When I met my wife, Heather, we immediately hurried to "tie the knot." We had our minds made up and no one was going to stop us. While the first couple of years of marriage were exciting, some rough years followed. The newness wore off, and I started to feel like I was stuck in something that I hadn’t put much thought into.
I regret to say that I became bitter toward my wife and our marriage. Not helping matters at all, I began to backslide into some old and painful habits. When I thought things could not get worse, Heather shared with me that she was pregnant.
What should have been joyous news came as a warning to get things straight. I was 25 years old, a struggling musician and soon to be a father. Although we could’ve given up on many occasions, we trusted in the Lord to carry us through the difficult years. Guess what? He did.
Our hardships early in our marriage are nothing to be proud of, but I can now look back on these trials as growing pains that prepared us for a greater marriage together. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance" (James 1:2). Take this list of advice from another young person who, unfortunately, learned things the hard way, but who found his answers backed up by the Word of God. My prayer is that this will bless you and your future.
Marriage is a lifelong commitment.
"So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has jointed together, let man not separate." "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning." - Matthew 19:6-8
Your marriage will go through tough times, but remember it's a lifelong commitment.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." - James 1:2
Be a servant to your spouse, putting her needs before your own.
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." - 1 Corinthians 13: 4-5
Learn to forgive…and forget.
"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, you Father will not forgive your sins." - Matthew 6:14-15
Admit when you are wrong, and seek reconciliation with your spouse.
"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." - Matthew 5:23-24
Make plans together, but don't be surprised when things do not turn out the way you planned.
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." - Romans 12:2
Communicate often, but don't try to change your spouse. Instead, try to encourage and strengthen each other. You cannot change your spouse, but you can change yourself.
"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, `Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. - Luke 6:41-42
Don't depend on your spouse to fill all your needs. Only God can do that.
"Cursed is the one who trusts in man, depends on flesh for his strength whose heart turns away from the LORD." - Jeremiah 17:5
A husband must be willing to fill his God-given role.
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." - Ephesians 5:25-28
A wife must be willing to fill her God-given role.
"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything." - Ephesians 5:22-24
Planning my wedding was one of the most trying and wonderful and exhausting and fulfilling experiences of my life. From choosing a date and time to compiling the guest list to finding the dress, the details quickly became overwhelming. While my fiancé and I enjoyed the anticipation leading up to the big day, stress and worry clouded some of our pre-marital bliss.
In the end, our wedding and reception went off without a hitch, but there were definitely some things I wish I had known before organizing the biggest party of my life. Here are a few suggestions I picked up along the way that may help you through the process:
I see it all the time. We’ve all felt it: the "Hey, what about me?" syndrome. Sometimes it sneaks up on us when we feel that our emotional needs aren't being met — and we resent it. Or maybe we have a hard-to-love spouse and we’re tired of trying to make things work. That's when the "Hey, what about me?" syndrome hits. When it comes, and we're feeling sorry for ourselves — or just plain tired of trying — what can we do?
Choose to make wise decisions. Don't rely on feelings or emotions when the going gets tough. Our feelings don’t carry us to the right decisions; rather right decisions carry us to right emotions — and positive rewards. Here are a few ways your can exercise your will over your emotions:
Just start where you can. Start by saying, "Ok God, I am deciding to stick it out." Even if you don’t feel like you want to. Tell Him you're willing to be made willing.
Decide to choose joy. Sometimes life is not fair. Sometimes marriage isn’t fair. It is for richer or for poorer, sickness or health, and for better or worse. Jim and Sally Conway, in their book titled Traits of a Lasting Marriage, surveyed couples who had long-term happy relationships and the secret they discovered was that those couples had decided to be in long-term happy marriages!
Deciding to choose joy, to be a happy person regardless of the circumstance, is a decision that will create happiness. If you go looking for happiness as the goal, you’ll never find it, because you have no control over circumstance and you don’t have control over your spouse. But you do have control over yourself and your emotions. If you choose joy, soon you will find you have it. Some things to help you choose joy might be:
Decide to be the best. A woman asked me if she had to submit to a husband who wasn’t living up to his part of the spiritual leadership bargain. She said, "It doesn’t seem fair." She’s right. It isn’t fair. Nonetheless, both spouses can't just wait it out to see who will step up to the plate and be the bigger, better person. Someone has to choose to serve the other in love first. You can hold on to being right, but you will probably be left holding just your opinion — and not your marriage.
I always recommend to women that they obey God, submit to Him and seek to please Him — then trust Him with the results in their relationship. In over 25 years, I can’t remember one woman who was ever sorry she obeyed God. Even if she couldn’t save her marriage, she saved her integrity — and her spouse’s behavior couldn't take that away.
Life is full of choices. Obedience is a path to God’s protection for you and your future. Wisdom is a gateway to happiness (Proverbs 3:13-20). We need to remember these things and make wise decisions for life — even when we don't feel like it.
