In honor of our 28th anniversary on June 22, here are 28 things that I have learned about marriage.
1. Love deepens over time. I certainly loved Liz when I married her 28 years ago but I really didn’t understand the depths of love or what it really meant to love someone. Love is only built on knowledge, commitment, and intimacy developed and experienced over time.
2. To have a good marriage marry a good person. I wish I could take more credit for the health of my marriage but in reality I was just blessed to marry a godly woman with strong character. She has been the perfect complement for me and has made me a better man. The only credit I can take is seeking out a Christian wife with a good testimony. But the rest was a step of faith and the grace of God.
3. Marriage doesn’t resolve your personal issues rather it exposes them. If you go into marriage thinking that your spouse will solve all your problems, fill all your voids, and meet all your deepest needs, then you will be sorely disappointed. You must bring emotional and spiritual health into the marriage, not expect emotional and spiritual health to come from the marriage.
4. The first year of marriage is one of the toughest…and honeymoons are fairly disappointing. I can’t say that our honeymoon or our first year of marriage were “bad.” They had their fun, enjoyable moments. But, looking back, they were definitely not the “perpetual moments of bliss” that I dreamed they would be. Instead they were much more awkward, stressful, and difficult than I could have expected.
5. Marriage is hard work. Marriages that are coasting are going downhill. It takes time and effort to build a relationship and to learn how to listen well, understand your spouse’s needs, resolve conflict, forgive from the heart, and make changes in your character and habits for the benefit of your marriage.
6. Don’t go to bed angry with each other. One of the few pieces of advice that we grabbed onto early in our marriage was from Ephesians 4:26, Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. We have stuck to that piece of advice…even when it meant staying up late to have a difficult conversation…and it has kept our marriage from a lot of misunderstanding and bitterness.
7. Don’t play competitive games against your spouse. Maybe some marriages can handle this but we can’t. Our first fight was over a game of Boggle. Yes, Boggle. I questioned her score and she questioned my trust in her. Fun stuff. We are both competitive and we found it almost impossible to play against each other without it resulting in some unneeded tension. We have chosen to be on the same team as much as possible ever since.
8. Work as a team. Piggybacking on the above, we have sought to tackle things in life as a team instead of as competitors. Instead of letting an issue divide us, we have tried to use it to bring us together. A problem is either an opportunity to work together as a team or ammunition to use in a war. We have strived to choose the former.
9. Move away from home. Okay, maybe this doesn’t work or isn’t necessary for everyone but for us it was a blessing to be away from our parents and families during the early years of our marriage. We were forced to grow together as a couple apart from the “roles” that we often play in our families. This is the “leave principle” in Genesis 2:24 and it must be done emotionally if not geographically.
10. Avoid debt. Again, some people can’t avoid this but being free from debt in the early years of our marriage took a lot of stress off our backs. We have kept a tight lid on our finances throughout our marriage…operating from a tangible but flexible budget…and it has removed one big marital problem off the table for us.
11. Parenting is a major stress on marriage. Our biggest fights and frustrations came after we had our first little bundle of joy. Tiredness. Different parenting approaches. Lack of free time. Responsibility. Irritableness. Unmet expectations. All of it came to a head with our first child. Thankfully we had seven years of marriage under our belt to help us work through it but it was a major stressor nonetheless. People who think that having a child will strengthen a weak marriage or correct a poor relationship are living in a fantasy world.
12. Parenting is the greatest adventure that you will take together. Despite the stresses mentioned above, looking back, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Parenting together over the years opened up parts of our hearts that we didn’t know existed. It drew us closer together, expanded our love, and made life an adventure. Our boys turned us from a couple into a family.
13. Share email accounts, Facebook, and computers. For us this has been a simple way to avoid potential temptations and distractions in our marriage.
14. Share your spiritual life together. Go to church together, discuss Scripture together, pray together, serve together. As a pastor, many of these things would be expected but Liz and I have still had to grow in our spiritual “oneness.” It doesn’t happen automatically so find ways to stay connected spiritually and to remind yourselves that life is bigger than you and your individual wants.
15. Avoid marital scorekeeping. Scorekeeping is a killer to marriages. “I’ve done this, this, and this…and you have only done this… thus you owe me.” We got trapped in this thinking briefly after having kids. Thankfully we recognized it and stopped it.
