We Made the List!

From the eyes of people I’ve lived a somewhat successful life.

Overcoming addictions.

Overcoming my past.

From starting a neighbor’s pigpen, over 40 plus years that grew into a successful multi-million dollar company the employed people no one else wanted.

Remaining with the same woman for more than fifty years.

In all of that I’ve never felt very successful.

Here’s the secret of my success—which is no secret.

I never knew what I was doing. In my desperation, I cried out to God in the day and night. Sometimes I didn’t know what to do and I got down on my face. “I don’t know how to do this. You do. Please help me. Please show me.”

In 1969 I started journaling—taking notes on life.

Over the years I’ve learned a system that works, that sets me up for the best chance to succeed.

Here it is:

  1. I identify the biggest problem I’m currently facing.
  2. I spend a lot of time in the Bible and prayer, asking God to help me solve my problem.
  3. I try to find people more successful than me, who already are solving the problem. If it’s not someone I can meet in person, I’ll search for videos they’ve done or books they’ve written.
  4. I take a lot of notes.
  5. I’ve learned to distil and arrange my notes into a simple step-by-step plan I can follow.
  6. I invest time, energy, and money into working the plan.

That worked well in business. In fact, that’s the foundation of my coaching business that’s helping many businesses and ministries become successful.

Although Gina and I have been together for more than fifty years, we’ve had a lot of struggles. One day I was thinking: Will the system that works so well in business also work for our marriage?

I decided to try.

So Gina and I made a list of couples we admire because they’ve been very successful in their marriages. We agreed on seven. They come from different backgrounds, live in different parts of the US.

We listed all the traits they have in common.

Then we met face to face with each couple and asked them to share whatever intimate details they’re willing to share.

We gathered twelve pages of single-spaced notes. We started practicing what we learned from them.

It’s around a year later, and our marriage is getting stronger and healthier than it’s ever been.

Then one day, we became aware of an eighth couple we wanted to add to the list.

It was us.

So now I’m going to share with you a few things we’ve learned that have helped us have a healthy marriage.

First, here’s what we believe held us together through many tough years:

  • We came from polar opposite backgrounds and are almost exact opposite in personality and temperament but were seeking a life below the surface.
  • We believed God had a covenant around our marriage no matter how bad it got. It took many years for Gina to reconcile that although it started completely wrong (read about it in my book Jesus Shines Through), that God was still in it.
  • We’ve prayed together a lot and spent a lot of time in the Word.
  • We made do, regardless of our financial situation.
  • Hippie communes and starting our marriage in one of the poorest counties in America helped us become less encumbered with the need to make money so we could pursue what really matters.
  • Poverty desensitized us to the fear of poverty.
  • We’ve always loved to travel, which broadened our understanding of God and people.
  • Even when we were poor.
  • Even with a large family.

Later years:

  • Learning that we’ll never completely meet one another’s needs.
  • To seek God to meet our needs.
  • To seek needs met through other sources (never violating our marriage covenant.)
  • To accept that some needs will be unmet.
  • Honoring one another’s emotions as sacred.
  • Creating a safe place to feel.
  • Pushing through tension and conflict without dominating or stonewalling.
  • Learned how to listen to each other. (I recently shifted from, “I’m only listening when I think what you’re saying is important,” to “You are important, therefore I listen to you.”
  • Becoming unoffendable—cycling through offenses quickly. Some mornings we need to remind ourselves that his mercies are new.
  • Installing a Barkometer. My friend David Duncan shared this one with me. A Barkometer is a meter I’ve installed inside my head that registers 1-5 and goes up whenever I bark at Gina (even if I think she deserves it). When I meet with my weekly men’s group, I report how many times I barked at her and how high the needle went. In this I’m discovering how much my harsh tones hurt her heart.

So there’s our partial list. We’re a work in progress. I hope this inspires you to work on improving your marriage. The world needs more of them.

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