What I’ve Learned in 8 Years of Marriage

Today is our anniversary. Eight years of marriage – that’s almost a decade! As I reflect on our eight years, I am exceedingly thankful that God allowed me to marry the godly, humble man who is my husband, and that our marriage is the blessing that it is.

As I reflect on God’s faithfulness to us in this time, here are eight lessons I’ve learned in our eight years of marriage. We are far from perfect, and we have a lot more to learn. Yet His mercies are new every morning, and every good thing in our marriage is a gift from our Father. I am thankful that He continue to crucify our flesh so that we can live in Christ and love each other with His love.

So please, as you read, learn what you may, be encouraged or challenged, but ultimately, all glory be to Him.

Nostalgia is the best medicine

Most of marriage – like most of life – happens in the ordinary mundane, not the extraordinary mountaintop. Life happens, things get busy, conflict arises, and the flame of love, desire, appreciation, and joy in your relationship can easily get snuffed out.

Nostalgia is a simple way to keep feeding that flame. We’ve made a habit of pondering the early days of our relationship. Recalling the special memories we treasure. Reflecting on why we chose one another to begin with, or what we’ve learned about each other since. We read old letters, look at old pictures, visit old places, and let our minds carry us back in time – to last week, last year, or  years ago.

Those little doses of nostalgia keep the flame alive, intersecting the special with the ordinary. As we’ve made a habit of doing this, we’ve consistently been reminded of God’s faithfulness and motivated to keep the romance alive and make new memories together. I encourage you to make habits of these things as well. When the flame seems dull, appreciation wanes, or resentment creeps in, grab a cup of coffee, curl up on the couch, and take a big dose of nostalgia.

We’re not geniuses…it’s biblical. Read the Old Testament and you’ll notice how often the songs and psalms and speeches had a healthy dose of nostalgia – recounting the work of God in the past to remind them of His love and faithfulness now and in the future.

Marriage must be waterproof

Despite the previous owner’s claims, our basement was not dry when we moved in. Every heavy rain brought trickles of water that meandered from the four corners to the drains in the floor.

Thankfully, when KC had a literal flood of rain last week, we only got one tiny trickle of water from one corner. Why? Because in recent months we – and others who care about us – have put some grunt work into repairing downspouts, burying French drains in the yard, digging a trench, and fixing the grade around the foundation. We’ll have to continue making sure these things function well over the years, and we’ll need to get a dehumidifier to control the humidity level. But our water issues are significantly better, and it didn’t cost thousands of dollars.

I’ve been told by waterproofing/foundation experts that over 90% of basement water issues are solved by these simple fixes – downspouts, gutters, and grading. Stone foundations are notoriously prone to water – they simply weren’t engineered to be dry. But there is a lot one can do to minimize the amount of water that gets inside.

There were two alternatives. One, we could spend $7-10k installing a total waterproofing system, which has its own potential drawbacks aside from the money. Two, we could ignore it, and water would continue seeping in every time it rains, gradually compromising the structural integrity of our foundation in unseen ways and allowing mold to grow.

Life brings rain – circumstances beyond our control. The rain will come. Marriage is like the house built on that foundation. Inevitably water will want to seep into the foundation and affect the whole house. Our first year of marriage we were hit with some heavy and hard family circumstances that had the potential to deeply affect our new marriage for the worse. By God’s grace, we joined together as a team and supported each other through that time. Though there were some difficult conversations along the way, we are stronger for it.

I’d say a good percentage of our conflict has arisen from external circumstances that seep in and begin to affect us. Ministry. Church experiences. Familial struggles. Friendships. For the most part we’ve directed the negative impact of those things away from our marriage.

In your own relationship, watch out for this “water.” Put in place habits that allow you and your spouse to work through the external circumstances while simultaneously directing their  negative impact away from your marriage.

The best foundation is Jesus Christ, and the more you strengthen your relationships with him both individually and together, the more “waterproof” your marriage will be.

Elephants don’t belong

I wasn’t super close to my grandparents on either side. But I’ll never forget shortly before I got married talking to my step-grandmother, who had been married to my grandpa for over 30 years. She told me that she and Grandpa had never gone to bed angry. They always fell asleep holding hands. If they had a conflict, one or the other would reach over and grab the other’s hand. It was a way of saying, “We still love each other, and we’re still in this.”

Elephants don’t belong in your marriage. When there’s an issue, work it out; don’t let it sit in the bed, or the house, or the car, or wherever.

We’ve had plenty of conflict over the years. Yet I can think of very few conflicts that haven’t been resolved in the same day (resolved meaning we reconcile to one another, talk about the issues, repent and forgive – that doesn’t necessarily mean that issue never arises again and is magically fixed). Those that haven’t were resolved the next day. We don’t let conflict linger.

One of the beautiful aspects of God’s design in marriage is that He uses spouses to be sanctifying agents in one another’s lives. Sometimes that conflict is exactly what needs to take place so that God can do the work He needs to do in our hearts. We don’t have to be afraid to press into conflict and deal with it, because we can trust He is at work in us and our spouse.

No doubt it’s hard. Those conversations stink, and I don’t know anyone who enjoys them. When you’re willing to dig in deep, work through the issue, and hoist that elephant out of the room, you come out stronger (and holier) on the other side.

I love my grandma’s advice, because it’s a visual picture of what God has done. He didn’t wait for us; He literally reached His hand down from heaven to grab ours and restore us to Him. No matter what the elephant is, we can be agents of reconciliation in our marriages and be quick to reach out a hand that says, “I love you, and I forgive you, and we’ll work through this, because God has so graciously forgiven me.”

