Discipline in the small things can save a marriage/relationship. What small things?
Warning: gross content ahead.
I hated brushing my teeth when I was a kid. My mom would have to nag me to do it every single day, and I would take any chance to skip it. This terrible habit grew in college when I was on my own. It even continued until recently where I could go a couple days without brushing if my teeth didn't "feel" dirty. I even considered that eating something else might knock away all the old food particles and replace them with fresh new food particles throughout the day, so my teeth might not actually be that dirty after breakfast each day. Anyways, I'm sorry if you were ever a victim of my bad breath.
Jewelz hated it too.
I used to sleep over at her parents' home every weekend. We'd pull out the fold-out couch in the living room and make the sheets. I'd be wiped out from a long day of studying and crash in bed. Jewelz would snuggle up next to me. Then came the dreaded question. "Did you brush your teeth?"
Jewelz: "Go brush your teeth!"
Me: "Eh, I'll do it in the morning. I'm too tired."
Jewelz (in cute voice): "NO! Go brush now!"
Me (in annoyed voice): "Babe, I'll just do it tomorrow."
Then came the most ridiculous wrestling match you will ever see. It's kind of crazy how strong a 100 lb girl can be when she really wants something done. Nevermind the fact that she takes advantage of your weaknesses (including the fact that you're ticklish). Do you know that annoying feeling when a kid won't leave you alone until you buy them ice cream? Now imagine two hands relentlessly tickling you and two feet kicking you repeatedly for 20 minutes straight until you brush your teeth. Every. Weekend.
She won every time. (I let her win.) I begrudgingly picked myself up off the floor and went to brush my teeth, which took all of 2 minutes. I would hop back into bed and she would bury herself in my armpit. The world was at peace again, at least until next weekend when we would repeat the 22 minute ordeal. I guess that says something both about my stubbornness and about her discipline.
So how does this apply to saving a marriage or relationship?
Brushing your teeth has obvious benefits. Namely, you preserve your teeth for decades instead of looking like you lost a bet with the tooth fairy. Then why was it so hard for me to do it? If I had to be honest, I was just being lazy. I didn't feel like it. I didn't care enough what would happen in the long run. I only cared about how I felt in that moment and acted accordingly. That's a dangerous way to live.
Reading Purpose Driven Life as a new Christian taught me about the difference between feelings and actions. You cannot directly control your feelings (to a certain extent). Let me use a simple example. When someone punches you, you get angry. No one can control their feelings to have an automatic reaction of joy to that. You can, however, control your actions. You can choose to punch that person back, or you can choose to restrain yourself and forgive them.
Why was it so hard for me to do it?
Too many people nowadays confuse this concept in regards to love and marriage. We are taught that love is supposed to be this overwhelming feeling that captures our hearts and sends us soaring. Unfortunately, we aren't taught that all feelings are temporary and will come and go. We expect that the feeling of being "in love" will last forever when it will actually wax and wane in every marriage and relationship. What happens when you no longer feel "in love"?
Unfortunately for many people, they think that means that they no longer love their partner or spouse. They may be angry or frustrated all of the time and no longer feel loving towards them. They think this means the relationship has failed and look for a way out of it. This is unfortunately the reality for many people who have affairs or divorces. They repeat the cycle over and over again, looking for a new partner to share that "high" that comes with a new relationship and disappointing themselves when it doesn't last.
What makes marriage/relationships work then?
Understanding that love is an action rather than a feeling is the first step. Love is a choice. A decision. A mature relationship understands that feelings of blissful love are temporary and are not what make it last. Any fool can act lovingly and romantic when things are going well. True love chooses to act lovingly even when you don't "feel like it." Deciding to act in a loving way when you are angry or irritated at your partner is the truest form of love. This kind of mentality focuses on long term goals and understands that feelings of the present moment should not necessarily dictate the ultimate outcome of the relationship.
And so, I choose to brush my teeth twice everyday even when I don't feel like it. I'm focusing on the long term outcome of my teeth instead of letting my current feeling of laziness control my actions. So too should you remember to keep the vows you made: "…to have and to hold… for better, for worse…." Choose to hold your partner even when things don't seem great. Eventually, you'll find that you both can ride out the many difficult times of the relationship and experience many more highs with a greater depth of love than you had ever imagined.
And don't forget to brush your teeth.