Reflecting on Ten Years of Marriage

10yearsofmarriageAllow me to be a bit self-indulgent this morning. Normally on Mondays I write-up book reviews, but this last week was my ten-year anniversary, so I didn’t do a lot of reading. I do generally read a lot and I always glean valuable lessons from the various books I process. None of them, however, could have taught me what being married to the same woman for these last ten years has taught me. So, here are ten lessons I’ve learned over ten years of marriage:

1. Listening to others and letting them know that they are heard is a BIG deal. Early on in our marriage I was not good at this habit. Our first year of marriage Krista struggled with an eating disorder and I was too immature and too selfish to know how to be helpful. Throughout the remaining years I often struggled to make her feel like she was understood. I might hear the words she was saying but I did not understand their value, their significance to her, nor did I communicate that I appreciated her perspective. I look back and see that I could have interrupted a number of fights simply by listening and letting her know that she was heard. If most marital problems stem from a lack of communication, I might further clarify that by saying most communication problems stem from a lack of actually listening to one another. I’ve still got a lot of work to do in this area.

2. Marriages grow healthier as they look outward. Marriages that exist only for themselves become boring and frustrating. Marriages, however, that direct themselves towards serving and loving others grow and thrive. The more that the Lord has softened our hearts over the years to invite people into our home, and into our lives, the more that our personal marriage has been blessed. Not only has our mutual investment in other people not deterred our investment in each other, but it has actually strengthened it. I wish I had known this many years ago, but I am thankful that the Lord has been patient with us.

3. Gender roles aren’t the most important issue your marriage faces. When we were first engaged and first married Krista and I were obsessed with gender roles (or at least I was and she endured it). We used the words “male headship” and “submission” and “complimentarianism” often. The truth was, however, that we had no clue what any of these words meant practically, and most of the pastors we listened to never really put skin and bone on them for us. For years this has meant that I made lots of dumb decisions, and Krista endured them, because I didn’t know how to ask for advice from her and she didn’t think she should give it. We were confused and misdirected in this area. In more recent years the Lord has given us greater wisdom in this area and we are much happier and healthier for it. In fact, the greatest lesson we’ve learned in this area is that “gender roles,” as they are often spoken of, are probably not the most helpful way to think about your relationship dynamics.

4. Emotions wax and wane. Love is not the same as romantic feelings. Everyone tells you this when your first married, but you don’t really get it until later. Sometimes you have strong affection for each other and other times you want to choke each other to death. Sometimes you can’t imagine your life without this person and other times you wish they’d just leave you alone. Emotions come and go.

5. Sacrificing in marriage is not about manipulation, but rather responsibility. Sometimes Christian sub-culture paints this picture of sacrifice in marriage that says, “If you do what you’re supposed to it will win the other person over.” Not only is that not true, but it is not Biblical. That’s just manipulation under the guise of Biblical wisdom. Sacrificing in marriage is about doing what is right before the Lord regardless of how your spouse responds. It’s easy to do the right things for a while, so long as you’re getting positive responses. Eventually, however, we have to be willing to obey Jesus regardless of what happens, otherwise we’re just playing at obedience.

6. Differences, Disagreements, and Diversity in a relationship are not disastrous. Krista pointed out to me this weekend that one thing that she had to learn was that disagreements are okay. For a long while she was under the impression that we always had to agree. We had to have the same hobbies, the same convictions, and draw the same conclusions. So often she would become irritated if a conversation didn’t resolve in unanimity. But the rich diversity of our relationship has been good for us. Her differences have helped me to grow in tremendous ways, and our differences help us serve each other, the children, and our friends in different ways.

7. The goal of your marriage should NOT be having children. Not long after we got married we began having conversations about children. The truth is that we probably had kids way too early, and became obsessed with having kids. It was particularly an obsession because we had so much trouble getting pregnant. God’s timing works out best and we had kids when he wanted us too, but our marriage was frustrating early on because this was our focus. We missed some prime opportunity to invest in one another, grow, and mature in our own right and in our relationship. Kids are a wonderful blessing but if marriages aren’t about something greater, then your marriage will suffer when the kids don’t arrive, or when they finally leave home. Fundamentally that means our marriage needs to be about God. Our marriage matters, and is worth fighting for, because it is about Him.

8. Sexual Intimacy is not the benchmark of health. Sex is a great blessing within marriages, but it’s not the determining factor of health. Celebrity pastors seem to be so obsessed with talking about it, preaching about it, and writing about it that it has become a focal point for a number of marriages. But sexual intimacy may increase and decrease for a variety of reasons and couples can have great relationships regardless of the amount of sex they have. Sex is a part of marital intimacy, but it’s not the only part – nor even the most important part. When you’re young you don’t get this, but as you get older it starts to sink in.

9. Listen to wise seasoned couples. Marriage is hard. The truth is sometimes being married can really suck, and staying together is not easy and doesn’t happen naturally. The most valuable thing a couple can have is an older couple who’s been where they are. A couple who can impart wisdom and warning is priceless in marriage. I needed that early on, and I still need it today. I don’t write these words as one who has figured out marriage and can now finally start telling people how it is, I write this post as an idiot and a failure who has to remind himself as much as anyone about these lessons. I need wiser voices than my own counseling me in my marriage. I am thankful for the many people Krista and I have that we can call for help.

10. Lighten Up. Marriage is meant to be enjoyed. This last week was a great reminder to me that we can spend so much time working on our marriages that we actually fail to live in them. Our marriage can become a project, a chore, a spiritual duty and not a blessing. Relax. Laugh together. Go away together. Be crazy and do goofy things. Plan events that have no specified ultimate goal. Sit down to coffees that require no agenda, serious meeting, or bullet point talk. In general, enjoy one another and enjoy your time together.

Maybe you’d add your own lessons to this list. What wisdom would you impart?

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