Today Jeff and I celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary, which I know in the big scheme of things isn’t very long. It is just that this last year has sort of passed like a dog year for me: one year in length, 7 years in intensity. With Jeff being sick, his prolonged and up and down recovery, watching some dreams die and our lives being put on hold – plus all the other painful stuff that has happened recently, I have struggled to come up with a chipper and happy post to mark this very special day. So let me apologize up front.
As I’ve sat down several times now to write, I find myself returning to the theme of what I’ve learned about marriage.
This is tricky for me, because one of the things I’ve most definitely learned about marriage through the years and all of our recent history is just how little I know about it. For the record, I never have nor will I ever claim to be an expert on marriage. I am just a married person. With opinions. And a blog. And often, I feel sorry for Jeff…having to be married to me and all that must mean for him. Sigh.
At least together, most days we manage to put the “fun” in dysfunctional. Nervous chuckle.
So I am asking for a little grace here…and I might also ask you to pardon the messiness and lack of “rah rah doey-eyed” sentimentality about marriage that you will find in this post. I am sort of stuck in the trenches of it right now. Not less in love with Jeff mind you. Oh no! I love him more than ever. And have been so grateful at how our trials have been perhaps the greatest thing to ever happen to us – leading us to become more committed to and more in love with the other than we ever would have been capable of as young and foolish newlyweds. After 17 years, our love is most firmly planted in reality. And reality is messy. But I’m finding that living here is much more romantic and deeply satisfying than living in the imaginary world of denial, unrealistic expectations and self-soothing delusions.
A Few Things I’ve Learned About Marriage, After 17 Years:
1. Being married means agreeing not to be happy all the time. We have no idea what our marriage vows mean on our wedding day. I know I didn’t. “In sickness and in health…for better or for worse…till death do us part…” These are really pretty words until one of you is sick, until bad things happen, until you are stretched way past the happiness point and well into the realm of “this season of life really, really sucks”. If you think marriage is about being happy, you are missing a major component of it. Of course it should and does bring joy. If married people don’t spend a lot of time smiling and laughing together, I am deeply worried about the health of their marriage. But some days you do what you promised to do, not because it is fun and not because it makes you happy, but because it is right. And because it is the only way to open the door to the type of deep soul marriage we all want as we age. Which is of course, one of the happiest things available to us on this earth.
2. In some seasons, it is all about the other person. We tend to describe marriage as a partnership, which it is. But in some seasons of life, one person isn’t capable of carrying their weight. In some seasons of life the division of labor is most definitely not very even as one person needs more than the other. And the other person carries more than the other. Recognizing and being ok with it when it is your turn to give or receive more than we might have planned on or be comfortable with is a rite of passage in marriage. Because…
3. Married people take care of each other. I’ll never forget the first time I spent the night throwing up (and um, other stuff) in our teeny tiny apartment bathroom, just four weeks after our wedding. I ate some bad chicken at a church dinner – no hate FBCD, I’m just sayin’… I remember being so humiliated, so afraid Jeff would turn away from what I thought was the grossest thing I could possibly do. And by extension, turn away from me. And great man that he is, he cleaned it all up. He cleaned me up. He took care of me. Gross-ness and all. We’ve been taking turns taking care of each other’s gross-ness in all its forms ever since. Physical. Emotional. Spiritual. Relational. Metaphorical.
You name it. Because taking care of each other, especially when it is messy, even when whatever the mess is splatters…is what married people do.
4. Laughter is really, really important. The other day I was walking by my son’s room. Both he and my littlest daughter were in there, just playing. And I heard them laughing. From their bellies. Somehow, even though they are different ages with different interests, and they easily could have said, “Mom, I’m so bored!”, they found a way to enjoy the afternoon, making the best of whatever it was they had. I almost cried at how beautiful the moment was. You know, as a parent, as much as I was touched by my children enjoying each other, I suspect it also means a lot to God when He sees His sons and daughters doing the same. Couples should find ways to connect their lives with that place in their hearts that bears God’s image and not only smiles at things, but belly laughs at them. It can save your sanity in those moments when all you want to do is cry. Speaking from experience here.
5. Trials are opportunities – to do things differently and to become more committed to the relationship. With Jeff’s sickness, our lives have basically stopped. And we’ve had a lot of time together, to talk, evaluate and plan. As we slowly restart our lives, we have a chance to fix some things that were sort of broken, to build some things that have been absent and to get rid of some things that have been toxic, but so normal for us we hadn’t even noticed. Building in to your marriage a way to change things, to talk in such a way as to be open to making new choices, to embrace life-stopping events as a gift and to use them to take a different relational path…these are skills of folks who have a chance to go the distance.
6. Invite older, wiser people to speak into your life and marriage. Titus 2:3-5 gives older women an interesting series of commands. First is to teach younger women to love their husbands. I find this fascinating because who would have ever thought you would need to teach this. Seems like something that should come naturally to us. But anyone who has been married for more than two minutes knows that loving another person does not come easily or naturally. This is why we need community. Why we need to walk deeply with each other and share the journey – and what we’ve learned along the way with those who are just a bit behind where we are. As a result, I am always on the lookout for older women who know things I don’t. Who are doing their lives, their faith, their marriages and their families well. And I try like crazy to get some of their time. To ask questions. To listen to their stories. Cause I’ve been married long enough to know I need help. Lots of it.
So Jeff and I will be celebrating our anniversary resting. Cause it has been a really rough past few months. And his body and my heart need some time to just…be. We might make it to the new James Bond movie. We’ll probably play Chutes and Ladders with our little one and maybe take a walk with the big kids. I might make something fun for dinner. We’ll hold hands. And be so grateful together that Jesus has enabled us to make it this far together, more married now than when we started so many years ago.