We are celebrating 10 years of marriage this month. 10 years, 2 kids, 1 dog, 2 cross-country moves, countless road trips, several bad hair cuts, more than a few miscommunications, and more West Wing marathons than we’ll ever tell…
Just to be clear: my marriage is not perfect, nor do I pretend it is on Facebook; I don’t parade it through the sanctuary as the ‘life as it should be’ lesson, and I don’t claim the ability to fix people who are struggling. However: I’m a pastor, and I hear a lot about other people’s marriages, and I actually wed people. Furthermore, my spouse and I have been married for ten years, and most days, we still really like each other, so…here’s what I can share about how and why that is.
1. Get the good china. I’m part of the last vestige of women who ran right out and registered for the Wedgewood the minute the ring was on our finger. Maybe they still do that in places where Southern Living sits on every coffee table. But for the most part, when I talk to young brides these days, they say something like, “Oh, I’m not going to fool with that. We’ll never use it.” And I say…why not? Get the good stuff. USE the good stuff. Use it when you’ve got company, and when it’s just the two of you; use it when you share a beautiful Thanksgiving spread with your family, and use it to snazz up the leftover meatloaf. Use it when your screaming toddlers are having peanut butter and jelly for dinner (AGAIN) just so you can feel like real and grown up people, and remember that, this one time, you stood up in front of the people you love and signed up for all this mess. And you’d gladly do it again. Celebrate little stuff, in little every day ways, and you’ll get plenty of use out of your 8-12 table settings. (And also—your Mamaw likes to buy it for you. Let the woman shop!)
2. Re-up. Witness: that some people mistake the wedding itself for a one-time commitment that will see you through everything else, ever. In a thousand little ways, you have to decide every day that you still want to be married to this person; and that you will have the frustrating (nay, maddening) conversations, and do the tedious things, that make living together bearable (and, at times, enjoyable). And every now and then, in some big ways, you have to re-commit yourself to the lifelong work of human connection. It’s kind of like…well, you register for that great china pattern, but then a few years later, Pottery Barn comes out with these new dishes that would make your kitchen all Pinterest-y and AMAZING. But the thing is, you are COMMITTED to that Wedgewood pattern. Even if you don’t use or appreciate it nearly enough…it’s yours and you love it, and you remind yourself that it’s worth sticking it out with your original choice. You remember why you loved that pattern in the first place. (You get that the dishes are a metaphor, right?)
3. If you keep score, nobody wins. How many times has he forgotten your birthday? (1). How many times has she left her shoes lying on the floor, when you SPECIFICALLY ASKED HER NOT TO?? (8,496). Who got up with the baby last? Who left the last thoughtful note on the bathroom mirror/bought the better Christmas gift/made the last run to the liquor store? (I mean, to buy milk?) This kind of math does no one any good, ever. Move on.
4. Relinquish the remote. Both literally and figuratively.
5. Going to bed angry is not the end of the world. This is where I pretty much echo word for word what Rachel Held Evans said. The longer you stay up, the more pissed (ok, she didn’t say ‘pissed’) everybody gets. 9 times out of 10, one or both of you will have forgotten what this is about by morning time. Go to bed.
6. Because anyway, cuddling is overrated—but sleep is not. We watch way too much tv. All those happy couples who go to sleep spooning…who are those people? I think real marriage is more like Ross and Rachel. You know, with the flinging. So if somebody is snoring or grinding their teeth; if somebody is 8 months pregnant and has to go pee once every hour; if somebody is 8 feet tall and takes up pretty much the whole bed with his giant legs; if somebody needs to sleep near the baby, if one sleeps hot and one sleeps chilly, if somebody has a nasty cold and doesn’t want to share it…I mean, pick your scenario, but it is NO BIG DEAL to go sleep in another room of the house. Just so long as you sleep. Sleep deprivation is a HUGE contributor to stress, and therefore a contributor to relationship stress. No amount of sitcom-worthy cuddling is worth that.
7. Check your expectations. Constantly. Your partner is one person. A person. In the whole wide world of people. They will never meet your every need, nor should you want them to. Nor should you try to be everything to them. If you, all on your own, are somebody’s “whole entire world,” then the both of you need to make your world a bit bigger. You will be much healthier; not to mention, more appreciative of what your spouse does add to your life.
8. Just do it. Sex is important. If you wait until nobody’s in a bad mood, nobody has an early meeting, there’s no new episode of Project Runway to catch up on, the room temperature is just right, and everyone is feeling appropriately inspired and in the mood—newsflash—it will never happen. Sometimes, you have to, pardon me, but, just do it. At the same time, sex is important but it’s not THE most important, so also
9. Check your sexpectations. If this one time, it is not so awesome, or if someone gets hurt or sick (or old) and can’t ‘perform,’ or if you have a new baby and realize it’s been, like 6 months since the last time, or if-if-if a million little things…this is not the end of the world, your relationship, or life as you know it. Maybe you need to talk to somebody, like a counselor or a doctor, and maybe you need to get to heart of the issue to recover intimacy, but…again, sometimes we watch too much tv. TV shows us other peoples’ expectations about love and relationships, and those should never come into play in our bedrooms. Or our marriages. And finally,
10. Find your one thing. There is at least one thing about your spouse that you can always be grateful for, that you can always celebrate, that you will always remember no matter how much he/she is driving you crazy in a given moment. Maybe it was the time your whole family had the flu, and you were so sick you literally could not move, and he stayed up all night cleaning up the kids’ puke, changing the sheets, dispensing comfort and pedialyte; maybe he made a sacrifice to stay home with the kids, so that you could focus on your career; maybe he or she has moved across the country with you, bailed you out of car trouble (or worse), made an effort to have a relationship with your friends, or
just sucked it up and picked up your shoes for the 8,497th time…
Whatever your one thing (or ten things) may be, keep them at the front of your consciousness at all times. Grace and gratitude go a long, long way.
As long as ten years even. Maybe more.