This year I celebrated my 10-year wedding anniversary. It’s been a wild ride of tears and laughter, meltdowns and make-ups, arguments and adventures. I'm certainly not the perfect wife and when people say we're "couple goals" I laugh awkwardly and reply, "Seriously not really". But one thing is absolutely true - we love each other more today, than the day we said, "I do". We are blessed to be great friends, raising two gorgeous kids together and fulfilling our purpose and passion (serving Jesus) day by day, side by side. So, from one very imperfect and constantly learning wife, here are 10 little lessons I’ve picked up along the way. Hopefully my failures can teach you a thing, or two.
1. LOVE IS A CHOICE
“Happily, ever after” doesn’t happen by coincidence. It’s a choice - rooted in commitment, loyalty and forgiveness. I remember reading a quote years ago that framed the way I entered matrimony. "Almost no one is foolish enough to imagine that he automatically deserves great success in any field of activity; yet almost everyone believes that he automatically deserves success in marriage" - Sydney J. Harris. I think success in marriage has far less to do with finding the perfect person but loving and cherishing the one you chose. I believe that commitment trump's compatibility a thousand to one. Marriage isn’t easy, commitment isn’t convenient, and consistency isn’t sexy. Love isn’t just a feeling, it's a conscious decision - one that needs to be made regularly.
As 1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Love is large and incredibly patient.[f] Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous[g] when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor. Love is not easily irritated[h] or quick to take offense.[i] Love joyfully celebrates honesty[j] and finds no delight in what is wrong.[k] Love is a safe place of shelter,[l] for it never stops believing the best for others.[m] Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up. Love never stops loving.[n] It extends beyond the gift of prophecy, which eventually fades away.[o] It is more enduring than tongues, which will one day fall silent. Love remains long after words of knowledge are forgotten.”
2. FORGIVENESS IS FUNDAMENTAL
I can guarantee you one thing in marriage: your spouse will hurt you (and you'll probably hurt them too). I know I've hurt Ben too many times to count. Too many times I’ve uttered callous words of criticism in the heat of an argument. Too many times I’ve held onto resentment for a broken promise or unmet expectation. Too many times I’ve fought to be right, rather than happy. Hurt is inevitable, but offence is up to you. If you want to keep your marriage healthy and whole learn to let go, forgive, move on.
Mathew 18:21 “ Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Forgiveness doesn’t mean what the other person did is okay, it's simply “the wilful giving up of resentment in the face of another’s considerable injustice”. Forgiveness means letting your partner off the hook, so you don’t end up stuck. To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that prisoner is you.
3. TRUST IS ESSENTIAL
In the early years of my marriage, I had trust issues (big time). I absolutely loved Ben, and he loved me passionately in return, yet I struggled to trust him with my whole heart. As a new wife I was guarded and independent. Previous relationships had left me heartbroken and disappointed. Childhood trauma had caused me to be self-protective and independent. Ben didn’t write the cheque, but I certainly made him pay. As the years flew by I began to see that I couldn't fully love Ben (and he couldn't love me) unless I really trusted him. Slowly and surely, I've let the walls down and felt the joy of being completely vulnerable, yet totally secure. If there are areas in your marriage you struggle to trust in, be real about it. Talk about your thoughts, feelings, expectations and disappointments. Talk about past pain and how it might be affecting you today. Talk about what trust and faithfulness looks like to you and your spouse. Life is nothing without risk, and marriage is nothing without trust. Better than talking about it to man, open up to God. He isn’t just the counsellor by name, but by nature. He heals us from the inside out, and the more whole we are, the more secure we will be in our identity and the intimate relationships of our lives.
4. COMMUNICATION IS KEY
So often what is said and what is heard are worlds apart! I don't know how many times Ben and I have clashed because what He meant and what I interpreted it to mean were two totally different things. Marriage is a constant battle of understanding one another. It means talking regularly. Sharing feelings. Sharing dreams. Having tough conversations and controlling your emotions when your temper wants to fly. Communication is not just what you say, but how you say it. I’ll be the first to admit I’m terrible at this and Ben often says to me, "It’s your tone babe. Change your tone! Stop talking to me angrily"! (Meanwhile, in my head I'm thinking - this is my regular voice dude). Words build up or they tear down. As it says in Proverbs 18:21, “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” Choose to speak life over your spouse and your relationship! Few tips: Listen more, talk less. Make “I” statements rather than “you” statements and don't try and have serious conversations when your partner is tired, hungry or emotionally spent.
