7 Years, 7 Lessons

anniversary

Today, Josh and I celebrate 7 years of marriage. I’m not sure how that happened. On the one hand, I can’t remember what it’s like not to be married. At the same time, it seems like it was just yesterday when we were rolling around Memphis with far to much free time and expendable income. In honor of the seven years we’ve been together, I thought I’d make a list of seven things I’ve learned about being married so far.

  1. Whoever said the first year of marriage is the hardest probably wasn’t married for more than one year. And I don’t think I’m alone on this. I once bought a book entitled “What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About the First Five Years of Marriage.” I never actually read it. I bought it somewhere around year 5 and the title alone was enough to bring me comfort. Knowing that it was ok that we didn’t get it all figured yet was a great relief. So far, for us, I think the sixth year of marriage was the hardest. I suppose only time will tell if it was indeed THE hardest year.
  2. The couple that prays together, stays together. I know this might sound cheesy, but it is so very true. Our marriage is so much easier when each of us is focused on growing in holiness (i.e. growing in our own individual relationship with God). Our fights don’t last as long, we’re more patient and forgiving with each other, and we’re generally more pleasant people when God is number one. We’ve ebbed and flowed in this area, so we’ve seen it from both sides at various points in our marriage. It’s not just a maturity thing or something like that. We really are better people when we are aware of how completely dependent we are on God’s grace to make it through the day.
  3. Girls/guys nights out aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. It’s definitely nice to get away for some “me time” every now and then, but we’ve both found that girls/guys nights aren’t very positive or uplifting experiences. Almost always, the evenings turn into a flogging of the opposite sex, particularly the spouses or significant others of those in attendance. Speaking ill of your spouse and/or being around those who constantly do is not a good thing for your marriage. We much prefer couple or family gatherings. It’s not uncommon for these events to end up as completely gender segregated as a 7th grade dance, but it’s a much different environment. No one is there to “escape” from the other, which drastically changes the mood and conversations.
  4. Expectations, especially unspoken ones, are more toxic than cyanide. I haven’t found anything in our marriage that can ruin a perfect day or situation quite like expectations. We all have them. But we need to let go of them. And the ones we can’t or don’t want to let go of? We need to communicate them. Clearly.
  5. Be willing to suffer together. It’s kind of an at-least-we’re-in-it-together type mentality. If Josh has to bring home a pile of work, I make sure I’m also doing something along the sames lines, like homework or my own work. If I’m pacing back and forth with a screaming baby, he cleans the kitchen or starts the laundry. We’ve learned that when one of us is sitting comfortably reading or watching TV, while the other is engaged in some unpleasant task, it usually sparks some kind of fight. Usually about something stupid. That’s because the problem isn’t whatever stupid fight erupts; the problem is that one of us is frustrated. It’s a lot easier to express frustration when you feel the other one “gets it” instead of looking up and realizing that the other is completely oblivious to what you’re dealing with at the present moment. (In all honesty, this is probably a much bigger deal to me than it is to Josh. Regardless, learning this lesson has cut back on many stupid fights.)
  6. It’s important to acquire some basic knowledge about all of the things your spouse is interested in.  Yes, all of the things. I’m still working on this. Learning about what the other is interested in shows you value and respect the other person. Their whole person. Even the parts that you find completely boring and stupid. Like Japanese candlesticks. Like I said, I’m still working on this one. If he can go baby shopping with me, I can learn a little something about those colored graphs. (Note: Josh just supplied the baby shopping example. I was shocked. I really had no idea how much he dislikes baby shopping. Guess he’s much better at this skill than I am.)
  7. Your pride is not more valuable than your spouse. We’re both prideful people. And we’re both stubborn. Back in the day, we could stay mad at each other for days, just to avoid having to be the one to give in. It’s so not worth it. No matter how badly it stings, apologize or cave in or whatever. It’s so much better than driving a wedge between you. This is a relatively new skill for us. Sometimes we stand there shocked at how quickly we can get over something that would have caused a major battle not all that long ago. This is probably one of the hardest lessons learned, and definitely one of the most valuable.

So there you have it. They’re not listed in any particular order, and they may not be profound, but these are the little lessons that have made our marriage what it is today. Like the little card on the flowers Josh sent me today said, I’m looking forward to seeing what the next seven years will bring!

