In the last few months, I’ve spent a lot of time reminiscing about my relationship with Daniel. For one thing, we celebrated our 5-year anniversary in June, which felt like a big milestone. Second of all, we were invited to a TON of weddings this summer, and weddings always remind me of my own. Third, as of August 2nd, we have known each other for exactly 8 years – WHAT. And finally, I’ve been getting lots of “On this day, __ years ago” reminders on social media, including cute cheesy photos from when we were dating. All of these things have made me hyper-aware of how much has changed since 2009.
I started noticing a pattern to my train of thought a month or two ago. Nearly every time, it went something like this:
(1) See a crazy-in-love couple at a wedding (or young D+L in an old photo)
(2) Sigh sentimentally and remember when we were in that season
(3) Start wishing that we were back in that season; that we were still disgustingly sweet with each other; that Daniel still did silly mushy things like drawing me a message in the sand in Haiti: ⇓⇓
Granted: I fully realize that we are not that old (I barely feel like I’m qualified to be an adult) and we haven’t done decades of life together yet, but we have experienced some significant shifts from the beginning of our friendship to now. Some of those changes were good! Some were not so good. Some were just unexpected. Things are not the same as they were 8 years ago. Probably every married couple who is past the honeymoon period can admit to missing the pureness of that “newly in love” season at least once after the routine of married life sets in, unless they aren’t self-aware or are lying to themselves. But is it possible that we’ve missed something in the midst of our reminiscing?
(Hint: the answer is yes.)
I remember with powerful clarity how it felt to be dating, engaged, and newly married to Daniel. True, it was also hard because of how steep our learning curve was, but good grief were we crazy about each other! Truly, wildly, wonderfully crazy. Sometimes, I find myself wondering where those two people went. No one had to teach us to be so excited about each other back then; we just were. Everything seemed to come naturally. We found so much joy in being together, and it was unmistakable (and probably annoying) to everyone else around us. So…if it all came about so easily before, then what changed? What is it that makes those days seem so far out of reach?
I’m willing to bet that the reason a lot of marriages fall apart within the first few years is because people are chasing that craziness, that *feeling* you have when you’re in a new relationship: fuzzy, romantic, exciting, your heart beating faster and/or skipping a beat, etc. There’s so much to learn, and so much to share! But the longer you spend time with someone, the less mystery (and risk) is involved. You learn each other’s quirks, and not as much surprises you anymore. Of course, no matter how long you’re married, you’ll never know absolutely everything there is to know about the other person. After all, you married someone who will continue growing and changing for the rest of their life and the rest of your marriage. But after years of doing life with somebody, the ‘stones unturned’ are fewer and farther between. For many couples, this is exactly when the seemingly harmless weeds of complacency, comparison, and apathy can begin to sprout. And the longer they are allowed to grow, the deeper the roots.
I wish my husband would…
I remember when my wife used to…
She never ____ anymore.
If only he acted more like…
How many of you have thought something like this before? If you have, it may be comforting to know that you’re not alone. But don’t get too comfortable just yet. Every time you let yourself dwell on a thought like that, it’s like slowly cracking open a tiny window in the very back of the basement of your heart, providing the perfect opportunity for all kinds of filth to crawl inside and build a nest. Ever heard the phrase “Give an inch and they’ll take a mile”? Satan will wiggle through even the tiniest crack in your marriage and immediately start laying traps. Bet on it.
See, the thing about Satan is that he isn’t simply a nuisance. His goal isn’t to try to annoy you like an obnoxious little brother. He wants to destroy you. God created marriage to be THE picture of His love for His people – an unconditional, self-sacrificing love. A healthy marriage is a strong, impenetrable fortress, shining the purifying light of God over a dark, starving world. So, it makes sense, then, that Satan would do everything in his (limited) power to attack marriages and sabotage as many as possible.
I believe one of the biggest ways he accomplishes his sabotage is by convincing us to believe the lie that if things aren’t easy, if things don’t keep coming naturally, if we don’t *feel* the same way we used to…that we made the wrong choice, and things wouldn’t be like this if we had married the “right” person. Let me repeat: THIS. IS. A. LIE. Literally nobody is the “right person.” Everyone you meet is radically flawed and eternally hopeless without God, and the salvation and sanctification He offers is our only hope for a good marriage. Those wonderful fuzzy things you feel when you give your heart to someone and receive theirs in return – that is a gift from God, and I’m really thankful we get to enjoy it! But the even better news is that those feelings are just the tip of the iceberg of all that God has to teach us about love. God’s gifts don’t culminate in the moment we get married. We aren’t doomed to a downhill trek off of the mountaintop of our wedding day.
It’s easy to idealize the beginning of a relationship. And yes, it is a really sweet, special season! But when I finally took the time to sit down and think about where I’m at in my marriage, I realized something. I wouldn’t go back. Sure, we were nuts about each other, but we also hadn’t had the chance to prove that we meant what we said in our vows – “in good times and in bad.” In the beginning of a relationship, you’re still trying to impress each other with how awesome you are, and you probably don’t spend much time pointing out each other’s selfishness. Being married for 5 years and together for 8, we’ve gone through some STUFF. And Daniel telling me he loves me means infinitely more now than it did years ago, before we butted heads and hurt each other and experienced real conflict. Now, when he says “I love you,” it carries a much heavier weight. Now, our relationship has a steady foundation of covenant vows. Now, we have a much longer track record of forgiveness and reconciliation, which makes that “I love you” mean more than “I love how you make me feel” or “I love how attracted I am to you” or “I love all these bubbly love feelings blah blah blah.” I have done things that have really hurt him, and the fact that he still says “I love you” and means it, in spite of my bad choices and unkind words…well, nothing can top that.
God has shown both of us the depths of His love for us, which is the only thing that allows us to love each other well. Loving someone because of what they have done to make you happy is shallow and worthless compared to loving someone because of what God has done for you. And even though I will always look back on our past with fondness, I would much rather have this kind of love – deepening, perfecting, maturing, secure – than the giggly, consuming, emotion-driven feelings from years ago. It makes me teary-eyed to think of how I’ll love him in 10, 20, or (God willing) 50 years.
The goodness of marriage has nothing to do with how you feel about your spouse at any given moment. Love is an action verb, a daily choice. Much like anything else really worth having, marriage requires effort! It’s more than just sharing a bed, a refrigerator, and a mailbox. It’s more than changing your name and including another person in your plans for your life. Marriage costs you. It will cost you yourself, absolutely everything you have to give. That shouldn’t really come as any surprise, though, because God sacrificed the most precious thing He had – Jesus – to make us holy. In doing that, He set the example for how we should act in our marriages: willing to sacrifice the things we hold most dear, putting “I” aside for the sake of “we.” Whenever my selfish flesh tries to buck up and fight for its rights, I find comfort in remembering that our God is a good God, and when He created marriage, He called it very good. Meaning that each season of our lives together – the “truly, wildly, wonderfully crazy” part and the “new parents” part and the “mid-life crisis” part and the “retired grandparents” part – every single season is a good gift from a good God, and we can trust that His grace will sustain us through it all.
This post is part of “Married Monday,” a series I started in order to expose myths and lies we’ve been told about married life, celebrate moments of joy and growth, chew on hard truths and sprinkle them with grace, and remind others (and myself!) that marriage doesn’t work without Christ in it. I have lots of ideas, but I’d love your input too! What topics would you like to see covered?