Every year around our wedding anniversary, I write a post about what I have learned about marriage (I promise I will take a break after our fifth anniversary, folks). I primarily write these things down for myself and my family, but hope that others might find it useful in some way. If you feel up to taking a glance at any of the others I have previously written, you can check them out HERE or HERE or HERE. So without further ado, below is a snapshot of what our fourth year of marriage taught me.
1. Our whole long lives are made up of thousands and thousands of tiny little choices–I want to make each one count.
In this last year of marriage, I learned what it really is like to choose to love someone everyday. Sure, we can talk all about choosing to love someone, we can read pretty little quotes hung up on walls in bathrooms, repeat vows at the altar—but honestly, it is a bit more involved than simply believing in the idea that love is a choice. For me, this last year was a year of being incredibly conscious of whether I was choosing to love or not.
I didn’t intend this last year to be this way, but man, there were some times I was super, hyper-aware of when I was choosing not to love my spouse. When I was choosing to be ungracious instead of grace-giving, when I was being impatient when I should have offered him the same patience he often offers to me, when I was lazy instead of helpful, when I was harsh when I should have responded gently.
Ouch. I hate seeing myself for the imperfect, selfish person I can be. I didn’t like this all-of-a-sudden awareness of when I wasn’t choosing to love my husband—but hey, I seriously learned from it, so I guess it was a worthwhile season.
Example: This last winter, for some reason Nick really started getting on my nerves. To no fault of his own, I started getting incredibly annoyed with little quirks that had never, ever bothered me before; the sound he made when he ate, clothes he left in the chair in our bedroom, little things like that. I would get so wrapped up in these trivial annoyances that, when they would occur, I almost wanted to run out of the house and down the street yelling with my arms waving high over my head like a crazy person. These little things were driving me NUTS—and they were making me super impatient, harsh, and ungracious towards him for no good reason.
While this was happening, I told a friend who has been married longer than me about it, and she consoled me in my dramatic devastation and said the same exact thing happened to her, but then it went away.
IT WENT AWAY?! Like, just all of a sudden for her?! What did she do to make it go away? Ask her husband to change? Gripe at him until he got so tired of her griping he stopped?
Nope, she said it just went away with time.
So, I resolved to choose to love him and be patient with him when the shower curtain was left open, rather than get all harsh about it (I know, I’m a weirdo… he’s the normal one). I mean, this is a small thing, but if I could practice choosing to love him in the small things, I could perhaps have the muscle built up already to choose to love him when big things come our way, too.
After all, our lives are made up of thousands of tiny little choices—strung together like a popcorn garland at Christmastime—and I would want someone to say of me at the end of my life that I chose to love others more often than not (I am still working on that, but hold me accountable), and that I chose to be gracious and gentle, rather than harsh. I want to be a person who chooses to love through the little and big things, in the tiny, mundane and routine moments late in the day in the kitchen and the big moments that mark our life in chapters.
2. Keeping up appearances is just that: keeping up appearance.
Oh, social media. I have a love/hate relationship with it, as probably most people do. I love being able to stay connected with faraway friends and family, but get exhausted by all the weird stuff that goes on in the social media realm.
We build these beautiful little internet lives for ourselves, blemish and bruise free. Nowadays, with all this social media/Instagram/Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr stuff, we have incredible control of how we want our community to perceive us; we can carefully craft our social image as a married couple in the same way someone with a publicity team would, or a corporation marketing some product about to be pushed on the shelves.
It is ingrained in our human make up to want to be liked, thought well of, popular and beautiful—we all want it… I want it, too. However, the more emotional energy and concern we spend on crafting our image as an individual—as a couple—the less energy we are spending on the stuff that truly matters.
I mean, we can have some high likes on those pretty Instagram photos where we look all stylish and enamored as a couple and feel pretty good about ourselves (myself included), but at the end of the day when the iPhones are set aside on their chargers, are we choosing to love one another generously when no one can see? Even when we want to yell about the shower curtain being left open? Are our hearts towards one another as a married couple as beautiful and well-lit as those filtered photos of us smiling while out at the newest, trendiest cocktail bar?
This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect little robot humans, on and off social media. We never will be. I will never be perfect, ever (gave that goal up about 6-7 years ago). However, in a time where self-image is hailed and worshipped more than ever, are we putting less energy towards our growth of character?
Forgive my cliché analogy, but if you prune a houseplant frequently, making it look appealing by cutting off the dead petals and branches, but never take the time to water and to fertilize, to nourish at the root, to get your hands dirty to repot it’s dried out soil every season, it will only look pretty for so long—it will not thrive.
After Nick and I took a brief social media fast/slim-down this last year, it really taught me as a young person that I need to be cautious about subconsciously using social media in a way to control what I wanted the world to think of me, of Nick and I.
