Davy and I are coming up on our 9th anniversary tomorrow, June 10. This is amazing in itself, but we also had five and a half years of dating behind us before we tied the knot. You know, at the ripe old ages of 20 and 21.
That’s a lot of numbers in just a few sentences. So for those of us who do not like math, Davy and I have been together for 14 and a half years. This is half of my life. From this year on, I will have been with Davy longer than I will have been without him. And you know what? That’s exactly how I like my life. I don’t always brag, but when I do, it’s about my incredibly awesome husband.
I’d like to think we’re particularly suited for each other. Like things are easy for us because we just naturally go together. Or like we were destined for each other – the one, my soulmate, made for each other. And while personalities play a part in how well you get along, I have to be real with you: sustaining a marriage is hard work. It’s not like the love feelings just magically carry you through, especially in the sleepless nights of colicky babies and kids throwing up, or the stress of going overbudget, or the past baggage of mistakes, lost trust, and hangups. Sorry, but there’s no such thing as a good marriage being carried by feeling in-love. But, good news! There is such a thing as a good marriage being carried by commitment to each other and to Jesus. And while I’m definitely in no way an expert on any one else’s marriage except for my own, I thought I’d share part of our story of how we came from pain and anger to real unity.
I’ve written about this before, but my favorite marriage advice came from my mother in law. It goes like this, “Remember you are on the same team.” Oh! How easy it was to be on the same team before we had kids! There was a lot less to fight about, and a lot more time to do our own thing. Being a non-confrontational person anyway, I let a lot of things slide because, hey, it wasn’t that bad. And then we had kids. And being “on the same team” was more like,
“Davy, we are on the same team, so get up and do things this very specific way that I will be completely controlling about.”
Or “We are on the same team, but I’m keeping count of how many diapers I’ve changed and how many hours less sleep I got compared to you, and since I’m putting in way more work , you owe me.”
Or “We are on the same team but I was home all day with this crying child and didn’t even have a chance to change my clothes and I can’t remember if I brushed my teeth. And you got to shower today, so already that means I generously watched the baby, so now I’m going to hold this over your head when you want to have half an hour to play video games. And I know we are on the same team but I am totally begrudging the fact that you go play tennis, even though I really don’t want to exercise. But am holding it against you that I have this baby weight because I never have time to exercise.”
You know, we were on the same team. In a completely unfair, conditional, selfish, and accusatory way. For a long time we refused to see the best in each other because somehow it seemed that would lessen the importance of what we were putting in individually. As though recognizing what my husband does well means that all my work is worth less. And in the middle of all of our begrudging and accusing and fighting, we forgot that marriage is not a competition.
Marriage is not about pitting ourselves against each other and seeing who measures up the best. It’s not about holding a success stick up and showing how I rank higher than he does. See, we were being really good parents to our babies, but we were being really terrible people to each other. When things get tough and you have to continually put forth your best, it’s easy to take out your ugliness on the people close to you. That meant the only thing I ever showed Davy was the ugliness inside my heart, and part of that ugliness was engaging in an impossible competition.
Remember why you married your spouse? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because you thought, “Hey, this person is pretty great because I can totally beat him/her in everything, always.” And I’m pretty sure they didn’t marry you because they thought, “Hey, this person is pretty great because I’ll be able to win every time. Guaranteed success!” But after we had kids, that’s exactly how we were acting. He took out the trash and fixed the garage door? Obviously that means he doesn’t have to change the next poopy diaper. I did three thousand mountains of laundry and cleaned up all the spit up on the couch? Obviously that means he HAS to change the next poopy diaper. Obviously.
One day Davy said to me, “I really wish that when you asked me to do something, I would be happy to help you.” It’s like a light bulb went on in our hearts that showed us what we were doing. Instead of sowing value and blessing into each other’s lives, we were actively working to destroy each other and come out on top. Why would anyone ever want that? Nobody wants discord in their home.
Every relationship is about choice. You can choose to engage and invest or choose to be aloof. You can choose to love or choose to distance yourself. You can choose to be offended or choose to forgive. You can choose to compete or choose to support. The point is, you can choose. Yes, there is history. My friend, there may be heart wrenching pain, there may be terrible ugliness. But the beautiful thing is, God is a God of redemption, and He is actively waiting to help you. To redeem you and redeem the time that you have been at odds. He wants to restore you. Making choices toward life and forgiveness and love doesn’t justify past hurts from your spouse. But it can start you on a path toward reconciliation.
Davy and I started choosing to support each other instead of competing. I started expressing happiness for him when he or his team won their games. Thankful that he is so committed to showering everyday and not being smelly, even if I was smelly. Glad that he works hard for our family, even if that means he’s late for dinner. I even started letting him talk about website programming, even though I don’t know what the heck he’s saying…and wonder of wonders, when I listened, he started doing the dishes with me as he talked. He began asking me how I was doing and listening to me in all my long-winded glory, and let me tell you, it is long-winded. (But glorious, of course.) He started putting in more effort with the house and yard and kids. He started asking me how he could pray for me.
And the little things began to turn into big things. Our expectations of each other began to change from being demanding to being understanding. Instead of looking out for how the other person was failing, we began to appreciate each other and, wonder of wonders, even safeguard specific areas of each other’s lives. We knew we had come very far when, after Elena was about 10 months old, I willingly let him sleep in and he willingly changed her diapers, even though I’m usually a monster in the morning and sometimes he gags when he changes diapers. Plus, now that I’m not exerting so much energy being angry that I had to get up before him and calling up a thousand other reasons why I’m angry at him, I actually have the energy to wake up and just be half a monster. So, you know. Everybody wins.
And this brings me to the next huge change we made in our relationship: prayer. I started writing all about it and ended up with a novel. You would have experienced first hand my long windedness, and though it would have been quite glorious, I dare not put you to a test like Davy has been through. Pray for him, friends. He deals with me daily.
So be on the look out for part two. There may be a part three and a part four…depending on how deep a breath I can take.