What I Didn’t Know in 1996
My husband and I achieved twenty years of marriage this week. As each anniversary arrives, I can’t wait to celebrate, feeling victorious and proud. But if you told me in 1996 the lessons I had ahead of me, I might have reconsidered the wedding.
People often ask about my marriage. Some think it appears easy and fun. Others know we have struggles. Both are true, depending on where we are on our journey. Today, I’m sharing five things I’ve learned through twenty years of marriage. My lessons are not a commentary on anyone else’s marriage, past nor present. I am not an authority on marriage. My husband and I still have kids living at home and more phases of life to travel together. This is what I’ve gleaned, for those of you who have asked and wondered.
Marriage is hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or afraid to be vulnerable about their reality. There’s no way around this fact, and the sooner I accepted it, the easier it became. Not long after I said “I do”, I began wondering who the person was sleeping next to me. Hadn’t I seen all of my husband’s strengths and weaknesses while dating? Yet, we’d sometimes look at each other with quizzical confused expressions. I might have even thought once or twice that I had made a mistake. Okay, not maybe, I did think it. Don’t get me wrong. There were no major issues, but when a person experiences another 24/7, they can’t close the door and keep them out. We could hide our flaws from the world, but we couldn’t hide from each other. And not only did I need to face his quirks and annoyances, I had to accept that I had some of my own that drove him nuts. To make matters more difficult, life brought disagreements, work stress, natural disasters, two miscarriages, a lay-off, living in a third world country, and chronic health issues. We had to accept the fact that marriage can be hard.
Marriage is awesome. Well, you can’t have valleys without mountains, right? When we are in sync, we are SO in sync. It’s amazing how our strengths and weaknesses can balance each other when we allow them to. I can admit when I suck at something or lack wisdom and then enable him to thrive. Other times, he champions my strengths as we journey together. Freeing ourselves to be who we were created to be allows us to experience success that no other relationship can provide.
The best gift we gave each other was CHANGE. No one should ever marry with the intention of changing someone. However, growth is imperative for any person to increase in wisdom and relationships. On our first anniversary, we didn’t purchase gifts. Instead, we allowed the other to tell us one thing we needed to change. My husband is even-keeled, non-emotive, analytical, and coherent. I have grown to appreciate these qualities and feel like I won the jackpot having him as an advisory in my life. However, the once it’s been established, it does not need to be restated mentality does not work in the area of romance. His gift to me was learning to express his love and affirmation verbally. Observing that last statement, it’s obvious I am a words person. I love receiving and giving them. However, I had to learn HOW to give them effectively. My conflict resolution skills were drowning in the bottom of a word barrel. I’m passionate, reactive, and emotional. Growing up, if I was mad, I yelled, slammed the door, went to bed, and woke up in the morning feeling like everything was fine. That seemed to work in my family. It didn’t work for my husband. While I slept soundly, he stewed all night and was bewildered at my happy countenance when I woke. Add in my avoidance of the issue that I had already forgotten about, and it almost undid him. That’s saying a lot with his personality. So, my gift to him was learning how to resolve conflict. Neither of us perfected those skills in year two and have yet to fully master them. However, offering change of ourselves to each other has been one of the greatest gifts.
Commitment is different than promising. When I married Paul, I committed lifelong. Being a child of divorce, I spent much time before the wedding processing what I could do to prevent divorce. Through my research, I discovered one of the top three reasons for divorce was financial issues. I resolved then never to fight with Paul about money. Twenty years later, we have not had one argument over finances. We might not always agree, but we work it out until we do. And we NEVER make major purchases without consent. (Well, except for the ratchet set and meat incidents. Infomercials and door-to-door salesmen can be very compelling, right? At least they weren’t HUGE expenses.) My other commitment was not to quit on us. Early on there were times when I’d lie in bed crying, sure he was my enemy for who knows what reason. There was a pattern. I’d cry and feel sorry for myself, think about how miserable I was, realize I couldn’t quit, then decide I’d better change my attitude and find a way to resolve. Otherwise, I’d be miserable for the next 50-60 years because I wasn’t going to quit. My strong will does come in handy sometimes. It’s amazing how our circumstances become more bearable when we adjust our attitudes. (Yes, I use this line on my kids all the time.) When things get rough and I question our situation, I remind myself what God wants for us. If God desires a healthy marriage, he will provide a way. I need to continually seek him to find it. Amen! (How can I not AMEN that statement!)
Sex and intimacy are not the same. This has been the most difficult lesson for me. Having been through abusive relationships and surviving choosing abortion (see previous blog posts), my view of sex was incredibly skewed. There are scars deep in my soul that have hindered me from being vulnerable in this area of my life. Sure, I can have sex but being intimate is off-limits. This might not make sense, but a spouse can tell when his wife is only physical versus emotional and spiritual. I’ve been blessed with a loving patient husband who has walked through counseling with me and enabled me to open the wounds deep within for healing. I’ve come to the conclusion that intimacy is a spiritual mystery only experienced when both of us focus on the other and become one. I believe God has given us intimacy in marriage as a means of not only joining us but also redeeming. There is no greater vulnerability than opening yourself to true intimacy. The healing and joy found there is found in no other place.
How about you? What are some lessons you’ve learned through your years of marriage?