We use a lot of word pictures (mental images) to explain various concepts of marriage.
I’m sure you are familiar with many of them. We will talk about several below.
Word pictures help us paint an image of a concept so our minds can understand it. We think in pictures, not black and white words. If I say ‘chocolate golden doodle dog’ you see an image in your mind of that kind of dog. If you’ve never seen one, your mind will search your databank for something similar to show you.
Our mind is amazing. It helps us ‘see’ with pictures so we can better understand what people are communicating.
We’ve used word pictures since the dawn of time to talk about marriage. Many are excellent. Others fall short.
I want to mention a few common analogies we use to talk about priorities in marriage. They are good, but not perfect. I’ll close with my concept of the marriage wheel.
Here are a few word pictures and concepts you are probably familiar with:
In This Article
The Steps To A Good Marriage
I have to admit, I love steps. Give me an article on ‘X steps to achieve Y’ and I’ll eat it up. Steps are the American way. Why? We understand how steps work.
One step leads to another. We can measure progress with steps. You know which step you on and can see how to get to the next step. Some even refer to it as ‘the next level.’ It sounds trendy. Cool.
The mental picture is someone climbing steps to move higher and higher in their relationship.
It’s not a bad image. It’s helpful for the reasons I mentioned above, but it’s not the best.
The Ladder of Relationship Success
This is similar except the image is a ladder instead of steps. You hear this in the corporate world. The ladder of success. it’s an image we are familiar with.
The concept is the same, with each step you move higher and higher (or closer and closer) to your marriage goal.
Not bad. Still, not the best in my opinion. It’s similar to the idea of a totem pole.
The Totem Pole
I’m sure you’ve seen a totem pole. What’s interesting about them is they tell a story. Each totem is designed to unfold the story in a sequence. Starting from the bottom and moving up.
There are different types of poles: welcome poles, mortuary poles, and memorial poles. Each one designed to tell a specific story. Stories about life, death, and accomplishments. Even family history is recorded in the totem poles.
Shirley Culpin explains:
Totem poles were the traditional way of telling the story of an individual clan and to communicate legends, history and culture. Every totem has a distinctive story and can be grouped into specific categories; categories depend on where the totem will be located and the occasion for which it is carved.Source
The point I want you to understand (because I build on this later) is the stories are sequential. They unfold from bottom to top.
The Top 10 List (or whatever number you desire to use)
This is probably ‘America’s favorite.’ We love lists. Closely related to the previous two. The concept is there is a list of things we can do, need to know, or should have in place to make our marriage work. These are our priorities.
Each of these ideas is good, and we can learn a lot from them. They are reminders to make our relationship a priority and help us put things in the right order for our relationship.
For example, we should not put hobbies over the value of our marriage. Each of these concepts shows us where our priorities are and lets us know when we get out of alignment.
They fail in one sense. They leave the impression that our relationship is disconnected from other things in our life. I wrote about why checklists don’t work here.
Here’s the picture I like to use:
The Marriage Wheel
Remember, the list, ladder, and step analogy above keep us moving in the right direction. But each step is disconnected. One step or rung on the ladder doesn’t have anything to do with the previous one. Or the next one.
A circle, however, serve like spokes on a wheel. Each spoke touches the center axle. Think of a bicycle tire. There is an axle at the core of the wheel, The spokes connect the axle to the tire.
t’s not just for looks either. They serve an important purpose. Without the spokes, the tire would be out of balance and would not roll. The spokes keep things in alignment which creates the perfect symmetry so the wheel can actually do what it’s intended to do – roll.
The spokes literally hold things together. That connection makes the wheel a wheel.
Why A Marriage Wheel?
When I was a pastor I used this illustration to help people understand our relationship with God. But it is equally appropriate (on a smaller scale) for marriage.
There is a disclaimer to this: I believe God should be the one at the center. As a believer, I understand faith plays a huge role in my marriage – how I relate to my wife, her value in the eyes of God, along with a host of other things I don’t have time to mention.
In the example below, I will use spouse, or marriage as the center. This is not to insinuate your spouse replaces God. Not at all. But for illustration purposes (our marriage should be connected to all areas of our life), I will use them as the center. Hope that makes sense, and you understand the limits of this analogy.
Here’s the principle and why the other word pictures fall short.
I’ve already hinted at this, but with steps, a ladder, totem pole, and list, each item doesn’t exist in reference to the previous one. They are disconnected. They don’t touch!
With a wheel, they do. They are interconnected. Everything touches the center axle (your marriage).
So, your work is not disconnected from your spouse. They are a part of it because that spoke (work) touches the axle (your spouse). See the connection?
Every aspect of your life is linked. Connected. There is no point that isn’t touched by the center.
How The Marriage Wheel Helps Priorities
It’s easy to have a list and say, ‘This is the most important thing in my life!’ Yet that ‘thing’ – the item on your list – doesn’t relate to any other item on the list.
For example, a man may say, ‘I love my wife and my marriage is my top priority’ but if his marriage doesn’t impact the way he engages with other women, it’s empty words. The fact that his wife is at the center implies that every other relationship is evaluated in terms of his marriage.
If you SAY your marriage is important, shouldn’t it be demonstrated by the way you interact with other people? Of course, it should.
Or, suppose you have a hobby you enjoy. In fact, you love it. Does that hobby impact how you treat your wife? Does it affect the time you spend with your wife? Do you neglect your spouse so you can do the things YOU want to do?
If your marriage is a list…or a step, ladder, or totem pole, you might. But if you live with the marriage wheel, you will not. The marriage wheel keeps everything connected.
You can’t ‘do your thing’ and neglect your wife because the spoke connected to your hobby or activity touches your marriage. You order your life priorities in a way that maintains the balance (connection) of all the spokes to your relationship.
Make sense? I hope so. It will transform the way you do marriage.
I’m not opposed to lists. We need them at times to itemize and prioritize. But if we ONLY look at life through the lens of a list (steps or ladder) we will unhinge our relationship from other things in our life.
In the video below I explain it in a little more detail.
The marriage wheel is a way we can look at our marriage to ensure we keep things in balance and connected.
It’s easy to list priorities and say things matter to us, but the marriage wheel gives us the tool to evaluate and measure our investment and true value in our marriage.
I believe this is a better model than lists, steps, or ladders to depict how we order our marriage priorities.
Just to recap, we looked at several analogies and mental pictures of how to prioritize things in marriage.
- The Steps To A Good Marriage
- The Ladder of Relationship Success
- The Totem Pole
- The Top 10 List (or whatever number you desire to use)
- The Marriage Wheel
To get more help creating the marriage you desire and deserve, check out these resources:
The Healthy Marriage Quiz
If you want specific help for your marriage, or you want to know your healthy marriage score, take the marriage quiz. You’ll get immediate access with suggestions on how to improve your relationship.
The Healthy Marriage Toolkit
Books, Courses, Programs and Tools designed to help you create the marriage of your dreams.
Healthy Marriage Courses
Our courses will help you build a strong marriage. Each course is designed to meet a specific relationship need.
If you are having serious marriage struggles, we recommend starting with ‘Save the Marriage System‘ by Lee Baucom.
Magic Relationship Words by Susie and Otto Collins
The Devotion System This free video will show you why men pull away and what you can do to enhance your relationship.