Things I’ve Learned

Later this summer our daughter and her husband will celebrate 3 year anniversary and our son and daughter-in-law will celebrate their first anniversary! And today Mark and I are celebrating our 26th anniversary!

Twenty-six years ago, Mark and I were so young and naïve. We had starry eyes, big dreams, and absolutely no money. But we loved, laughed, and learned together muddling our way into the real world and this thing called marriage.

As I think back to the early years, I think about all that I didn’t know when I said “I do…”

…I had no idea how selfish I was. Marriage showed me the reality of my self-centeredness.

…I had no idea how hard marriage would be. It’s a lot more work than most of us think.

…I had no idea it would require 100% on my part. I thought it was a 50-50 deal. Not so. It’s 100-100 that makes for a healthy marriage.

…I had no idea that love was more than a feeling. Truth is—love is a choice. The feeling comes and goes.

…I had no idea how different we were. Those differences were charming to us…until we started living under the same roof. It was then that we had to learn to celebrate our differences and move from frustration to fascination.

…I had no idea that Mark couldn’t read my mind. In a huff, I’d say to myself, “He should just know…” Truth is—he doesn’t know unless I communicate to him…with words.

…I had no idea that I’d have to learn to pray a different prayer. Too often, in the early years, I arrogantly prayed, “God, please change him!” Over time I’ve learned to humbly pray, “God, please change me.”

…I had no idea forgiveness was a choice and I’d have to learn to forgive “in the moment.” Too often I felt like every wrong had to be discussed and talked about, but in time I learned that sometimes I can quickly resolve a misunderstanding in my heart with the choice of forgiveness…no discussion necessary.

…I had no idea that forgiveness would be a daily event. But it is. We live with an imperfect person who will disappoint us, let us down, and sometimes unintentionally hurt us just by being different from us. Choosing to forgive is the only way to give grace and move forward.

…I had no idea that I still acted childishly in times of conflict. Slamming doors, throwing things, and stomping through the house have no place in married life. Non-verbal childish communication had to be replaced with verbal grown-up communication.

…I had no idea that we would need to date after we were married. I thought dating was for “before marriage.” A healthy marriage needs intentional time for communication, fun, and recreation. Dating has to continue after “I do.”

…I had no idea that listening was just as important as talking. But it is. When I let my husband know he’s been heard rather than jumping in and defending my position or opinion first, we get a lot further in times of conflict.

…I had no idea that we’d ever have to visit a marriage counselor. But we have several times throughout the years. We’ve learned there is no shame in asking for help to make your marriage go the distance.

…I had no idea that I could love my husband more today than I did 26 years ago. But I do. It’s a different kind of love. The infatuation has been replaced by intimacy. The feeling has been replaced by commitment. And the love is stronger because of all that we’ve been through and all that we’ve shared.

Congratulations Julie and Evan and Matt and Anne. There’s so much you still don’t know. But what you know today about your love for each other is enough to get you through tomorrow. And you’ll take this journey just like the rest of us…learning new things about ourselves and each another…one married day at a time.

What are some lessons you’ve learned over the years?

Advance Decisions You Need To Make for Your Marriage

Every Friday is date day for my husband and I. It’s his day off and I keep my calendar open to allow us to spend the day together. And it’s an advance decision we intentionally make to keep a priority in place.

Learning to make advance decisions can be one of the best strategies for protecting your marriage and keeping it a priority. In 24 years of marriage, Mark and I have learned that we need to decide in advance how we will give time, protection, and investment to our marriage. If we don’t make those decisions, the frantic pace of life will eventually erode the love and commitment we have.

Scheduling dates is one advance decision every married couple should make. If you have dates on your calendar for the next three to four month, you are assured that you will take time to play together, have fun together, and carry on a conversation on a regular basis without the interruption of your children. If you’ve never done this before, sit down together with a calendar and put a big heart on the days you will plan for some time together. If your children are young, arrange for a sitter about one month in advance. And don’t worry about dates needing to cost a lot of money, we’re not talking dinner and movie every time. A date can be something as simple as walking together. It can be a picnic in the park or ice skating. What’s most important is that you take time to laugh, talk, and play together.

Scheduling getaways is another advance decision every married couple should make. Once or twice a year, set aside time for a 24-48 hour getaway for just the two of you. Can grandma watch the kids? Can you trade childcare with another couple? With a date on the calendar, the details are ready to be determined and the plans are put in place. This time away is essential for couples to remember what it’s like to sleep until noon together or to spend the day hiking trails. This is when you take the time to do things like bike trails, museums, or taking in a ball game together like you did before you had kids.

Scheduling intimacy is a third advance decision married couples should make…especially couples with kids. Too often we expect physical intimacy to always be spontaneous, but in a life with children the pace is frantic and the exhaustion is constant. Spontaneity happens occasionally, but not often enough for a healthy love life. Smart couples who make a commitment to a regular schedule of intimacy find this advance decision is one of the best decisions they make for their marriage. For the person with a higher desire for intimacy, it assures them sex will happen and when. For the partner with a lesser desire for intimacy, it builds anticipation and helps them prepare mentally and physically for the time together.

