On this exact day in 2012, Daniel and I stood on a wooden stage in a circle of trees, surrounded by our families and friends, and vowed to each other and to God that we would honor, cherish, and encourage each other for the rest of our lives. As giddy as we were that evening, we didn’t really have a clue what we were saying. We weren’t prepared for how quickly we would be given opportunities to prove if we meant what we said. We have since had to make intentional choices to stick together and press in rather than fall apart during seasons of financial stress, sickness, family issues, spiritual apathy, infertility, the CPA, betrayal, busy work schedules, loss of friendships, bad health habits, and frustration over basic emotional/mental differences between men and women.
I’m convinced those two words make up one of the most beautiful phrases the Bible contains.
In the midst of ALL of those messy things, God has proved Himself to us over and over. We have experienced unbelievable peace, new friendships, expected and unexpected financial blessings, so much laughter, game nights, date nights, church growth, new homes, spiritual renewal, genuine community, forgiveness, and a deepening sense of safety, joy, and thankfulness for each other. I would gladly go through all of the lows again for the sake of all of those highs.
A marriage relationship is a picture of how God loves His people, and the longer I’m married, the more passionate I become about marriage ministry and making sure that the world is getting an accurate picture of that Great Love. I know quite a few couples who are newly married or about to get married, so in light of our anniversary, I wanted to share a few things we’ve learned over the last six years!
1. Become the world champion of reconciliation.
It’s important to remember that marriage is blending the lives of two sinners together. You are deeply flawed and selfish, and you are marrying a sinner who is also deeply flawed and selfish. You are going to disappoint each other. It’s inevitable. But it’s okay! Perfection is not required of us, thank God, because Jesus’s death on the cross already paid for our imperfection. Pray that God would make your heart more like His, and that you would be quick to apologize and forgive. Bitterness, anger, and a refusal to admit when you’re wrong will poison your relationship if you let them.
2. Always be your spouse’s #1 fan.
It’s amazing what a husband can accomplish when he knows his wife has his back, no matter what! Don’t underestimate the power of your encouraging words, and actively look for ways to praise him and cheer him on. Learn to “speak” his love language. Ask how you can pray for him, grab his hands, and pray over him out loud, right then and there. Be mindful of how you speak to him in front of others, or about him to others – public disrespect is a great way to instantly destroy someone’s trust.
3. Pick your battles.
People say this all the time, but good grief is it ever true. It’s hard to remember when you’re emotionally wrapped up in something, but some things just aren’t worth arguing about. Don’t go looking for reasons to be upset. Instead, think long-term and ask yourself, “Twenty years from now, will I be glad I fought for this? How important will it be that he did what I wanted, or that we didn’t agree about this?” At the end of your life together, you won’t remember that time he dumped hot chocolate in your newly cleaned sink or that she forgot to iron your dress shirt for work. Save your energy for the big things, and let the little things go.
4. Expectations affect literally everything.
Before you got married, you probably didn’t realize how many expectations you had – about food, housekeeping, kids, sex, money, time management, etc. But guess what? Your spouse grew up with his or her own expectations about the exact same things. We usually don’t find out what our expectations are until they are not met, and no matter how flexible you think you are, you’ll find out REALLY fast how ‘stuck in your ways’ both of you are. For every conscious or unconscious expectation you have for your spouse, he or she will have one for you too. It’s unrealistic to expect your spouse to do all the adjusting in your relationship. And it’s also unfair to ask your spouse to bend over backwards for you, while refusing to change or grow up a little yourself.
5. Don’t keep score.
You will absolutely, positively, unquestionably never be happy in your marriage if you do this. Score-keeping leads to comparison, selfishness, and bitterness. If your goal is for everything in your marriage to be equal at all times……I’m really sorry, but those moments, if they exist, will be rare. One person is almost always giving more, and that’s just how it is. Chores probably won’t be divided up 50/50. Neither will child-rearing. Neither will cooking or money-making or nurturing your relationship. And you know what? That’s okay. Marriages aren’t supposed to be each person giving 50/50. The best marriages come from couples who give 100/100. And although your spouse may be giving 45% on one particular day, you still need to give 100%. Why? Because that’s what you promised you would do on your wedding day. You can’t control what your spouse is doing, but you can control what you do. When you said your vows on your wedding day, I’m willing to bet that you didn’t say, “I vow to keep my vows, as long as you keep yours.”
