b: believe the best

Believe the best.

This might be the best marriage advice we ever received. The couple that did our pre-marital counseling gave us this little nugget and even suggested that we abbreviate it to “BTB” and use it as our secret code when things got rough. It’s terribly trite, but it’s worked for us.

If not the code, at least the sentiment.

The sentiment says, “I trust my husband is a good man.” It says, “I believe my wife is committed to making good choices.” “I have faith that my spouse is mature, intelligent, thoughtful, full of integrity, wisdom and grace.” The sentiment releases one partner from the worst parts of their own family story. It forgives them for reflecting the worst parts of your own self.

The sentiment is simple. Even if the application is hard. And especially when the marriage is hard.

A bunch of years ago, my wife and I went through a pretty rough patch. Briar patch rough. For about a year we steadily moved away from each other and began to invest in pretty much anything besides our relationship. We were a mess. One day, shortly after the you know what hit the you know what, we realized that we’d forgotten the code. We tried, we really did, to Believe the Best but the words fell hollow seven years after we’d first learned them.

But not the sentiment.

Seven years into our marriage, we had to replace a lot of things. Toaster oven. Silverware. The code. In the midst of the briar patch we re-wrote the code. And we now have two rules that have sustained us ever since. The rules are rooted in the sentiment.

Rule #1: My wife is not out to get me. In fact, she wants what’s best for me.
Rule #2: I want to be a better man than my wife wants me to be.

Rule #1 allows me to believe the best about my wife. It reminds me that she’s not trying to expose all my insecurities and all the ways I have failed her. In fact, she’s my biggest fan, which is why she chose to marry me in the first place. Rule #2 allows me to believe the best about myself. It reminds me that no matter how high my wife sets the bar, I can set it higher for myself. It also reminds me that no matter how much I want from and for my wife, she wants more for herself. I trust that about her. And when I don’t, it actually suggests more about me than it does about her. It suggests a certain kind of , arrogance and condescension – as if were playing the role of parent rather than partner.

I don’t want to be arrogant and condescending. I want to be amazing. But in order to be amazing, I need to Believe the Best about my bride and myself. Over the course of my own marriage, I’ve had the privilege of counseling, mentoring and teaching hundreds of couples and I ALWAYS start with the the best marriage advice we ever received.

If not the code, at least the sentiment.

7 thoughts on “b: believe the best

  1. Zach … Thanks for the shout out. Now, here’s the rest of the story about how the BTB concept originated. We were living in Princeton seminary housing at the time – and some kid came to our apartment door in a panic saying we had to come quick- Walker and Ty, our sons (5 and 8 at the time, now 21 and 24) were out on the basketball court in a brawl with each other and needed to be pulled apart.

    We separated them – took them to their room – they got onto their separate bunk beds and we attempted to mediate the conflict. Ty’s story was that walker had interrupted a basketball game in process. Walker’s was that Ty was excluding him from playing. So we suggested that they each “believe the best” in each other – what if ty didn’t think of walker as intent on disrupting the game but rather just assumed he wanted to be included and took the time to say, “walk – when this game is over you can play the next one.” and what if walker, rather than assuming Ty was intent on leaving him out, assumed that Ty wanted to include him and was patient to wait for the game in process to end? What if they believed the best in each other all the time…why don’t we just call it BTB, I suggested and say that to yourself whenever you start feeling angry with your brother.

    Walker – then 5 and learning phonetics as well as losing teeth- looked extraordinarily pensive with his feet in the air and his head hanging upside down over the edge of his bottom bunk said thoughtfully, “yea…that’s a good idea, mom, and I’ve got another one….FU!”
    I nearly fell over….but kept my cool…”ok – walk- what does that stand for?”


  2. “FUMS UP, momma, FUMS UP,” he announced and proudly gave us two thumbs up!!!!

    And that’s the rest of the story!

  3. Ps – I’m terrible at this techno stuff…it says my comments are anonymous – its me – pam driesell. And also – I inadvertently sent the first part before the last few sentences were added – which are vital to the story!
    Guess you have gathered from FB postings that I have recently remarried. After 10 years- a huge leap of faith! Thanks for all you and rebecca do to encourage and strengthen couples in this holy covenant adventure. I hope and pray I get it right this time. Divorce is so painful – thank God for second chances and new beginnings!
    Love y’all!

  4. Thank you. This advice hits my heart and head. It is relevant today, tomorrow, and espeicially yesterday. I needed to read this tonight. Bless you and your bride.

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