Being married is hard work.
And yet, marrying Bonnie is the single greatest decision that I have ever made.
This past April, we celebrated our 10th Anniversary, so we’re still relatively early on in our marriage when compared to couples like my parents, who have been married for over sixty years, or some of my siblings, who have been married upwards of thirty years. Even so, I believe that we have learned a tremendous amount in the past ten years that is absolutely worth sharing.
Putting Each Other Second
I know it sounds funny, but Bonnie and I both do everything we can to put each other second. We actually said so in our wedding vows. We promised to put Christ first, each other second, and ourselves last. Over the past decade, we’ve had to amend this promise to include our children in the third spot, but everything else has remained the same.
For a relationship with its foundation rooted in faith as ours is, it makes perfect sense that we put Christ above all else. Since we believe that God is the source of all goodness and all love, it is impossible for us to love each other without first tapping into the source. His number one position is fundamental.
As such, it is in the second position where the real magic in our relationship can be found. Whereas we used to put ourselves in the second spot when we were single, we voluntarily chose to give that spot up to each other when we got married. Subsequently, we also chose to sacrifice our third-place position to our children collectively when each of them were born. This hierarchy is at the root of every decision we make and every action we take, and I believe it is the primary reason we have been so blessed with the happy, healthy, well-adjusted family that we have today.
What Does Putting Each Other Second Look Like?
In no uncertain terms, it’s difficult. Not impossible and not even that complicated, but putting each other second takes a legitimate amount work.
For starters, you have to be fulfilled and secure as an individual to be capable of putting someone else ahead of yourself long-term. While you may be able to put someone else first for a while, if you’re not already being fulfilled then you are eventually going to burn out and/or become resentful toward that other person. This is the primary reason why God has to come first and be the source of all your validation.
Outside of a life rooted in faith, we tend to seek our validation from a variety of different sources. While some people seek validation from their financial wealth and social status, others look for it by obtaining titles and degrees. Though each of these accomplishments can be rewarding, there isn’t enough money or status in the entire world to fill our need for an authentic sense of belonging and love.
As children, most of us receive this security and validation from our mothers. From the time we are born to the time when we decide that we have outgrown her and that it is time to move on, our mother’s love (though imperfect) is the closest thing we can experience to a constant flow of unconditional acceptance. Once we venture out on our own, away from the protection and security of our mother’s immediate control, we often try to replace that unconditional acceptance with all the spoils that the world has to offer. Unfortunately, nothing can substitute for a mother’s love, which is why we end up literally looking for love in all the wrong places.
One of the most common places that we look for this unconditional acceptance is in the arms of a spouse. But how could anyone who didn’t literally carry us in their womb for nine months and personally give birth to us, love us as much as our mothers?
Since Bonnie and I both fundamentally understand that we are flawed individuals that constantly make mistakes, we have come to the conclusion that seeking our personal validation from each other is a losing battle. As neither of us are capable of providing enough love and unconditional acceptance to validate the other person, we have agreed to surrender that burden.
In the beginning of our relationship, we would regularly find that we would get our feelings hurt when the other person didn’t behave or react in the manner which we were hoping they would. Whether it was because I wasn’t excited about her new dog, or she wasn’t super appreciative of the roses I got her, our reactions were constantly disappointing each other. It was then that we realized the problem: We can’t seek our validation from each other. Not because we didn’t want to validate each other, but because we weren’t able to actually do it. At least not on a consistent basis, which makes for extremely inconsistent and turbulent interactions from day to day.
Where Should Validation Come From?
Through our individual faith journeys, Bonnie and I both came to the conclusion that God is the ultimate source of validation. Regardless of what anyone else may say, think, or do, if the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth loves me, believes in me, forgives me, and accepts me unconditionally, then my heart should be so full that I can’t help but share that love and acceptance with others. All other sources pale in comparison to the validation that can be found from the shear miracle and gift from God that is our life. Understanding this, Bonnie and I have chosen, and continue to choose daily, to seek all of our validation from God, so that we can be fully able to give love freely to each other and subsequently to our children.
As we believe God is the unlimited source of love, we never have to worry about our hearts running dry. If we solely rely on each other, it is only a matter of time until we start failing each other and our children. Thus, the reason we put our faith first and each other second.
Spouses Before Kids
I absolutely adore my three daughters and my son, but on a regular basis I have to remind them that not only did I meet their Mama before I met them, but I loved her first too. In light of that fact, I let them know that I have a sworn allegiance to Bonnie and that I’m always going to take her side over theirs.
