Dear Young Married Couple,
Let me share a few things with you. Marriage is the best thing that will ever happen to you.
Or, it’s the worst.
It’s really up to you. Really.
Every moment of every day, you make choices in how you’ll handle your relationship with your spouse. Some times those choices are easy. Some times those choices are hard. Either way, it’s the choices – big and small – we make in our relationship that will determine its ability to succeed and endure for the long haul.
After 23 years of marriage to my high school sweetheart, there are a few perspectives I have now that I wish I’d had 23 years ago, or even 10 for that matter. Perspectives shape our thinking and ultimately define our choices. It’s important to evaluate your perspective on your marriage, your relationship and your life regularly. Here are a few personal perspectives that I want to share with you.
Marriage is hard. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened in my life, but it’s hard work. The day we said “I Do” we committed to a lifetime of working on our marriage. What we didn’t understand fully was that working on our marriage meant most of the time we’d be working on ourselves. The only way a marriage can work well is when each person in the marriage is willing and able to look at themselves in the mirror and see their own shortcomings, attitudes and mistakes – – and then fix them. When choosing to highlight mistakes in a marriage, it’s easy to highlight what the other person is doing wrong. That list is solid, and we’re absolutely sure we’re right about it. The harder choice is to look at yourself and figure out how you’re contributing to the issue. You are. It’s the truth. The hard work of marriage is the hard work of self awareness and change. Don’t run from it.
That person you’re mad at is your best friend. Best friends know all of our junk. Having someone who knows everything about you can sometimes suck, especially when they choose to point it out. That’s enough to tick anyone off. And even though a best friend can get on your nerves, make you angrier than anyone else and irritate you – they’re still your best friend, forever. There is nothing, NOTHING, in life more precious than the relationship you have with your spouse through the years of marriage. Having them there in the hard times is the most invaluable thing in the world. Being able to laugh, share memories and spend time together after 20+ years of marriage is the greatest blessing of life. Whatever it is that’s on your nerves and making you mad today, you’re not even going to remember in a week. But 20 years from now you’ll be so grateful to still have your best friend by your side to share life with.
It’s hard for you to see the “last straw.” The bones on a camel’s back can’t be viewed from the outside, so it’s very difficult to see which straw will be the one to break them. The same is true for words and actions in a marriage. In our 23 years of marriage, we’ve seen many of our friends marriages fall apart – and there was always a last straw. Those angry words or hurtful actions that you default to over and over – stop it. Seriously. I promise you, there will come a day when you or your spouse can’t take it any more and at the “last straw,” you’ll be done. Don’t let it come to that.
It’s okay to have lines that you’ll never cross. I still remember the day a line was drawn in how I dealt with conflict with my husband. Early in our marriage, I had a habit of walking out during a fight and one time I took my wedding rings off and threw them at my husband before spouting in anger, “I’m not even sure I want to BE married any more,” and then promptly driving away from the house. After driving around for a bit, I came back home and found my husband sitting on the couch playing Nintendo with my wedding rings still in the very spot that had landed. Softly and firmly my husband said, “Don’t ever do that again.” I picked up my rings, put them on, and never did it again. His patience and tone told me that he was serious. I knew that the last thing I would ever want is to lose this man from my life, he is my best friend. It’s a line that I decided to never cross again, and I haven’t. Whatever those lines are for you and your spouse, take them seriously. Whether it’s throwing your rings, slamming doors, threatening divorce, walking out on arguments or rolling your eyes – it’s okay to have lines that you’ll never cross. Make sure you know what they are.
In sickness and in health will totally matter one day. When you’re young and everything seems to be moving along fine, it’s hard to imagine that a day will come that almost takes you out. Sickness. Death. Stress. Mental Illness. Crisis. Any number of things can, and will, enter your life at some point. You should seriously consider who you want by your side at those moments. For both my husband and me, having each other at our lowest points in life has been the glue that’s held us together. Having someone by your side that you trust with everything, even your worst, is priceless in tough times.
It’s hard to parent your children if you can’t parent yourself. Most marriages fail because at least one spouse quits doing the hard work on themselves. Affairs. Emotional Distance. Physical Distance. All of these are a product of our choices. We choose to distance ourselves from another person, or we choose to draw close even when it’s hard. That’s the essence of parenting, teaching your children to do hard things, even when they don’t like it or it’s hard. If you can’t parent yourself, it’s going to be really difficult to parent your children. And, here’s an extra, you don’t want to parent alone or co-parent with an ex-spouse if you can help it. It’s a lot harder than working on your marriage right now would be.
Marriage IS hard work. But, it’s so very worth it. I’m so thankful that I get to spend every day with my best friend. I want everyone to have this experience.
Treat yourself and your marriage with respect, you’ll be thankful in 20+ years,