With Valentine’s Day approaching this weekend, it is only natural to think about romantic love and all that goes along with that! As I wrote this blog about marriage and the things that Luke and I have learned over our 2.5 year journey together as newlyweds (still calling us that, although I don’t think the title really applies,) I almost did not post it multiple times, mostly out of fear of people thinking I am silly for daring to speak on this vast of a subject as building a successful marriage when I myself have such limited experience so far. 2.5 years isn’t exactly a world record for longest marriage, and our total of nearly 6 years together in a relationship isn’t as extensive as many couples have experienced either! But, as I prayed throughout the day today and wrote exactly what was on my heart I was convicted to post it, in hopes of maybe helping other newlyweds, like myself, find their way in a very new chapter that is far different from any they have experienced so far. So, here goes! First comes love, then comes the proposal, followed by the Big. Wedding. Day.
Most little girls grow up with a version of their own real-life fairy tale wedding, the Prince Charming who will some day sweep them off their feet, and the perfect life that will follow. If you’ve ever watched a Classic Disney Fairytale, you know exactly what I mean. The conflict of the movie always occurs in the girl’s life leading up to finding this perfect man- Cinderella was scrubbing floors, Sleeping Beauty was essentially in a coma, and Rapunzel was trapped in a tower. And, then the man came in and saved the day. But the real issue with these stories is that they portray marriage (or essentially a Wedding Day) as the magical end to all life’s problems….”And they lived happily ever after…”
Well, once they ride away into the sunset toward their castle to rule over the land, they have to actually live in that castle day to day. And life does not magically become simpler with marriage. Suddenly, you have to deal with two different people’s expectations, issues and commitments on a daily, 24/7 never-ending basis. You also get all the bliss and joy of being married, but my point is that it is certainly not entirely a bed of roses. Marriage is hard. That’s why the divorce rate is so high at 50%. Only 1 in 2 couples make it; that is staggering. And, those are the daunting stats facing us. That’s why it is so important to me to invest in our marriage early and to never stop investing, focusing on this above all else aside from my relationship with God.
Society has such an emphasis on engagement, wedding planning and The Big Day, that sometimes there is not much thought to what comes next. It will all just work itself out, right? Wrong. Real marriage takes work, long after you have worn the lacy gown, eaten the ten-tiered cake and exchanged beautiful diamond rings. Sure, we all know that in theory. And, I thought I did. I knew we would have challenges, and life would not always be perfect. But, it was still rose-colored for me, glossed in that unique Wedding Day glow, that our marriage would make everything perfect. And after the honeymoon, I found myself struggling with the day-to-day life of being married when everything didn’t immediately fall into place.
Wait a minute…In all the fairy tales I read/watched, the Wedding Day was the end point. What now? I felt deceived and then confused. Who is going to teach me how to be married and live with this man day after day? This is not to say that Luke was not amazing, because he is/was, but I had no idea how to be his wife. I felt alone at first, as I tried to stumble through and do what I thought was right. Always an avid reader, I was quick to seek counsel from a book. And, fortunately, I found the perfect manual for marriage in God’s word.
But, if you just look at the requirements for love in a God-honoring, biblically based marriage, they are pretty tough to uphold. This classic definition of love was read at our Second Wedding (yes, we had 2!),
and here is what it is supposed to look like, according to Jesus:
“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 in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
So, I was the girl with all the answers and God on her side. Should be simple now, right? No! Does our marriage always look this way? Of course not! Because we are fallible humans, and all husbands and wives sometimes fall short of these goals. I think you just have to try to succeed more than you fail and see each day as a new start to strive to love in the way God commands.
In my opinion, society as a whole & especially the Church needs to focus more on mentoring young people to be husbands and wives versus brides and grooms. I recently read that the average price of a wedding tops $30,000! People are willing to spend that much for a Day of Their Dreams (myself included, although I don’t want to share an exact figure for our wedding), but they go into a marriage with this big Launch Party, and suddenly find themselves kind of lost, wondering how to proceed next. It’s not so much a Fairy Tale as an extension of real life, albeit with a gorgeous/handsome, wonderful partner by your side! Then comes the wondering of who to speak to for advice and what to do when you encounter your first big fight, first financial difficulty, etc. How many books, manuals and friends are there to chat with you about wedding planning, dress shopping and planning bridal showers? But, when it comes to being married, it can be much more challenging because it’s just the 2 of you, and your issues may be deeper than what color bowtie for the groomsmen to wear. I learned early on that while I love our families, I do not go to my parents for advice on my marriage, as a general rule. It is a hard habit to break, because I know they would be there for me whenever needed, and I have gone to them my whole life for advice. But, in a fit of rage, you just don’t want to vent untrue things about your partner that will color their opinion of that person in a negative way forever. For us, we usually try to work things out just between the 2 of us and God, but I know every relationship is different. I just urge caution with words, because as the Bible points out repeatedly, our tongues can be the most dangerous of swords and can do a lot of harm toward the one we love most in the world if we are not careful in how we speak of them to others.
