On Friday Ike and I celebrated 5 years of marriage together! Woohoo!
Around this time each year, I find myself reflecting on how our lives have changed, what the future holds, and what I’ve learned in between. I’m not sure I could distill all those lessons into one single blog post, but in celebration of the last 5 years I decided to make a list of the top 5. So here they are, offered by a wife who still has so much left to learn:
1. The beauty of marriage is sometimes ugly.
Look at this photo from our wedding. Isn’t it nice? Aren’t we pretty? Doesn’t this look like the happily-ever-after of a romantic comedy?
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this picture is symbolic of how I envisioned our lives together. On a head level, I knew we would face hard times, but most of our lives would look like a Pinterest page–of that I was certain. Just photoshop a cute, squeaky clean baby into that photo, and that’s how I pictured our future family.
Some days are that beautiful. Many days are filled with laughter and delight. But some days you have morning sickness. Some days you’re 9 months pregnant and you feel like a whale. Some days your child pukes, pees, and poops on you all within an hour. Some days you feel so lonely and isolated you think you’ll lose your mind.
Those days aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re not glamorous, and they’re certainly not easy. They’re not like the wedding photos at all.
A few weeks ago I was in the car with Ike battling another bout of morning sickness. My seat was reclined as I lay on my side trying to keep from vomiting in the car. I thought about my last pregnancy, and all that had happened since, the ups and the downs of raising a small child. Then, out of nowhere, I found myself overcome with pride at this little family we were growing together.
That’s the unexpected beauty of marriage. When you endure with another person, when you build a life and a family with another person, the result is a marvelous thing. Sometimes the days are long, but out of your love and perseverance is forged an invaluable treasure of eternal weight. When I think back on those ugly days that we endured together, I can’t help but see the makings of something beautiful.
The Christian faith affirms this way of seeing. When we look at the ugly cross, we see a breath-taking act of love. That moment in history is a paradigm for our lives, both in marriage and without. Some of the ugliest, hardest parts of our lives yield the greatest, most lasting beauty.
2. The silent treatment is the devil. Just stop it.
When Ike and I first got married, I often responded to conflict by retreating into silence. I did this for two reasons:
a) I wanted him to figure out what he had done wrong without me having to tell him.
b) It made me feel like I was being noble: “I shall suffer in silence! Thou hast wounded me but I shan’t say a word. That’s because I am a far better Christian than you!”
Somehow I confused the wise act of holding one’s tongue with the passive aggressive act of refusing to communicate.
Over the years, I realized that what I was really doing with the silent treatment was this:
a) I was punishing him. Instead of honestly and gently communicating that he hurt me so that he could apologize and we could discuss it, I toyed with him. My silence gave him just enough information to know that he had done something wrong, but not enough information for him to know what it was. Which is basically an impossible situation for him.
b) I was loading my arsenal. During that silence, my mind raced with all the reasons he was wrong and I was right. I frantically compiled a series of arguments to slice and dice him, all while reinforcing my own self-righteousness. Then, whenever the poor guy dared to ask what was wrong, I attacked him like a verbal machine gun, leaving him helpless and unprepared.
This isn’t fighting fair. It is not a sincere attempt at communication or reconciliation. If you need some time to think before you speak, that’s fine–James 1:19 tells us to do this!–but don’t use that teaching as a mask for your sin. Tell your spouse that you’re upset and that you need some time to think, and only then is silence wise and edifying. Otherwise, it’s not right and it’s not helpful.
3. It’s ok to go to bed angry.
I know this goes against every piece of marriage advice you’ve probably ever heard, but let me explain. Over the years, Ike and I have learned that one of the worst times to have a difficult discussion is late at night. The more tired we are, the less rational we become, and the more likely we are to say things we regret. These late night discussions are especially difficult for Ike, because he is not a night owl like me. If it was up to me, we’d stay up until 2am. If it was up to Ike, we’d go to bed at 9.
Since we have learned one another’s rhythms, we have also learned when to hit the pause button on late night arguments. There is a point at which nothing good will come of continuing the argument, and it’s wisest to go to bed.
Now–and this is important–this doesn’t mean stonewalling the other person or shutting down because you don’t feel like talking anymore. Instead, this is an intentional decision on both parts to postpone the conversation until a better time. We usually end these discussions by saying something affirming to one another, saying “I love you,” or praying together. I may still be angry, but our last gesture toward one another is one of unity and reconciliation. Plus, I wake up the next morning feeling much more calm, so the conversation is MUCH easier to have.
All of that to say, the old adage “Never go to bed angry” should probably carry this equally common qualifier:
Nothing good happens after midnight.
(Or whatever that way-too-tired-to-function hour is for you).
4. Always assume the other person is doing more.
(This lesson was suggested to me by Ike)
Soon after Isaac was born, Ike began to struggle with feeling like he was doing a lot more for our family than I was. To be perfectly honest, I think he was doing more for our family than I was. In fact, I have trouble keeping up with how much he serves me and Isaac. I’m not saying I sit on my tush all day eating bonbons, but I don’t think he was imagining things.
Anyway, Ike eventually realized that he felt bitter toward me whenever he overlooked or under-appreciated all that I was doing. We aren’t around each other all the time, so we don’t get to see all that the other person does. Ike doesn’t see me dust the furniture–it just “happens” to stay clean all the time. I don’t see Ike fill up my gas tank–it just happens to be full. When things are taken care of, we don’t really notice them.
That’s why it’s easy to take for granted the many ways in which your spouse is greasing the wheels of your life. And when you take the other person’s efforts for granted, that’s when self-righteousness and bitterness set in.
That’s why Ike chooses to assume that I am doing just as much as he is, if not more. He knows that he doesn’t see all the things I do, so he gives me the benefit of a doubt that I am pulling my own weight, and that he is not alone in his sacrifice.
But if you ever see Ike, give him a pat on the back. He does a TON.
5. Spiritual leadership is not what I thought.
When I first got married, I thought I knew what spiritual leadership looked like in marriage. I thought I understood what it meant for a man to love his family the way Christ loved the church.
In hindsight, I had confused Christian leadership and Christian strength with worldly leadership and worldly strength. It’s not that I expected my husband to be this macho guy. My conception of strength wasn’t a complete straw man. Instead, I associated Christian leadership with things like decisiveness, overt authority, physical protection, extrovertedness (not sure where that came from), and structure, none of which have anything to do with Jesus.
Now, Ike does have some of those qualities, but being married to him has also challenged me to reevaluate the way I understand leadership and strength, and whether those match up with Scripture. In fact, I’ve come to realize that the qualities often celebrated as strength–even within the church–are actually a disguise for cowardice, immaturity, and insecurity.
There is a kind of strength that is not contingent upon the weakness of others, and there is a kind of authority that is not demanded but earned. Of course, we see this strength and authority embodied in the person of Christ, but Ike has exemplified that Christ-like model by leading in service, in sacrifice, in humility, and in grace. Ike is strong in the way that the world measures strength, but his true strength comes from his careful, daily, diligent, sometimes quiet and unnoticed imitation of Christ.
In case it isn’t obvious, I am so grateful for Ike and the man that he is. He challenges me, pursues me, is patient with me, prays for me, leads in a way that inspires and liberates me, and stewards my gifts as if they were his own. His love for me is a tangible representation of Jesus’ perfect love for the church, and that, I think, is what God intended marriage to be.
I hope these 5 lessons were helpful or encouraging to you, and Happy Anniversary to the love of my life! Here’s to the next five!