Finally, setting boundaries for interacting with member of the opposite sex is a fourth advance decision every couple should make. This is one of the most important decisions we need to make because it protects the marriage relationship. Temptation often happens when we least expect it and if we haven’t put boundaries in place—advance decisions about interacting with the opposite sex—we may find ourselves drawn to someone other than our spouse. Smart couples agree to refrain from being alone with someone of the opposite sex. They agree to draw some lines that recognize the possibilities of temptation and intentionally place distance between someone of the opposite sex.

Too often, we move through life without much intentionality and then we pay a hefty price down the road. What goals do you have for your marriage? Do you want it to last a lifetime? Do you want to enjoy the season of raising children together? Answer those questions and then make advance decisions that will turn your goals into reality. A little bit of planning and intentional investment can go a long way to make our dreams of life-long love come true.

Can you think of any other advance decisions couples ought to make?

The Hard Work of Marriage

The ABC’s of a Healthy Marriage

It’s been almost twenty-six years since Mark and I said, “I do”. We promised to love, honor, and cherish one another. We promised “for better or for worse”. We were so in love. We were ready to conquer the world together.

And we didn’t have any idea how much work it took to have a good marriage.

But we soon learned. Many times it was the hard way. Conflicts, misunderstandings, frustrations, differing backgrounds, differing traditions –it all meshed together to make for some very difficult times. At one point it felt like we were the poster couple for “for worse”. But we had one thing going for us. We were determined to make it to the “for better” part. And we determined to do whatever it took to get there. For us it involved some counseling, lots of reading, some mentoring by those who had been there before us, and much prayer. Today, I can truly say we live in “for better” most of the time. It’s a nice place to be after all the years of struggle.

What are some of the things we learned through the struggles? It’s kind of like going back to kindergarten–it’s a matter of ABC’s:

A–ALLOW FOR DIFFERENCES–As humans we are all created differently. We are also wired differently to make decisions and express emotions. As men and women, we also have very different needs. Rather than judging one another on our differences we had to learn to appreciate and work with our differences. A wonderful resource that helped us was the book, His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley.

B–BE LOVING–Mark and I found that some of our problems were happening because we were expressing love to one another in the way we wanted it expressed to us. But not necessarily in the way the other one needed to hear it. We all need to be able to receive and express love. But again, we are all created differently. It’s been found that there are 5 Love Languages that people “speak”: Physical Touch and Closeness, Gift Giving, Quality Time, Acts of Service, and Encouraging Words are all ways we give and receive love. We were missing the boat because we were speaking a foreign language to one another. We had to learn to speak our spouses “love language”. Once again a book helped us think through this: The Five Languages of Love by Gary Chapman.

C–COMMUNICATE DAILY–In the season of small children, it’s easy to fall into the trap of talking about nothing but “diapers and dishes”. But to keep a marriage strong, communication needs to include feelings, emotions, and dreams. We need to be able to talk about how we’re really doing. We need to talk about struggles. And we need to solve problems as a team.

D–DATE REGULARLY–The dating years allow us to focus just on our loved one. Now that we’re knee deep in marriage, diapers, and housework we forget about the need to stop and focus on our spouse. But it needs to happen. If not, the children come between us and when the children are gone we find we have little in common. We have found that by picking one night of the week and by having a consistent babysitter who just plans on every Thursday night, date nights are a reality. When we’ve not been able to afford a sitter, we’ve found another couple to trade with. We’ve also found that our relationship doesn’t do well without those times to stop and focus on one another.

E-EVALUATE YOUR PAST–Everyone comes into the marriage relationship with ideas, thoughts, traditions, strengths, and struggles that they picked up from the home they grew up in. Some of these are beneficial to continue in our “new family”. Others we need to toss out and determine to do differently. Mark grew up in a family that handled conflict at a high decibel level and I came from a home that never admitted they had conflict. We both needed to evaluate our past as it related to conflict management. We needed to come up with a new plan that was far more healthy than what we each knew.

F-FORGIVE–Forgiveness is a choice. It’s something we have to do, it’s not usually something we want to do. It’s something we do in exchange for continued anger, revenge, and snide remarks. It brings closure to hurt and conflict. Do we forget when we forgive? No. Do we determine to let go of the desire to hurt the other person back? Yes. We had to learn to add forgiveness to apology. Instead of “I’m sorry” it became “I’m sorry will you please forgive me?” Then the injured partner has the ability to bring closure with “I forgive you”. Sometimes we even have to make a decision to forgive when the other person doesn’t ask for it.

I once heard a couple who was struggling say, “Marriage shouldn’t be such hard work. We’re not made for each other. It should be easier.” But reality is that marriage is hard work and if we’re unwilling to work hard to make it work it probably won’t last. It takes time, effort, and lots of energy to keep the marriage flame burning. But it is so worth it! I can truly say that those years of struggles through the “for worse” have made us really appreciate the “for better” part!

What hard work lessons have you learned about marriage through the years?

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