I recently participated in the Facebook "challenge" where you had to post a pic from more than 20 years ago alongside one taken now. So, this is us. On the left, 2 teenagers who had the world before them on high school graduation night. On the right, 2 almost 40 year olds with 2 kids we adore, a home we love, and the world still before us.
As I look back over the journey we've had between those two pictures it's hard to believe that over 20 years separates one from the other. We met as freshmen in high school. We were both walking between classes, and I had not only a bookbag full of books, but I also had my arms full. I was a nervous freshman, having come from a private school of 8 people to a high school with over 600 students. I was so worried I'd miss the bell that I just said to heck with the locker and carried these gigantic books all over 3 buildings. Anyways, Josh said he reached out his hand to introduce himself. I had to fumble with all of my books to get my hand out to shake his. By the time I did, he had pulled his hand back and walked on. I mean the nerve!!
Fast forward to our sophomore and junior years, and Josh and I played varsity tennis together. We developed a friendship, and I truly enjoyed having him as a guy friend I could talk to and get his opinion on things (like the guys I was dating). Josh sat at the lunch table with me and all of my girlfriends. Literally, there were like 6 girls plus Josh. I'm sure he got his fill of high school girl silliness that year at the lunch table. Oh to go back and hear what we had to talk about back then at that table.
After several years of developing a friendship, Josh and I finally started dating our senior year. I have had people tell me over the years that some of the strongest marriages come from people who found their soulmate in high school. It does seem crazy that at the age of 17 or 18 we just knew. I knew it wasn't the right time to get married, but I knew Josh would be the one I would marry. We waited almost 7 years to go down the aisle. We married when we were 24-almost 25-and I can't imagine growing old with anyone else.
While we don't have a perfect marriage, I do think after 20+ years together we have managed to figure out what it takes to have a great marriage. There's no magic formula obviously, but there are a few things that we do that I believe truly help us in our marriage.
When our marriage is at its best, it's because we put God at the center of it. There were rough patches when we were newly married and lots of conflicts we had. Looking back, I know exactly why they were. We were each focused on ourselves and what each of us wanted individually. We weren't focused on growing as Christians, and church was often an afterthought in our mid-20s. I admit we were lazy Christians when we first got married, and weren't taking active steps to grow our faith. I'm pretty sure we were more concerned with our social life than our prayer life. I think some of our biggest challenges as a young married couple were attributed to that attitude. As we've both grown in our relationship with the Lord, I think our marriage has become strengthened. When God is first in our lives, our relationship flourishes. We are in sync, and can handle anything that comes our way. Satan will try to steal the joy out of your marriage, and when a spouse starts thinking only of himself or herself, you can imagine the havoc that can be wreaked. Ecclesiastes 4: 12 says it so well-"Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." I think that's the perfect analogy of keeping Christ at the center of marriage. Husband+Wife+God=3 strands not easily broken.
When children came along, we decided early on to put them second and our marriage first. That may sound selfish to some of you, but for us it means we are a united front...a team...and our marriage is the foundation of our family. I've heard of too many couples who put their kids first, and when they are empty nesters, they don't know who each other is anymore. They essentially put their marriage on cruise control for 18-20 years and make their kids the focus of their lives. I don't think that's healthy, and I think it sets kids up to be self-centered and feel as if the world revolves around them. I want my kids to understand what a healthy marriage is, so we try to mimic good habits and show them what a strong marriage is. Albeit we are not perfect, and there are days when we mess up. But since we have eyes and ears watching us ALL THE TIME, Josh and I want to be the best example to our kids.
Always strive to make your marriage better. This can be in the form of a bible study on marriage, or a marriage retreat. It might mean seeking a mentor who has been married a long time, or maybe even a professional counselor. Different seasons of life call for different tools to be used. Two good studies I've done that come to mind are: Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian and The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I did the Power of a Praying Wife study on Wednesday mornings with a group of young moms. My kids were little and I was in the midst of having 2 under the age of 2. I was exhausted, stressed out and trying to juggle working part-time. Reading that book and doing the study reminded me the importance of not letting your prayer life go even during busy times. Josh and I both did the 5 Love Languages study with our Sunday School class when we lived in Nashville. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. It's a great book to understand how your spouse is motivated, and you can, in turn, take steps to make sure that you are filling his/her "love tank" as Gary Chapman calls it. Ironically, Josh and I have the exact same love language! There are times in a marriage that require more than just a book or study. Every marriage is not perfect, and sometimes, an unbiased third party is needed to help you get through the hard times. Several years ago, we had a fundamental argument. It was such a big issue for us that we couldn't get past it on our own. We knew that getting an unbiased party to sit down with us was needed to get back on track. We saw a Christian counselor that one of my friends had seen. We literally sat down with her for 2 sessions to discuss both sides of our argument, and after that 2nd session, I felt like a new person. She gave us strong advice and told us what we both needed to work on moving forward. In 2 sessions, the advice she gave us was solid, strong advice. No amount of talking to our friends and getting their opinion can compare to the guidance she gave us. Obviously, that's not something I share lightly, but I think that being open is important, as I know we all go through struggles. We as humans don't have all the answers, and sometimes, we need a professional to help us through difficult times. A marriage is a covenant made before God. To keep it on track, you've got to take measures to make sure it's as strong today as it was the day you made your vows.
Here are some other "little" things that Josh and I have done throughout our marriage:
- If an item is above $XX, we ask each other's permission before buying. The reason I left the $ amount blank is because it can be very different from person to person or in different stages of life. When we were starting out as a newly married couple, that amount might have been $100. As we've gotten older, that threshold has changed. What hasn't changed is our respect for each other and the fact that we want to be in agreement on big ticket items. Money can cause so much stress in marriages. Having this simple rule has helped us out so many times over the years.
- Make time for each other-whether that's with regular date nights, putting the kids to bed at a regular time so you can have time together or taking special trips together, I believe it's super important to continue to have time just to yourselves. If you are newly married and figuring out your careers, it's equally as important to make time for each other!
- Allow each other to have your own time and your own hobbies. Josh loves to duck hunt...yes it can drive me CRAZY when we are in the middle of the season, but I know it's his passion and something he truly loves. I like to take a girl's trip annually if possible, and Josh holds down the fort for me while I'm gone.
- "Try" your spouse's hobby-I've been duck hunting so I could understand what all the hype is about each year. I did enjoy myself, and I see why Josh craves that outdoor time. Do I understand why he would want to get up at 5:00 am and sit in a blind in freezing temps-absolutely not! But, you know what, I tried it. My big hobby is going antiquing. I would do it every weekend if I had time. Over the years, he's gone with me on many of these antique shopping trips and seems to somewhat enjoy it. I think when you try to understand each other's hobbies, you are showing that you genuinely care about what makes your spouse happy.
- Travel-I think it's so important to explore the world. Whether it be a quick day trip, or a week-long excursion somewhere, it's so important to see what the world has to offer and do it together. If you are on a tight budget and travel doesn't seem to be an option, look at things you can easily drive to or inexpensive excursions. Some of my favorite times are when we're on the road together. Not only is there time for uninterrupted conversation, but I think there's something to be said about seeing things for the first time together. These trips can be with your family, with friends or just the two of you. Just make time to get out of the daily grind-leave your laundry and dishes at home, pack a bag and go explore.
If you take away anything from this post, I hope it's a reminder that marriage (and any relationship) requires work and effort. But above all, it requires Christ to be at the center of it.