What 5 Years Of Marriage Has Taught Me

Sometimes I wonder what I would tell unmarried me. What things would I really want to sink in? If I’d really known some of the things I know now, beforehand, how would that have affected my marriage? I’ve learned that you can tell someone something, but until they’ve experienced it, a lot of the time it just doesn’t stick.

I have to be honest. I was totally unprepared for marriage. I didn’t have a clue about how hard it would actually be. I think most of us can talk about our parents’ marriage problems, and it seems like we think after watching ONE couple for our whole lives, we know how to do everything right. Maybe that was just me. I understand that as a child and a teenager, and even into young adulthood…I didn’t see a whole lot of marriages up close. I got married at 22. Most of my friends were still single. No one close to me had walked through a tough marriage before. So I found myself blindsided by how difficult it can actually be. But like I said, there’s only so much you can know about something you haven’t experienced.

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There’s a mystery about marriage. And by that I mean that many people aren’t exactly real about their marriages. Many people portray that everything is awesome, even when it’s not. You could be totally deceived about the state of someone’s marriage, because for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem like people talk about their marriage problems.

I think people are starting to be more transparent about things, in general. We can probably thank social media for that. The masks and filters are starting to come off, because people immediately post their very real thoughts on social media, before accurately judging whether it’s a good idea or not. We’ve somehow raised our tolerance for hearing about others’ problems, the real things we are going through, while simultaneously raising our judgmental attitudes. I haven’t really seen many people comment on a thread with, “you should really keep that to yourself”. I’ve seen lots of opinions, support, and condemnation, but it doesn’t seem that too many people are surprised by someone posting about their most personal thoughts or issues. But for some reason, marriage is different. It just isn’t talked about much. I definitely don’t think social media is the place to be blasting your spouse or anything, but I find myself wondering about single people, and young people, if their view of marriage will be…unrealistic. In this era, so many beliefs and opinions are informed by what we see on social media, whether we are aware of it or not. And what I see on social media is often marital bliss. People posting about their date nights, the gifts their spouse showered them with, the way their spouse serves them and their family. And, by all means, I hope people continue to post those things. But when we see mostly easy, we can tell ourselves there will be spats here and there (because, duh), but we (I) somehow believe it won’t be so much work.

The Lord has a tendency of teaching me the same lessons over and over again. I guess that means I’m stubborn? Or that I need lots of reminders.

1) Marriage doesn’t cure loneliness. So definitely don’t let that be motivation for getting married. I have felt more lonely (at times) in marriage than I ever did when I was single. Not only do we expect our spouses to be the solution to loneliness (which is a wrong, harmful expectation), but so does everyone else. It’s like people think “Well they’re married now and they don’t need anyone else. Their spouse will check on them, make sure they’re doing alright.” It seemed like people readily shifted their responsibility to be a good friend to me, to my husband. And I did, too. (As a side note, not at all saying I was a good friend. I wasn’t.) It’s an easy thing to get caught up in, especially early in marriage, thinking your spouse can meet all your friendship needs. But men and women are different. There are things my husband will just never be able to relate to. There will be things that I can never properly communicate to him. I realized early on men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and my expectations to have someone to “connect” with all the time were not met. Because sitting in the same room with someone doesn’t mean you’re connecting, and feeling like you are on a different planet from the person you’re sleeping beside is a hard kind of loneliness.

2) I’m not alone. For several years, it felt like I was the only one that was struggling. I knew people had said marriage was hard, but I didn’t see it anywhere. I think there can be a certain amount of shame over having marriage struggles when you’re a Christian and it doesn’t seem like anyone else is going through what you are going through. Because when you love Jesus, and understand the Gospel, all your problems should just melt away, right? No, but it does seem like if you’re a good Christian, at the end of the day husbands will be loving like Christ loves the Church, and wives will be submitting as the Church does to Christ and all will just be dandy. But at the end of a lot of days, we fall short. And the more I have been honest with people about this, the more I have found that A LOT of people know from experience what trial in marriage is like. I’ve said before, divorce rates are high, even among Christians, and many people who stay married are not happy in their marriage. So clearly, I’m not the only one who has gone through struggles. One of the most amazing gifts the Lord has given us is the Church, and it is a beautiful thing to get to learn from one another, to be honest and open about our junk, to have people speak truth to us, pray for us, and encourage us. Sometimes you just have to go first.

