I’m not in the ministry of marriage counseling, and probably never will be. And I realize, of course, that 10 years is nothing more than a good start compared to some of you veterans out there.
But with the average American marriage ending at eight years, it does feel like at least a small sort of accomplishment. And it has been the most instructive decade of my life, to say the least.
So here are 10 things I’ve learned in 10 years of marriage. I would love to hear what 20 or 30 years (or 2 or 3) has taught you, in the comments! In no particular order:
1. The Love Languages Are Real
Like every Christian couple since 1995, we got at least one copy of The Five Love Languages at our engagement, wedding, first anniversary, and first sign of marital sub-bliss. (Did anyone else flip to the back and take the tests first? Please say yes.) It’s so easy and natural to express affection the way I prefer to receive affection, but I married someone who speaks a different language than I do.
I witnessed this in the natural a couple years ago when we were visiting friends in Connecticut. They are both first generation American: his family is Puerto Rican, hers is Italian. Their native languages are similar, but different. The conversation in their tiny apartment is a (loud) mashup of Spanish, English, and Italian. They have learned to understand the other in his/her own language. They have also learned which words and phrase are important to express in the other’s native language.
I have to constantly remind myself to speak his language, and to try to appreciate and understand when he is speaking his own language to me.
2. 1 + 1 = 2 - ½ - ½
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. - Genesis 2:24, ESV
We know that verse. It’s cited (and then snickered about) at most Christian weddings. But really, the math doesn’t add up. One person plus one person does not equal one person.
Half of a person plus half of a person, however, can equal one person, and 10 years in I feel like we’ve both given up at least half of ourselves. (Probably he’s given up 75% of himself and I’ve given up 25%, but he would never hold it against me.)
All of me—my selfishness, my expectations, my desires, my plans—and all of him would never fit into one marriage.
3. He Does Not Complete Me
(For the record, he didn’t have me at, “Hello,” either. I thought he was a punk kid.)
A young man we know was one day pleading his case for being passionately infatuated with a young woman who really was no good for him, when he tried to play to my husband’s sympathies by explaining that her affection fulfills him the way my love fulfills my husband.
My husband (Timothy) cut him off to explain that is not how our relationship works, and the young Romeo was shocked and appalled. He insisted it must be so, and eventually asked to talk to me. When Timothy handed over the phone, he put the same question to me, and I chuckled and plainly denied it. He was stunned.
“But he’s like your other half! He makes you happy!”
“Sometimes he makes me happy. Sometimes he pisses me off like no one else on the planet,” I laughed.
I’m complete in Christ. Asking or expecting someone else to complete me, fulfill me, or make me happy is a ridiculously unfair expectation of another human being. And anyone that asks it of me is crazy.
For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority … - Colossians 2:9-10, NASB
4. Men and Women Are Different
I knew this, but I’m constantly getting it.
First there’s the communication thing. If a girlfriend and I got together for coffee, and I started a conversation by saying, “Okay. Today was really terrible, and I want to tell you about it because it will make me feel better. But please just listen and nod, and don’t try to offer advice,” she would have to crank up her Holy Spirit to not get offended. Because that’s rude. Because she knows all of that. If I start a conversation with my husband like that, though, he smiles and I can visibly see tension leave his body.
Then there’s the Love & Respect thing. Yes, women need respect and men need love, of course. But the idea that respect is to men what love is to women is revelatory for both parties.
Finally, there’s the Wild At Heart thing. I remember the first time a girlfriend told me to read that book because, “it will really help you understand your husband.” I was offended, honestly. We’d been married for a few years and things were good and I thought I was understanding him pretty well. (Laugh it up, veterans.) As I read about the implications of Adam having been created in the wilderness and Eve having been created in the garden I thought, “I understand so much more about my husband.” (Who, incidentally, is with our son in a forest somewhere as I write this.)
5. Arguing Well is an Art Form
There will be arguments.