Give the benefit of the doubt

I have no science to back this up, but I’d wager you could interpret 99% of what other people say negatively. You can discern a tone that wasn’t there, assume intentions that weren’t reality, understand meaning that wasn’t there, and hear words that weren’t spoken.

Theoretically, your spouse is the person (or one of the people) you interact with most. That means there is a LOT of opportunity for misinterpretation. Another large percent of our conflict is caused by misinterpreting words, tones, or intentions. These instances could have been averted or minimized had we simply considered what we know to be true of one another and given the benefit of the doubt.

Know your spouse. Know their heart. And trust that. When they say or do something hurtful, stop to think, “Does this line up with what I know to be true of them? Do I believe they are out to get me? Is it possible something else is going on here – they’re tired, hurt, discouraged, or merely oblivious?”

Having a conversation about “Hey, you did/said this, and it bothers me” looks really different when you go in assuming the best rather than going in, guns pointed, already assuming the worst. And sometimes you realize, the conversation doesn’t need to happen at all.

We are ONE flesh

In our first year of marriage we traveled to Dubai and spent a month with church planter Dave Furman, his wife, Gloria, and their children assisting them in whatever ways were needed. We got to glean from their ministry experience – and their marriage experience.

We went on a double date one night, and we’ll never forget Dave saying, “Why would you not tell your one flesh anything?” That was in reference to some specific advice he received early on in his marriage, and it stuck with us.

The idea of being one flesh is both terrifying and incredible, and it goes way deeper than our human brains can comprehend. That’s why God ordained sex to belong within the bounds of marriage, because we can’t even begin to understand the full spiritual  implications of being one flesh. There’s a reason God says to leave and cleave, and there’s a reason He says what He has put together no man can take apart.

Being one flesh means we are on each other’s team, always. It means we are open and honest with each other, always, even when it’s painful. It means we are for each other and not against one another, always. It means we lift each other up, not tear one another down, especially in front of others. It means no matter what comes, we are in it together, because we are one.

That doesn’t mean we are incomplete without each other in the Hollywood kind of sense. But it does mean God takes the individual wholes that is each of us and weaves them inextricably into a new whole, bound together by threads of His mercy and grace.

Parenting doesn’t have to be the end of the couple

Our culture seems to have an expectation that once you have kids, your relationship is over. You become co-parents who are weary and exhausted all the time with no time for yourselves or each other. When you do get time, you spend it on yourself (take care of yo’self first, goes the logic), not each other.

Is that really all there is? What if marriage could be a refuge in the midst of the trying years of parenting young children? What if we could still enjoy spending time together despite the demands of caring for little people all the time? What if we could fall more in love, not less in love, while partnering together in the mission of raising godly children? What if we could still intimately know each other and what is going on in life, not blitz through the years coexisting as strangers? What if we didn’t have to lose ourselves or our couple identity but actually uncovered more of it?

It’s possible. I know because we’re 6 years into parenting with 3 small kids. And all of those things are true.

It takes work and sacrifice. It means we often don’t go to bed when we should because we’d rather spend time together after kids are in bed and housework is done (and college students have left our house) than get a full night’s sleep. It means we keep money in our budget for date nights even though we could pay off student loans faster if we didn’t. It means we teach our children that there are times when Mommy and Daddy are having a conversation, and their nonessential needs at that moment can wait.

But you know what? I’ll take it. I’ll shave 5 years off my life for not sleeping much – and happily – if that helps keep my marriage strong (and I’ll thank God that He made coffee beans). I’ll pay off student loans 6 months later if that helps keep me connected to my spouse. I’ll deal with my kids whining and stick to my guns if that means they see that Mommy and Daddy value each other. It is so, so worth it.

My fulfillment of my vows does not depend on my spouse’s fulfillment of his.

I don’t remember if this statement was said to us in premarital counseling or if we’ve said it to others in premarital counseling, or both. Either way, it’s true.

A godly marriage is a covenant, not a contract. A covenant modeled after the relationship God has with his people. Guess what? We break our side of the covenant all. The. Time. But He never gives up. Never stops pursuing us. His love never fails.

That’s the precedent for marriage. Your spouse WILL break their vows. In small ways or big, hopefully small. You will be tempted to say to yourself, “hah! I’ll forgive when he says he’s sorry,” or “she didn’t do her part, so I’m not doing mine.”

But that’s anti-gospel. Through the power of God’s grace, you can uphold your vows even if your spouse is failing miserably at theirs. If you do, God will be sufficient for your needs. He will comfort your hurting heart. He will use it to work on your spouse’s heart.

Some of the richest times in our marriage have come when I’ve proactively lived out the verse The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve. Flipping selfishness and expectation on its head, I’ve found great joy in loving and serving Travis freely.

Sandwiched between instructions to servants to obey their masters and wives to submit to their husbands is this beautiful section in 1 Peter 2 where Peter shows us where the power to do this comes from: Jesus entrusted Himself to the Father. That is how He endured the mocking and persecution. That is how He endured the cross. That is how He loved us.

We, too, can entrust our hearts to the Father, allowing Him to meet our deepest needs, so that we are free to love our spouses, regardless of how well they are loving us.

The best is yet to come

We’re 8 years in and I can honestly say: it just keeps getting better, and I believe the best is yet to come.

I realize not everyone has the same situation, and my heart breaks for those of you who are in hard, painful marriages that seem hopeless. I have very dear friends who are walking through that valley right now. My hope and prayer is that regardless of whether your marriage is currently wonderful or awful, you will be filled with a hopeful anticipation of what God is capable of doing in your marriage. Because He is the God who created marriage, who loves marriage, and who is making a new thing (Isaiah 43). May the best be yet to come!

 

If you read to the end, you deserve a gold star.

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