3) Marriage is work. Everyone “knows” this. But for us, there are lots of days we don’t put much in. It can be easy to float along, especially in the midst of having little children that require most of your attention and energy, little sleep, housework, careers. It can be easy not to enter in, to engage. To come home and detach instead of initiating a conversation, to “just move on” from the argument without working through it, to take the easy road. (We happen to be bent towards that.) And it’s easy to remember this from the outset, on the wedding day, to acknowledge the work it takes, and commit to giving it your all, but then forget as you go through those long days. But it requires constant effort. Maybe for some people it comes easier, but there is a constant dying to yourself, pursuing when you want to flee, giving grace when no one deserves it.

4) God can change people. Again, I know it sounds like I should have known that already. And I did to an extent. But when you see the same sin, the same hard heart in yourself and in your spouse day-in and day-out, it can be tempting to believe things will never change, that we’ll be the same broken sinners, struggling with the same sins for the rest of our lives. I have felt hopelessness in a way a Believer probably never should, but thankfully God’s work in our lives doesn’t depend on my ability to believe that He is willing to grow and change us. He is faithful to work in the lives of those who love Him, to transform us to His likeness. There have been times where I couldn’t see His work, couldn’t see growth in either of us or our relationship, and have had to fight to believe that God was still with us, still shaping us. Thankfully, the Lord has given us small (yet big) victories, and it has increased my faith in Him.

5) Jesus is everything and He is enough. There have been times when I’ve found myself wanting Jesus…and something else. Jesus + a happy marriage, or Jesus + a church home, or kids, or steady income, or whatever. Of course, those things are good things, and it’s not wrong to want those things, but I’ve come to a place where I will be okay without those things. If He chooses to give He is good and He is enough. If He chooses to take away He is good and He is enough. Everything that I have earnestly longed for in this life, namely marriage and family, has left me wanting. The things I have desired more than anything else have not satisfied me. And that’s because those things are not enough. God never intended for my soul’s needs to be met through His gifts. He gives gifts because He is loving and generous and gracious, but He is the ultimate Prize. He is the only One who completely satisfies. The only thing that doesn’t leave me wanting is Him. HE is so much better than a happy marriage, and my most intense pursuit should be Him, not a healthy marriage or anything else. My marriage has been a means to know and love Christ more, and that is worth every day of fighting for this thing.

I’ve also learned there is a sacredness to marriage and our relationships with our spouses that should be protected, and some things need to stay between us. We have to have the wisdom and discernment to know when we need to let other people in.

I’ve learned a lot of bright and cheery things along the way, too, but these are some of the hard-earned lessons. The ones that required some flames. I’m so thankful that God has taught me a few things along the way, that He has given us marriage as a gift, and uses it to sanctify us and glorify Himself. God, in his infinite grace, has shown me that He is good and perfect, that He is for me, that He loves me, and He has used my marriage as a way to teach me more about Him.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

To Engaged And Newly Married Couples Everywhere

My husband and I recently celebrated 4 years of marriage, and by celebrated I mean said “Happy Anniversary” over the phone from different cities. With just a few years under my belt, I am hardly an expert on the topic.

There’s something I’ve noticed recently. I’ve seen and heard it a lot from engaged/newly married couples. The complaints about people complaining about marriage. I know exactly what they are talking about. I felt that way once, too. I even added to the noise. The warnings grow old, you get annoyed. Everyone hears it at some point. If you’re engaged or happily married, undoubtedly, someone will warn you about the doom you are facing. Many will talk about marriage as though it’s a death sentence. Talk about “the ol’ ball and chain” or signing your life away, or all the freedoms you are giving up. And it makes you want to scream about how your marriage will never be like that. How you will always be happy and you will love and cherish your spouse forever. I get it.

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I’m at the age where a lot of my friends are married, and a lot of them aren’t. With a million articles running across my Facebook news feed each day about “Mr. Right” or “How You Know You’ve Found The One” I think it’s obvious that many people are really confused about the realities of marriage. The way people post on social media makes it sound like marriage is one long romantic date. Or that even the mundane “sittin’ at home watching a movie” is always awesome when you have the one you love by your side. Don’t get me wrong, I mean I would much rather wash the dishes with Johnathan in the room…or even in the other room for that matter…than not at home at all. But that idea that everything is wonderful all the time when you’re in love paints a pretty incomplete picture.

There’s this idea that the emotional high you’re on when you’re dating/engaged/newly married should never die. Which is appealing enough when everywhere you turn there are married couples that don’t even seem to like each other. But I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that kind of emotion is sustainable between work and laundry and taking out the trash. Throw kids in the mix, and there is nothing exhilarating about dirty diapers. Some people say the first year is the hardest, but in my experience, the first year was the easiest. Not without it’s challenges, for sure, but in comparison, the old expression “the Honeymoon Stage” sure fits. The euphoria fades. But love, like people, evolves. It changes over time. It grows deeper than emotion and much more intentional. After a while, it’s less of something you’re in, but more something you choose.