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On Being an Armless Supermom

As  I was just discussing with a girlfriend, I desperately need to invest in a baby sling or carrier to free up my hands. My lack of entries is evidence of the amount of time I actually have these days without a baby in my arms. So is my messy house, my subpar dinners, and my to do list, which has many more items added to it these days than items crossed off. Having three little ones at home has definitely been a huge change in terms of what I can get accomplished during the day. I’m either going to have to lower my standards for what being a homemaker means, quickly figure out a way to juggle my new responsibilities with my old ones, or quite possibly go crazy.

In all honesty the transition from two to three has been a breeze. Many people over the years, ranging from my mother to my Intro to Psychology professor freshman year of college, have told me how difficult the transition between two and three children is. I’ve heard horror stories about sibling jealousy, marital discord, and parental incompetence. I’m pleased to report that we are having issues in none of those areas. The boys are getting along smashingly…sometimes literally. My marriage seems to be unaffected. To my knowledge, neither Josh nor I feel incompetent to handle our brood, which now outnumbers us by one. As I recall, the transition from one to two was much worse. Ben has moved right in and I don’t think any of us remember life without him.

The only real challenges I’m facing are those encountered during the day on account of having no free hands. And as I mentioned earlier, this situation can be quickly remedied with the purchase of a sling or carrier. This purchase definitely needs to occur sooner rather than later or I might never be able to find the floor of my house, we may go broke thanks to my desperate pleas for Josh to pick up dinner on his way home, or we may just have to revert to people who never eat home-cooked meals and don’t remember what it’s like to find clean laundry in the dresser or what their house actually looks like sans mess.

The later is absolutely not an option. I am plagued with perfectionism and I could never live like that. I take pride in my home-cooked meals that I’m strategically placing on the table as Josh walks through the door in the evening. I love it when my mother inquires how my house could possibly be so clean despite the little monkeys that live here. Making a home is what I’ve chosen to do with my life and I intend to do it to the very best of my ability.

Truthfully, that mentality can be rather problematic for me. It makes me a little crazy sometimes as I’m racing to meet some goal or stretching to meet a standard that only exists in my own mind. However, for the time being, I’m perfectly capable of juggling my high expectations for myself and I don’t have any intention to lower them.  Down the road, sometime after reality smacks me in the face, I may write an entry or two documenting my journey to embracing realistic expectations of keeping house, raising a family, and what it means to be a good wife and mother. In the meantime we absolutely must purchase a baby carrier so I’m not forced to face my own human limitations.

For Better or For Worse

I was recently asked why I don’t write more about my marriage. Not just the daily happenings that I sometimes discuss, but the nitty-gritty details. My questioner speculated that it would make for good reading. I’m sure it would. But I don’t write about my marriage for the same reason I don’t talk about some aspects of my marriage, even to my closest friends. My marriage deserves more than that.

In a recent post, “Is Being Family Enough?”, I briefly touched on the special kind of dignity that comes with being “family.” I think that dignity is far surpassed by the dignity of marriage. On my wedding day I stood before my family, friends, and God, committing my life to Josh under all circumstances: for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, for richer or for poorer. My, oh my. We don’t know what we’re saying on that glorious day, do we? After all, how bad can bad be? How poor can poor be? How worse can worse be? How sick can sick be? We may think we know, but we don’t have a clue what those words really mean. I think that’s the beauty of it. On one’s wedding day, one finds oneself so very in love that one is willing to commit to stand by the another, even in the most unimaginable of circumstances.

Fast forward a few years.

I’m not perfect. My husband’s not perfect. Our marriage is not perfect. We are two imperfect people charged with living together and given the added responsibility of managing a household and raising a family. Are there ugly moments? You know as well as I do that there are many. Do those “moments” sometimes stretch past the end of the day and spill over into other days? Of course they do. So why don’t I talk about them, vent about them, or share whatever struggles we’re currently facing? I think doing so violates the dignity of our marriage. Even if my sole intention is just to get something off my chest, that’s not how it works. Whether my audience is an anonymous internet audience, my mother, my sister, my best friend, or a stranger at the park, if my words belittle Josh, they belittle my marriage. If they belittle my marriage, they belittle Josh. Marriage is hard enough without one or both of the spouses slowly tearing it apart to anyone who will listen.

I’m not suggesting that it’s healthy to keep your emotions bottled up inside. But I think struggles of this nature ought to be shared only with your spouse or your private journal. (Not barring a marital counselor or your confessor, if the situation applies.) Or (as should be the case in my marriage much more often than I do) first with my journal to filter out some of the unnecessary and potentially damaging words, then with my husband to attempt to build a bridge over, around or under the situation. Josh has it much worse than I do when it comes to bearing the brunt of our arguments. My knack for sarcasm often results in some pretty cutting comments, which is why I should work harder to filter out some of the emotion in my journal, so he and I can deal with facts.

