Today, I’m off. Off-line, off-grid, off-duty — off celebrating 10 years of marriage with my incredible husband!
4 kids + 1 on the way.
And in between, a whole lot of life. 10 million reasons to be thankful. Shared laughs, shared tears. More mistakes than I can count. I’m certainly no expert on this marriage gig, but I can share something of my experience. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve gleaned from ten happy years (and counting).
1. Always be the first to say “I’m sorry.”
It’s wisely been said that a good marriage is nothing more or less than the union of two sinners who are really good at forgiving. Sometimes, though, it’s easier to forgive than it is to ask forgiveness. Early on in our marriage, my husband and I both resolved to always try to be the first to apologize in any disagreement. When we’re both committed to owning the part we played, it makes the road to reconciliation so much swifter.
2. Men are not mind-readers.
Neither are women. But men seem to be more willing to accept that fact. Point is: if you want to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a certain way, or want a special gift for Christmas, or just want him to listen instead of trying fix “it” – TELL HIM! I’ve found my husband to be a very willing student. But he’s a lousy psychic.
3. Arguments are opportunities for communication, not competition.
When I was first married, I tended to view arguments as lose-lose situations. It took me some time to realize that (to contradict Pat Benatar), love is not a battlefield. And my husband is not my sparring partner. We are two separate people–of course we’re going to disagree! But that doesn’t mean every disagreement needs to devolve into a fight. If I can view our disagreements as an opportunity to understand my husband’s point of view, they can be very healthy learning experiences. And here’s the sweet part: The more I’m willing to listen to him, the more he’s willing to listen to me. Turns out arguments can be a win-win situation after all.
4. Children will change you (and that’s a good thing).
Nothing has changed me like parenthood. All those illusions I had of myself as an understanding, kind, patient, selfless partner? Fugettaboudit. A screaming baby at 3 A.M. was enough to put all my delusions to rest. But despite its challenges, there’s no denying parenthood is fertile ground for growing virtue. Every day when I wake up, I’m faced with three hundred ways to deny myself — and that’s before breakfast! It’s unpleasant sometimes, but the more I surrender to the challenges of my vocation as a parent, the more I’ve been grown in my vocation as a wife. If you have been blessed with fertility, don’t be afraid of that blessing. Children will challenge and change you – but that’s a good thing.
*NOTE: I believe firmly that God gives each of us the opportunities that will best equip us on our journeys to heaven. If you have not been given the gift of children, that does not mean you are somehow hindered in growing in virtue or in marriage. The blessings and burdens of every marriage will be unique, personal, and perfect.
5. Put first things first.
My husband and I entered marriage with a firm list of priorities.
This list has served us well.
For ten years running, we have built our marriage on a solid foundation of faith. Next in line comes marriage. I know it can be highly controversial for me to say that my husband comes before my kids, but hear me out. My marriage is the reason my children exist, and when my kids are grown and flown, I want to find myself with a solid, thriving marriage, not one that’s been growing rusty on the back burner for the last few decades. A strong marriage is good for kids. By investing in each other, my husband and I are modeling healthy, Godly love to our kids. It is healthy and necessary for me to switch out of mom-mode for at least a little bit each day and remind myself that I’m still that girl, the one who fell wildly, hopelessly in love with the boy she married.
6. Choose JOY everyday.
I came into marriage without ever having shouldered real responsibility. Those few obligations I did have usually centered on me: my grades, cleaning my room, feeding my pets. Needless to say, I was completely unprepared for the basic duties marriage and motherhood would require of me. Adulting is hard! So frequently in those early years, I found myself battling discouragement and dissatisfaction. But the problem wasn’t the laundry or the dishes or the budget or the kids. The problem was me. I needed to improve my skills, yes, but even more important: I needed to improve my attitude. It’s still a struggle, but I find that if I can do my work and do it with joy each and everyday, my life is better, I am better, and my marriage is infinitely blessed.
7. There really is more than one way to skin a cat.
I grew up in the inner city. My husband raised pigs and cattle on the acreage behind his house. I was an actress. He programmed computers. Needless to say, when we first married, we had very different views on just about everything, from how to change the bedsheets to the number of extension cords that qualified you to appear on an episode of Hoarders. (Naturally, I took my own side in these debates.) Ten years in, we still see things differently from time to time, but we’ve learned from each other (see #1 and #3). I’ve also learned that, oftentimes, there really is no right way. There’s my way, and there’s his way. And that’s all right.
8. Don’t talk trash.
Have you ever noticed how our culture loves ragging on husbands? Personally, I think Homer Simpson might have had something to do with this. But while episodes of The Simpsons consistently return to ground zero, with everyone forgiving and forgetting by the twenty-seven-minute mark, life isn’t like that. I don’t want to get caught with my foot in my mouth. I want to speak words that build my husband up — in the eyes of others, and in my own heart. If I spend all my time and breath focused on his faults, it won’t be long before that’s all I see. I’d rather gossip about his good points. That’s the vision of him I want to carry with me, and the one I want to share with the world.
9. Revisit your vision.
When you stood across from each other all starry-eyed on your wedding day, did you have a vision for the days that would follow? I know I did. It didn’t all turn out exactly as expected, but the central core remained the same. We were committed to growing God’s kingdom by loving each other well. The way that vision has ebbed and flowed through the years and seasons has come with some surprises, though, not to mention lots of questions and not a few distractions. I’ve found it useful to revisit that vision with my husband on a regular basis, to remember where we started as a brand new couple, to see how far we’ve come, and to ensure we are still united in our goals.
10. Make sure you’re growing in the same direction.
My husband and I were 18 when we met and started dating. I was 21 when we got married. We have quite literally grown up together. However, that growth didn’t stop in our 20’s, nor do I expect it will come to a standstill in our 30’s or 40’s or (God willing) 80’s. Life will lead us in and out of seasons. He will change. I will change. Growth is inevitable, so it’s vital that we are continuing to grow in the same direction. It can be so easy to become focused on a career, on parenting, or the many cares and joys that fill our days. But I’ll never forget the wise advice we were given during premarital counselling: Cling to the cross. If Christ is at the center of your marriage and you’re both growing toward Him, then you’ll always be growing toward each other, as well.