5. COMPARISON IS A CURSE
Far too often we compare our spouse or our marriage to those around us, what we see on TV or social media. Honestly if you want to be happy - stop that (let me say that again, stop that). Comparison is a curse and it will cripple you. It will steal your joy and rob your marriage of strength and dignity. Nobodies marriage is trouble free. No couple lives in marital bliss 24/7. The problem is we often only see the veneer of others, but we experience our spouse up close and personally. Things always look better with a filter. I love the way Steven Furtick puts it, "The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel." Appearances aren't always what they seem. So many "perfect couples" end up breaking up. Look no further than Hollywood. Forget about presenting an image, create a marriage that is healthy on the inside, that's better in real life, then on Instagram. Stop comparing and complaining and start loving the person right in front of you.
6. GRATITUDE GOES A LONG WAY
Appreciation in a relationship is absolutely vital in nurturing feelings of connectedness and intimacy. It seems like a no-brainer, but couples often forget to vocalise their appreciation. I know I have (many, many times). Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. So, go ahead and vocalise your gratitude. Be specific. Do it often and cultivate an environment of appreciation. Relationship experts have found that in everyday life, happy couples have 20 positive comments to every negative one. Simple things like a compliment, a thank you, or an affectionate touch can make all the difference!
7. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOU
In the first year of marriage I regularly found myself saying, "Seriously you make me so mad babe, I've never felt like this before!" (And that was the truth), But it had very little to do with Ben and a lot to do with me. Marriage is like a pressure cooker and it brings out all your junk. Past pain, personal brokenness and an excess baggage. Often times issues within marriage aren't caused by the other person, they simply rise to the surface. Real marriage is like a mirror - it reveals your flaws, but it also gives you an opportunity to see it, take responsibility for it and grow as a person. The truth is, Ben wasn't making me mad - I had an issue with control and if I ever wanted to change it I had to own it. Like Dr Phil always says - You can't change what you don't acknowledge. So, stop blaming your spouse for how you feel or how you act. This is probably a good place to insert Matthew 7:3 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" The only person responsible for you - is you. So, take a look in the mirror and start there.
8. RULE OVER YOUR EMOTIONS
Emotions are what make us human, but if we live by them we end up in complete chaos and often lash out at those closest to us. To be honest I'm probably not that great at handling my emotions (all the time) and end up reacting, not responding. The good thing is feelings are both mentionable and manageable. We can rule over them, not have them rule over us. Clearly, your partner can influence your emotions, but they can't actually make you feel anything without your permission. At the core of our deepest emotions are the beliefs that drive them. Proverbs 23:7 " For as a man thinks, so is He." The bible also tells us to take every thought captive. If you're struggling to handle your emotions (as sometimes I do) focus on what you're thinking about. Maybe there are some negative mindsets that you need to change? Maybe there's some past pain that you keep projecting into the present. Be mindful, be prayerful and be aware of your feelings. The more you learn to how to cope with your feelings in a healthy way, the better equipped you'll be to handle conflict, regulate toxic emotions and minimise tension within your marriage.
9. MAKE INTIMACY A PRIORITY
There are a lot of things vying for your attention (especially when you add kids to the mix), but your spouse shouldn't get the short end of the stick. It's so important to prioritise intimacy - both emotionally, physically and sexually with your spouse. One thing Ben and I do often to keep the spark burning bright is go on a regular date night. It’s not often fancy or expensive, but it gives us quality time to talk, eat, laugh, dream (and sometimes argue) together. It also reminds us that we’re husband and wife, not just “mum and dad”. I believe one of the best things we can do for our kids is remain madly in love. Now I'm not saying you have to do this (sometimes it's not even an option). The point is - don't neglect time together, affection and romance. Fuel the fire of friendship and passion. Kiss, caress, talk, dream, share. Don't become emotionally or sexually unavailable. Don't sleep in separate beds. Prefer one another in more ways than one.
10. YOUR SPOUSE DOESN'T COMPLETE YOU
I absolutely love being married but I've realised Ben doesn't actually complete my life, he compliments it. I wasn't a half person before I got married and I'm certainly not a half person now that I am. If you expect a person to fulfil you, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. No matter how beautiful, charming and thoughtful your spouse is, it's impossible for them to keep you happy all and the truth is - it’s not their job too. It’s yours, and mine. After being married a few short years I began to realise no matter how much Ben loved me, adored me or swept me off my feet, I was left unsatisfied. Because you see, no matter how much water you pour in, if there’s a hole in the bucket it will always run dry. I have the deepest conviction that God is truly the only person who can ever complete us. We were made by Him and for Him. In the words of C.S. Lewis "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." Yes, marriage is good (amazing actually) but real love, everlasting love, complete love is found in Jesus. When we truly discover that, I believe we will live from love, not for it.