If we all spent less emotional energy crafting our outward image (myself included), we might be more apt to care less about how others perceive us and our relationship, and more focused on reality. We would be more focused on what we truly have going for us and what we could work on as a couple—rather than seeing how many people are “liking” (validating) what we are putting out there for them to see. What could we do to love/serve one another better? What could we do to love/serve other people better? Are we really as “good/put-together/generous/creative” as we are advertising ourselves to be? Are we as loving to one another and to people outside of ourselves as we are trying to appear? Are we as content in this marriage as we appear to others? If not, what could we change together?
At the end of the day, honestly, it doesn’t matter what the other people think of you and your spouse. All that matters is what your spouse thinks, and—from a Christian perspective—if you are honoring Christ with your actions towards one another and in the life that you are living.
**NOTE: I am definitely not saying that social media posts about how much we love our spouses are in-genuine or come from a place of wanting to appear a certain way (I post stuff about how I love my man often!), but that instead that we should routinely examine what we are trying to communicate to others about ourselves in comparison with reality**
3. Try to understand one another; always, always try to understand one another.
This last year I also learned that shutting up and listening—trying to understand my husband’s point of view and how his mind works—is incredibly beneficial to a marriage (imagine that!). This is something that Nick excels at as a husband (thank goodness, that makes one of us); he often takes ample time to understand where I am coming from or why I feel a certain way. However, this is something I am still learning, and Nick is a pretty good teacher.
Our fourth year of marriage opened my eyes to the fact that it is way more important that I hear my husband’s side of the story, than simply jumping to conclusions or assumptions. It is more important for me to try to learn about him as a person, how his mind works and what affects his heart, than to assume I already know what’s going on in his thoughts or how he is feeling. It is vital that I gain an understanding of what is important to him and why, so that I can get a grasp of his perspective and how he sees life. He and I perceive things differently at times, and we just have to work together in understanding one another in order to communicate more effectively and interact more respectfully.
Example: So, before this great revelation of how important it is to try and understand my husband, I thought he just didn’t like listening to me, that he just never really listened. Ever. I would have a conversation with him, telling him all these things about my day with actual important information peppered in every once in a while, and he would never remember the important stuff I told him about. Never. Consequently, we would have these conversations that started with, “Remember the other day when I told you [insert random info here]?” He would reply that, in fact, I had never mentioned that and I never took the time to tell him [insert random info here]. It would spiral into a “you never listen to me = you don’t love me,” quarrel. This would happen over and over.
Finally, we kind of got into a big enough argument where we got to the heart of the issue: Nick’s mind works differently than mine. He is a wandering thinker, which I knew, but never took the time to understand what that means for him when we are in a conversation together. Sure, his mind travels in and out of what I am actually conversing about, but that’s him, and I learned I really can’t take that personally—as it is how his brain is wired and it will pretty much keep happening. So if would have ACTUALLY tried to understand how my husband perceives things, rather than just assuming “you never listen to me = you don’t love me,” I would have saved us countless amounts of energy on all of those pointless arguments.
4. I am loaded with wealth. I mean, like, pouring out all over the place because I don’t have enough room to store it all up.
The most incredible thing I learned this year: marrying a poor musician who was working at Starbucks at the time of our wedding for $8 an hour made me the wealthiest version of myself I could ever hope to be.
To have and to experience the love of such a humble and genuine man, a man who daily strives to set his heart on Jesus, is to be truly wealthy. A man who could be working as a janitor scrubbing toilets for a living, and still be the most impressive man I know. A man who, when I run into folks who know him, are quick to mention how much they appreciate him, how friendly and kind he is. A man who is as quick to forgive as quick as he is to seek forgiveness.
His servant’s heart and gentleness has led our home to be a place of simple joy and contentment; he has set a tone for our home that invites peace. His leadership as a husband has made our home a safe place to be, a place I want to come home to. I hope to wear his love like a crown, like a priceless piece to be grateful for; something to be adorned, a gift to be put on and carried well.
As each day goes by, I come to recognize that this true wealth becomes sealed in my heart; it’s the kind you cannot lose, the kind of value that doesn’t depreciate our fade. It’s sticky sweet and as pure as honey, as rich in taste as fine wine, as beautiful as the loveliest of designer clothes. It is not the kind of wealth that is spun or made or gathered or earned, but the kind that is given freely by Christ: an abundance of love, grace-seeped, dripping in gentleness and fiery commitment. It is the kind of wealth I should be chasing, setting all other things aside. True wealth, to me, is not displayed by traveling the world or fine dining or incredible clothes, but by inviting someone into our home, and hoping they are made to feel as at home and as valued as we do.
Nick and I are not perfect and never will be. We will never be the fancy, classy couple in your group of friends, we will never be the most charming or handsome, we will never be the most popular or the richest or the people that have all their stuff together—we might even be one of the most socially awkward couples in your friend circle (and probably already are). But my most sincere hope is that we will always be a couple that you can genuinely be yourself with, that you don’t have to be concerned about impressing or worried that you will be judged because you came to dinner in your workout clothes or you and your spouse going through a rough time.
I hope we share the wealth that we have found with you, and if we haven’t yet, well, please invite yourself over.
We love because Christ first loved us. 1 John 4:19