This post is longer than usual :)
Mike and I celebrate five years of marriage today. Experience isn’t the same as expertise, but the longer I’m married, the more people ask me for marriage advice.
I usually find myself babbling platitudes and struggling to pull wisdom from thin air, so I compiled my thoughts in writing, where I do my best thinking.
I love buying wedding cards. They have pretty pictures and whimsical fonts and dreamy, poetic inscriptions about living happily ever after. We romanticize weddings, and I’m glad. A wedding is a party, and we should celebrate this most important of occasions.
So I’m definitely buying you a wedding card. It’s what to write in the card that always gets me. I try to keep it light hearted and celebratory in keeping with the occasion, but I wouldn’t want you to think that’s all I have to say about marriage.
This letter isn’t coming from an expert or a therapist or anything like that, but if you’re like me, you probably won’t dust off the marriage books or go to counseling when you have a marriage question.
If you’re like me, you’ll want to talk to someone closer to a peer than an expert, someone with slightly more experience who’s still going to treat you like a friend and not a project.
So friend, here’s what I’ll tell you.
When I think about our lessons learned these past five years, I see two imperfect, mostly pure hearted people who truly love God and each other but selfishly forget both more often than we’d like to admit.
If we’re running partners, we’re trying to stay in step with each other but then I get a burst of energy and zoom ahead, leaving him in the dust. Sometimes he is holding steady, focusing ahead, and I suddenly collapse out of fatigue or impatience or both. His attention is diverted, and he has to stop in the midst of his flow to help me up.
The best times are when we put our arms across each others’ shoulders and walk steadily, breathing and praying together. The best times are when we remember we’re in this together with God in our midst.
Celebrate the moments you are in sync, and when you’re not, don’t panic. Just keep showing up for the next run. Because marriage? It’s a marathon.
Marriage is effortless when we are both selfless and patient, when we untangle ourselves from the weight of our own inadequacy and pride and to do lists and accept God’s grace instead. But most of life is not like that.
Most of life is lived in the tension between what we should do, what we want to do, even, and what we actually do. Paul describes us all:
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15
I could tell you to be patient, and kind, to think before you speak, to never go to bed angry, but I don’t want you to get discouraged. All that sounds easy, and failing at things that sound easy feels worse than failing at things that are hard.
So try to do them, but when you fail, keep showing up.
When you say something mean or spend a fitful night tossing and turning on the couch, don’t let it snowball into something more. Instead of letting failures gradually wear you down, show up again the next day. Being present is both the easiest and hardest thing.
In the midst of it all, there is beauty and joy and laughter. Don’t wait for a perfect marriage to be happy.
Lastly, here are some patterns in marriage that you might be tempted to treat like a crisis that are not:
- You don’t feel “in love” all the time. You were not designed to feel butterflies every time you see your chosen one for the rest of your life. Falling in love leads you to commitment, which is deeper and more rewarding but often looks like work. Romance has it’s place, but it won’t be constant.
- You or your spouse changes. When you commit to someone, commit to loving him for a lifetime, through every transition and update.
- Marriage is different than you expected. So was college, your first job and most experiences you’ve had. Don’t let your premarital expectations trick you into being unhappy.
Here are some patterns in your marriage you might be tempted to treat casually but can become a crisis:
- You don’t have sex, are uncomfortable talking about sex or lose interest in sex. God is not afraid to talk about sex, and He says that you should do it, often. It’s worth talking about and working through issues when they come up, and they will. It can save or cost you your marriage.
- Hurt feelings start to callous into bitterness. It may seem more peaceful to swallow hurt feelings than to fight, but unexpressed hurt can become a chasm that’s difficult, impossible even, to bridge later.
- You habitually keep really important things to yourself or share them with someone else. Intimacy is more than sex. Keeping deep thoughts and feelings from your spouse will cause distance at best, betrayal and emotional infidelity at worst.
Marriage will be more work than most things, but if you’re willing to do the work, it will also produce some of the greatest rewards. Just keep showing up with your whole self.
And if you need to talk to someone who will treat you like a friend, not a project, you know where to find me.