Twelve years ago today, my wife, Tracy, and I got married. In that time, every single one of our friends who got married before us has gotten divorced. Others who were married after us have also gotten divorced.
Marriage is hard. But it’s also incredibly worth it. Last week I had the honor of officiating a “recommitment of vows” ceremony for a couple celebrating FIFTY years of marriage! Oh man, what a special night! Their love and respect and appreciation for each other was infectious. Tracy and I both walked away feeling a rich sense of joy over the blessing of marriage.
Sometimes I think people talk about how hard marriage is because they feel the need to counter-balance the fairytale romances we see in Disney cartoons. Life isn’t a cartoon, but some people do expect love to always be easy. So to give them a dose of reality, we remind them how much work marriage can be.
I don’t want this post to focus on how much work marriage is, and neither do I want to encourage a fairytale romance. Instead, here are some things I’ve learned through a dozen years of marriage.
Worth the Risk?
When Tracy and I were out to dinner celebrating, our waitress shared that none of her friends have made it more than a few years into marriage before getting divorced. She’s in her mid 20’s. She was really happy for us, and far more impressed with our dozen years than she should’ve been.
Our waitress casually said marriage just isn’t a priority for her because she hasn’t seen it work out for anyone she knows. But her happiness for our 12 years was genuine. That tells me she’s scared. Scared that she’ll get hurt, betrayed, and scarred from a failed marriage. It also tells me she knows there’s something special and unique about marriage that’s worthy of admiration.
Has anyone else noticed that our society is very confused about marriage. On one hand, it’s worthless since you can just live with someone, have a family, etc. without ever getting married. “It’s just a sheet of paper,” they say. At the same time, marriage is the great battleground of our generation, with the LGBTQ community finding their legitimacy through the freedom to marry. This is because we all know there’s something unique and “worth it” about marriage – we’re just scared of getting hurt.
There’s No Escape
Simply put: There’s no escape.
There are times when Tracy and I haven’t liked each other very much. But we’ve never stopped loving each other, and we’re both committed to working through our conflicts and issues. Even when I’m really mad at her (and vice-versa) we both know there’s no escape. We’re in this for the long haul – good, bad, ugly. We meant it when we said, “Till death do us part.”
This type of mentality seems to be lacking in my generation. I’m not sure why. But if you look around, you see a ton of people who are willing to throw their marriage in the fire. An affair here, deep-seeded resentment there, and a new fling over there. Stop it. You may not always like each other, but when there’s no escape then your love for each other needs to be your first commitment.
To get really practical – sleep in the same bed together every night. Don’t sleep on the couch. Don’t leave the bedroom because you’re mad at each other.
We’re all good at complaining. I know I am. Tracy is too. It’s easy to find things to gripe about.
I left the milk on the counter.
She didn’t fill the Brita water filter (again).
I put the toilet paper on the holder the “wrong” way.
Seriously, it would take less time to just do it than it’d take to keep complaining. I could fill the water pitcher in less than a minute. Or, I could make some sarcastic comment to make my point in a funny manner (except it’s not funny at all, because I’m totally serious and Tracy knows it).
Stop complaining, and just do it. If I don’t want to get nitpicked, why do I nitpick? I don’t want to be around miserable people who are always complaining. Tracy doesn’t want to be around that person either, so knock it off! Besides, if you’re always complaining about everything, then your real complaints will carry less weight.
I love my wife. She makes me better. When I’m frustrated, I need to remember that. Tracy doesn’t tell me what I want to hear. That’s one of the things I’ve always appreciated about her. If I have a stupid idea, she’s going to make sure I know it. But that also requires a growing commitment to humility, because pride loves to hear, “You’re so amazing.”
If you want to constantly improve yourself, getting married is a great idea. Because you’ll discover you’re far more proud and selfish than you ever realized. Then, once you think you’ve got life figured out… have kids!
My point: be thankful for the opportunity to grow. I would be half the man I am today without my wife. When you have a hard time being thankful for each other, take a few minutes and really think about the ways you’ve changed for the better because of your spouse. Remember the good.
Own Your Problems
Finally, the best advice I’ve ever heard comes from Tim Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage:
If each spouse says to the other, “I will treat my selfishness as the main problem in the marriage,” you have the prospect for great things.
We all have issues. Own them. Stop blaming your husband/wife/kids for them. If you’re an impatient person, don’t be surprised when that becomes an area of conflict in your marriage.
Final Encouragement: Love Like Jesus
If marriage is given as a living parable of Christ and the Church (see Ephesians 5:22-33), then we should love like Jesus. Consider what you know about the love of God, displayed through Jesus Christ, and love like that.
Jesus is the Savior, not just an example… but he is at least that! Put the love of God to work.
Allow marriage to show you how much you need the gospel each day, and then transform through the love of God.