Barely a year ago, I saw Jeremy. We met at dinner, an informal gathering of alumni from a small college we'd attended almost a decade earlier. Throughout the evening, we "found" each other again and again. I loved his easy laugh. He liked my smile. It was obvious we were both interested. We were the last to leave. A week later, he asked me out. Nine months later, I walked down the aisle and pledged my lifelong love and faithfulness to Jeremy.
I knew marriage would bring change, but change — even when expected — can still be surprising and unfamiliar. We are different; our personalities echo quite opposite voices. I am invigorated by time with people; he leaves a new group dazed and overwhelmed. I can't get enough time with him; he needs autonomy in order to feel more like himself. I love to detail my day over the phone; he calls with a specific purpose in mind, often to relay information.
The paradox is obvious yet quite mysterious. At times, when we're talking, I feel so understood — like he really "gets" me. The way we interact makes us feel as if we were cut from the same cloth. Then, a small shift in tone, my eyes water, and he says the unthinkable, "You cry a lot." Suddenly, I am alone — and want to be! How could one statement instantly distance us and leave me blankly starring at the same person that, only moments before, I had been savoring? But to my husband, tears represent devastation or catastrophe. My moist cheeks and brimming tears frighten and confuse him.
Even unwrapping our wedding gifts was an eye-opening experience for me. Jeremy and I returned home from our honeymoon to a living room overflowing with presents. It was unlike anything we had seen before, and I was ecstatic! It took us days to get through this generous bounty: towels, dishes, linens and more. It warmed our hearts to realize that each gift had been hand-selected by friends and family. By day two, we'd established a pattern. Jeremy would unwrap. I would squeal with delight and record the gift information. He would organize the pile and return with a new present. Finally, we unwrapped the paper shredder, followed by the power drill, then a chrome wastebasket. Now it was Jeremy's turn to smile.
It hit me that the entire ritual of wedding gifts is more for the wife. In jest, my sweet husband picked up his three gifts and said, "Well, at least I got three things." We both laughed. The dishes that stocked the cabinet or the platters we would use for company mattered little to him, but he knew it mattered to me. Jeremy playing along, even participating in the unwrapping, proved to me he was invested and trying. He is learning how to better love me, and I am learning what a paper shredder can mean to him.
Marriage is transforming, and love even more powerful. I am surprised by the intense desire to help and, yes, even serve my husband. Serving Jeremy eases his load, increases his energy and simply tells him he matters. I don't wash his clothes so that he will wash my car. It's not bartering. I don't get up at 5 a.m. because I actually enjoy putting deli meat on whole wheat bread at the crack of dawn; I do it because I want to do it for Jeremy. Serving him in the routine of life is actually an expression of my love. I've heard countless times that it is the "little things" that can tear a marriage apart. I shouldn't be surprised, then, that it is all of the "little things" (ham on whole wheat, for instance) that make a difference.
I love that after so many years of waiting to wake up next to my husband, I now do. I don't get tired of this man, despite the warnings that someday I will. Waiting for my husband wasn't passive; it was active. I prepared, anticipated … and hoped. My life didn't begin when I met Jeremy. I already had a life, a life I was readying and expecting to share with another. I couldn't wait for a husband to complete me. He would be my complement, and I his. I knew God could fulfill me; it wasn't going to be my husband's job to meet my every need. Daily, I made choices to create a life that another would want to become a part of — and had the faith that one day, a husband would join that life. When you have longed and hoped for someone for such a long time and he's finally here and real, the joy in having your heart's desire doesn't soon diminish. Our lives are now intertwined. We read, play, laugh and work out — together.
When we constantly invest in each other, our love is abundant. However, when love and attention are lopsided, we both suffer. If I'm sacrificing and Jeremy doesn't notice, I naturally feel entitled to point it out to him. This helps very little. I'm learning to use honest words to tell him how I feel and I'm learning not to expect him to read my mind. With that approach, he tends to respond to what I am saying. We both want our marriage to succeed, be filled with joy and grow. In this goal, we are intentional and dedicated. Our marriage was a decision of our wills, with the willingness to love in the ordinary dailies of life and not just the grand events.
We are both becoming more teachable. Humbling, yes. But if I want to learn to love my husband the way he needs and not the way I think he needs, I first have to listen. Listening requires me to hear his words and trust what he is saying. Believing we each want the best for each other is crucial.
Love is now real to me. It is real on a dreary Wednesday afternoon when my tired husband returns from work with a desire to hit the gym or just lie down for a few minutes. Instead, he has a gift tucked under his arm: the book I've been wanting. The way he hands it to me seems so natural. I smile, and soon I'm lost in new pages, completely content in knowing that I'm worth the effort. He makes his way toward the dresser, wanting to get out of the day's clothes and into something more relaxing. There, he finds clean smelling shirts. Folded and arranged in a way familiar to him. This is real love.
There is a delicate balance to the transitioning that takes place in a new marriage. Both mystery and hard work are part of the transition. It has been almost a year since Jeremy entered my life. His laugh still comes easily but now I find it even more engaging. It is layered with the beginnings of a marriage. Our marriage. The start of our story.