16. “Catch the little foxes”…and exterminate them. In the Bible’s love song, a young couple is encouraged to get rid of the “little foxes” before they ruin their vineyard (cf. Song of Songs 2:15). This is not agricultural advice but practical advice put into poetic language. Little conflicts, little irritations, little temptations easily creep into a marriage and then later destroy it. Be vigilant and wise and quickly and decisively eliminate anything that could harm your marriage.
17. Marry your best friend. Physical attraction is certainly a real element in choosing a mate but in the end it won’t make or preserve a good marriage. I found that even when we were not officially dating, Liz and I kept spending time together. Our friendship has made our marriage…and our physical attraction…that much stronger.
18. Learn to appreciate your differences. Liz and I are very different. She is decisive, blunt, cut and dry, and loves discipline and schedules. I am more indecisive, contemplative, creative, and love a more laid back approach. She can manage many things; I prefer to focus on one thing at a time. When we were dating, we were attracted by the differences. A few years into marriage, we became aggravated by the differences. But over time, by God’s grace, we have become amused by the differences. We have learned to laugh at ourselves and the different ways we do things…and to appreciate how we both have grown by being married to someone different than ourselves. As Ruth Bell Graham once said, “If two people agree on everything, then one of them is unnecessary.”
19. Plan weekly date nights. After having kids, this is especially essential for a marriage. We have made a weekly date night a priority in our marriage. Usually we use a coupon or a gift card for dinner and then find a coffee shop to hang out in to talk about our week and take a “pulse” of our marriage and family. Our kids know that our marriage relationship with each other takes priority over over our parenting relationship to them…and they are thankful for it! It is awesome to hear them say, “Hey, aren’t y’all taking a date night soon?”
20. Find ways to keep the romance alive. A surprise gift. An unexpected love note. A lingering kiss. A playful hint. Don’t let the creativity of the dating years turn into the familiarity of the marriage years. Enjoy the gift of marriage and plumb the depths of its joy.
21. Take note of each other’s “love language.” The love language thing can be taken overboard but it has been something that we have noted in our marriage. The best way for me to say “I love you” to Liz is to do acts of service for her–wash the dishes, pick up around the house, clean the bathrooms. For me, I need to hear words of encouragement. The funny thing is that we discovered early on that gift giving is not high on either of our lists. We both returned our first Christmas gifts to each other. Since then, we have decided to shop together for things we want and simply go out to eat together on special occasions.
22. Sleep in a small bed. Okay, again this is just our experience but we have never owned a bed bigger than a full size. It has kept us close at night and not allowed us to retreat to our own corner of the bed in times of conflict.
23. Go to a marriage seminar or on a marriage retreat together. No matter how good your marriage may be…or how comfortable you may think you are, there is always room to grow. We went to a marriage seminar, Created for Connection, earlier this year and it exposed some areas that we had overlooked and it made our marriage stronger. Never stop learning about each other and growing together!
24. Intimacy is built on security. I think I am finally beginning to understand Genesis 2:25, They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. It is more than just a physical thing. It is a feeling of total vulnerability with your spouse that only comes from the security of a lifelong commitment reinforced over time. Intimacy is only built on vulnerability and vulnerability only comes within security. It is awesome to experience a relationship with no barriers, hidden agendas, fears, or regrets.
25. Marry young. I certainly recognize that this isn’t always possible…or wise. But for us, marrying at a relatively young age (22 and 20) enabled us to grow together through the early stages of adulthood. We developed our life patterns together, aligned our life direction together, faced life decisions together, and were forced to grow in responsibility and commitment sooner.
26. Sexual purity is worth it. Remaining sexually pure as a young adult was one of the toughest challenges I have ever faced, yet looking back I am so glad that I made that commitment. Enjoying intimacy with my wife with no other thoughts of anyone else brings a closeness that I can’t imagine being any better.
27. Monogamy is worth it. I am convinced that being committed to one woman over time brings the highest sexual satisfaction. Sexual intimacy is definitely a learning process that only gets better and better over time.
28. Marriage is a blessing from God. With divorce rates on the rise, cohabitation the norm, and redefinition the trend, marriage is on the ropes in many respects. But I have found that trusting God’s design and following God’s ways has made our marriage as strong and as satisfying as any human relationship can be. I give God the glory for His good gift of marriage. And if the intimacy keeps getting better and the love keeps growing deeper then I can’t wait for the next 28 years!