That time your wedding anniversary landed smack in the middle of a challenging week – the week you got bad news delivered that weighed a heavy burden on your heart, you got rear-ended, and you pulled an all-nighter trying to fix the router that went out the same night you were trying to beat the clock to finish a project due at 7 AM the next morning.
The week you both got sick but life marched on and your anniversary rolled around just the same – an anniversary at the end of a hard week punctuating a summer filled with work overtime that kept you apart much of the time. But you’re grateful as you’re reminded anew that just means you’re still here, doing this thing together.
Yep, this is my story. This is real life, folks – and I’m loving it! Allow me to share why? I’ve learned a few things that I never could have guessed as a newlywed that have brought me to a very good place.
It could always be worse
Why take joy even through the challenges? An extended season of hard that lasted half of our marriage to date quite simply changed me for the better, as all trials are designed to do. I learned to cope in many ways, not the least of which was practicing gratitude for all that was good in my life, despite all that was hard. I soaked up stories of people whose marriages were tested far worse than mine and was given the gift of perspective for my own marriage and deepened empathy for the struggles in the marriage of others.
Early marriage can be hard but so worth it
There’s no denying the early years of marriage are full of some of the highest highs and lowest lows of your union for many people, especially the younger you marry. My husband and I were married with two kids by the time I was 24. We were each excited to wake up with our best friend every day, but we were also utterly inexperienced at life, oh so poor, busy with grad school for me and work for him. Then a sudden job loss hit, marking the beginning of 4 months of unemployment for the whole household which we couldn’t have been more unprepared for.
Even as we were learning how to be grownups, spouses, and parents, we were thrust into a season of great refining ahead. God had planned what we never would have chosen for ourselves. In our desperation to find a new job, any work that would pay the bills, my husband took a “bridge job” hoping it would last us just until we could find something better. This meant a season of full time traveling for work which ended up lasting seven years.
But looking back, I can honestly say this shaped the course of our marriage, and by God’s grace we are stronger now today than ever before. A lot has happened in these first 14 years of married life for us and no doubt you have your own story of unexpected hards and undeserved graces.
You’re not defined by your good days any more than you are your bad days.
Once in awhile we all have those days of one thing going wrong after another, all day long. It’s easy to take things personally and really start internalizing the day’s disappointments. I have come to accept I am a people person, naturally highly attuned to my spouse. Moods can be contagious and for those of us with a tendency to live in the moment, we can be so highly attuned to the one we love that it can feel like they’re not happy with us when they’re simply processing life’s normal challenges. The truth is the bad days inevitably come for everyone, just like the good. A big picture perspective works wonders at times like these, especially during the extended seasons of hard.
Share the joy
A simple yet profound truth of married life (and all of life) is that times are sweeter when we share them with someone we love. Research is clear that bonds are deepened when we celebrate life’s small joys and great successes together. So while I sometimes may not fully ‘get’ the excitement of another, the truth is I don’t have to. What matters is that my smile is plain to see and my husband feels my joy for him in a tangible way.
My spouse is not my Savior
As much as I love and appreciate the help and love of my husband, no love compares to that of my Savior, Jesus Christ. My husband may “love me to pieces” as I adore hearing him say, but he will inevitably disappoint me and let me down, while my God never will. I am often challenged to remember to worship the giver of all good gifts, not the gifts themselves (like my husband).
Expectations can be a thorn in your side
My husband once told me a story I’ll never forget, and I’ve used it as a teaching tool for our girls multiple times since. He said that whenever he enters a work meeting he never expects to have a chair for himself so there’s no possibility of feeling put out when there aren’t enough. He intentionally goes in expecting to stand, that way he’s pleasantly surprised if there happens to be a chair for him.
And isn’t that the way it always goes in life and in marriage? If we don’t allow ourselves the luxury of inflated expectations, we end up pleasantly surprised when people communicate with us even better than we could have hoped. We ultimately enjoy a deeper contentment that isn’t based on our circumstances.
Take the long term view
I once wrote about my journey of learning to take the long term view in life where I wondered, “Why is it that it can be so natural to live life with a glass half-full, drinking in the wild wonder of it’s moments, yet it’s often as if we don’t truly believe in the hope we profess to have. At pivotal points where an unwavering hope is most called for – we falter instead. Perhaps we are most prone to stumble in the seasons in which we are actually the most invested. After all, anyone can remind themselves that Spring really will follow a long, cold winter – but it can be much harder to maintain a consistent vision for renewal and restoration to follow the dark seasons of our lives.”
I truly believe this applies to marriage just the same! I know I was quite prone to discouragement in the early years of my marriage, perhaps because so much of it was fraught with challenges I never expected, but also because I lacked vision for the future. I’ve come to see vision casting as a learned skill that is invaluable to marriage, just as in life on the whole. For someone who tends to live in the moment, easily caught up in the present, learning to take the long term view in marriage has been huge for building my faith in the foundation of my marriage!
Be a thermostat
In marriage, we get to determine what the thermostat of the relationship is going to be – will it fluctuate wildly based on emotion or hold steady based on decision? In other words, we have a choice to make when it comes to controlling the atmosphere of our relationship. Is it going to be determined by how you feel or deciding to do the right thing regardless of how you feel?
I’m learning every day that great marriages are built upon the thermostat of decision. When marriages are controlled by our ever-changing emotions, the thermometer of relationship is never stable. Therefore, intimacy and trust are hard to come by. When marriages are controlled by the thermostat of decision, deepened intimacy and trust are the hard won prizes for our decision to be the boss of our feelings rather than their victim.
Never compare your behind-the-scenes footage with everyone else’s highlight reel
Ever find yourself thinking about what someone else appears to have that you don’t have? How about that trip you’re sure you’ll never get to take with your spouse? Or their beautiful new baby, like the one you’d give anything for, if only you were able to conceive? The trouble is that pictures on social media don’t tell the full story. They don’t reveal the hardships endured, the years of pennies saved, or the tears shed.
Every year I cherish more and more the knowledge that God gave my husband and I our unique story for His perfect purpose. One of the greatest gifts that grows sweeter with each passing year is the ability to simply thank Him for His plans – plans that were better than my own all along!
There is no such thing as the perfect couple
I believe one of modern day’s most unfortunate myths is that of the perfect couple. No perfect people means no perfect couples. And truly, to see it any other way ultimately leaves us in bondage as if we’ll never measure up.
Ever notice how people are drawn to vulnerability, not invincibility? That is because those who are willing to acknowledge their imperfections are actually making it safe for others to do the same.
People tend to lose hope when they look around and perceive others as “having it all together” – we feel like a fish out of water, as if we don’t belong. Then the negative self-talk creeps in about what’s wrong with us and our relationships, and it’s all too easy to be convinced we’ll never reach that unattainable standard that others seem to have when they put on a false front. There is a better way! Authenticity frees a watching world from the falses promises of perfection and gives others permission to be perfectly imperfect, just the way they are. That is when true growth begins!
I hope and pray for many more years of marriage to learn countless more lessons with the man I love!
Happy anniversary to the man of my dreams….the man who is more than I ever even prayed for.
Brian, you are kind and thoughtful and caring and sweet. You are wise and tough as nails and a manly “can fix anything” type of guy who still understands the importance of softness. Especially when it comes to us, your family.
You are the most incredible encourager I’ve ever met and I cannot believe I get to spend the rest of my life with you.
Thank you for dreaming big dreams with me, my sweet.