Wednesday was my 20th anniversary to my wonderful husband. We actually had a busy day and weren't able to celebrate until this past weekend. He did offer to skip his meetings for me, but I gave him the pass to go because I knew it was important to him. Twenty years ago, that wouldn't have happened. Heck, 10 years ago, it might not have happened.
The truth is, I'm not the same girl I was when I got married. At the age of 20, I thought I was mature for my age and knew everything. I thought marriage was all about me and how my husband would make me happy and fulfilled and everything would be "happily ever after." I romanticized the "hard times" all the older people kept talking about, envisioning how we would be the brave, yet loving couple - swell the background music as we stood with our arms around one another on some hillside - not sure why it was always a hillside but it was. I believed in soul mates.
I was, and to some extent still am, an idealist. However, marriage has refined my romantic, idealistic self into something a whole lot more realistic.
This happens to be a year of milestones for me. I turned 40 years old. I celebrated my 20th anniversary. My brother just got married in March, and my parents will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this fall.
My husband and I are in that middle place, somewhere between my brother and his new wife who are just starting out, and my parents who have been at this marriage thing way longer than we have.
It's interesting to see the two perspectives - the giddy newlyweds and the committed couple. My parents actually are very cute together. They go everywhere together, still hold hands and genuinely enjoy each others company.
It felt right to take a moment to stop and reflect, to look at what I've learned after 20 years of marriage.
I'm not the same as I was when I walked down the aisle, and neither is my husband. That's probably a good thing.
1. Marriage isn't about making you happy. Oswald Chambers, revered Christian author, said it best when he said "Marriage is not about making you happy; it is about building your character." I know a lot of women who think if they can just get married, they will be happy. The thing is though, if you aren't happy before you got married, then you won't be happy afterward either. Marriage isn't a fairy tale and happily ever after doesn't actually exist without a lot of hard work.
2. Along the same lines - it isn't your husband's job to make you happy, fulfill you and meet every need you have. In fact, it's nobody's job to make anyone else happy or meet all their needs. No one person can be everything to a person. Only God can do that. It's unfair to place that burden on another person.
3. Marriage withers if you play the comparison game. It's futile anyway because each marriage is as unique as the individuals in it. Nothing is as detrimental as a woman saying, "I wish my husband would be like so and so's husband," or "I wish my husband and I did fun things like that couple." You'd be much better off expending your energy on growing, nurturing and protecting your own marriage.
4. Cultivate an attitude of thankfulness and appreciation for your spouse. Nobody is perfect. Those things that drew us to our spouse can become a source of irritation eventually. It's easy to fall into a pattern of negativity or being critical without really even realizing it. Love does not flourish in a house full of criticism though. My husband and I are such opposites, it's kind of a joke between us. I've learned to appreciate and be thankful for those differences. I wouldn't want to be married to a clone of myself.
5. Accept your spouse for who he is. Nothing is so demoralizing to someone as believing their spouse doesn't like who they are. I'm not saying you'll like every single thing your spouse does, but that's different than not liking who they are. When I try to change my husband, that's what I'm saying to him - "I don't like you as you are, but if I could just make these improvements, then you'd be acceptable." Nobody likes to feel as if they aren't quite good enough. I want my husband to know how much I admire who God has made him to be. Respect and admiration are big deals to men, and letting them know how and why you admire them is important.
6. Accept your spouse's work schedule and be supportive. My husband is in full-time ministry. His hours are weird and often change at the last minute. Fortunately, I'm not a super scheduled person and it doesn't bother me to be alone. However, I'll be honest and say that for many years early in our marriage and when our children were young, I often guilted my husband because he wasn't home and why couldn't he spend more time with me and wasn't I important enough to him and, well, you get the picture. Now, to be fair, my husband has a tendency to be a workaholic at times, so we did have to sit down and figure out what worked for us and where he did need to draw some boundaries. But can I say it is far different when you sit down together and decide together as a team what works for your family, as opposed to one person haranguing the other. I also had to realize that during certain seasons, my husband needed me to give him a pass and to be patient until things slowed down again (well, relatively anyway).
7. Successful communication is as much about how and when you say something, as the actual words. The same words said in a sweet tone when your husband is well rested can come across completely differently than words said in a nasty or sarcastic tone of voice as your husband comes straggling in the door after a difficult day. It's important to speak up and talk about issues. I've been guilty of just letting things go until I explode so I'm not advocating stuffing your feelings, but at the same time, choosing the right time and tone can be the difference between a productive conversation and a big fight.
8. Men, for the most part, really aren't about hidden agendas or saying one thing and meaning another. Men are pretty straight forward. They don't usually do subtle or hints. If you want something, say so. I know, secretly you're thinking if they really loved you, they'd know. But they don't. Really. So, if you say you don't want anything for your birthday, then expect to get nothing for your birthday. Men, even ones that love you to pieces, can't read your minds. They are also less adept at reading body language than women as a general rule (have to make that caveat because I just know there are exceptions out there!). So do both of you a favor - say what you mean and mean what you say. :)
9. Submission doesn't equal being a doormat. Submission is probably one of the most misunderstood commands in the Bible. For one thing, it is voluntary. For another, it is from one adult to another adult. It has none of the child/parent relationship to it. God created us as wives to be our husbands helpers. That word in Hebrew is "ezer" and it is the same word used for the Holy Spirit when He is called a helper. We are our husbands trusted advisers and while we don't have authority over our husbands, we do have influence. That's a big deal. Being submissive doesn't mean you don't have an opinion or aren't allowed to express it. It just means your husband is the leader and you are his helper/adviser/supporter. You are on the same team and he's the captain.
10. Kindness and consideration - while they don't seem very sexy - really do go a long way in making a marriage work. I'm not saying my husband and I have never said anything hurtful to each other - I said a few real doozies in the first couple years we were married - but for the most part, we are kind to each other. I would rather NOT say something I should, than say something I shouldn't that I can never get back. Whoever said words don't wound was an idiot. Seriously. Hurtful, wounding words are something I can never get back, no matter how many times I say I'm sorry. And they are damaging to a marriage. I know people who still remember something nasty their spouse said years ago. Because we know each other so well, and we are vulnerable with a spouse like nobody else, our words have an incredible power to hurt each other. If I want my husband to be real and vulnerable with me, I can't then use what he says against him later when we get in a disagreement. I need to be trustworthy - not just with confidences and the private parts of our marriage, but with my husband's weaknesses and vulnerabilities. If I'm not or he's not, then we can't truly trust each other, and a marriage without that trust isn't much of a marriage.
What has your marriage taught you? I'd love to hear about it!
~ Blessings, Bronte