As the summer of 2016 rolls on (or, as Mary and I will forever remember it, the Summer When Everyone We Know Got Married), I’ve found my mind naturally drifting back to my own engagement—and the whirlwind of activity in the months that followed. It was exciting—thrilling, really—to be planning and preparing for the new life I’d be sharing with my beautiful bride-to-be.
During premarital counseling, Mary and I were assigned to find five couples whose marriages we admired and solicit their advice. The minister who was counseling us also gave us a sealed envelope containing what he called “a couple predictions” and told us to open it when we’d completed the exercise.
It was a couple months later when we finally did open the envelope, and this is what we found:
1. This is going to be a profitable and fun exercise.
2. It’s going to be hard to find five couples.
He was right. We agonized for quite a while over which couples to ask, and we quickly found that, although we both knew a lot of people we respected and loved, there were fewer marriages we could both look at and say, “That one. I want to have a marriage like that one.”
Mary and I learned a lot from that assignment, and we’ve learned even more in the four and a half years we’ve been married. With all the engagements and weddings cropping up this summer, now seemed as good a time as any to share a few of those lessons with you all. I hope you’ll feel free to comment below and share some of the lessons you’ve learned as well!
1. The best advice has already been given
Marital advice is easy to find. There are shelves and shelves of books dedicated to the subject at your local bookstore. There are newspaper columns and magazine features and websites that exist to discuss the topic at length. Every Tom, Dick, and Jane who has ever been married (and many who haven’t) has an opinion on marriage, and they’re often happy to share it. (I can only be so tongue-in-cheek about all this since, after all, here I am adding my own two cents to an already vast ocean of pennies.)
But the fact is, the best marital advice was given a long time ago, and it’s preserved in the pages of your Bible. It also tends to be the most difficult advice to follow consistently:
Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Love. Respect. It sounds so simple, so basic, and yet in so many ways, it’s the most difficult aspect of marriage. We live in a world where women are idolized as empty-headed sex objects and husbands are portrayed as bumbling idiots incapable of tying their own shoes without assistance.
That’s not love. That’s not respect. Satan’s world laughs at those qualities—at least the way they’re presented in the Bible. And when Paul talks about wives who “submit to [their] own husbands, as to the Lord” and husbands who “love [their] wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:22, 25), that laughter turns into mockery. Those ideas are old and antiquated, people will say. They’re sexist. They have no place in the modern world.
Those people are dead wrong. God created men and women, and He created marriage, and He designed it to work under a specific set of conditions. We can ignore those conditions at our own risk—and if we do, our marriage will suffer for it.
Still, even knowing all that, Paul’s admonition is hard to get right all the time. I love my wife dearly, but do I really love her the way Christ loves the Church? Can I even comprehend that level of love? Do I express it in a way that means something to Mary? No matter my answers, there’s always room for improvement. Wives, you have a similar set of questions to grapple with when it comes to respecting your husband.
You might be wondering why God chose to emphasize a different action for each spouse. Surely the husband needs love from the wife, doesn’t he? And surely the wife needs respect from the husband, doesn’t she?
It’s true. They do. But in my experience, Paul lists the quality each spouse needs the most. When I know Mary respects me as the leader of our marriage, I’m ready to take on the world—and when Mary knows I love her, she’s prepared to follow my lead and take it on with me.
It really is as simple—and as complicated—as that. Husbands, love your wives. Wives, respect your husbands. And the corollary to that piece of advice is that your focus needs to be on your responsibility. Husbands, we’re not doing ourselves any favors if we spend our time insisting that our wives respect us—but the more we show Christ-like love to them, the more inclined they’ll be to respond with Church-like respect and submission. Wives, the reverse is also true. It’s a beautiful two-way street God hardwired into marriage—the more you focus on your responsibility, the easier it is for your spouse to follow theirs.
2. Marriage requires you to learn new languages
You don’t think the same way your spouse does. Truly. Even when you share the same opinions, and even when those opinions are based on identical principles and values, you do not think the same way your spouse does. The actual thought process is different, and understanding that fact will save you a lot of trouble down the line.