And don’t read: manipulation is an art form, because that’s not the point. I don’t mean to say that I’ve learned how to argue in such a way as to increase my odds of “winning.” Because I’ve learned that if one person “wins” an argument, the marriage loses.
There is a delicate art to discussing an idea on which we have different (sometimes enthusiastically different) ideas, expectations, and/or opinions. Our different backgrounds mean we have different ways of dealing with confrontation, and we are learning (because we’ve by no means mastered this yet) to give and take.
I am learning to address issues quickly, and he is learning to keep his body language calm. We are negotiating how much is addressed immediately for his sake, and when we separate for my sake—so I can process things quietly before coming back to it.
If someone has a manual on this, I would love to see it.
6. Our Real Enemy is Secrets
We were talking with a young lady about a relationship one day, several years ago (we do youth ministry, so these conversations happen a lot), when my husband spontaneously penned a proverb. In discussing trust, he told her, “Sin won’t necessarily destroy a marriage, but secrets always will.”
We’ve always confessed to each other. I remember more than one time when I felt totally stupid telling him about some “little” white lie that I told him, because I thought the truth would make him mad. Big or little, we don’t keep things from each other. Because it’s the secrets that will drive a wedge that will grow into a canyon that will tear two people apart.
7. You Can Switch Sides of the Bed
We’ve done it a few times without any loss of sleep. Newlyweds, don’t listen to the lies. Married people who have been wanting to make the change, consider yourselves liberated. You’re welcome.
8. I’m Setting Up My Kid’s Marriage
Two years ago I realized that in a lot of ways I really did marry my father, which made me wonder if my son, then, really would—at least in some ways—marry his mother.
Our son is two-and-a-half, and he’s in that stage where he will mimic anything we say or do. It’s a constant source of accountability for the present, but it’s also a reminder that he sees and hears everything. The way I treat my husband for the next decade will define for him (and any other kids who—God willing—come after him) how his wife should treat him someday. And the way Timothy treats me will instruct him on how he is to relate to his future wife.
9. Marriage Models Christ and His Church
The greatest compliment Timothy ever paid me was when he told me that my example as a wife—and I’m sure he meant, at least in part, my struggling to do it well—taught him how to be a better follower of Christ.
We model Christ and the Church to each other, first. As he steps out in faith to pursue God and lead our little family, I learn what it means to be a son of God. As I step out in faith to partner with him, he learns what it means to be the bride of Christ.
We also model Christ and the Church to the world. God told Hosea to marry and pursue a harlot as an example to Israel of God’s love for her. The New Testament refers to Jesus as a bridegroom and the Church as His bride. I think that’s at least part of the reason that God doesn’t like divorce among His people: Jesus will never leave His bride.
10. Take All the Advice You Can Get
At a bridal shower several years ago, the hostess asked each of us to decorate a small card with a piece of advice for the bride that would end up in a scrapbook or something. As the bride-to-be opened your gift, you read your card out loud (if you wanted to).
The first gift chosen was from another young woman, recently married, and her advice was, “Don’t take too much advice.”
The sentiment was, of course, that no two marriages are alike and you will eventually have to figure each other out, etc. As I looked around the room, though, I noticed the younger woman (to their credit, probably worn thin from well-meant, unsolicited advice) laughing about the irony of that being the first card read. The older women sat very still, some lips pressed together, seemingly offended, hurt, and/or disappointed.
I had been struggling to land on the perfect thing to write on my card, but suddenly found it. Inside the decorative border I had been doodling, I wrote: “Take all the advice you can get. You don’t have to keep it all—keep what works for you—but never shun the wisdom of women who are succeeding at something you haven’t even tasted yet. You will need them.”
As true as it was at a bridal shower, it’s still true at 10 years (and probably 20 and 30, but I can only guess for now). So hit up the comments, marriage veterans. What have you learned? What do we need to know for the next 10 years?
At the end of the week we’ll randomly select one commenter to win a copy of The Five Love Languages … just kidding … I’m sure you have a few copies already.