“Couples skate:” you know what I’m talking about, right? You’re at a rink. The lights dim. Phil Collins’ “Groovy Kind of Love” starts playing suddenly sweaty-palmed teens begin pairing and heading for the boards while others decide it’s time for chili fries or begin paying more attention to a game of Ms. Pac-man. This is either 3 minutes and 49 seconds of heaven or what’s seems like an eternity of torture. Why do I bring up this bit of nostalgia or, alternately, painful memory? Because, very early in life, we form our pictures of marriage: good or bad. These beliefs about marriage often times are impacting our current view of marriage, whether we’re married or not.

It’s true; marriage has its moments where it’s the 3:49 of bliss. “He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love. Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love.” (Song of Solomon 2:4-5 NIV) Heady stuff, no? We also have times, married or not, where we feel lonely, leaning over Galaga hoping for the high score to make us feel better, right? “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” (Psalms 25:16 NIV) Even more often marriage is more like owning a skating rink: making food, keeping kids happy and out of trouble, trying to find two shoes that match.

If your view of marriage is bliss or video game blister, neither image is completely true. I want to look at marriage for a moment, in all its sweaty palmed reality, and hopefully get us thinking about marriage in an honest and helpful light. I’m going to share a list of thoughts about marriage. This list could be longer, but these are things I’ve found to be true in my marriage and in the marriages I know.

1. You’re Normal: No one has it easy. The best marriages are filled with compromise. The ideal spouse does dozens of things that are on the spectrum of annoying to intolerable. The knowledge that other people deal with these things behind closed doors and in their heads helps. Other people say unloving selfish things to their spouse. Other people argue over the same things you do. It’s empowering not to be alone. Knowing that imperfection is normal is inoculation against adultery, as well. Often times, adultery begins with the small seed of the idea that there’s someone better than who I’ve got. The truth is they’re just different people with different problems and imperfection. The most important difference is you didn’t vow to be with them until death separates you. You’re letting the couples’ skate myth influence your imagination when you entertain this. Granted, that doesn’t mean things at home don’t need to change. I’m saying that the myth of the blissful skate can get us to be discontent with what we already have. If you’re having a hard time looking at all the married couples who appear to be gliding over the boards in couples’ skate bliss, don’t worry. This is true for them too. Trust me. You’re normal.

2. Close the back door on divorce: I know many marriages that limp for long seasons because the divorce back door is left ajar. Interjecting that concept undermines any progress or encouragement that may be happening. In the same way, bringing up divorce as a regular part of your marriage is like a couples’ skate with a third person hanging on. It doesn’t work. If this is a regular part of your argument language, you’ve got to let it go forever. Maybe you’ve already experienced a divorce. You can still decide it’s no longer an option. Have you ever seen someone skate for the first time? It’s sort of pathetic, right? Guess what, no one comes into a marriage ready to skate backwards. It takes work, practice and lots of help from people who know how to do it better. Don’t be afraid to invite people you trust into your marriage to help you grow and get through the hard patches. This, at times, may involve a professional marriage counselor. Be sure when selecting a counselor that their convictions about marriage square with your own. Things can get better.

3. Love is Commitment: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” could truthfully be said about marriage at many intervals. Because someone knows the back way to your heart, they can encourage you in a special way or hurt you like no other. This is why commitment, expressed, reaffirmed and mutually agreed to, is like a force field against all the things in life that assaults our marriages. This helps with the truths in 1 and 2. I can’t express how much a commitment reaffirmed again and again through words, actions and serving one another can do for your marriage. If the other person knows in their gut you are with them—that the vows you made to each other are unbreakable—the environment for intimacy can flourish. This is one of the reasons God has made marriage the place for sexual intimacy. Commitment and trust for life is the place to allow this part of us to thrive. Remember those tingly feelings you felt when you thought about the couples’ skate, God meant for us to learn about those feelings in a situation where you’re committed for life. Remember the feelings of rejection you felt hanging out by the video games and snack bar? No, just me? God meant for us to explore our tingly feelings where long-term commitment is unquestioned. That’s what marriage is ideally supposed to be.

4. Forgiveness and Grace: This may be the most important. Forgiveness is no longer holding on to the option of retribution for something done against you. I sin against my wife more than anyone else based on the closeness we have. Without forgiveness, we’re stuck holding on to the option of hurting them back. A formula I think all couples should have is specifically apologizing for what they did wrong and the offended spouse saying “I forgive you.” Grace is not the way the couples would glide around the rink. Grace is undeserved favor. This is essential because someone must choose to be humble and say I’m sorry first, even when the other person is wrong. This is one I think husbands should pay careful attention to follow. The scriptures, in Ephesians 5, tell husbands to love our wives like Christ loved the church and lay down our lives for them. I think about this most often when I don’t feel like saying I’m sorry. No matter who steps forward first, in my experience, humility breeds humility.

My wife and I have been married eleven years with two children, 5.5 and 4, one we got the old fashion way and one we adopted. We participated in pre-marriage counseling for a few months leading up to our marriage. This was valuable because it caused us to have directed conversations about things that would be important to us after we were married that we might not have ever had unless someone asked. The money conversation, children, roles are all great conversations to figure out before you say “I do.”

We had friends who had dated, were engaged and married in our church that we learned from. We have continued to cultivate friends who we can talk to together and separately about our marriage with the goal of keeping it healthy. My parents are an exceptional example of a married couple and parents. Knowing this has made me feel responsible to let people know the things I’ve observed from them. I know I have been given much with their example. Even though you may have witnessed bad examples, it doesn’t have to be true for you.

This list is only a start. We can all make our own lists and, in fact, need to be making lists to help us. Speaking of lists, Jim Martin just posted a great list about