While I obviously don’t know this from experience yet, I think I may have discovered the secret behind the 80-year-old couple sitting on the park bench, having been married for the past 60 years, and still very much in love. Mutual respect. They’ve seen each other at their very worst, their very best, and everywhere in between. The same is true for anyone in a marriage, but I think their secret is how they respond to and recover from those situations.

I recently heard someone say that the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s self-love. After pondering those words for a few moments, I decided truer words have never been spoken. While “hate” isn’t comfortable, and it’s definitely not something you want to be part of your marriage, that’s not what will ultimately do it in. Self-love, on the other hand, especially when greater than the love you have for your spouse, will.

This is what is at the root of the saying that a successful marriage can’t be 50/50, rather it must be 100/100. Both partners must make every effort to give 100% of themselves. Yet, both partners must be be willing to give 110%, 150%, or 190% when, for one reason or another, the other is only capable of giving 90%, 50%, or 10%. Remember those scary vows? This is where they come in. We promised that we would do this, did we mean what we said?

If either or both spouses are more concerned with their own needs, their own desires, their own dreams, goals and aspirations, than those of the other, the marriage just won’t work. To make marriage a real, true, lifelong commitment, we have to look past ourselves and only see the other. How scary that can be sometimes! That’s why trust is so crucial. One has to be able to trust their spouse enough to be totally vulnerable. One has to be able to totally trust that their self-sacrificing love will be reciprocated. That’s what makes a marriage work. Not just work, but land two 80-year-old people on a park bench, 60 years after making vows that they really didn’t understand, sitting happily just because each is with the other.

Are You Married to Your Wife or Your Video Game?

I would just like to take a minute to publicly acknowledge and praise my husband for not having a video game addiction. Thank you, Josh, not only for having a life that doesn’t revolve around the tv or computer screen, but also for valuing me and the boys enough to choose to spend your leisure time engaged with us and not merely sitting in the same room with us while you give your full attention to some race or battle or whatever else those games entail. I’m really being serious about this too.

To hear other women talk about how their husbands neglect them and their kids in favor of whatever kind of virtual reality yanks their chain just makes me sad. I’ve even heard women complain about sexually propositioning their husbands only to be turned down or at least put on hold until after the level is completed, the enemy defeated or some other “goal”. I can’t fathom that. It’s little things like this that I don’t even think to be grateful about until I hear other women talking about their situations. I can’t imagine how it must feel to be continually rejected and neglected in favor of more screen time.

I hardly see josh as it is. I assume most people live the same way. Very few couples work together or both work from home, so their time together is limited to evenings and weekends or whatever is left after work. I can’t imagine how I would feel if Josh came home from work, ate dinner, and promptly plopped himself in front of the tv or computer for the remainder of the evening. In fact, if that’s how we lived, I’d probably just go out or something after dinner. Seriously, if he’s not going to spend time with you, find someone who will. (Just to clarify, I mean your girlfriends…I’m definitely not endorsing or suggesting an affair!)

I just have to wonder what’s the deal with these guys? Most of them haven’t even been married for that long. How can they possibly be so selfish or so bored with their wives or take them for granted to such an extreme that they ignore her night after night after night?

Then, after spending the whole evening glued to the screen, hardly even aware that he has a wife, he propositions her and wonders why she’s not in the mood. Women need emotional intimacy even more than physical intimacy. I just can’t imagine how these marriages are going to make it in the long run when they lack basic communication skills and the emotional intimacy that women need.

Maybe there are wives who don’t care about their husbands’ video game addictions, but I don’t know any of them. If I did I think I’d have to ask why she doesn’t mind and why she doesn’t want to spend more time with him. It just doesn’t seem healthy.

I know how dramatically our marriage changed for the better when we got rid of the tv. I can’t imagine how much more of a change is possible for couples who not only have tv and dvds interfering in their relationship but also video games.

Life is exhausting. As a result, we found ourselves stuck in a rut of just turning on the tv in the evening and sitting together, completely worn out until bedtime. That’s not the kind of marriage I envisioned. And that’s not the kind of marriage that will carry us happily to the 50 year mark and well beyond. I think we’re on a much better track now.

Just for the record, I’m not demonizing the tv. I think tv is perfectly fine in moderation and for sporting events and other special events. I’m just saying that I don’t want it in the middle of my marriage. Nor am I willing to wait until whatever show is over to spend quality time with my hubby or have the excuse that I’m just too tired and at least we’re spending time together, even if there’s no quality to it.

