I’ve spent a lot of time this past year around young 20 somethings – which has been both a joy and privilege. So much energy. So much potential. Because of that, I’ve been thinking…if I had the first part of my youth and marriage to do over again, what do I know now that would have been helpful to have known then?
After 18 years of marriage (and I realize that I’m just getting started at being married), I am finding that there are many things that would have been helpful for someone to have brought up in conversation waaaaay back then. Stubborn and foolish as I was, it might not have changed anything I did or choices I made along the way, but…and here is a big truth…with knowledge comes choice…and the freedom to make different, hopefully better choices. I would love for young people to learn to make wise, godly choices concerning how they will structure their married lives, because I can’t think of any area with more potential to bless or harm them in the coming years. My campus minister told me while I was in college, “Marriage can be the closest thing to heaven on earth, or the closest thing to hell on earth.” True dat. My prayer is that the young people I know would have more of the “heaven”-like experience.
In light of this, I am continuing my annual tradition of writing about marriage and relationships on the blog around this time of year. (Links to the last post from the other series are “Healthy Marriage Practices” and Marriage Predictors.) They have consistently been among the most highly read things I’ve written. Ever. Seems y’all love the topic of love.
Yet, I was this close to skipping this series this year. Because…if you’ve followed this blog or my adventures at all for the last few years…well…after living with a sick husband, managing lots of life transitions…the actual experience of marriage has been so exhausting that the thought of writing about it just seemed overwhelming. Let me clarify… my experience with marriage and Jeff hasn’t been negative, mind you. On this side of all we’ve been through, I am more married and in love with my husband than ever before. Which I guess is ultimately why I am back writing this series this year. Because a good marriage is worth the work. It is one of God’s sweetest gifts to us.
So, here are the first of some of my thoughts on what I think young folks should know about marriage:
1. Who you marry in your 20’s isn’t the same person you will be married to in your 40’s, even though it is physically the same person. I’ve said before that over the course of our marriage, my husband has probably been married to at least 4 or 5 different women. All of them were me of course, but I’ve changed so much over the years, it is sort of like he gets a new wife every so often. We all change and grow over the years. Life happens. Stuff happens. And while much of the core of who we are in our youth follows us for a lifetime, often, that core can act like a pedestal on which the real artwork to be created later, sits. Hopefully the progression is a positive one, with your spouse becoming more kind, gentle, unselfish and committed to Jesus and to you. Hopefully, every year, your home is characterized by deeper wisdom, growing friendships and healthier and clearer communication. But we’ve all seen that this isn’t necessarily a given. In fact, in some circles, it isn’t even common enough to call it the norm. So, if you know going in that both you and your spouse will grow into a related, but different self after a few decades of life, what are some things to keep in mind at the start of your marriage?
2. When choosing a spouse, look for someone who knows how to find and isn’t afraid to ask for help. (and learn to do this for yourself) One of the endearingly optimistic qualities of young people is that they are convinced they are invincible. And maybe immortal. And possibly the exception to the bad things that can happen. Many of the darker realities of life around them…depression, bankruptcy, broken hearts, addictions, bitter marriages or divorce…they assume those things happen to other people. The reality is however, no one knows what life will throw at them. And since no one is omniscient or omnipotent, at times we will run into circumstances we don’t understand or know how to handle. These can be the things that change us – for better or for worse, depending on what we do with them. One of the great thing about being human though, is that someone else has already walked through whatever we will go through. We don’t have to be alone. If we can find those people who have survived and thrived in spite of pain… and pick their brain, opening ourselves and all our insecurities up to them, we can learn what they know. The key is we have to ask for help. If we are proud, or passive, or convinced things will just work out, then we will never know more than we know. Which honestly, isn’t very much. Trust me, you want to be married to someone who knows how to access the wisdom around them – and isn’t afraid to do so. Learning the practice of knowing how to find and ask for help…is like putting a big safety net around your relationship.
3. When looking for a spouse, look for someone who is courageous. (and learn to cultivate the quality in yourself) Being married doesn’t mean you know what will happen to you. It just means you know who your travel buddy through life will be. And on the journey, it takes courage to look at who you are, or who you are becoming, and ask for help if you see you need it. It takes courage to listen to the constructive criticism of someone who loves you, or to be receptive to a cry for help from your spouse that threatens your “normal”. It takes courage to admit you are wrong and be willing to change. It takes courage to not run from pain when everything in you wants to get out of there. It takes courage to try things you’ve never done before, know you will fail when you start, but to keep at it because you know it will eventually bless you and your family. It takes courage to allow Jesus to show you just how deeply messed up you are on the inside and then to say to Him, “Do whatever it takes, whatever You want, to bring healing, to make me more like You.” Courage is a really really important characteristic you want in your spouse. Learning to cultivate it in your youth can reap tremendous blessings in your later life.
While many women think they want the hunky soldier type, the better husband is the guy with the character to fall on the grenade.