I recently came across a great story about the brilliant mathematician Albert Einstein. Einstein had boarded a train and settled comfortably into his private compartment. Not long after the train left the station, an attendant began going through the train cars, checking the passenger’s tickets. When the attendant reached the compartment Einstein was occupying, not realizing who he was speaking to, the attendant asked to see Einstein’s ticket. Einstein began to shuffle through his briefcase to find his ticket but was not immediately able to locate it. In the meantime, the attendant recognized the famous mathematician and said, “Dr. Einstein, I’m so sorry, you don’t have to find the ticket right now. I trust that you have one.” Einstein continued his frantic search without acknowledging the attendant. The attendant tried again, “Dr. Einstein, it really is okay. I can come back later.” Half desperate, Einstein turned his attention to his luggage and began pulling out his clothes and other belongings in search of his ticket. In a final effort to ease Einstein’s anxiety, the attendant said, “Dr. Einstein, I am not requiring you to show me your ticket!” Einstein turned to the attendant and said, “Young man, you don’t understand. If I can’t find my ticket, I won’t know where I am going.”
This is a beautiful illustration of the importance of knowing where you are headed on your journey in life.
We find ourselves without a clear destination, hoping that one day, our destination will find us. What we fail to realize is that getting to a destination takes planning, intentionality, commitment, and focus. This is true in every aspect of our lives, and our marriages are no exception.
I meet with many couples and hear difficult, sometimes tragic, stories of people who have been through years of heartache and pain at the hands of their spouses. Most often, their experiences were the product of a marriage that had no clear purpose in mind. Either one or both of the partners did not have a destination in focus, and the result was a devastating loss of intimacy. This is how people grow apart and become two individuals living two different lives under the same roof. In my years of counseling, one thing has become clear to me: if you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t understand the purpose of the journey.
So, let me ask a very important question: do you know where your marriage is headed? When I work with couples in premarital counseling, I always tell them, “Every marriage is headed towards divorce from the moment you say, “I Do.” If you are not intentional to grow together, you will grow apart. It is a simple principle that we see in many aspects of life. If you don’t care for your lawn, weeds will grow and eventually kill your grass. If you don’t brush your teeth, you will get cavities (and have bad breath). If you don’t tend to your relationships, they will fall apart.
It is extremely important for us to take inventory of our marriage. Remember, without planning, intentionality, commitment, and focus, we will likely not reach our desired destination. Taking an inventory is the first step in the planning process.
I know this sounds simple, but take a second to think about what characterizes your marriage. What do people see? How do you act with one another? Are you kind and loving or contentious and angry? Do you know what you’re trying to accomplish through your marriage? The people I meet with who develop healthy marriages are those who develop a clear vision for what they want their marriage to be about. They have a goal in mind that takes the focus off of their faults and builds on their strengths. They make a plan to work with the homeless, minister to other couples, start a business together, or become passionate about being healthy.
Here’s the point: you need a unified purpose that’s bigger than both of you and will only succeed if you’re both all in. Take time to sit with one another and ask, “What do we want to be about?” Dream together and set a goal. This will build passion, strengthen communication, and ultimately help you determine where you’re headed…together.
I’m not referring to likes and dislikes. I mean, do you really know what is in your spouse’s heart? Do you see the good in them, even during an argument? Knowing your spouse means knowing their deepest desires, their worst fears, their dreams for the future, and their most painful wounds. In your time with your spouse, have you made it a priority to discover these aspects of what makes them who they are at their core?
Understanding these parts of your spouse will help you see them in a way that will transform your love, commitment, and connection. It will also provide a level of safety in the relationship, which is a basic need of all human beings. We need to belong with the people we love most, and if we can carry the deepest parts of one another’s hearts, we will experience safety and belonging that can heal even the most broken parts within.
This is often the most challenging part of the process because it requires us to knock down our walls of protection and let someone in. It is much easier to be there for someone else and take the time to know them because we aren’t really risking anything. But when we allow ourselves to be known, we risk rejection, hurt, and more wounds. However, this is the most important task in marriage. To be known is to be accepted truly. To be accepted is to feel loved truly. This is the essence of Christ’s love for us! Ultimately, being known is unifying in a marriage and offers the level of oneness that we are called to as husband and wife. This is the beauty of marriage.
Kevin Shelby currently works with couples dealing with marital distress and individuals dealing with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and trauma. His approach is focused on helping couples and individuals get to their core struggles, repair the brokenness they’ve experienced, and be restored back to a place of healing. Kevin has developed a model of counseling called the Shelby Relational Model, and it is based on his extensive work with individuals and couples for nearly 20 years. He is passionate about helping people discover the truth about who they are and live from their core identity.