Yesterday, Eric and I celebrated twelve years of marriage. Considering I never had a relationship last more than twelve months before Eric came into my life, I am truly amazed that we have been on this journey together for so long. Here’s to our next forty anniversaries!
In his comedy routines, Bill Engvall gets real about how marriages change over time. He says that in your first year of marriage when you come home from work exhausted, your spouse is there to comfort and love you. Then, years later, you walk in the house complaining about your day, and your spouse yells, “Do you want to know what went on in this house today while you were at your “job?!?!””
Relationships change over time – and so do perspectives. As a “wise” teenager, I had relationships figured out – so much so that I screwed up several before the age of eighteen. After completing my B.S. in Psychology, I thought, “Now, I honestly know something about life and love.” Then, I received my M.A. in Counseling with a Marriage and Family therapy specialization and, thus, became a relationship rock star by the age of twenty-seven. Well, friends, I learned the hard way that age, a string of poor relationships, and multiple degrees do not guarantee a happy, prosperous marriage. There is so much more to the equation. Over the past twelve years, my perspective on marriage has changed considerably.
- Those “Annoying” Adults Who Warn You Are Right. I heard it all. ”You are going to be disappointed. You think you love him now, but the love will not always be so exciting. Sometimes you are going to appease him with your words and then just do it your way.” When my best friend’s mom told me, “Staying married is the hardest thing you will ever do,” I just thought it was sour grapes. Twelve years later, I am here to tell you that mama dearest was correct. To those who are rushing to the altar because you think marriage will add permanency to your relationship, think again. Marriage does not ensure that your love will last; and, marrying in haste can shorten your window of blissful love – also known as limerence ([dictionary.com] a state of mind resulting from romantic attraction, characterized by feelings of euphoria, the desire to have ones’ feelings reciprocated). Even if you feel completely unflappable, do not despise the wisdom of those who have gone before you. Instead of being offended by their advice, use it as a means of preventative care. Assume they know what they are talking about, and work to avoid the pitfalls into which they have fallen. Fools learn from experience, and wise men learn from the experience of fools.
- You Cannot Live With Someone and Remain the Same. When Eric and I met, I was a much different person. I was young and naïve, and my heart was bigger than my brain. I looked for the best in others and did not understand skeptics. In fact, I felt sorry for those sad, “cynical” haters. My idea of “helping” people meant giving them money or patting them on the back no matter how many times they made the same mistake. I thought I was sweet and merciful – and I liked that about myself. When Eric entered the scene, however, he came with some gruff. He did not always believe the best from people (Romans 3:10-12, 23) and was quick to remark that giving money to those with negative life patterns was not helping, but enabling. Now, twelve years later, I can tell I have picked up some of his no-nonsense personality traits. When people make the same mistakes repeatedly, I am not as quick to run to the rescue. I used to expect the best from people and now few scandals surprise me. It is not possible to live with someone for twelve years and not be influenced deeply by his or her beliefs and actions. I like to think I have rubbed off on Eric, too; after all, he is a lot mellower than he used to be. ~smile~
- I Am Not as Quick to Believe the “God Card.” If you find yourself head-over-heels in love and are completely sure God has brought you and your special someone together, try not to get discouraged if your parents and others who are married do not automatically seem convinced of God’s hand in your union – note though that their reactions do not necessarily mean they disapprove of your relationship. After living in the throes of life, “old” married couples are not as quick to assume every giddy couple has experienced a life-changing relational encounter with God. When Eric and I were dating, I was sure God brought us together. In fact, I was so sure God was leading us to get married that I dismissed others’ opinions. Once I deemed our relationship “God’s will,” my objectivity blew away and I closed my ears to wisdom. Though I had peace within my heart about my decision to marry Eric, that did not mean I was heading towards easy times. I mistakenly thought that if I married the “right” person, my relationship would be blessed; and, I thought blessed equaled smooth. Did God bring us together? Perhaps He did, or maybe He allowed us to move forward with what we both wanted at the time. If I say, “God brought us together” with supreme confidence, then I am tempted to blame God when my marriage is difficult. Eric chose me and I chose Eric. God has blessed us in many ways, but He did not force us down the aisle. Even if you strongly believe God’s hand is guiding you to marry a specific person, own up to your decision for what it is – your decision.
- My Spouse is a Bigger Sinner than I Thought He Was Twelve Years Ago – and So Am I. When I was twelve, I thought my boyfriend was perfect, and I seriously wondered if he was an angel. In retrospect, I laugh – heartily. He was certainly no angel – and neither was I; but, if anything has shown me how non-angelic two human life forms can be, it is marriage. Is it possible that this sweet and gentle person I am dating could ever become angry, irrational, frustrated, or unloving towards me? It surely is, my friends; and, not only is it possible – it is probable. You will not marry a saint. When we married, I knew Eric was not perfect, but I thought of him as a baby sinner. Now, twelve years later, he is a full grown sinner with love handles. He knew I had the capability of being grumpy and somewhat unpleasant, but he did not know I could scream and cry with the best of them. It has been “loads of fun” discovering just how sinful we are and how desperate we are for Christ in our lives.
