This morning, I overheard my husband talking to our teen son, Jace, about exercise. Jace was in wrestling this past season, and learned all about conditioning, and that whole process when you are in higher level athletics.
I love Jace dearly - but he is one to seek out shortcuts and "easy" answers, even when he has lofty desires that take nothing but hard work and dedication.
Think of marathon runners, my husband explained. They don't just start with running lots of miles. They work their way up. They run a couple of miles, and after awhile those short runs aren't as challenging. So they increase those miles.
They continue working their way up. But if they enjoy running, and want to continue challenging themselves, they build. They keep building with more miles, and different types of exercises to challenge their strength and endurance.
But exercise, he said, doesn't ever stop. If you want to be healthy and in shape, and live a long life, you continue to do it. You do different and new things to challenge your body to stay fit and strong over the years.
"As long as you want to improve and get better, the work doesn't stop."
My husband should be a counselor.
He and I went to a marriage retreat this past weekend and were challenged by the lectures that were presented to us.
Photo cred: My husband, who also should be a photographer. Is there anything he can't do?
It was interesting, because on the surface, the information wasn't new.
It was all the stuff that we had learned within the first 13 years of our marriage - through discussions, arguments, and just the bumps and bruises of learning how to love each other.
At one point I told him that as we were looking at this information, I could see the progression of our whole marriage until now.
I specifically remember these fights.
I remember the tears that came with them, and the ways we both stretched outside of our comfort zones to resolve them and get to where we are now.
But on the other side of that was the growth that we haven't yet moved towards.
The growth that we didn't even really know was needed, or was possible.
Our story, like many others, has a history that is steeped in trauma, broken relationships, addiction, abuse, and pain.
Our ancestry written out shows generations of brokenness, and there are certain patterns that both he and I have learned in order to protect ourselves from our genetics, memories, and our own failings.
I didn't completely realize how much the potential of our marriage is still somewhat held hostage by those things, even though we aren't actively experiencing any of them, until we started talking about our goals and dreams for our marriage this weekend.
Because here's the thing - we have a great marriage. We love each other deeply, support each other, work well as a team, and actively challenge each other.
But just like that marathon runner - and just like my husband told my son - "As long as you want to improve and get better, the work doesn't stop."
We could make a choice to keep things the way that they are and still be just fine.
But we could also choose to have hard, open, honest conversations with each other.
The kind of conversations that are meant to bring our marriage to a deeper level.
The ones that are uncomfortable, bring our walls down, and leave us feeling exposed - but allow the other to help us to pick up the pieces afterwards, and do real work to make sure that we are safe and protected even in our vulnerability.
We can choose to do the work to settle for more, and not less.
What about you?
Sometimes we need support to get these conversations started. And sometimes, we need to work out some of our history individually before we can even think about bringing those conversations to our marriage. Do you need that support? Reach out! You can schedule with me directly using my online scheduler (linked right here!) or by emailing me at email@example.com.
Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor serving South Carolina. You can read more about her here.