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For myself, I thought the easy times would outweigh the hard times, but when the hard times came…because I knew there would be some…that I would be prepared, that I would know how to work through it. For Christians, I think as young, passionate, college kids, we romanticize what our marriages will be like. How we’ll pray together all the time, always communicate well, put our phones down and spend time together, how we’ll do ministry together, and “keep dating your spouse”, and always give grace when it’s needed, always putting each other before ourselves. It’s like before I got married I imagined this heroic version of myself. I knew in my head what it would take to be a good wife, and therefore thought I would have the…I don’t know…willpower to apply my knowledge. For me, in dating, it was always pretty easy to be gracious and selfless. As a friend said the other day, “I was a real good Christian before I got married.” But something I’ve found now, is that marriage forges a much deeper connection. Sure, when your boyfriend or girlfriend does something crappy when you’re dating, it feels personal and it hurts. But when you’re married, it is a whole other level. Something about the oneness of marriage makes everything more personal, makes everything feel more. The good and the bad. And when everything feels so personal and so painful, being gracious isn’t as easy as it sounds. Of course, the Holy Spirit is powerful and fully capable of equipping me in the tough moments, the problem is I get in the way. That’s how being human works. A LOT of the time, I fail. Hero Me doesn’t show grace, love, patience, or whatever is needed in that moment, and things get messy. Oh, and not to mention, my husband fails, too. He isn’t always patient. He isn’t always kind. Even though “Mr. Right” is always patient and kind, and tells me I’m beautiful in my sweatpants.

So I empathize with those who make these complaints. Those who don’t understand where the old(er) married couples are coming from. I had no clue.

The truth is marriage should be wonderful. It should be God honoring. It should be deep connection and intimacy. It should be a picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church. It should be iron sharpening iron, mutual encouragement, pressing on toward the goal, together, for the rest of your lives. But for a lot of people, it isn’t. And yes, it happens to Christians, too. And for others, it just isn’t like that all the time. At this point, I wouldn’t be one of those people to discourage you and warn you about how your life is about to end. But, I also wouldn’t be all marriage is love and bliss and we’re best friends all the time and everything is great. Because, it is not. I would tell you that some conflicts never get resolved, that my husband and I don’t see eye to eye on so.many.things. That there will be moments that leave one or both of you ready to get a divorce right then and there. That there will be times you will look at the person you love more than anyone else, and be more angry than you have ever been before. There will be times when you can’t express what you need to, and there will be times of deep pain, and times when you’re at a loss for how to move forward. Maybe I sound negative, but I don’t think I need to convince anyone that there are tons of amazing things about marriage, too. If you don’t already believe that, then you probably aren’t getting married anytime soon.

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I’ve learned over the past 4 years that Johnathan and I aren’t nearly as alike as I originally thought. We have some similarities, but we have some huge differences. Really, if we’re honest, we aren’t all that compatible, something that’s seen as a necessity in our culture. As we begin year 5, there is still a lot about our marriage that is really hard. We haven’t overcome all of our struggles, and most days it seems like we haven’t moved an inch. It doesn’t make marriage a death sentence, but it does make it hard lots of days.

So when someone is negative about your engagement or marriage, you don’t have to get angry and self-righteous. Again, believe me, I really do know what it’s like to feel the way you do, and I say this with the most care. Try to see through their warnings, and recognize that marriage is truly hard. That it takes a lot of work. That if you don’t fight for your marriage when it gets tough, it will go to crap. Those people who get to the place where they say “oh, just give it a couple years” got there because they are human. They were in your shoes once. So, you may think you are better than them, because in your inexperience you think you know what it takes to have a good marriage, but you aren’t. You’re human, too. And if you don’t take serious consideration to the fact that almost half of marriages end in divorce, and many of the people who remain married are miserable, then it’s possible you will find yourself in their shoes one day. You should resolve to not end up like them. But know that it takes a tremendous amount of grace, patience, love (the action kind), self-control. It takes A LOT of dying to yourself, A LOT of laying down your pride, your need to be right, your everything. It takes a lot more than affection, compromise, compatibility. Those things aren’t enough. But thankfully, Jesus is. Even in marriage, He is our only hope, the only thing that is ever truly enough. Cling to Him, and He will give you what you need.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Photos by Erin Drago Photography