In high school I drove a 1990 Thunderbird. A two door, rear wheel drive; bright red with matching custom red and silver wheels. Although it wasn’t my dream Mustang, it was a sweet ride, WAY cooler than my parents’ Taurus. The random license plate from the DMV included the letters ALW. I immediately named it Awesome Lindner Wheels. On warm spring days I’d cruise home from school with my left arm out the window temporarily transforming from a shy kid to a rockstar. Driving in the winter was a different story. Once the Awesome Lindner Wheels couldn’t even get out of the driveway trapped by only a few inches of snow. The rear wheels spun beautifully but the car didn’t move. A few years later while in college, I was showing off my driving skills with my girlfriend riding shotgun. The snow covered road took a slight curve to the left, I turned the wheel left but the car slid and continued straight, bumping into the curb with a jerk. I’m sure my face was red but I kept driving hoping the embarrassment was all the damage done. Nope. I broke the passenger side rear wheel.
In that moment, all the lessons my dad taught me about driving safely in the snow came flashing before me.
“If you’re not paying attention, you’ll be in a world of hurt.”
“I know dad, I’ll be careful.”
It may shock you but not every day in marriage is sunny and cheerful. The honeymoon rockstar feeling cools when a winter storm comes rolling in. Financial stress, medical problems, conflict with in-laws, poor communication, lack of intimacy, and parenting challenges can put a chill in your relationship. These times of marital winter weather will lead to serious damage to your marriage if you’re clueless or careless.
Lesson 1. Slow down.
When you drive in winter conditions the most important adjustment is to slow down. Dad told me “only drive as fast as you would like to drive off the road.” Slowing down gives you the extra stopping distance you need to avoid a wreck.
In marriage it’s important to slow down when facing stressful situations. Most people try to speed up to get through problems faster. Big mistake. If you’re facing financial difficulties, it may be tempting to take on more projects at work and become hypervigilant about the electricity bill without discussing it with your spouse. Increasing your speed like this could result in dangerous resentment and animosity building in your marriage. The extra income you earn will never compensate for the damage to your relationship. Slowing down may look like taking extra time to plan together how to navigate your financial problems. Purposefully slowing down and focusing on each other will keep your marriage safe.
Lesson 2. Turn into the slide.
That day driving the Thunderbird, I failed this lesson. When I started sliding, I turned harder. My dad taught me to turn slightly in the direction of the slide. It will help correct the slide and straighten out your path.
The same for marriage. When your marriage is sliding toward danger lean in. It sounds counter-intuitive but if you ignore the crumbling connection or try to force it back to the way it was, you’ll continue into the ditch. Turning into the slide when you are in conflict about your in-laws may look like talking more about your family than you’re comfortable with. It’s really no fun to dive into the conflict and discuss touchy topics, but when you lean in and address the issue directly it will put you back on track faster.
Lesson 3. Watch out for the other people.
My dad always says “you may be a careful driver but there’s always an idiot out there somewhere, make sure you watch out for them.” Almost every time it snows here in Idaho I see the reckless person my dad warned me about. They’re going 20 miles per hour faster than everyone else, weaving in and out of heavy traffic like they’re NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson.
In marriage it’s critical to watch out for people and situations that’ll destroy your marriage. Some marriages rot from the inside out, conflict between partners burns out their connection. Other marriages are destroyed by outside influences. Beware of your surroundings, guard your marriage against temptations which will destroy your marriage. Even people who are close to you can poison your marriage from the outside with criticism. Steer away from negative people with a poor opinion of marriage. Don’t let their sickness corrode your health.
Lesson 4. Tap the brakes.
Slamming on the breaks in the snow and ice is not an effective way to stop. Especially important before the invention of anti-lock brakes, tapping the brakes effectively reduces sliding when attempting to stop.
When you and your spouse are facing challenges, trying to solve the problem suddenly doesn’t work. Yes, you should face the problem head on (like suggested in Lesson 2) but never letting up is suffocating. Address concerns you have with your spouse but then let up a bit. Come back to it later, especially when discussions become hostile. Tap the breaks and take a breather.
Lesson 5. Keep the tires rolling.
Making a complete stop in the snow makes it difficult to maintain traction. When you try to start again, you’ll spin the wheels and get nowhere.
Never stop interacting with your spouse. If you are upset giving them “the silent treatment” is not a good idea. Totally withdrawing from your spouse is counterproductive and only leads to disaster. It may feel safer at first because you’re no longer fighting, but disengaging from your spouse wrecks the emotional momentum of relationship. A stalled marriage takes much more effort to regain intimacy than if you stay engaged through tough times.
Lesson 6. Don’t use cruise control.
My dad likes to remind me that using cruise control in the winter is dangerous. Setting cruise control makes it more likely you’ll cruise mindlessly into a slick spot going way too fast for conditions, panic, then slam on the brakes, slide off the road and crash. The technology used to make life easier diverts your attention just enough to forget all the other safety lessons.
Don’t cruise mindlessly through your life. Pay attention to your marriage or you’ll end up with a crashed marriage wondering why you didn’t see the divorce coming. Men tend to do this more than women. I see men in my counseling office who thought things were ok in their marriage until, boom. Their wife wants a divorce. The men quickly react wanting to save their marriage, but it’s often too late, the damage is already done. Cruising along mindlessly is never wise in relationships but it’s especially hazardous when facing times of stress and conflict. Beware of anything that diverts your attention away from your relationship. Don’t let technology designed to make life easier (like your smartphone) distract you from embracing your spouse as the storms of life rage around you.
I’ll always remember Awesome Lindner Wheels and the embarrassment of sliding off the road. After I broke the wheel, all the custom wheels were replaced with regular, much less awesome wheels. I moved on from the red Thunderbird, got a Mustang and then a Honda Prelude and had other driving adventures.
Fortunately, most days I remember the lessons my dad taught me about driving in the snow. I know they’ve helped me prevent serious wrecks and probably even saved my life.
The same lessons can save your marriage.
What’s your winter driving story? How have you survived winter storms in your marriage? Share in comments or send me an email.