Yep, you guessed it – I had an anniversary recently. I marked nineteen years of marriage to one of the most honest and upstanding men I have ever known, and I am honored to call him my husband. He loves me totally and accepts me as I am. He became an instant father to my then 8-year-old daughter when we married and he has never looked at her as anything but his very own daughter. It takes a very special person with an open heart to do that.
The photo above is a perfect representation of our wedding day. It was just plain fun for me and such a pleasant surprise to see how many people in our lives cared enough to show up on that blistering hot July day. I vividly remember when the doors opened for my stepfather to walk me down the aisle and I saw all the friends and family assembled there, for US. I felt so loved and I wanted to hug each and every one of them.
We left the church to go to the reception and made a stop in our wedding finery to see our friends Keith and Brennan, who owned a snowball stand. They took pictures of us holding our wedding cake snowballs before we dove back into the air-conditioned car to get to the reception.
Our small group friends helped serve at the reception and one of them arranged for a DJ. When Jon and I left the reception to go to our hotel and change clothes for a romantic dinner, we realized we’d left our luggage in a friend’s car, so we drove by the reception hall to retrieve it. We noticed several cars that we recognized so we went up to the hall to see who was still there. The hotel staff was cleaning the room but our small group was dancing in the corner where the DJ was set up. So we stayed and danced a little bit. Wouldn’t you? Like I said, it was lots of fun.
I’m not going to lie: marriage hasn’t always been easy. If you’re married you already know this yourself. We don’t always agree and there are plenty of times one of us has to apologize to the other. I’m sure there are things we’d change about each other if we could wave a magic wand, but while we’re not perfect, we are perfect for each other. He is the peanut butter to my jelly. Our strengths are not the same ones, but we work together well. It’s a good thing we’re not alike – I don’t think I’d want to be married to contrary ol’ me.
And we’ve had our share of sorrows. We struggled with infertility and loss, and we’ve buried many loved ones in nineteen years. But we’ve also had so much joy. We welcomed a daughter in 2001 through birth and another in 2005 through adoption. We married off our oldest daughter and became Papa and Nana to our sweet granddaughter in 2010. We’ve traveled (not nearly as much as we’d like) and we’ve snuggled at home on the couch with our girls and thought, “This is the life!”
We’ve seen God’s hand in our relationship from day one, when we met in the Burger King on the Cumberland Avenue strip. We’ve sought His will as we made decisions for the family and tried our best to follow Him. And we’ve enjoyed fellowship and friendship as we served and worshiped with other believers.
So in honor of our nineteen years of wedded (mostly) bliss, here are nineteen gems of wisdom based on all I’ve learned (so far) about marriage:
1. Don’t ever marry someone and expect to change them. Period. It’s not going to happen. If you don’t like who they are RIGHT NOW, don’t marry them. But…
2. Expect them to change, and not always in ways you like or want. Something happens after the wedding, a kind of “letting down your hair”, that reveals things you may not have realized about your new spouse. Unless it’s dangerous or illegal, better to just roll with it.
3. Marriage retreats and marriage enrichment classes are helpful but only if both of you are there for the right reasons.
4. It takes two people to get married but only one of them to destroy the marriage. Don’t be that one.
5. Speaking of which, marriage is WORK. Just like a garden, you can’t just leave it alone and expect it to thrive. Weed it, fertilize it, work on it.
6. You will have ebbs and flows of affection. I’m sorry to all you newlyweds, but it’s true. Wait it out. It’ll come back, I promise. Look back at pictures of you when you were dating and remind yourself of why you fell in love in the first place.
7. Contrary to what The Beatles might say, love is NOT all you need. You need commitment, trust, honesty, companionship, and a whole load of other things too. And work. See #5.
8. Don’t make the mistake of expecting your spouse to be like your parent of the same gender. Your own parents are usually your first example of marriage and it’s easy to cast yourselves in their roles, except your spouse had other parents and he or she is busy casting you in his or her own parent’s role. It’s not fair. Plus you didn’t really want to be married to your own parent, did you? That’s just weird.
9. In fact, just check all your expectations at the door. Period. Don’t come into marriage with a bunch of preconceived notions because you’ll only find yourself disappointed to be married to an actual human, who has faults and might have their own notions. Unless you’ve discussed it and agreed ahead of time, it’s not fair to assume that the man always mows the grass and the woman always cooks dinner.
10. Premarital counseling is worth the time and money. I know, I know: you and your beloved have no points of disagreement and will ride happily off into the sunset with no help from any silly counselors. Just do it anyway. Trust me.
11. Consider yourself married until death does you part. If you allow yourself to entertain the idea of ending your marriage, before you know it it becomes a possibility, and then an option. Don’t make it an option. (unless something dangerous is going on, of course)
12. Apologize first. Yes, even if you didn’t start it and/or even if you’re not the one who is wrong. Apologize for your part in it. Just do it. Pride will get you nowhere.
13. Remember you are a team. You need to work together and consider your spouse your partner, not your enemy. Sometimes being a team means compromise. Okay, LOTS of times that means compromise.
14. Be willing to be broken in front of your partner. I am independent to a fault and it would be tempting to try to handle everything by myself, but then why be married? Let your partner see you at your weak points, and let them help you.
15. Worship together. Read the Bible together. Do a couple’s devotional. Somebody once told me that a marriage is like a triangle, with God at the top, you at one bottom corner and your spouse at the other. The closer each of you gets to God, the closer you get to each other. Cheesy? Maybe, but also true.
16. Try things your spouse likes to do, even if it’s not your cup of tea. I once took Jon white-water rafting. That’s totally outside his comfort zone but he was a great sport, and he actually enjoyed it enough to do it again a few years later. Or maybe it was just that his memories had faded. Likewise, I’ve been camping even though for me it’s just like being at home except outside. Without A/C. Or my bed. Or a proper refrigerator and stove. And lots of bugs and other critters.
17. God, spouse, children, everyone else. That’s the order. It’s tempting to make your kids the focus of your marriage but don’t. One day they will (hopefully) leave home and your spouse will still be there. What will you have to talk about when the kids are gone?
18. You are your spouse’s biggest cheerleader. Don’t get into the habit of sharing his or her faults and foibles with your friends. Telling funny or embarrassing stories about your spouse is easy and everybody seems to be doing it. Praising them to others takes more thought. Ask yourself if your words are building up your spouse or tearing them down. Don’t let the things you say about your spouse leave others wondering why on earth you married that person, if that’s how you really see them. Better yet, let your spouse hear you say nice things about them.
19. You need friends. Yes, your spouse is your lifelong companion and the one person you know you can rely on, but you need other friends too. Your husband shouldn’t have to hear every single detail about the last book you read and what the humidity does to your hair. He’s not going to be interested in hearing about how it felt when you had an ovarian cyst. (sorry, guys) Your wife probably doesn’t care about the post-game analysis of your favorite basketball team’s lastest game. (because I don’t care for basketball. Football is a different story, but I digress.) You need friends of your own gender who share your interests because they make your life richer. You also need couple friends (for double dates), and you need friends with kids the same ages as yours (so the kids can play while the adults talk). What you do not need is close friends of the opposite gender because that kind of emotional investment can lead places you really don’t want to go.
And here’s a bonus, because I couldn’t edit my list down to just 19:
20. If you ever feel like something is wrong in your marriage, look in the mirror first. Don’t automatically assume it’s the other person’s fault. Examine your own heart. Pray. See a counselor. Yes, maybe it really is your spouse’s fault, but you can’t do a single thing about how someone else behaves. All you can control is your own behavior.
It’s your turn. How long have you been married and what are some things you’ve learned?