In honor of our ten year anniversary, I thought I'd come up with a list of the top ten things I've learned about marriage.
1. Always say, "I'm sorry," and, "I forgive you," no matter what, always. We struggled our first few years of marriage with this. For example, if one of us was hurt or offended in some way and we brought it up in conversation, the other would say, "Well of course I didn't mean it that way. You shouldn't have gotten your feelings hurt." We would get defensive and explain our side right away, which in turn made the other one retreat. Over time we discovered that the best plan of action was when one of us brings up a hurt, then immediately the other would say, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you," and then continue the conversation. I know it sounds silly, but hearing the words, "I'm sorry," can really mean a lot. Sometimes that's all you need to hear. We all need validation that our feelings matter. We also made sure that we said, "I forgive you," if trying to resolve a conflict. If someone made the effort to apologize and admit their wrong, then it was only fair to forgive. It didn't mean we were immediately 100% happy with each other, or that we were ready to skip through a field of sunflowers together singing songs from the Sound of Music, but it did mean we loved each other and were willing to work things out kindly and lovingly.
2. Don't be afraid to talk about your hurts, concerns, and feelings together, no matter how awkward it may feel. When SuperDan and I were engaged we excitedly entered into pre-marital counseling with our pastor. He gave us a personality test that helped us see how we handle conflict. Funny enough, it turned out that we both were, "withdrawers", meaning we despised conflict and would rather keep the peace than open up about anger or pain. We learned right from the get-go that most likely it would be hard for us to be honest with each other. And boy was that spot-on. For months, even years, we struggled with this. Neither of us had the guts to spill the beans and express true feelings of frustration with each other. Slowly but surely we started opening up and helping each other blossom in this area. When one of us was hurt and finally admitted it, the other tried to be loving and apologetic as to make the process easier. We both shut down very easily, so we knew how to understand this trait in one another after struggling with it ourselves. We learned the rhythm to conflict resolution slowly but surely. Today I am so thankful that we can diffuse problems and conquer division more efficiently through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the practice of conflict resolution! Once in a while we will do this in front of our children (if it is simple topics that little minds can understand) so they can see what healthy conflict resolution looks like.
3. Make time to laugh and chill out together. This was hard for us the first few years of marriage. We were young, passionate youth pastors ready to take on the world and all it's problems. We had ideas, we had vision, we had resilience, we had energy. Days and months passed and I realized we were so focused on ministry and helping others, that we hadn't taken much time for each other. We always did ministry together hand in hand, and even though we were "together" during church events we realized that didn't count as true alone time. We started figuring out what alone time could look like for us and how we could de-stress and unwind together. Almost 100% of the time (still to this day) when we are on a date we almost always end up talking about ministry! We can't help it, it's our passion, it's in our blood. Our hearts beat ministry. We always end up laughing and remind ourselves to stop and redirect the conversation. As the years go by and we add more little people to our family, "alone time" looks a little bit different. We have to adjust and change what works for us and that's okay. What feels like down time with a newborn will look a little different than down time with older children. Staring at the wall together in silence and crashing on the couch after everyone is finally in bed can be extremely romantic. I'm not even joking.
4. Encourage encourage encourage. This world can be a nasty place. Criticism abounds. Why not try to encourage your spouse on a regular basis to help soften the blow of the inevitable sorrows of life? Life is hard enough as it is, let alone add a nagging spouse. A few years ago we were experiencing a lot of trials in our life and we were both on edge 24/7. We were both running on empty and just trying to survive. I noticed that when one of us would say something encouraging to the other, it would brighten up the atmosphere and immediately lift their spirit. Then in return, the recipient of the encouragement would offer encouragement back later in the day. It became a loving cycle of encouragement. Things that were normal or expected (unloading the dishwasher, taking out the trash, brushing the kids' teeth) became an opportunity to offer gratitude and appreciation. All it took was a few of these moments to put a sparkle in life to make it through our rough patch together.
5. Pray for each other. I know it sounds so cliche, but it's so important. When you pray for your spouse, you start to see them through the eyes of compassion and love. You realize the reality of the spiritual battle we traverse through. I remember one evening as my husband closed the front door behind him and slumped into the chair beside me after a long, hard day. The first words out of my mouth were, "I prayed for you today, honey." His tired eyes seemed to glow with appreciation as he thanked me and we embraced in a hug. Not only does prayer change things, but it changes us. When we have been disagreeing on an issue and need time to collect our thoughts separately, I will pray for my husband. Instead of letting anger fester and cause a wedge between us, I ask the Lord to guide him and speak to him. Even if we are upset at each other and are still processing our emotions, praying for each other helps quench the fires of division. Praying is also important in the good times. Pride comes before a fall and I want us always to be on our guard and in constant dialogue with the Lord. Praying for guidance, wisdom, patience, energy, health, and divine opportunities to share the gospel are so important.
