Here’s the honest truth about marriage…if I could boil it down into one statement it would be, “you will have good years, and you will have bad years.” My mom told me that, and, since she’s been married to my dad for over 40 years, I would say that she knows. That’s a hard statement to swallow when you’re about to get married and you’ve never lived with a dude (my husband and I never lived together before we tied the knot). The thought of having hard years and not just a hard week sounds like claustrophobia…I’m not going to lie, the rough years so far have been ROUGH. But, the good years have been so-dang-good.
My husband and I have been married now for 12 entire years. We’ve had three babies, endured two miscarriages, hard pregnancies, moved halfway across the country to start a church. Launched a church in our living room knowing pretty much no-one. We’ve hosted over 2,000 people in our home in the course of 5 years. Lost friends. Gained friends. Have had people talk trash about us. Have had people love the heck out of us. We’ve started new businesses– took on new projects and have essentially stretched our capacity to have thick skin and grow.
I’m telling you all of that because we’ve done life together, and when you do life with another human in close proximity, and then add in all of the emotional up’s and downs, whether good or bad…thing’s can get real messy. Marriage can be incredible and beautiful. But it can also feel like a knife cutting out your very soul. It’s easy to turn all of your pent up aggression and life frustration on the one you committed your life too rather than stepping outside of the situation, looking at it from an objective perspective, and then dealing with the root issue.
Here’s the truth, it’s easy to create a false reality when things get hard in a marriage that “grass is greener on the other side.” It’s easier sometimes to jump out rather than to lean in. Honestly, leaning in when your marriage sucks goes against our self-protective nature…that fight or flight thing. Sure, there are exceptions to leaning in like a cheating spouse (though it can work out), or one that is emotionally or physically abusive. But for the most part, the grass isn’t greener on the other side when it comes to marriage. Commitment, heart, and soul, is what makes it so good. It’s the longevity, the story, the ebb and flow, the adventure, the looking back and seeing beauty unraveled over years of fought for relationship through every high and low season. This is what creates such a deep-deep intimacy.
So what does it look like to be truly committed and fight for your marriage? Well, I’m going to give you some marriage tips and advice based off of my experience. I’m not a therapist…this is just what works for us.
1. No Turning Back: Ezra and I don’t threaten divorce…ever. We believe that there is always a way to repair the situation. Our second year of marriage was hell. HELLLL. And, to be honest, there were moments where I wanted to be done because it just seemed too exhausting to figure out. But my parents set the example: there are no other options, there is no turning back, you made this commitment, now you figure it out. —And I’ve learned, I’m either going to figure it out with him, honor my commitment, or leave him, and figure it out with the next person. Because the truth is, every-single-relationship has issues. Period.
2. Zoom Out: When Ezra and I get into epic fights, and we’ve had some legit ones, they almost always have nothing to do with what we are fighting about. We usually fight over something dumb like the dishes and laundry, when that fight is actually just the results of a million built up irritation. It’s usually a culmination of 100 stressors being shot at us one after the next, after the next. It’s taken us years to see the pattern, but, now…after literally 12 years of marriage, we zoom out.
Now, we take inventory of all the thing’s that we have been going on, like kid schedules, work schedules, lack of sex, lack of personal time, lack of one-on-one time, maybe something we said that rubbed the person the wrong way, and we can see that a volcano is about to freaking erupt. So, the fight over the grocery shopping, laundry, or dirty house is actually about something entirely different…like not putting boundaries up in our schedule. Zooming out, for us, is essential. We find the issue. Talk about it. Deal with it. Go to counseling if we can’t resolve it. The end.
3. Zoom in: I’m perplexed by how much money we spend on planning and executing lavish weddings that last one day, but how we make excuses for how we can’t afford to make the marriage work (I’m including my self here because…been there). Counseling is expensive. But, so is a divorce and if you have kids, over the long haul, even more, expensive with child support, counseling for your children to deal with the divorce, and so on. Bottom line, if your spouse is asking you for counseling, do it and don’t make them feel guilty for it or pull a “whoa is me” kind of deal. Part of a relationship is bending towards each-other…counseling can help you learn to do that. Digging up the hard parts and working through them together and coming out the other side is what creates the deepest bond.
4. Be a Nice Person: Something I have learned is that, if I don’t like being around myself, chances are, my husband doesn’t either and vice versa. If I’m feeling edgy, he feels it. If he’s stressed out, I feel it. So, the question boils down too, which kind of “feel” do you bring to your marriage? Are you encouraging or degrading? Are you knit-picking, or uplifting? Are you self-centric, or marriage-centric? Do you dominate your house with negativity, or dominate it with kindness? Do you bring joy or pain? What kind of person are you in your marriage and in your home?
Listen, I’m not talking about being fake. Your marriage should be the safest place for you to be your ‘realest self’. But, if your ‘realest self’ is someone that your spouse has to constantly walk on eggshells around, maybe it’s time for counseling and some serious soul therapy.
To be honest, in our first 5 years of marriage, I was easily agitated, angered, annoyed, and honestly, kind of a jerk. My husband, on the other hand is one of the kindest humans you’ll ever meet. I’m half glass empty, he’s half glass overflowing with extra bubbles. Now, let me tell you, the two don’t mix very well. And, while I am married to an extremely supportive husband, I wasn’t the most fun to be around. So, I did my work…because it’s not my husband’s job to make me happy. I discovered that I needed to get on anxiety and depression meds and dig into the root of my issues. So, I did…and frankly, I’m an absolute work-in-progress like we all are.
5. Have Grace: We operate on grace in our house. This does not mean sweeping stuff under the carpet. It means that your relationship is a safe place to work through your *ish and find forgiveness when you’ve been less than a stellar husband or wife.
6. Have Sex: Listen, my children think my body is their personal jungle gym. So, as a mom, being touched out is as real as the sky is blue. Sometimes, the thought of having sex makes me cringe. Not because my husband isn’t a sexy beast, but because I just don’t want anyone to touch me unless it’s a back rub with no strings attached. But the truth is, and you know this deep in your soul, that sex is an important factor to a committed relationship. It has nothing to do with keeping my husband eyes and attention on me and vice versa. That’s not my job and it’s not his either. It has everything to do with connecting with my husband in a way that I don’t with any other human on earth because I’m fully committed to him. And anyway, orgasms are good too. Just saying.
7. Honor Eachother: Honor means, “showing high-respect, or great esteem.” Seems like something you should naturally give to the person you’ve committed your life to. For us, we talk well about each other in conversations with others. If we need to “vent,” we do it with safe people for the purpose of gaining wisdom, understanding, and council. Not to have a bash-sesh.
For example, I have a few people I talk to when Ezra and I are in a rough patch. I can count all of those people on one hand. I know that those people love my husband and that they will point me back to him, and probably to therapy too. Yay for therapy!
8. God: I can’t write all of this without talking about God, because, at the end of the day, that’s the glue for us. I don’t depend on my happiness to come from Ezra, and vice versa. Dang, that’s so much pressure. It truly, and without a shadow of a doubt, comes from our separate relationships with Jesus. We lean into God for a better marriage because he is our source of joy, and peace, and happiness.
At the end of the day, whatever your beliefs, marriage is hard, hard work. Looking back, I can see all of the bumps, twists, and turns we’ve taken to land us in this good season of a deeper relationship, commitment, and ridiculous love. It’s not butterflies like it was on our first night of marriage, or even in the first year of newness…it’s a love that I couldn’t possibly put words to. It’s the culmination of it all…our entire story…and the journey ahead. I’m honestly excited to see where we are in 12 more years because….marriage is absolutely W I L D.