I’m writing this at JFK airport while waiting for our flight back home.
My wife and I are wrapping up a trip celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary.
There’s a part of me that’s amazed we’ve been married for 10 years and there’s another part of me that feels like we’re just starting to scratch the surface of our relationship.
In previous posts, I did a two-part series on the things we wish we knew before we got married (“What We Wish We Knew” Part 1) (“What We Wish We Knew” Part 2). In this post, I share a reflection 10 years after the fact.
I am not a marriage counselor or an expert in marriage. I’m still learning, growing, but falling forward by the grace of God.
So with that, here are 10 reflections from 10 years of marriage:
1. The First Day is Overrated
The wedding day is special, but 10 years removed, it’s not really a day my wife and I talk about too much.
It’s not because it wasn’t a fun wedding. I think there’s just something about a compounded shared life over time which leads to subsequent experiences being more rich and full, even though they may not be as spectacular, objectively speaking.
We reminisce the life-giving routine walks we took around the block as grad students. We fondly remember the awe of entering our new apartment with an extra bedroom in preparation for our first child.
The wedding ceremony is great, but the marriage relationship is where the really great stuff happens. And it’s the latter that determines the most important day - the last day.
2. Marriage Counseling Is Worth It
Not only are there hard days, there can be difficult seasons. We all walk around with a complex family of origins and the right set of circumstances can trigger issues (even ones that have remained dormant for years).
Having had so many transitions and stressors, one of the best decisions we made was heading into counseling before entering a new major transition.
Truth be told, I dreaded it every time because of my own pride and fears. But it turned out to be a great investment because it gave us an unbiased third party opinion while resourcing us with practical communication tools.
I once heard on a podcast episode that divorce can cost up to $100,000. It’s a staggering amount and a reminder that the hourly rate of marriage counseling pales in comparison.
3. Children Change Everything
Ever witness the evolution of young pastors who are zealous for overseas missions? They often bash their church for “not caring about missions” but their tune starts to change once they have their first kid.
This is because while children are a blessing, they affect every aspect of one’s life.
Here’s a simple example: running errands. With a kid, you have to strap them in a car seat and transfer them into strollers. Every. Time. In the store. Back to the car. On to the next store. Or imagine taking the elevator instead of the escalators in the mall because of a stroller. It’s craziness! So you can only imagine the challenges it creates for a marriage relationship (time together, energy, communication, sex life, etc.).
I recently heard that the lowest point of happiness in a marriage is when the couple has kids ages 5 and under. As someone who has 3 kids ages 6 and under (at the time of writing), I can understand where the sentiment comes from. There’s just too much complexity.
4. In-Laws Make An Impact
I’ve said this before but while you marry an individual, you end up marrying into a family with all its glory and gore. Even if you move far away from his or her family, their cultural DNA is still in his or her bones.
For us, in-laws were one of the biggest blessings. We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish certain things without their presence. Our kids are also happier because of their involvement (as studies have shown). They’ve been extra hands, minds, and hearts in seasons of abundance and scarcity.
Now are there stressors and pain-points? Of course. Are some things annoying? Yes. Are things still in process? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t trade my in-laws for the world.
5. Boundaries are the Battleground
Some people struggle with emotional boundaries. Others, physical boundaries. And still others, time boundaries.
I would argue that the struggle to maintain healthy boundaries in every respect is really the root of most marital strife. It’s the classic scene where the wife feels neglected because the workaholic husband won’t say “no.” Or the husband feels uncomfortable because his friendly wife is a little too friendly with other males.
Marriage therefore, is the ever ongoing course corrector in the areas where we struggle to set healthy boundaries. My wife has helped and is still helping in the ways I operate, reminding me not to over-function at church and to be present with the kids.
This is an ongoing push and pull. Sometimes, it can be a real tug-of-war.
6. Action Fuels Feelings
There are many days when feelings and fireworks don’t drive the marriage forward.