Here’s Mark Gungor explaining some of the key differences:
There are some sweeping generalizations there, and your mileage may vary, but to this day I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone do a better job. It’s funny, but it’s not a joke. We are wired differently. Mary and I don’t think the same way. That’s such an important thing for both of us to understand. Normally it’s a non-issue—we both say what we mean, we communicate well, and we tend to end up with the same conclusions.
The problems start when we make the mistake of assuming we know why the other said, did, or thought something. We assume we can reverse-engineer the thought process, and we’re almost always wrong. We can look at the same subject from entirely different angles, and sometimes we even use the same words to mean entirely different things. Over time, all those incorrect assumptions can add up to hurt feelings and bewildering discussions—all of which could have been avoided. When in doubt, ask for clarification. When not in doubt, it’s usually a good idea to ask anyway.
There are some other languages worth considering, too: the love languages. That’s a concept that’s been gaining more and more momentum in recent years, and it’s as straightforward as it is important: We each give and receive love in different ways. Some of us get more out of a gift than a kind word, while others prefer a thoughtful act of service over cuddle time. The most valuable insight here is that we tend to express love to others in the language we value most, and that is a terrible idea.
Figure out the love language your spouse uses, and express love that way. That might mean cuddling on the couch is more important to your spouse than vacuuming the house—or it might mean the exact opposite! The more you learn to speak your spouse’s love language, the more likely your marriage is to blossom and grow.
3. Haters gonna hate
It’s inevitable—when people hear you’re getting married (or that you’re newly married), they’re going to have opinions. And they’re going to want to share them. Sometimes this is a great thing! There are a lot of people out there with a lot of valuable insight into marriage, and you stand to gain a lot from listening to them. But sometimes it’s a sad and frustrating thing, and this point is more about that.
Here’s what I wish I knew when Mary and I first got engaged, and I’ll share it here in case it proves helpful to you, too:
There are people out there who get a kick out of telling you how awful marriage is. They’ll make the typical ball and chain jokes; they’ll warn you about how stupid husbands can be or about how demanding wives can be. They’ll be sure to let you know how terrible the first year of marriage is—and if you somehow make it through that year still holding hands, they’ll look at you with pity and tell you that you’re still newlyweds; just wait until the honeymoon phase is over. Then you’ll see.
I don’t know what motivates these people. I don’t know why they get such pleasure from acting as harbingers of disillusionment, but I do know this:
You’re going to run into these people. There’s nothing you can do about it. And there’s no way to change their minds, because they have experience. They know. You’re just a poor, naïve soul, and disaster is looming right around the corner.
You don’t have to argue with these people. You can listen to them prognosticate and you can even smile politely while they do, but know in your heart that they are wrong.
Now, is marriage hard? Oh, absolutely. Even on the best of days, marriage means sharing your life with someone who isn’t you, and that means you’ll be doing a lot of learning and growing. It’s not always going to be comfortable. You’re going to have difficult days, weeks—maybe even months. You’re going to cry. You’re going to be angry. You’re going to be confused and scared and all sorts of other fun emotions, but you know what?
It’s worth it. It is absolutely, 100%, unreservedly worth it. I get to wake up every day beside my best friend, and every day is an opportunity to grow more in sync with each other and with God. Mary has helped me to grow in ways I never imagined possible—ways I never even know I needed to grow—and I’m a better man today because of her.
To be fair, marriage has the potential to be miserable if you enter into it flippantly, for the wrong reasons, with unrealistic expectations, or without really knowing who you’re marrying. There are miserable marriages out there, and there are a lot of divorces, too, and I’m just a guy with four years of marriage under my belt. What do I know?
Not much—except that a happy marriage is possible. That it can be done. I know because I’ve seen couples nearing their 50th anniversary who still act like newlyweds, and I’ve seen couples in difficult marriages put in the effort and make it work. I know because God instituted it as a blessing (Genesis 2:18), and because God instructs husbands to “rejoice with the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). There will always be naysayers, but don’t let them get to you.
When you enter into it with the right person for the right reasons, marriage is awesome.
Until next time,