But, regardless, you find that after the wedding, you are suddenly living out a lifetime together. You become each other’s Number 1 aside from God. He is my Emergency Contact now, not my Mom, which was a weird shift. He now has a say in how my paycheck is spent and vice versa, etc. As you tackle life together, it can be disheartening to think about the number of weddings versus the number of marriages that last more than 30, 40 or 50 years. The numbers are sadly disproportionate! And, to be very, very honest, sometimes, it can feel lonely trying to “work out the kinks” in order to love the 1 Corinthians 13 way. But, to me, Happily Ever After doesn’t happen on a Wedding Day; it happens in two side-by-side rocking chairs on a wraparound porch, holding Luke’s gnarled and weathered hand in mine while surrounded with our family that we built together during a lifetime of love. It is that feeling of, “Hey babe, We did it. Here is the finish line!” Everyone can have a Wedding Day, but few experience that kind of great accomplishment of a lifetime. And, the race to get there is not easy. But, I know we want to keep at it.
In my just over 2 years of being married, I have learned at least 3 tenets of what I see as a successful marriage in my very limited experience. At least it works for us. It may not be much, but it is a start, and these things have helped me out in my still early journey of being a wife.
1. God has to come first.
Most marriage ceremonies mention that a cord of three strands is not easily broken, but that cord can only come when God is first and foremost in our thoughts, minds and actions. It is so easy to become distracted and lazy in your spiritual life when so many other things are vying for your time and attention. But, the times when we have been happiest as a couple are when we are both regularly attending Church, making time for Bible study and daily walks with God. Anyone in my family can tell you I am just NOT a morning person. But, I have been making myself get up earlier to have some “me” time, to eat breakfast and gather my thoughts for the day. As I have been incorporating a little Bible study into that protected time of the day, I have found myself to be happier as a person, a wife and a Daughter of God.
In our pre-marital counseling, our Pastor told us about the most intimate marriage experience of all. (This is NOT sexual.) It is rather the act of holding one another as you lay in bed at night and pray aloud together about your day, the day to come and for one another’s triumphs and struggles, hopes and dreams. This is something Luke and I work so hard to incorporate in our lives, and we succeed 98% of the time. Pastor was right– It is my very favorite part of the day, always. It is such a restorative, refreshing experience for both of us. Occasionally, we will text Scripture verses and encouragement throughout the day, but nothing beats that time when we can be physically together praying for those we love. I think you can find God wherever you are, and He will meet you there.
2. Divorce is not an option. EVER.
My grandmother who was married for 45 years before her husband passed away, once told me, “People give up too easily these days. They are more selfish, and when some little thing doesn’t go right, they throw in the towel instead of sticking together and working it out.” She went on to explain that in her day, she perceived that people still had issues but they worked through them more often and stuck it out. Divorce was a rarity, not a common occurrence. Today, “Divorce” has become a societal buzzword that gets thrown around too casually and is implemented far too often. It can be seen as an easy fix-all solution. But since we are all human, who is to say the next partner is going to be any better or fulfill all of the needs that the last partner couldn’t? Truly, no one can fulfill all of any person’s needs, aside from Jesus Christ. There is no perfect person, and that includes a spouse. I think that building a good marriage with anyone takes a LOT of hard work and the daily decision to keep at it.
**Just to be clear: This tenet applies to our marriage and is not meant to condemn divorce as a whole. The Bible recognizes divorce as acceptable in the case of adultery. But, I would never pass judgment on anyone who has chosen divorce. As the old proverb says, I have not walked a mile in anyone’s shoes but my own, so I could not begin to delve into the depths of anyone’ else’s marriage or evaluate their decisions. It is not my place, and many divorced people are rightly divorced. It was the best or even only decision for them to make to get out of a scary, dangerous, unsafe situation.
But for Luke and I, we know that we will not choose this path because we are choosing to do our very best to apply the Biblical principles found in 1 Corinthians 13 to our marriage, and for us, “love perseveres.” Plus, we said a vow to one another in front of God and all of our friends and family in 2013, “Till Death Do Us Part.” This is not something we take lightly.
