6 years, 6 lessons

1. Protect each other’s limits

Something Kyle and I have been learning over the years is that we have different limits than others, including one another. This year particularly we have grown in applying that knowledge of each other’s limits. In not only acknowledging them but moving into an acceptance of them and then acting in a way that promotes and protects them. In letting our spouse draw their own boundaries and then helping to keep them.

More personally, for me to lovingly respect Kyle’s limits often means gladly and graciously cutting off a show to make sure he gets the sleep he needs. Or recognizing his signs of word fatigue and being willing to cut off a conversation and pick it up again later. For Kyle to loving respect my limits it often means gladly and graciously cutting work hours to make sure I get the rest and reprieve I need from home life. Or recognizing my signs of social fatigue and being willing to say no to a get together with friends and planning one for another time. We all have different capacities. And they matter. We have grown in seeing how failing to respect and protect those capacities can produce burn out and break down. Yet on the other hand, how fighting to respect and protect those capacities can produce health and wholeness.

2. Push each other’s limits

While we have seen the necessity of protecting limits we have also seen the benefit of pushing them. Like in all of marriage, promoting and protecting can create the kind of trust that is required for pushing. We are more likely to allow those who selflessly serve us to also stretch us. Serving does not shove. It does not obtrude or insist. It sees what is good for the other and it gently nudges and urges towards that end. It even reaches out a hand and walks to it together. We are finding, often by failure, that there is a way to serve your spouse based off the knowledge of how they are naturally wired to be yet also a way to push them based off who you know they can be and are still becoming.

Practically put, based off of my above examples, I sometimes stay at things longer than I want to and Kyle sometimes sleeps less than he prefers to. I’m in go-go mode more than is comfortable and he listens for longer than is natural. Sometimes we ask this limit pushing of one another with our words and other times we require it of one another with our actions. This kind of stretching and strengthening is being produced in us slowly and subtly. It is kindly and carefully pushing the line of our limit outward. It is increasing our capacity. It is helping us to flex a weak muscle. It is changing us and challenging us in ways we wouldn’t have been. And we are better because of it.

3. Don’t forget to look

I wrote a whole blog on this a few years ago so I’m just going to quote a part of it because after this year with more work hours, more commitments, and more kids this has never been more pertinent —

“There are three words that have the potential and power to bring some meaning in the mundane and some calm in the chaos. And mostly they have a way of re-connecting two people who are already one, but may feel miles apart… I see you. Behind the work clothes you put on every morning and behind that spit up filled t-shirt. I see you. Underneath loads of laundry and stacked up dishes. I see you. With a greeting at the door after a long day. I see you. When you watch with pride or cower in fear. I see you. Having a dance party in the kitchen or disciplining in the back room. I see you. With tired or tear filled eyes. With stretched or scarred skin. With a heavy or happy heart. I see you. Not just the ways you give and the things you do. But you. A person. My person.”

We are ever learning that marriage is about making the choice to re-see each other again and again and again.

4. Put it plainly

Even after many years with a person, it can feel uncomfortable to point blank say what we want. To quite literally spell it out. As in “I really want to spend intentional time with you tonight,” or “it would mean a lot if you would comment on my appearance more” or “it seems like you’re not pulling your weight around the house as much.” I may or may not have been known to even say “THE NOTE (you know that theoretical one that will be real some day) CAN LITERALLY SAY ‘I LOVE YOU, HAVE A GOOD DAY.’ THATS IT. THATS ALL.”

Sometimes spelling it out makes us feel pathetic. Pathetic that we care so much about seven actual words being written to us on a page and left before work but also pathetic that at this point I might as well have just done it for you and pretended it was from you. But the truth is that sometimes the best way to get from where we are to where we want to be is just to lay out the path plainly. Vague hint dropping doesn’t tend to build the best bridges. That doesn’t mean our spouse didn’t care enough to see what was on the other side, it just might mean that they didn’t quite know how to get you there on their own. Prompting and planning do not have to make things disingenuous. Therefore we can still gratefully and graciously receive them for what they are.

5. Schedule the things that matter

Kyle and I both tend to balk at the idea of being planners. As if being described as one is somehow an insult. But we’ve learned the hard way that whether it’s a date night out or a game night in, life doesn’t tend to do us the courtesy of interrupting itself to present a magical moment of deep marital connection. Moments, ones of investing and enjoying and resting, mostly seem to come from carving out time and then committing to it. From sinking calendars together and setting reminders. This boring and rigid thing called planning actually ends up producing an eager anticipation for the weekly routines and the monthly rhythms and the yearly traditions. For the late Friday nights and the slow Saturday mornings. For the folding of laundry together and the texts that say “let’s sit down tonight and check in with each other.” This year particularly it has looked like sitting down every Sunday night to talk about each day of the upcoming week. To try and pencil plans in according to priorities. And oh how I’ve come to look forward to those beautifully boring Sunday nights of planning and praying with my husband.