6. Nail down financial habits early.
Did you know that finances rank in the top five things nearly all married couples argue about the most? Money affects every other piece of your lives together, and it’s incredibly important that you figure out what you’re doing in this area. You don’t need lots of money to be happy, but you do need to put good habits in place to prevent problems in the future. And don’t be afraid to ask for help! Pray that God would help you be a good steward of your money and give you wisdom, and find someone whose financial habits you respect and ask them for some advice. Then, sit down and decide together how much you want to spend, save, and give away. Regardless of who is better at budgeting, make sure you both have an active role as far as managing your money and making decisions. For example: Daniel is a financial analyst, so he’s obviously smarter as far as planning for our future and making sure we’re on the right track. However, I am the one who moves money to various places when we get paid – to a vacation fund, to emergency savings, paying extra toward a loan, etc. Long story short, both of you should know what your financial plans are. It’s not wise for one person to just kick back and say, “Ehh, you take care of it; just tell me how much I can spend on Amazon.”
7. Never substitute your spouse for God.
The truth is, no matter how great you are together, you will never completely fulfill each other. There will always be a huge, Grand Canyon-sized gap in your heart that no one but the Lord can fill, and it is fruitless for us to try to fill that gap with an imperfect person. Ruth Bell Graham said, “I pity the married couple who expect too much from one another. It is a foolish woman who expects her husband to be to her that which only Jesus Christ Himself can be: ready to forgive, totally understanding, unendingly patient, invariably tender and loving, unfailing in every area, anticipating every need, and making more than adequate provision. Such expectations put a man under an impossible strain. The same goes for the man who expects too much from his wife.” When you have a thriving relationship with Jesus, you will also be in the perfect position to have a thriving marriage.
8. Pray. All the time. For everything.
Pray so hard for your marriage. Never stop praying for each other and with each other. Pray as if your lives depend on it, because they do.
9. Protect your marriage with relentless vigilance.
There are so many things competing for your attention – romance novels, sex-saturated movies, pornography, flirtatious coworkers – and Satan will use as many as he can to steal your affection for your spouse. DON’T. LET. HIM. The most effective ways to safeguard yourselves are immersing yourself in God’s Word, praying, and allowing your Biblical community to hold you accountable and help keep a watchful eye out for any potential stumbling blocks. Maybe you set up accountability software on your computer. Maybe you decide that neither of you will be alone anywhere with another member of the opposite sex. Maybe you stop watching certain movies. I don’t know what your boundaries need to be, but quit messing around and put them in place. Other people might think you’re going overboard at times, and Satan might even try to keep you from setting boundaries by making YOU feel like you’re over-exaggerating. But at the end of the day, isn’t your marriage worth protecting at any cost?
10. Invest in your relationship.
Is your marriage really great right now? Keep it that way by making it a top priority. The best time to invest in your marriage is before you’re struggling. Read marriage books together, go to a conference, or plan a weekend getaway somewhere specifically to spend time reconnecting. If your instant reflex is “We just don’t have the time for that right now,” you need to make time. Your marriage has an impact on everything else you do in life, and if your marriage is shaky, everything else will be too. You will have to give up other things sometimes in order to put time and money toward strengthening your relationship, but it will absolutely be worth the investment.
Bonus: 11. Make some really good married friends.
It is so, so good for you to find other married couples that you can share your lives with transparently. A lot of couples go through the same things, especially in their first few years, and it helps so much to know that you aren’t alone in whatever you’re experiencing. Community is invaluable and beautiful, and your relationship will benefit from hanging out with other couples, as well as spending “just girls” and “just guys” time together.
This post is part of 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?