Thirty-five years ago, I said, “I Do,” to the man of my dreams, the man who swept me off my young feet and promised to love, honor, and cherish me for as long as we both lived. The truth is, at twenty, I’m sure I thought I was saying, “I Do,” to a whole different marriage than the one I have actually lived out.
That is not to say my marriage hasn’t been good. In fact, it’s been great, and terrible, and beautiful, and tragic, filled with ridiculous drama and incredible love. (Maybe marriages really are the stuff of fairy tales.)
As I reflect back on thirty-five years, I want to share what I believe I have learned about being married.
The Two Shall Become One
First and foremost, Mike and I had to learn to become a “we” instead of two individuals sharing the same address. I think a lot of couples never make the transition from me to we, and that’s why so many marriages end so early. Becoming a “we” means letting go of selfish pursuits aimed at making yourself great and instead chasing after the things that make you great together.
This often involves great sacrifice on the part of both spouses. As a married couple, you were created to compliment one another, to make one another better. Sure, you should be the best version of yourself you can be.
But being the best “me” cannot come at the sacrifice of being the best “we.” When me is more important than we, we loses, and the marriage dies.
Some examples of sacrifices we have made along the way to become a better we?
- Mike sold his ugly college furniture so we could have “grown up” furniture that was more to my liking.
- I didn’t wear purple for the first 15 years of our marriage because Mike hated the color purple.
- I quit school so Mike could finish his degree.
- Mike left grad school to get a better job because we had two kids, and I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.
- I quit numerous jobs I loved so we could move for Mike’s work.
- Mike quit a job he loved because it was destroying our marriage and it wasn’t good for our children.
I cannot tell you how often we have sacrificed (both big and small things) because it was best for the “we” even when it wasn’t what “me” might have wanted (or even needed). I think the most surprising thing related to sacrificing is that it’s something you have to practice every single day of your married life. FOR.EV.ER.
One of Us Fought
Second, at some point in our married life, Mike and I both have packed a suitcase and declared we were finished. Fortunately though, we were never both finished at the same time. One of us was always for the marriage.
And that’s the point. Someone always has to be “for” the marriage. That is not to say you will both always be “for” the marriage. You won’t be. At some point in your married life, one of you will entertain thoughts of calling it quits. Maybe often. But as long as one of you is still standing there fighting for your marriage, you’ve got a shot at it standing the test of time.
I Am For You
Third, just as one of you must always be “for” the marriage, you must be “for” one another. This means giving the other person the benefit of the doubt instead of believing the worst of them. It means supporting their desires and their dreams, even if it means yours might have to be delayed a bit. It means trusting them, and trusting their love for you. Be their champion when they succeed and their soft place to land when they fail.
Fourth, go home. Sometimes, when marriage gets hard, it’s easy to seek comfort, validation, friendship, and love in other places. This includes a job, volunteer work, the gym, your kids, a bottle, or other friendships. The list could go on and on. Seeking fulfillment outside of your marriage is a slippery slope and ultimately what ends most of the marriages I have seen end.
Go home. It’s a simple statement, but it can be difficult to live out at times. Just do it though. Go home and practice loving, honoring, cherishing, and respecting (you know, those things you said in your vows) your spouse. Even when you don’t feel like it.
Everything We Need to Know
And finally, most of the things that have carried us through our marriage, we learned in childhood (and had ample opportunity to practice in marriage).
- Say you are sorry, and mean it. You are going to get a lot of things wrong in your married life. A. LOT. OF. THINGS. Your ability to say you are sorry for your part of every argument is a critical life skill.
- Don’t call people names. I don’t care how many times they have overdrawn the checking account, loaded the dishwasher wrong, left the shower door open, wrecked the car, changed the TV show you were watching, or anything else. (Can you tell the things we fight about?)
- You can’t always have your way. If “me” is going to become a “we,” you cannot and you should not always get your way. At some point, if you are always fighting for your way, you are just being a bully.
- Hug it out. Remember when your mom always made you hug your sibling after a fight? Physical touch is critically important, especially if you are in a rough place. Hold hands, sit next to each other, have sex, or just hug it out.
Unconditional Means Without Conditions
Sometimes, when marriage is really hard, I read I Corinthians 13:4-8 to myself and remind myself what true, unconditional love looks like.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
All that to say, I’m not an expert on marriage. But I know what unconditional love looks like. I’ve been married to a man who lives that out for me every day. No matter how unlovable I am, he loves me still. And no matter how unlovable he is, he reminds me to love him anyway. He’s my person.
I love you Mike Jones. Happy 35th Anniversary