As the primary disciplinarian in our household, I am quick to my feet with bass in my voice to support whatever directive Bonnie has issued for the kids. For if I ever take the kids’ side over hers, she is going to feel both isolated and outnumbered and that is the last thing any of us need. In order for my wife to be at her best, she needs to feel fully supported in all of her efforts. And God help us all if I ever hear the kids talk back to or disrespect her in any way!
Likewise, if my wife is always taking care of the emotional and psychological needs of the kids and neglecting me, I’m going to feel isolated and outnumbered as well, which will eventually lead to me retreating from the family unit. So rather than go down that path of destructive behavior, Bonnie and I have decided to take care of each other first and make sure that we both feel fulfilled and supported before we try to care for the kids. In doing so, we are able to work as a cohesive team and give the kids our best, as opposed to our leftovers.
Two Become One
In the book of Ephesians, Paul says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church… ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ … each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
From the very beginning of our relationship, Bonnie and I took the spirit of these verses very seriously as we believed that if properly executed, the result would be a wildly fruitful relationship. After closely analyzing these verses and stripping out all of the radical interpretations surrounding them that have been used inappropriately, we summarized them to this:
“If I sacrifice everything for my wife, she should trust and respect my intention to do what is right for both of us as we are 100% on the same team.”
Over time we have surmised this down even more to the simple phrase, “Two become one.”
On a regular basis, we can be found responding to each other’s request or confirming each other’s assertions with this statement, and it is absolutely music to my ears. To hear that “we are on the same page,” “I want what you want,” “I’m for you,” “what is good for you is good for me,” and “I know you always have our best interests in mind,” all wrapped up in the three succinct words of “two become one” truly makes me feel like I belong to something bigger than myself.
For an insecure kid who has always just wanted to fit in, being a committed part of a whole is a dream come true. Even though some might argue that there is a potential to lose your individual self in a relationship where two become one, I see it differently.
While it is true that immense sacrifice is needed here, we’re not sacrificing our best. If anything, we’re sacrificing the worst parts our ourselves in order to make room for the other person’s best. For me, I’ve had to sacrifice my sinful pride, my selfishness, my temper, my impulsiveness, and my unhealthy desire for control. In exchange for these liabilities, I gained Bonnie’s patience, her consistency, her hospitality, her creativity, her will, her beauty, and her bountiful grace.
In essence, I threw out a huge suitcase full of explosive boulders that I had been dragging around to make room for Bonnie’s overnight bag that was loaded with cash and tacos. Rather than being hindered by my baggage, we now pack light and travel fast.
Making sacrifices for the good of the team is both an honor and a privilege. As the African Proverb says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” To which I’ll add, if you want to go fast and far, two become one.
Unfortunately, I’m confident that some folks just don’t believe that fully giving up their independence is worth fully becoming one with their spouse. For some, it’s too hard and for others it’s too risky. While it is both challenging and uncertain, the true obstacle is a person’s maturity (or lack thereof). Where many people see individual independence as the holy grail and interpersonal dependence as the ultimate weakness, author Steven Covey describes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that it is a relationship of “Interdependence” that demonstrates the highest level of maturity. Anyone can recognize the advantages of a team and the disadvantages of an individual, but only a truly mature person can fully comprehend that no one actually exists without experiencing constant help from outside of themselves. As such, there are no truly independent individuals. Everyone is already interdependent, whether they like it or not. It’s just that some folks are unnecessarily dragging around a bag full of explosive boulders, pretending it’s cash and tacos.
Finances are often cited among the top reasons why married couples fight and why they get divorced. As such, I believe financial compatibility should not only be on every couple’s radar, but it should be a priority that every couple should strive towards. I very purposefully cited “financial compatibility” and not “financial stability” or “financial success” because every couple has different goals.
While one couple may seek lavish vacations and an early retirement, another couple may desire a minimalist lifestyle and to simply be debt free. Conversely, another couple may be just fine living a highly leveraged, capitalist life with maxed out credit cards. Whatever the case, so long as the couple has the same goals and plays on the same team, they can have a stable and fruitful relationship. But if one person is a saver and the other person is a spender, there is a good chance that finances are going to be a hot topic of conversation.
Though it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, Bonnie and I have become very financially compatible to the extent that we are almost always on the same page when it comes to money. While some couples maintain completely separate checking/savings accounts and others practice a mine/yours/ours approach, Bonnie and I have settled on an “everything is ours” model.
Before we started having kids, we dabbled with splitting the household expenses, but once Lexi was born and Bonnie became a full-time stay-at-home Mom, that system ceased to work for us. As a one income household, there are a variety of different structures that a couple can implement, from personal allowances and budgets to jointly approving every expenditure. Unfortunately, we didn’t like any of these structures as they felt too restrictive, with too much oversight, and too much administrative effort.
