(This is part 3 in my series discussing a few things young people should know about marriage. Part one on unexpected traits to look for in a spouse is here, and part two on the importance of what is inside of a person is here.)
I’ve set up this series of posts about things I wish young people knew about marriage by presenting the truth that who you marry in your twenties isn’t necessarily who you will be married to in your 40’s (even if it is physically the same person). Hopefully, this is a wonderful thing…that you and your spouse, if Jesus is involved, grow up over the years you have together. You become more of who He has made you to be. More kind, more loving, more patient, more willing to sacrifice for the other…etc. You learn new skills that make being married better. More satisfying. While this isn’t always the case, it is a beautiful thing when it happens.
But it also means that periodically, a marriage has the opportunity to reset. (I wrote more about this phenomenon here.) I’ve said before that I think my long-suffering husband has been married to 4-5 different women during our marriage. (I’ve been a newlywed, a high school science teacher, a stay-at-home mom of babies, a missionary, etc) While all of them were me, every new season of personal transformation has initiated a learning curve and adjustment period for us both as we have settled into our new normal. These transition times can be filled with danger – or possibilities for growth, depending on what you do with them. Being aware of, paying attention to and figuring out how to navigate these changes is a vital, and often under-taught skill! When you are dating and in the early years of your marriage, there can be windows of opportunity that hold the potential to be a wonderful blessing to you both as you age and grow.
Here are some ways to lean into those windows of opportunity:
7. The time when you and your husband/wife jointly need friends/mentors/counselors is not the time to go looking for them. You need to do this long before you need them. Few people are ready to begin relationships with needy people or those in crisis, and for good reason. We aren’t always ready to invest lots of energy and emotional capital into people we hardly know, or that may cost us something. But, we gladly do this for and with people we love, have known for years and are relationally connected to. One of the things I’ve learned this past season of life, with our family being in such need, is that our friends and those who help guide us – those relationships are gold. Had I tried to go looking for friends and mentors like that in the middle of our crisis time…let’s just say, it would not have gone well. I have had several moments along the way where I know I was just unbelievably needy (and probably rather pitiful). I am so grateful for our friends who dropped what they were doing to come alongside us and not only walk with us, but carry us when we couldn’t take care of ourselves. These are the people who brought food, babysat, did yard work and dishes. Who hugged and cried, listened and loved, praying all along the way. Then, there were the wiser, older people I was able to call and talk with when I had no idea what to do. I am so grateful these relationships were in place long before I needed them. The help and care they were able to so lovingly share was only possible because of the years of investment we made in each others lives earlier on, when we weren’t in crisis. My advice to young people? Spend a lot of your time and energy in this early season of life growing your relational network, whatever that looks like for you. (And since relationships are two-way, learn to be a giving friend for others also.) You have more time, energy and relational bandwidth in your youth than you ever will again. Be wise in how you use it! Friends are among God’s greatest gifts to us – yet so few of us put much thought into cultivating them well. This can be a great blessing to your marriage – proactively protecting you from the challenges that life will eventually throw at you, and that are surmountable with help.
8. As an individual, find someone who has navigated a few of these seasons of life well. And do whatever it takes to get some of their time. Here is something I know to be true – there is nothing new under the sun. There is no marital challenge before me that someone else hasn’t experienced. That means, there are those out there who know how to do whatever it is I need to learn how to do – or at least there are those out there who can offer ideas and lines of thought I’ve not considered. One of the most fruitful practices I’ve incorporated into my life has been the intentional seeking out of wisdom. Of course, this practice isn’t novel. It goes by many names – mentoring,
discipleship, counseling, spiritual friendship, spiritual direction, etc. But it often seems so under-practiced that at times, I am alarmed. Sometimes young people are arrogant and don’t think they need help. More often, they are afraid or don’t know how to ask for another to join them in the process. And sometimes, most of the time actually, I think the fault lies with older people…with those who should and could help but don’t. Shame on us. They/we don’t create those places where generations can cross and interact. They don’t make space in their schedules to find and love on those young people in their spheres of influence. They don’t think they have anything to offer, so they don’t try. May I encourage you? As an individual, try like crazy to find a mentor or older friend. Access their wisdom. Ask questions. Invite them to ask questions of you. And then please, learn to do and be this for the young people who come behind you. We can create pockets of relationally healthy people and marriages in a culture where this is not the norm, if we learn to practice this with and for each other.