You can only take something for granted for so long before you start witnessing some kind of ill effects. That’s not a gamble I’m willing to take with my marriage and I’m so very grateful to my amazing husband that he’s not either.

Finding Time to Love

While reading an article about the actor who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, I came across the most simple and profound quote. Jim Caviezel, the actor, quoting Ivan Dragicevic, stated

“Man always finds time for what he loves. If somebody who doesn’t have any time finds a girlfriend and falls in love with her, he will always find time for her. People don’t have time for God because they do not love Him.”

I love it when something so simple rings so clear and true. Even though I didn’t come up with this on my own, these are my favorite kind of epiphanies. Furthermore, this is such a fitting statement to summarize some of my Lenten experiences.

As you may recall, one of my Lenten epiphanies was about being called to tithe our time. Most days during Lent, I probably did a decent job of doing this simply because of what I chose to do for Lent in terms of prayer. Added on to my regular daily prayer time, by the end of the day most days, I’d probably shared about 10% of my awake time with God. But what about now that Lent is over? And what about the fact that it was kind of happening by default, not because I had a burning desire to spend as much time as possible with the Lord in prayer?

I think Ivan’s statement sums it up perfectly. Even though I’ve grown SO much spiritually, I still have such a long way to go. Yes, I love the Lord. But do I love Him with the same passion that I love my husband? Or greater for that matter? I’m always a little emotionally high maintenance, and during my pregnancies it can amount to downright neediness. Recently, I’ve found myself almost daily begging Josh not to go to work or to come home early or whatever else will get me a few more minutes with him. Where is that same passion for more time with the Lord?

One thing I’ve been praying for a lot lately is for our marital love to become the love that Christ intended for it to be. In Ephesians Chapter 5 we’re told that wives should submit to their husbands as the Church does to the Lord and that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. That’s pretty powerful stuff. It really moves me and its something I greatly desire for our marriage. (Although I’ll be quick to tell you, I hope Josh never has to hand himself over for me in the manner in which Christ did for his bride, the Church.)

What I find so funny is that I’ve been asking to grow in this kind of marital love without really understanding what it even means. My actions show very clearly that I have more passion for my husband than I do for the Lord. That being the case, I think it’s laughable that I pray for Christ to teach us to love each other as He loves His Church and vice versa. Thankfully, God loves me just the way I am, despite my many imperfections and ignorances. I’m confidant that through continued prayer I will grown in both martial love as God designed it and love for God himself. I have no doubt that He can work on more than one part of me at a time.

On a less serious note, this quote also called to mind my Lenten Facebook experience, or, more accurately, experiencing life without Facebook during Lent. There are several people I keep up with on Facebook. There are many more that I am “friends” with, read their status updates, look at their pictures, but never actually communicate with. Regarding the later, I’d say I am not actually friends with those people, regardless of what I’d like to think. All relationships take effort to sustain and reading about someone’s life on Facebook doesn’t count. As for the former…well that’s the question that really got me thinking.

Previously, I would have told you that I rely on Facebook so much for communication because I’m too busy for other forms of communication such as lunch dates or even phone calls. Taking into account Ivan’s statement, which I wholeheartedly agree with, if I am too busy for time with these people, am I even really friends with them?

Being out-of-state from many of my closest friends, the ease and convenience of Facebook for feeling involved in each other’s lives is unparalleled. I don’t dispute that. But what if its come to the point where Facebook is all you have left? With few exceptions, I didn’t talk to or communicate with the people who I keep up with most on Facebook at all during Lent. I’m actually not even sure if I knew I missed some of them until I “saw” them again on Facebook. I was really excited to “see” them, but it never even occurred to me to get in touch with them without using Facebook. That may just mean I’m selfish. But if the same is true for them, are we really even friends to begin with?

I don’t have an answer to that question.

My point is that love is a verb. For those of you struggling to remember, verbs are words that show action. If we can’t take even the smallest, simplest action, whether it be for our spouses, our friends, or the Lord, how much do we really love them? Let’s be honest with ourselves. Ivan is exactly right. When we love something, we make time for it. It’s not uncommon for Americans to move their whole schedule around to ensure they don’t miss some particular hour of TV. If we can do that for a show that we “love,” why is it so hard for us to make a little time for the people we love and for our God? After all, people and most definitely God have so much more value than anything you could possibly find on TV.