I am not writing this to opine about how much I know about marriage. I’m not that foolish. I know that one year is a very limited amount of time to learn anything, especially a topic as complex and deep as the relationship God designed so that two people become one. This isn’t instructive. I don’t have any methods or steps or advice.
No, this is exactly what the title says it is. Just things I observed this year and have thought a lot about.
Before my wife and I got married on May 30 of last year, I definitely wanted advice. And we got a lot of good counsel from dozens of couples. Things that I think about often and have helped me practically. My brother Jeremy said I better be sure I was marrying someone who would fight for the marriage “no matter what”. (I was.) Fellow REO contributor Phill told me to do the dishes without being asked. (I do.) One of our best friend couples, Dustin and Sara, told us to “say ‘I love you’ every day” and to create inside jokes with each other. (We do.) Allen Pointer told me, “Do not underestimate the male tendency to go in his cave and disengage from his family.” (Still working on this.) Over half the people we asked told me to worry less about solving Kayla’s problems and more about listening to and affirming her. (Still working on this one, too.)
But no matter how much advice you get, it’s like a roller coaster in that you can read and hear about it, but nothing is like actually experiencing it. And surely every marriage is unique. There is no way any of our counselors could have prepared us for everything. We’ve learned some things by living through them.
We discovered that people can and do change. The vicious stereotype from TV and other media (“Don’t expect him to change after you’re married”) did not play out for us–either of us. I find no pride in this (or I shouldn’t) because I’ve tried to change things about myself many times and failed. But thanks to my wife’s influence, I go to bed earlier. I wake up earlier. I have learned how to cook with a modicum of competency instead of sticking a frozen pizza in the oven or going to Wendy’s all the time. I use our cutting board nearly every day for something. I don’t think I owned a cutting board before marriage.
My wife changed knowing she would have to in order to be married to me, mostly because of where I live. She lives and serves with me at church in a predominantly Hispanic Chicago neighborhood and works in an African-American neighborhood. That kind of intimate interaction with other cultures will change a person. It has been uncomfortable at times. But she walked into it willingly and she’s grown a lot.
…because my wife had to adjust to a new city, a new church, a new job and two new cultures, she has had many rough days. And most times, I don’t know what to do except cry with her
People often ask what has surprised me most. I’d have to say that I’m most surprised by the amount of compassion and empathy I feel for Kayla. I say that for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t feel compassion for many people. As a child my mom always told me I was tenderhearted toward suffering, even to animals and fictional pain when I’d read or watch TV. But as an adult I’ve become jaded and don’t feel for people often. Second, I assumed loving my wife would be either loving her romantically as in Song of Solomon or that I’d have to choose to love her when there was no emotion, as in Ephesians 5 telling husbands to ‘agape’ their wives. And while those two things are true, this is different. It’s more of a “mourn with those who mourn” type thing. I want to use the word “sympathy” but that almost sounds condescending. Yet it’s anything but condescending. It’s intimate.
To explain practically, because my wife had to adjust to a new city, a new church, a new job and two new cultures, she has had many rough days. And most times, I don’t know what to do except cry with her. There are times when I’m in a bad mood and I am hardhearted at first. But nearly always the emotion comes sooner or later. It happens because I know her so well. I know what she’s facing. I know how hard she works and how much injustice she deals with. And how life can break us down. I learned a long time ago that knowledge and exposure drive passion. I now know that they also drive compassion.
Sometimes she says things to me when I’m angry (like when I’m driving) that I interpret as snapping at me and very curt. And I get defensive. But as we’ve talked about it, I’ve learned that she is not snapping out of anger, but because my anger scares her due to many things she’s been through.
Almost paradoxically, I have also learned that I am very tempted to want to be vindictive with my wife. And I don’t mean in big ways because my wife is far too kind and sensitive to treat me badly. I’m talking about petty things. For example, my wife is a touching person. I am not. So sometimes to practice love I will randomly go up and do something physical to show affection. And one time I stepped on her foot. Another time her stomach was hurting. In these times, she winced and flinched and stepped away from me. My reaction? “How dare she? Why isn’t she on her knees in gratitude, thanking me for being such a thoughtful husband? FINE. I’m never showing her random acts of affection AGAIN!” That isn’t hyperbole.
A lot of this comes down to living with understanding just as 1 Peter 3:7 says. I’ve lost track of the number of times my brain filtered something my wife said or did as disrespect and my gut reaction was to get upset. Note that I said I ‘filtered’ it that way. My wife is the most gracious, humble person I’ve ever met, but sometimes due to my insecurities and faults I don’t process her actions correctly. Sometimes she says things to me when I’m angry (like when I’m driving) that I interpret as snapping at me and very curt. And I get defensive. But as we’ve talked about it, I’ve learned that she is not snapping out of anger, but because my anger scares her due to many things she’s been through. This revolutionized my filtering system.
More than anything, I have learned that marriage can be so, so good. I love it that I live with my best friend in the world. I have laughed more this year than any other year. I’ve cried more than any other year. And through it all I am more content than ever. The beast of longing and anxiety that occupied much of my time as a single man has been vanquished.
I’m sure it will get harder. I’m sure there are new things to learn and reflect on. But in the words of my pastor, David Potete, “Quitting is not an option.” That’s a piece of advice he didn’t need to give me last year because he knew I knew it. I don’t need more than a year of marriage to know it, because we love each other no matter what.
(Photo Credit: Rachael Kreid Photography.)