- Hallmark is my Nemesis. If you are going to watch Hallmark movies, choose the mysteries! The love stories set you up for disappointment. Trust me! I keep waiting for Eric to run through a wheat field, find me throwing rocks in a pond at sunset, take me in his arms, and admit that everything wrong in our relationship is his fault. It will never happen. ~smile~ Even if you think the mushy, gushy story lines will not affect you, they will. They will! Run! Mysteries are more fun to watch anyway!
- Marriage is no Cure for Loneliness. I have been lonely as a single and I have been lonely as a married; and, of the two, I have found being lonely as a married to be more difficult. In singleness, there is hope that love will come to end the loneliness. In marriage, “love” has come and that hope is gone. It is possible to lie in the same bed and feel completely estranged from your mate. For a marriage to remain a blessing, both parties must put in significant effort to keep it running smoothly; otherwise, it will crumble.
- It is Possible to Show Respect and Completely Disagree with Each Other. To disagree with Eric is not to disrespect him. And, to give him lip service when he needs my honest feedback is lying. Disagreement does not equal disrespect, and disagreement is what your spouse will occasionally need. No matter how much you admire your spouse-to-be, he or she is fallible and will need periodic reality checks.
- Love is NOT All You Need. Sorry, John, Paul, George, and Ringo. It was a nice song, but completely wrong. While trucking down the highway one afternoon, the song, “Living on Love,” by Alan Jackson came on the radio while riding with my grandma. After several failed relationships and four divorces, she felt compelled to warn me against such a dangerous sentiment. The feeling of love is wonderful – and often short lived. Before long, couples have to deal with life, and no amount of giddiness is going to carry them through the tough seasons. First and foremost, couples need Christ’s salvation and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Couples need money. (Yes, cash flow is rather important. You will not feel in love long eating Ramen noodles in your mother-in-law’s basement.) Couples need maturity – or at least the desire and willingness to admit mistakes, grow, and mature.
- Humbling Yourself and Learning to Apologize is Essential. Pride kills. If you want your relationship to fail, refuse to humble yourself. Ruth Bell Graham said it best: “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” Notice, she said two good forgivers. If your honey has forgiveness problems, address them now. A life lived with a non-forgiver will most likely be miserable. That is, unless you are perfect and never upset him or her in any way.
- If Marriage Did Not Make Me Happy, Children Will Not Either. There was a time in my life I believed I had to have a husband to be happy. By the age of ten, I was already thinking about marriage and convinced that my eleven-year-old boyfriend would be my husband He moved away… and when my heart finally let me “love” again, I felt sure my new beau would be my husband. Much to my then-dismay, that relationship did not last either. My next decade was characterized by one unhealthy relationship after the next and it all stemmed from this idea that I had to be in a relationship – I had to be married someday – to be worthwhile and happy. The day finally came! On June 11, 2005, I got married; and, on June 13, 2005 (or shortly thereafter), I discovered that marriage does not guarantee happiness. A happy single is likely to become a happy married; but, an unhappy single is almost sure to become an unhappy married. No other person can make us truly happy. Our happiness is our responsibility. For the first several years of our marriage, I thought, “If God would just give us children, I will be happy.” If marriage did not make me happy, children certainly will not either. There is always something for which to be thankful, and if couples dwell on what they do not have, they will be unhappy – plain and simple.
- If You Do Not Make Time for Each Other, You Will Not Have Time for Each Other. Something else will always – always – demand your time. Whether it is children, careers, or even hobbies, something else will take your focus away from your spouse if you do not actively prioritize your marriage. Since it is easier to make time for each other during the infatuated stage, some new couples believe they will never struggle to spend time together. But, the truth is, you will not have the quality time you desire in your marriage if you do not decide when and how to push everything else aside and focus on each other. Here is another secret for you: sometimes, couples must schedule sex to make sure it happens. It may not sound romantic, but it can be real life!
- Ignoring Problems is Not the Easier Solution. In the beginning, Eric and I discussed everything. He wanted all problems resolved as soon as possible and I wanted harmony. As the years went by, however, we got tired. We grew weary of the same discussions and the same disappointments. Over time, we felt less compelled to address problems as they arose. In the trying moments, it seemed easier to move on and not acknowledge the elephant in the room. Unfortunately, by putting off difficult discussions, we allowed emotional wounds to become infected. Infected wounds are painful – and, when we feel pain, we are more likely to give Have you ever had a splinter in your thumb? At first, it is just mildly annoying; but, if it stays in too long, your irritation rises, and your tolerance falls. Relationship splinters are no different. If we ignore them, we will become the worst versions of ourselves. A “little” unresolved problem today is divorce court soon to follow.
Sometimes I miss the naïve Heather, but more than anything I am thankful for the growth and wisdom God has afforded me over the course of my life. Though love no longer seems like a theme park of endless possibilities, it is comfortable, enjoyable, and bigger than Eric and me. The daily choice we make to love each other is about so much more than our happiness and fulfillment. It is exciting to consider that God, the creator of Heaven and Earth, looks on little old us and says, “I am going to take your imperfect marriage and use it to My glory.” That is so cool, guys. Knowing God is at work in and through us makes every tear, every disappointment, and every unanswered question worth it.
Happy twelfth anniversary, Eric. I pray God’s will is done in our marriage for as long as He gives us breath.
How have your perspectives on relationships changed over the years?
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