A Marriage to Remember
by Dr. Jay Lindsay
Several weeks ago my best friend from high school, “Big Bad John” Friedrich, died in Westfield, New York after a 19-year battle with Huntington’s chorea, a devastating disease of the central nervous system that is hereditary.
During my junior and senior years, John and I sang together in a folk group we started called The Brakemen. John was five foot two, so we called him “Big Bad John.”
He was a natural comedian and whenever we performed, we featured him prominently in skits that we acted out between songs. He always kept our audiences (and us) in stitches.
Later, John carried his love of drama into community theater where he acted in dozens of productions. These included the comedy, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” in which he played the title role. Charlie Brown became his signature role because John, like Charlie Brown, had a very big heart.
It was almost 40 years ago that John wed his high school sweetheart, Lexie Enders. She knew at the time that he had a fifty-fifty chance of inheriting Huntington’s from his father. Lexie told me that she loved John so much that if she had known for sure that he was destined to get Huntington’s, she would have married him anyway.
Theirs was a marriage to remember. To be sure, John and Lexie had much in common. Both were small-town elementary school teachers who shaped the lives of hundreds of children. Both loved the rolling hills of western New York and the shores of Lake Erie. Both were active in their church and community.
However, what made John and Lexie so attractive as a couple was their closeness to each other. Through the years, their marriage was the envy of all who knew them. They had a deep connectedness that continued throughout their life together, including John’s final months when communication between them was severely limited.
I asked Lexie if she would try to explain the things that made her and John such a close couple for so many years. Below are some excellent insights from her and some practical tips from me.
1. Insight: “We did our best to love each other unconditionally.”
John and Lexie refused to dwell on each other’s weaknesses. Instead, they focused on each other’s strengths and loved each other without reservation.
Tip: Make a list of your partner’s endearing qualities and then read it aloud to your partner.
Elaborate on each quality and give examples of times when that quality came shining through. Tell your partner, “I love you just the way you are.”
2. Insight: “We supported and validated each other’s interests.”
John loved to act. Lexie didn’t, but she helped make acting possible for John. She single-handedly took charge of their two daughters, Shondra and Kristina, during the many evenings and weekends when John was away at rehearsals and performances. When a show opened, Lexie was always in the audience cheering John on. She was his greatest fan.
Tip: Offer to do something specific that will help your partner to pursue a personal passion.
One husband I knew took on extra chores around the house so that his wife could fulfill her dream, excelling at horseback riding.
3. Insight: “When making decisions, we considered each other’s opinions.”
They didn’t always agree on everything. However, when John and Lexie disagreed and a decision had to be made, they carefully weighed each other’s viewpoints.
Tip: The next time you and your partner need to make a decision and you disagree, find a part of your partner’s position that you can agree with.
Acknowledge and affirm that part: “That’s a really good point.” Then, incorporate it into your decision-making process.
4. Insight: “When angry at each other, we talked it out.”
It’s normal for partners to get angry at each other from time to time. John and Lexie did and when this happened, they didn’t hold in their angry feelings. They refused to let resentments pile up and become a barrier between them. Rather, they talked their feelings out, sometimes using humor to break the tension.
Tip: Instead of harboring angry feelings toward your partner, get them out in the open and deal with them.
First, share with your partner about your anger without accusing or attacking. Second, share about the hurt or fear underneath your anger. This two-step approach likely will elicit a compassionate response.
5. Insight: “We communicated our deepest feelings.”
It is “heart talk” that creates emotional connectedness. John and Lexie understood this, so they made it a point to share their core feelings with each other. When they lost their daughter Shondra to lupus a few years ago, they shared their sorrow and together navigated through the grieving process.
Tip: Each evening, set aside a few minutes for you and your partner to share with each other about your day and your feelings.
Share not only about your successes, but also about your failings. Share not only about your easy-to-admit feelings like courage and self-confidence, but also about your difficult-to-admit feelings like fear and self-doubt.
6. Insight: “We cultivated a relationship with Jesus Christ and kept Him at the center of our marriage.”
Lexie says that doing this helped her and John to solidify and deepen their relationship with each other. According to her, more than anything else it was their Christian faith that made them such a close couple.
Tip: Consider faith as a possible way to strengthen your marriage.
Many couples report that feeling secure in God’s love helps them to feel more secure in each other’s love. They say that this gives them the courage they need to open their hearts to each other, resulting in increased closeness. Their spiritual connection strengthens their emotional connection.
Several days after John died, I sat at the Friedrich kitchen table sipping coffee and enjoying the view of Lake Erie with John and Lexie’s 33 year-old daughter, Kristina, a missionary to Senegal.
We were reminiscing and Kristina said, “All my friends admired my parents’ marriage… and so did I.” As she spoke these words, her eyes lit up and her face shone.
John and Lexie’s marriage really was a marriage to remember!
For information about faith-based marriage counseling, call me at 303-545-9828.
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Copyright © bouldermarriagecounseling.com | 2012
Master couples therapist and psychologist Dr. Jay Lindsay utilizes Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), one of the most researched and effective approaches to marital therapy. Based in Louisville, Colorado, Dr. Lindsay is a marriage counselor who is sought after by couples from all across the country. He can be reached at 303-545-9828.