Since I personally hate doing administrative work, the task of having to hold Bonnie accountable to a budget or allowance is my idea of a nightmare. So, rather than treat each other like employees or children, we’ve opted not to babysit our finances. Instead, we simply focus on two numbers each month: the amount of money coming in (revenue) and the amount of money going out (expenses). As long as the revenue is always greater that the expenses, we’re good!
Which brings me back to being a one-income household. As the sole income-earner in the house, it is my responsibility to make sure that there is a sufficient amount of revenue coming in each month and it is both Bonnie and I’s responsibility to keep our expenses reasonable. Some might think that the being solely responsible for the income is an unfair burden, but I actually see it as an honor and a privilege. First off, it isn’t unfair because while I’m busy working outside of the home, Bonnie is busy working inside the home and taking care of four kids is way more work than anything I could ever do. Second, it isn’t a burden because it isn’t any more than my fair share of our joint responsibilities. I go to work and bring home a paycheck and she stays home and raises our children to be productive citizens and compassionate human beings. Again, Bonnie’s job is way harder than mine.
Though not as difficult as Bonnie’s job, my role as the sole income generator can be really challenging at times. For instance, after taking two years off to travel around the world and switch careers, our bank account was on life support. At that time, trimming our budget wasn’t the answer. The answer was that I needed to make some money, period. So, I did. Working two jobs in addition to freelancing, I did whatever was necessary to ensure that there was food on the table and a roof over our heads.
As I advanced in my new career and grew my freelance business, our financial situation has continued to improve to the extent that we are debt free and have a surplus of funds each month. We spend this surplus in accordance with our relationship rule that “You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want” and that seems to keep our finances in the black.
Just the other day, we had to share our financial philosophy with Lexi (our six-year-old). She asked when we were going to give her the Christmas money that her Grandpa had given her, at which point both Bonnie and I explained to her that in our family there is no “my money” and “your money”. Regardless of where the money comes from, it all goes into the same account and it is all the “family’s money”. If someone in the family needs something, we use the money to get it. If someone in the family wants something and they are willing to sacrifice all of their other wants in order to get it, they can probably get that too. But just because Papa’s name is on the paycheck doesn’t mean that Mama is broke. On the contrary, according to the rule, Mama can have anything she wants.
Granted, our financial system will only work if both parties involved are always putting the greater good of the whole before their own selfish desires, but so far, it has worked very well for us.
Generally speaking, in-laws have a horrible reputation for being difficult to deal with and ours are no exception. Just kidding! Both of our families are beyond amazing! I’ve already spoken at length about my parents and I can say that Bonnie’s parents are equally wonderful people that I love dearly and have wonderful relationships with. Though we may have hit the jackpot when it comes to having great in-laws, I completely understand that perhaps everyone isn’t as lucky. Regardless of your situation, here are a couple of things Bonnie and I do to ensure that our relationship with our parents is the best that it can be.
For starters, we have abandoned the idea of “my” family and “your” family. Especially since we started having kids, we only have “our” family and everyone is always included and welcome, regardless of their bloodline.
Next is the practice that in-laws come fourth; God first, each other second, kids third, in-laws fourth, ourselves last. Maintaining this hierarchy eliminates the conflicts that can arise from the “my Mom thinks this” or “my Dad thinks that” conversations as there are three other very strong opinions that must be heard and dealt with before we can get to theirs. At which point, the decision has probably already been made.
Last is the idea that we will always support our in-laws. In the Mexican/Latino culture, it is very common for grandparents to live with their children and grandchildren as they progress in age. I was ten years old when my Mamita (grandma) came to live with my family and it was a joy to have her around. She actually lived with us until she passed at the age of 89 years old. As such, I have no desire for any of our parents to move into a retirement home. When the time comes, I would much rather have them move in with us. The kids would get to spend more time with them and I believe everyone would benefit from the community.
Not to mention that they cared for us as children, so it only seems fair that we return the favor.
My Better Half
Overall, I can say with complete confidence that meeting Bonnie is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. She is definitely my better half and getting to experience this roller coaster journey of life with her is nothing short of spectacular. Since we both understand that neither us, nor our relationship is perfect, we are constantly studying and working to improve ourselves so that we can best serve others.
At present, we are committed to being the best parents we can be to our four children.
Posifocus Mantra #9
Two Become One.
Are you and your spouse always on the same team? Do you share the same priorities, goals, and dreams? What are you each working towards?
Go to Couples Counseling or a Couples Retreat. If your relationship is already healthy, it will serve as a Master Class. If you could use some help, professional help is the best route.
Join the Posifocus Group and share your thoughts and experiences with the Posifocus Community! Use the hashtag #spouses.