1. When I got married, I really wanted my wife and I to have that “special” relationship – that marriage that was unlike most other marriages. I wanted it to be full of electric unity and the taste of God’s glory. There were just a couple of problems: A. This was more motivated by vanity than godliness and B. my wife and I are really really different (all four letters different on the Myers-Briggs for those who are into that kind of thing). And while my fanciful dreams of being better than everyone else were dashed, the reality is so much better. That’s my first thought when I think about marriage – learning to love and to be loved by the “other.” That is, learning to seriously see mystery in gender, personhood, behavior, etc – instead of being frustrated with a lack of conformity to imagined marriages or spouses. The greatest privilege of my life has been learning to really love another person, a real person, another – and to be loved back despite myself.
2. Along the lines of the above, don’t compare yourself to others. Marriages and the people in them are unique. Your life is a journey and your marriage is a journey. For Christians, a man and a wife are fellow heirs in the grace of life, a team working in God’s kingdom. Read Colossians 2 and 3 and note how Paul roots the identity of Christians in Christ rather than in the virtues that distinguish them from one another. One aspect of the heresy he deals with is that Christians are not “held fast” together in the Head (Christ) but are rather distinguished in terms of advancement. It is only after Paul extinguishes this with talking of the absolute conditions of being dead and alive in Christ that He gives advice about marriage and family. Marriage is best when our deepest identity and security is in Christ.
3. Speaking of which, marriage doesn’t scratch all your itches. Okay, maybe it does for you. But usually, marriage is not a replacement for all other relational needs. Dudes still need really close male bonds. Women need really close female bonds. And spouses should let each other have this space. I am so thankful for Rebecca’s friends who can grasp certain things about her that I try but constantly fail to grasp. Here’s to Rebecca’s awesome lady-friends!
4. Never underestimate God’s strategy in your relationship. So many of the things that formerly annoyed me about our relationship or about our communication have cashed out to be essential to our actual lived experience. God knew the future. He knew what we needed even when we didn’t. And so many formerly-perceived “pests” have become essential to our life.
5. Be grateful. If you struggle with contentment, really do go through motions of being grateful for your spouse. Get on your knees, name some specifics, and say “thank you.” And fake it till you make it. Say it until your heart really does delight in and settle upon these things. It will put all of your petty complaints in perspective.
6. Chill out! Have some fun! Seriously, don’t take yourself or your relationship too seriously. If you do, every little argument will become such a big deal. Let things go. Turn the tensions into spice. Love and delight in the “other,” and kiss as often as possible.
7. Cultivate calmness and honesty. The latter can be a problem without calm discussion, but see the previous point. Chill out and talk about stuff. And then have the prudence to discern what is worth just letting go and what you need to work on. If the latter, get some real goals, be patient and gentle, and stay thankful for all the good things.
8. Keep sex a priority. That cashes out differently for different people, but communicate, make sure you’re both satisfied, and be reasonable with your expectations. Sexuality is important for a host of relational, physical, and psychological reasons, and so it needs to be guarded and cultivated. Life can make this difficult, and so this is more an issue of principle than any hard and fast rule. Still, do it. It’s good for ya.
9. Pray together. I don’t have a quota, but pray together. You are, in a very real sense, one corporate person. Your reputations and wellbeing and relationship with God are bound up in one another. Marriage is not the communion of private persons. It is the public bringing together of two into one. And that you means you need to approach God as one. If you are coming at an issue differently, pray before God about it and see how He leads you together. Pray to Him as one and I’ll bet He’ll lead you as one.
10. Step back and delight. Know that your marriage is temporal. It is full of ups and downs, but it is a beautiful journey. It is a quest full of mystery and intrigue and one can way too much of their life forgetting this. Be present to it. Be aware of it. Look across the room and grasp everything as new again. And know that it will all end. Marriage is not forever. This quest has an end. And it is precisely the temporality of it, the fleetingness of it, that makes it so special. Being present to and self-consciously beholding the vapor of this relationship makes it all the more special. Few things signify eternity wrapped in moments so well.
11. A lot of these reflections come from some struggles that Rebecca and I had early in marriage. As I said, we’re very different and we married very young. But, let the record show that our journey together has been the best thing in my life. Rebecca is fairly private and I’m somewhat loud and “up-front,” and so no one really knows how much I depend upon her in every way. I don’t mean that she raises children and cooks for me (though she does that). I mean that she is my friend, my confidant, my encourager, my comforter – the one who has stood by me and loved me in moments of incredible insecurity, weakness, and doubt. And she has not done so begrudgingly, but with patience, love, and respect. She is “my sister, my bride” – and I hope that we have 60 more years together.
This poem probably sucks, but I wrote it for Rebecca about 18 months ago on the occasion of her 30’th birthday. You have to read it right, but for what it’s worth…this says something like all the above in a more succinct fashion.
My sister, my bride
My other self to have and lose
Other…for me to love…to chose
A body, a soul to muse…to use
Your love…my wine
Not fracture, not fusion
Better than all our dreams, this.
With failure…with surprise…with kiss
In disappointment….in bliss
Walking to Zion
But not for eternity
Time, a companion…patient…waits
An unbreakable bond to break
“Now” loves only sure fate
Death’s dark sea
Drowns marriage…but not we
Death kills not love for earthly friends
If e’en in it our marriage ends
In resurrection our love ascends
My love for you…perfect…free