This information is nothing new—really there is nothing new under the sun—but it is my reflection on the last five years of a happy marriage and how our relationship has challenged me to grow. It may look like a lot of content, but it reads fast. I started writing about marriage five years ago when Nick and I were first married, in order to record my thoughts and teach myself. If you like, you can read older posts from anniversaries past HERE or HERE or HERE or HERE or HERE or HERE (ok, I’m done).
I grew up in a family with a long line of divorce, and was a bit hesitant to enter into the institution.
I didn’t have the same idyllic picture of marriage that other young women may have or that Christian culture has a tendency to paint for young, youth group attenders. Marriage did not make me feel more beautiful or valuable—in fact, our first year (which was the hardest so far!) exposed a lot of internal, buried ugliness, bitterness, and selfishness within me.
I am so thankful for the gift that marriage has been for me personally; I have a kindhearted husband who loves Jesus, and works hard to make our household an emotionally healthy and safe one. I am so thankful for God’s grace that has taught us how to love one another and ourselves. I am grateful that marriage is growing me into a more beautiful person on the inside, and I am so glad that I took the step of faith to pledge my life to another. Without further delay, here are five things:
1. Choose Wisely
To those who might want to get married in the future, choose wisely.
It seems I am more and more like Nick with every day that goes by; I am unintentionally becoming just like him. I have picked up and started using his unique non-verbal communication style (the shrug of the shoulders used to fully answer a question, the crinkle of the mouth to respond to a comment) as well as his dreadful masculine sense of humor (which does NOT go over well in a run-of-the-mill group of girls—I’ve tried and failed). He and I giggle at the same things without even having to say a word as to why, and have started to think the same thoughts at the same time.
I also have started to pick up his beautiful habit of patience, and—through his gentle wisdom—have learned that leaving something out on the sofa overnight or a pile of laundry left to be done tomorrow are no things to be anxious over. He has slowly acquired—if I may say so myself—some of my organizational abilities, some seriously awesome and confident confrontation skills, and a bit of my high-level sensitivity to others.
I distinctly remember when we were dating thinking that if I were a man, I would want to be just like Nick. I would want to act like him, talk like him, look like him—everything. I admired his thoughtful communication, his kindness towards others, his patience. I did not realize before marriage I would start picking up those things after years of being together, and I am grateful for it.
Choose your spouse wisely because, slowly and surely, you become very similar to your spouse. Completely unintentionally, against your own will, you fade into one another. By no means—if you are in a healthy marriage—do you lose your sense of self or your uniqueness, but you and your spouse become like the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean: separate bodies of water, always overlapping at some point, feeding into one another, different temperatures at times, but looking the same.
Pick someone to share your life with that you wouldn’t mind becoming.
2. Grow. Grow, grow, grow, keep growing some more, and grow again.
There is that cheesy saying (that people go on saying because it seems to be true) that marriage is falling in love with the same person over and over again, that your spouse will be twenty different people throughout a lifetime. Nick and I have changed a lot since we first started dating—as individuals and as a couple.
I like to think we have grown positively (but please let me know if there are some areas where we haven’t!!). I believe we have matured and grown into better people: people who choose to love one another with a greater intensity than we did on the day we exchanged vows. A lot of the growth has come from walking through tough stuff together until resolution, and also through challenging one another to overcome destructive or immature behaviors.
Every argument resolved, every overcome obstacle, every celebration of good things, every lesson learned in the growth process is like laying down brick and mortar—it’s as if we are building a foundation for the years to come, a beautiful house for the relationship to thrive in.
In the last five years I have found that it is so important to allow you and your spouse room to change and grow for the better, and to keep one another accountable to doing so. If you continue to challenge and support one another in positive growth, not only do you learn to be better people to one another, but to others outside your household as well.
3. A healthy marriage takes a village.
I mean, it takes a WHOLE lot of people to help create a healthy marriage—not just you and your spouse. It takes your grandparents sharing beautiful wisdom about long, healthy relationships. It takes your parents sending you encouraging words on your anniversary. It takes your friend who is also married to listen and process the routine issues with. It takes a gentle and trusted pastor to point out something that might need to change in your lives. It takes the amazing and loving middle aged couple with four kids at church or work to model a healthy family. It takes your wise and intelligent single friend to give you a healthy reality check that your own household is NOT the MOST important thing in the universe. It takes your small group or close group of intimate friends to walk through the heavy stuff with you with their full support. It takes humility and vulnerability to ask for advice and realize you don’t know everything. Most of all (in my case, as a Jesus-loving Christian) it takes Jesus. It takes His serious, Amazing Grace to make this whole marriage thing work well.
I don’t think the healthiest marriages simply involve two deeply in love individuals (although that’s an awesome start!), I think they involve two deeply in love individuals that have a rock-solid, honest, and loving community.
In the last five years, I have been so grateful for our loving friends, family, and church community that are always there to support us through difficult times, gently call us out on negative thinking or behaviors, celebrate with us in happy times, and give encouraging words. I don’t think our relationship would be as healthy without it.
