’m going to make it happen.
ShelleyWho’s staying with the kids? (We have never lived closer than two hours from family so this is always a question)
DougI don’t know. We’ll figure it out.
ShelleyWell, we need to find a babysitter first.
Doug – Walk away frustrated…..

It may not seem like a big deal but if we are not careful, those can be frustrating moments.

What is happening is that we are thinking about the trip from two different angles. I commit to the idea (in my idealistic way) and assume we’ll figure out the survival of our children later. She commits to getting some important details in place first. When those are covered, she is all in for the trip.

I used to get fairly frustrated in those conversations. The important thing that I have learned is that neither angle is wrong nor right. They are just different and both just as important.

What is not good is when either of us allow selfish frustration to lead us in those moments. The selfish me can think things like, “This time away together isn’t as important to you as it is to me.” “You should be jumping at this idea. I don’t get it.”

When she lets selfishness lead her thinking she can have thoughts like, “He is being irresponsible and not thinking this thing through. He needs to slow down. He doesn’t get it.”

When selfishness leads either of us, frustration is inevitable.

Our differences are still teaching me how to hopefully love and lead Shelley better. Here are a couple of things I am learning.

1) It is not fair for me to expect my wife to change how she thinks just to make it easier for me. My job is not to make Shelley more like me. I need her to be different than me. I need her to ask different questions than I ask. I need her to give a different kind of input. I need her to help me think about things more fully.

In marriage, we need to learn more about our differences, embrace them, value them, and understand they are part of what God desires for us. When we do that, our differences can work together in an amazing way.

2) Most of the things that frustrate us are really not worth being frustrated about. This may seem obvious, but, as a married couple we are not each other’s enemy. I am not against Shelley and she is not against me. We are for each other but we are different.

To put it very simply, I need to get over myself more and listen to my wife. If we could step out of the frustrating moment and listen to ourselves, I am fairly confident that we would see that most of our frustrations are not that big of a deal. Most of them are not worth getting worked up about.

As the husband, I believe it is my calling to lead the way in selflessness. (See, Spiritually Leading My Wife) I don’t need to be thinking or communicating to her that she needs to quit being selfish. I need to first, own my own selfishness. Just because she thinks different doesn’t mean she is against me or what I am thinking. Her thoughts and ideas are good and make us better.

I am thankful she has never asked me not to be me. I don’t want to take that for granted or ask her not to be her.