On those days, reaching for deep-seated feelings through introspective reflection hasn’t seemed too effective. What I have found helpful however, was a good old fashioned “rolling up the sleeves.”
Doing the dishes, helping wash up the kids, and other acts of service would actually spark emotions.
Feelings may lead to action. But action can lead to feelings too. They have a transitive relationship. Depending on the day, one has to reach for actions first.
7. Good Communication Is Front-Ended
Communication issues are a reality for every couple.
In our case, I’ve discovered that most communication breakdowns occur because of chaos created through communicative procrastination. For example, we’d argue on Saturday morning because we didn’t sync up earlier regarding weekend expectations. By then, it would lead to other communication breakdowns such as tone, passive aggression, etc.
But what I’ve learned (and am still learning) is that if I initiate conversations earlier, it would resolve not just the communicative process but the emotional tone as well.
Certain cyclical issues aren’t really the issues, they’re just the symptoms. So get out of the waterfall and swim upstream to see where the dam really needs to be built.
8. You Don’t Have to Do Devotionals Together
But it really helps to do something together whether it’s praying together or volunteering in the same ministry.
Why? Because a relationship really operates within a few key connection points. Family. Friends. Work. Hobbies. That’s about it.
But if two people say that Jesus is the most important thing in their lives, shouldn’t there be some touch points regarding Jesus? Those touch points don’t have to emulate the married couple that reads the Bible together everyday, but it would help for there to be something.
My wife and I try to pray together every night, though we miss some days. If we’re not talking about our kids, we’re talking about church. If not church, than our kids.
9. Choose Your Spouse Over Your Story
There may be moments during marriage when one may be tempted to think, “This is not how I envisioned my life and marriage.” While it may be a painful admission, it can also be a dangerous entrance way.
In our highly individualistic environment, we strive to “write our life story.” We may even want to “co-author it” with God. But this assumes we’re the main character of our lives and marriages. Not only is this a big assumption, but this has bigger implications for the people around us. It says that they exist to cooperate with our ever changing desire for fulfillment, which is an unloving demand.
There were moments during the rigors of residency where I would have to remind myself that I married her (a person), and not a vision of marriage (a picture) I desired in those moments.
It was important to put to death the wrong ideas so that the truest and best things could come to life. I think someone else once described this using the language of self-denial, cross ownership, and following Jesus.
10. Marriage Makes the Gospel Real
Forgiveness. Not keeping a record of wrongs. Covenant keeping. These are all themes that point towards the central message of Christianity: Humans are created to have a relationship with God. We broke that privilege by choosing our own path. God being the just and the justifier, makes us right with himself through his son’s life.
The gospel is lofty stuff, but in marriage, I’ve experienced the gospel up close and personal as the forgiver and the forgiven, time and time again.
The Apostle Paul once urged spouses to live in a symbiotic relationship of love and submission citing the marriage union as really a mysterious portrait of the gospel. It’s no surprise I’ve grown in my understanding of the gospel as the years have passed in my marriage.
This isn’t to say someone who isn’t married can’t understand the gospel in a deeper way. I’m just saying I’ve found this to be true for me personally.
The 10 years just flew by.
Here are a few concluding encouragements:
If you’re married and in a really tough season, hang on and don’t quit. Your spouse isn’t the enemy no matter how much it may feel that way at times. Don’t be scared to ask for help. Don’t quit serving your spouse, even if he or she has stopped serving you.
If you’re dating and wondering what your future will be like with that person, no one can tell you for sure. But in the meantime, you can keep asking good questions, praying, and surrounding yourselves with church community.
If you’re single and wrestling with loneliness and anxiety about your future, cast your cares to Jesus and fight against the lie that God doesn’t see your needs. Jesus and Paul were single. You can do everything God wants you to do, with or without a marriage partner.
In the end, you and I belong to Jesus more than we belong to any one human being. He’s holding us and carrying us forward.
How else do you think my wife and I have made it to 10 years?