6. Speak highly of each other in public. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a group of women and suddenly it turns into a husband bashing session. I ask myself, "How would I feel if my husband was with a group of guys right now belittling me?" Of course anyone would feel defeated and angered by this. So why is it okay for women to do this? When this happens I kindly and lovingly try to redirect the conversation in hopes to change the atmosphere. A few times I had to be blunt when it was my turn to speak up. I shared my experience, how my husband does x,y, or z for me, and that I am so proud of him and thankful. Immediately the room was silenced as the others realized what a stark difference my words were compared to theirs. Everyone has their problems, everyone has their qualms, everyone has their hurts and problems with their spouse. But that doesn't give us the freedom to spew out their personal struggles and tarnish our spouse's reputation. We all have something we aren't proud of about ourselves. We all have our shortcomings and pitfalls. How would we feel if our spouse told everyone about those things we are most ashamed about ourselves?
7. There is a time and place for seeking help in marriage. All of us will struggle from time to time in our marriages, this is normal. We are imperfect people married to imperfect people. The result is imperfect marriages. The good news is Jesus comes to bring us healing and forgiveness and can make our marriages the best they can possibly be! When we go through times of trial in marriage, it is good to seek counsel from those who are trusted confidantes who will give us Godly advice and prayer. Not everyone needs to know our deepest darkest secrets. Not everyone can handle hearing our problems without becoming angry or prejudiced against our spouse. Chose those people wisely who can offer guidance and love and who are trustworthy and loyal. Whether it is a mentor, friend, pastor, or counselor... chose them carefully.
8. Flee from evil. Run away as fast as you possibly can. Remember what I said above? This world can be a nasty place. Temptation abounds. Everywhere. It is far too easy these days to find a way to get what we want if we aren't getting it from our spouse. Newsflash: your spouse will not fulfill you. Your spouse will mess up, hurt you, do the wrong thing, let you down. We are all human. What will you do in those times? Will you run towards temptation the minute trouble is brewing in your marriage? What safeguards do you have in place in your life to keep yourself from going down this path? Set yourself up for success, not failure. Make it hard to sin. Make it difficult to fall into temptation. Do whatever it takes to keep your mind, heart, and actions pure before the Lord and your spouse. What happens when temptation comes knocking at your door? Run. Flee. Do whatever it takes to get yourself as far away as possible from that temptation. You will thank yourself later.
9. Surround yourself with people who uplift your marriage. Try and make couple friends that you and your spouse both get along with. Of course wives will have their girl friends and husbands will have their guy friends, but it is also important to find couples you can both enjoy life with together. It can be extremely life-giving to spend time with these kinds of people. Sharing hilarious parenting stories, laughing together over funny marriage moments, and tearfully sharing anguish over hardships in the company of trusted friends can be a breath of fresh air. Sometimes, just knowing that another couple is experiencing the same types of issues in life can be extremely encouraging.
10. Keep God the center of your marriage. Who are we kidding? We can't figure out this thing called life by ourselves without the help of the Holy Spirit guiding us. Sure we can try, and life might be "okay", but don't you want life to the fullest, abundant life spilling over with supernatural blessings and peace? I want nothing to do with a life void of God. My husband and I have kept the Lord as the center of our marriage since day one. I firmly believe that is the only reason we have come so far together and ended up stronger, more humble, and more compassionate with each other. We pray together, read the scriptures and share what we are learning, discuss articles and sermons and how we can apply them to our lives. We serve at church together, we seek to share the gospel together, and we ask God to guide our every steps together. We have always been in sync about major life decisions because we are seeking the will of God together. Our ultimate goal in life is not to please each other. Our ultimate goal in life is to please Jesus Christ. Because we love Him and worship Him, we naturally are drawn to love each other and serve each other as Christ has served this world. We aren't perfect, nor will we ever be this side of heaven. In fact, marriage (and parenting!!!!!!!) has shown us more than ever what sinners we are and how merciful God is to forgive us and offer us a clean slate every. single. day.
Thank you for being my best friend and the love of my life. Happy ten years, my love. I can't imagine doing life with anyone else but you. Here's to many, many more.