Luke said it the other day that often, Love is a choice that you make over and over again. We are both pretty stubborn (which can work to both of our detriments at times), but in this case, it is a positive. We know that we have a good thing, and we are both committed to staying in it for the long haul. This means dealing with a lot from each other. “Through better or worse.” Although we have been so fortunate not to have had to endure any major tragedy in our nearly 6 years together, we have been through some rough situations together. Ironically, I was the one in our early years who would often threaten to break up with/leave him after a fight or silly squabble. That was the course of action I would throw out. And, it really hurt our relationship for a long time. He couldn’t feel safe that I would stay and tough it out with him for the long haul.
In church last week, our pastor gave a sermon about dating in honor of Valentine’s Day. He said that one question a person involved in a dating relationship should evaluate about their partner is: “Is this person a quitter?” Marriage is forever, and you cannot make it if both parties are not fully committed. Luckily, I have long since learned my lessons about threatening to leave, and we have both agreed to never throw out the “D” word (Divorce) in the heat of the moment again. Divorce should not be a threat, even a half-hearted emotional one, and it has to be removed from the table to be able to experience the kind of love that God has designed for marriage.
3. Marriage is NOT 50/50.
I have heard this said before, but marriage is truly 100/100. Both people have to give 100% all the time. Because marriage is not self seeking, you also have to be willing to serve your spouse at 100% with the expectation of nothing in return. There should not be a score that you are trying to settle or a tally of who does what for whom.
In the early days of our marriage, I also struggled with this. I would do something, whether it was cooking dinner, cleaning a bathroom or doing him a favor, and immediately want my reward.
Well I made this Sweet and Sour Chicken for him….What will he do for me? For a while, we even made it a routine to choose at least one nice thing to do for each other every week. This was a nice way to keep us accountable, but it eventually phased out.
It wasn’t until I turned the question and my mindset from “What will he do for me this week?” to “What can I do for him, regardless of what he does for me?” which made all the difference. Right now, my husband averages a 70-hour work week (on a GOOD week.) Some weeks, it is a lot more than that. There are sometimes not enough physical hours in the day for him to spend more than 20-30 minutes with me, and he is running on little sleep after doing physically exhausting work all day. Despite this, he still does lots of little things for me that I was taking for granted in my desire to prove I was doing “more.” For example, he came home at nearly 10 p.m. the other night, and I had cleaned our home and had dinner ready for us. I figured we would eat, he would hit the bed, and I would clean the kitchen, which I was fully OK with. But, the first thing he did, before eating, changing clothes or flopping on the couch was to go to admire my Master’s diploma, which had come in the mail. He made a big deal of telling me how proud he was and then carefully took apart the frame he had purchased for me a few months earlier and painstakingly mounted my degree, making sure it was straight from every angle. The process took 5-10 minutes, and he hadn’t even removed his boots after being on his feet for 15+ hours! It was only when I reframed my expectations and chose to do more while lifting the burden off him, that our marriage became much happier. Sure, I had done “more” that day. But what he did meant the world to me!
When I was in grad school, there were many nights when I would come home too exhausted to do anything but finish my homework and fall into bed. On those evenings, Luke served me completely, wholeheartedly with no expectation of getting anything in return. He would fix or pick up dinner, clean the kitchen, pick up around the house and entertain himself while I plugged away at my computer. Sometimes, the most I could do on those nights was stop work to watch a 30-minute sitcom with him and that was our “quality time” for the day. The key is that we both give it all to the best possible extent that we can during that chapter of our lives. It’s like a see saw–some days I do more, some days he does, but the balance remains because we are both giving 100%. God calls us to love at 100% in a selfless manner, always, in all circumstances.
My friend and fellow Christian blogger, Jen DeFrates, published a great story on her blog, Heaven Not Harvard, called “The Secret Service.” You can read more about it here
, but it examines the idea of giving to your spouse while expecting nothing in return. I gained so much insight from this blog and have tried my best to apply a similar concept in my relationship with Luke with great results. I would highly recommend it.
As you can see, we are slowly trying to work our way through 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and apply the principles to our marriage, but it isn’t easy. Bad habits are so thoroughly ingrained and the “Me, Me” mindset of society is so hard to overcome. But, for those couples who are engaged or dating, I would recommend more of a focus on the relationship and the marriage than some big, grand Wedding Day. The Day is great, but it ends in just 24 hours. The marriage is forever.