And as far as the whole Jesus-thing goes… where do I learn to give and accept forgiveness over and over? Where do I receive grace for my own flawed self, that teaches me to give grace freely to my spouse in difficult times? Who convicts my stubborn heart to grow in self-control and patience and kindness not only toward my spouse, but towards all people? Well, that’d be Jesus, folks. Over the years, my faith in His goodness has increased and I have seen His love for me in new and amazing ways; this only continues to encourage me in my Christian walk, and teaches me that I, too, can love others well.
So yes, in my opinion, a healthy marriage takes a lot of good people around you—and a lot of Amazing Grace—to work out beautifully.
4. Sometimes the things that are worth the most are the hardest to carry.
The air was cool and a bit misty, with the sun gently peeking through the tops of the trees. Nick and I were hiking through the Blue Ridge Mountains and were in the middle of a perfectly mild summer day… and a huge argument.
It was the same argument we had been having for the past three months, centering on healthy, clear communication (or lack thereof) and now we were shouting it at one another from a literal mountain top. (Like, we were seriously at the top of the trail on the mountain in the gorgeous green, quiet woods arguing where no one else could hear).
Hurtful things were said out of anger, and apologies were excavated from hardened hearts and (eventually) freely given. It was a stupid argument overall, but it ended something like this:
ME: I don’t always want to be married [insert warm and loving embrace here], but there is no one else I would rather be married to.
NICK: I love you; you are my treasure.
ME: Even when I act like a B-word?
NICK: Yep. Treasure can be heavy.
Treasure can be heavy.
If there is anything our last five years of marriage has taught me, it is surely that.
To be honest folks—even though the last five years of my life have honestly been the happiest—I don’t always “feel like” being married. If you have been married for any length of time or have ever experienced any relational trial, you may know what I mean.
Sometimes—if we are going through a season of disagreeing on something or overcoming an issue—I don’t always feel as if I have the energy to see it through to the other side. Oftentimes (even in the last stretch, right before resolution), I just want to shout: OHMYGOSH. Ok, I’m done. I can’t take it anymore! Here, you just stay right here and I will go live under a bridge somewhere and there will be peace in the world again.
Obviously, this is a dramatization of my feelings, but sometimes the work that marriage requires can feel too heavy to carry for my young-married muscles. But oh my goodness, when we reach the finish line in a difficult marital season through prayer and patience and seeking wisdom and being honest, it is ALL celebration; it is high-fives and long kisses and jumping up and down while marveling at the thing we just overcame.
The truth is, I don’t always “feel like” being married (whatever that means); building a healthy marriage is a challenging, lifelong work and takes patience and endurance and serious muscle. But oh, there is no one in this whole wide world I would rather endure the trials of this life with than Nick Johnson.
I say that to encourage all who are married or who want to be married: truly, marriage isn’t always easy and it sure as heck should not be put on some glorious, cultural pedestal as the crowning glory of young adult life, but if you find someone who you trust to walk through the most difficult and the most amazing things through life with, it’s worth all the fuss.
5. We serve a good and gracious God.
Who am I to have someone who sticks around, shares the same bed, and loves me everyday? Seriously, I know myself better than anyone else, and I have concluded that I am the worst. Just as many times I can be kind or nice in one day, I can also wake up grumpy for no reason, sometimes I have crazy outbursts, I think mean thoughts, I say mean things, I can be incredibly annoying, I am impatient and unkind. I even say mean things to Nick on purpose sometimes (I mean, he does too) and we still love one another.
I am pretty awful, and I am undeserving.
It is hard to wrap my mind around that a gracious human chooses to love me, let alone that a gracious, mighty and eternal Creator God chooses to love me.
But I believe that God does. I see it in so many things, it is hard to ignore and equally hard to accept.
I want to earn it all myself, I want to prove to everyone I am worth loving: to my husband, my family, my friends, and my God. As I get older, the more I realize that all of this love is freely given to me by those who truly love me for who I am in this moment—grumpiness and all—and it is not something I can earn.
I could never earn the gift of marriage—I could never be pretty enough, I could never be domestic enough, I could never be sexy enough, and I could never be kind enough to earn someone’s wholehearted love. I am helplessly flawed. However, every morning this gift of marriage is given to me over and over and over again. I wake up and the gift is presented, new and fresh, soaked and sopping in goodness.
Marriage has taught me so much about Jesus’ love for me; if a human could love me this much, how much more does my Heavenly Father love and accept me? Jesus’ love is so great and vast and weighty and wild and true and beautiful and holy and glorious. No other love compares to the love of Christ.
I am undeserving, but I am so very loved. Fully, completely, for who I am right now… not for who I am going to be or who I was before this moment. This unconditional, compassionate, complete love from Christ moves me into full, humble adoration and passionate obedience. I want to love Jesus more than myself, I want Him to teach me to love everyone more than myself.
Every morning I wake up and the gift of Christ’s Amazing Grace is presented to me (despite whatever I did yesterday or whatever I will do today), new and fresh and soaked and sopping in goodness. The sun rises, the morning is new, and so is His mercy and love for me.
Thanks marriage, for deeply teaching me that God loves me for who I am and where I am at, despite my despicable humanness.
And thank you Nick, for making marriage possible for me—you have all of me, always.