Following the tragic death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant (along with eight others including his daughter) in a helicopter crash on January 26, many stirring tributes have been written about his tenacity, relentless drive to always improve, and ferocious competitiveness on the court as a player. One of his most inspiring character traits was how he applied his legendary competitiveness and refusal to give up to all aspects of his life, particularly when dealing with the potential end of his marriage to his wife Vanessa.
After an incident in 2003 in which he was accused of sexual assault (and was eventually acquitted in court), Kobe publicly admitted to committing adultery and apologized to his wife at a press conference. Eight years later, his wife filed for divorce due to “irreconcilable differences,” but in 2013 the couple announced that they had called off the divorce. Clearly, Kobe and Vanessa went through some extremely challenging periods in their marriage, but they persevered and remained committed to their vows. In an interview, Kobe described his drive to succeed in his marriage in the same terms he often used to describe his work ethic in basketball: “Commitment and [the] competitiveness of ‘We’re going to succeed.’” He went on to describe his marriage in this way: “That’s all the beauty of it: having the persistence and determination to work through things — very, very tough things — and we’ve been able to do that.”
Kobe and Vanessa’s perseverance and tenacity to fight for their marriage no matter what the circumstances is a stirring example for all married couples to have the resolve to never give up on their marriage, no matter how insurmountable difficulties may seem.
In honor of National Marriage Week, here are some tried and true ways that couples can work through challenges and maintain peaceful and happy marriages:
- In general, be kind. As written about in The Atlantic, numerous studies have all concluded that “kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage.”
- When you see something that needs to be done around the house, do it as quickly and quietly as you can without mentioning anything to your spouse, even if you feel that they should have done it. This builds trust between spouses and is a visible sign of how much you love and care for them, which most likely will be noticed and appreciated the more you do it.
- Be “teachable.” In other words, be willing to compromise or do things differently than how you grew up doing them or used to do them before marriage.
- Acknowledge that your own shortcomings may be a result of wounds that you received in your past, likely in childhood from those closest to you. It is imperative that you seek the root cause of these wounds in order to be authentically healed, which will in turn create tremendous healing in your own marriage.
- A key outlook during difficult times in marriage is to see suffering as having redeeming value, just as Christ suffered for us in order to redeem us from our sins. If you don’t see the cross as something bad, this changes everything. In order to have true love for our spouse (to will the good for them), we must be willing to serve them by practicing sacrificial love, to sacrifice our own wishes and desires for the sake of our beloved. It may seem like a paradox, but it’s true—when we sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, we find true fulfilment.
- Express gratitude to your spouse on a regular basis. When you thank them for even the small things they do—washing the dishes, cleaning up the spilled oatmeal off the floor—your spouse will feel loved and appreciated. This goes a long way toward maintaining marital harmony.
- Never stop trying. Even when things are not going smoothly in your marriage, always be willing to keep trying to make things right by putting in the effort, even if you don’t feel like it. Your spouse will almost certainly notice this. There’s nothing more disheartening for a spouse then when they feel like their own efforts are not being noticed and, even worse, are not being reciprocated. If your spouse feels like you are not trying your best in the relationship, they will feel less motivated to keep trying themselves, which can create a larger mess than before.
- Don’t let small annoyances about your spouse anger you. Let them be an opportunity to grow in the virtue of patience. If there is a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed, bring it up as calmly and deliberately as you can so that you don’t hurt your spouse in the process.
- When you feel hurt by the words or actions of your spouse, don’t swallow it and let it fester. Pick a good time to talk about how and why they hurt you as gently, honestly, and openly as possible. Depending on the severity of the issue, it may not be a good idea to immediately hash it out with your spouse just after the hurtful incident occurred, since this could lead to further insensitive words being said in the heat of the moment. It may be prudent to pick a time at least a day or two later after things have cooled down. You may even discover that your spouse had no idea that the incident in question hurt you, and will be glad to know about it so that they can be more thoughtful in the future.
- Challenging times in marriage are opportunities to grow closer together. This can especially be achieved by praying together as a couple.