What I know is that I don't know much. After sixteen years I feel like I'm only beginning to scratch the surface of this mysterious, magical, wild thing called marriage. Still, I have learned some lessons (most of them the hard way--ARE WE SURPRISED?! Nope!) and I thought I'd share them with you.
The first thing I learned is that our culture gives really bad relationship advice. Here are a few examples of things I heard that turned out to be totally and completely false:
1. "You're too young to get married--you need time to Find Yourself!" One of the greatest gifts I've ever received is the honor of bearing intimate witness to my spouse's life journey--and he to mine. It is precisely because we married young (he was 24, I was 20) that we were granted this privilege of watching each other grow up and into the people we were meant to become. He is not only my husband, he is my best friend and I have "found myself" in the context of committed relationship. My deepest happiness has sprung from Finding Myself by serving and loving my husband and children.
2. "Don't have too many children!" My experience has taught me there is such no such thing as "too many children." The happy clamor, fullness of daily experience and countless opportunities for growth, sacrifice and intimate relationship are among the most priceless blessings of my life. As Mother Teresa once said, "How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers." Initially, I only "wanted" one or two children. I'm incredibly grateful God didn't give me what I "wanted"--He gave me something far better!
3. "You should wait to have children." Again, this hasn't proved true to my experience. By all societal measures, we 'shouldn't' have had children when we did. We were young, financially limited and living inside an oppressive religious environment. We weren't "ready" to have children. But we had them anyway. And having all five babies by the time I was 30 was, quite possibly, the best decision we ever made. Having our babies while we were very young (and with limited financial resources) meant our options were limited--in a good way. It meant we spent more time at home doing simple things. We ate meals at home together, played board games, took walks to the park, spread blankets in the shared yard of our duplex and read books together. I couldn't afford to send my first children to fancy preschools or buy them lots of new clothes from fancy children's stores, but I could give them the gift of my time. I don't regret one minute of "giving away my 20's" to my children. It was the best investment I ever made.
And despite the bad advice our culture gave me, I did receive some good advice--mostly from people of faith. Here's the good advice I received that has proven true to my sixteen years of marriage:
1. "Easy does it:" I learned the hard way that there's just no good reason to stay up until 2am arguing. It's much better to wash your face, brush your teeth, kiss your spouse and go to sleep. You can solve the problem in the morning when you're rested. Give yourself some space. Give your spouse some space. Be gentle and easeful with each other. There's no need to nag, prod, argue or debate (don't ask me how I know--har-har). Let the other person be who they are and let them have their own process on this journey together. I've found greater results in simply maintaining my OWN side of the marriage without worrying about what my husband is or isn't doing.
2. "Love, honor, cherish and forgive. Rinse. Repeat." When I was single I used to say things like: "If my husband EVER did _______(fill in the blank), I'd leave!" How precious of me. What I've learned is that we have BOTH given each other ample reason to leave the marriage. But instead of leaving, we have BOTH done the work. We've stayed. We keep recommitting to staying and working. And then, seasons change. There were hard years of bearing and raising very small children. There were sick years where it seemed we caught every single flu and virus known to man. There were poor years where we had to scrimp and make do. I've learned not to make big, life-altering decisions during difficult years. In other words, I didn't need to decide whether we should get divorced when our preemie-twins were only three months old and we were sleep deprived, exhausted and stressed out of our minds, ya know? I could wash my face, take a nap, kiss my spouse and forgive.
3. "Speak well of your spouse:" I'm a talker. This we know. I've made some pretty big mistakes with my words. I've learned the hard way that it's very important to speak graciously about my spouse and to my spouse. I've also learned to avoid correcting, nagging or complaining. Do I really need to be right? About everything?? No. Sarcasm, teasing, crude jokes and words that cause hurt or fear really have no place in a loving relationship. I've learned (and am learning) to use my words to bind up the wounds, heal, restore and inspire. As Buddha once said, "When words are both true and kind they can change the world." Or my marriage. :)
4. "Forgive and begin again:" My husband has literally forgotten all my mistakes. It's weird. Sometimes I'll remind him of something unkind I've done and he'll be like: "What? I don't remember that." My husband teaches me how to see the best and believe the best. This is love. Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. My husband sees me through the eyes of love and it is the greatest gift I've ever been given. This is what it means to live without resentment. It means we don't give safe harbor to wrongs done against us. We let them go. We forgive. And as we do, like the springtime, love is renewed again and again and again.
Love never fails.