I think overall what I’m trying to say is that we’re still learning that relationships are just not as glamorous or spontaneous or romanticized as we like to think they are or should be. That it really takes ordinary people doing ordinary things. It’s mundane and adultish and slightly disappointing. But maybe extraordinary marriages are really just made up of lots of little ordinaries through the years. The little ordinaries that become extra ordinaries.

6. Time really is a good teacher

Recently a quote was shared with Kyle that says, “in marriage there are good years and bad years. This was a very good year.” As I’ve been thinking about the tension of time, particularly as it collides with marriage, I thought there really wasn’t an easier or better way to state it. Marriage is up and down, back and forth, round and round. It is not so much a steady climb or upward trajectory. After all, nothing in life is always and only moving in one set direction.

Yet I think there is another element to time that comes into play. It’s the reality that, in general, time really does change things. And us. I’ve always found it a bit disheartening when people offer advice and encouragement in the form of “it just takes time.” But I get. Because it’s true. Time does have its own unique way of helping and healing and strengthening. Time takes… time. We cannot speed it up. But on our 6th Anniversary I can say that Kyle and I have already been married for long enough to at least begin seeing that life together is full of reoccurrences. Reoccurrences that allow us to keep revising and keep messing up and then keep trying again.

Whether it’s painting a room, hosting a guest, having a baby, or planning for a birthday party… the more times we do something the easier it typically becomes. The twentieth time may not seem as exhilarating as the first, but it usually seems to feel richer and go smoother. Because time teaches some tricks of the trade. It allows us to see where we can bend and where they might break. It shows us how to come out next time and play better as a team. It reminds us what really matters. It allows us to step back and see how much we’ve grown and how far we’ve come. And then it gives us hope for how far we have yet to go.

Because time really does change things.

Marriage in real life

Marriage is waking up knowing you’re supposed to be mad at your spouse but not remembering why

Marriage is being able to claim that you didn’t drink all the milk because you left half a sip in the jug for them. You’re welcome

Marriage is taking turns wishing you ordered what the other person did while you’re out to eat

Marriage is being told to go half a second before the stop light even turns green

Marriage is realizing in the middle of your spouses most detailed play by play that you actually would have saved time by just watching it or listening to it or reading it, yourself

Marriage is creating secret social signs with each other, like the “it’s time to leave” signal

Marriage is forever arguing about which 7 minute route to the same place is fastest to take

Marriage is a lot of the same really important questions like “did you check the mail today?” or “what should we have for dinner tonight?” or “do you really need to do that right this very second?”

Marriage is waiting for someone else to cave first and take the overflowing garbage bag out

Marriage is yelling at your spouse with no words and lots of hands while they are talking on the phone and saying entirely the wrong thing

Marriage is realizing that you’re both not actually as young as you claim that the night is

Marriage is writing death threats on your boxes of left overs in fridge

Marriage is an ongoing thermostat battle

Marriage is pushing each other away from the sink because your mouth is going to explode if you don’t spit out your slobbery toothpaste this instant

Marriage is trying to remember who’s turn it is to get off the couch and grab the remote

Marriage is being told when your breath stinks but not when you’re going around smiling with an entire piece of broccoli stuck between your teeth

Marriage is being wrapped in a towel with soaking wet hair and how dare they assume you won’t be ready to leave the house in 5 minutes

Marriage is making the selfless choice to stomp down the hall and talk from the same room after 15 “I can’t hear you’s” back and forth from different parts of the house

Marriage is reassuring the other person two days before actually buying something, “I’m just looking for fun and we don’t have the money for it any way”

Marriage is being really proud about finding something yourself that is exactly where you told them it was in the first place

Marriage is taking turns asking the other person why they didn’t just hang the keys up where they go

Marriage is realizing that becoming one really just means always needing to use the toilet at the same time over and over again

Marriage is mostly like texting a business partner about appointments and money, but with cuter greetings

Marriage is expecting the other person to be really proud of you for getting all the dishes to fit in the dish washer

Marriage is being sick with the same thing but knowing that yours is always worse

Marriage is accusing the other person of moving something and then finding it and then realizing that oh maybe you did do that. And then forgetting to tell them who actually moved it

Marriage is shutting lots of drawers and cabinets and turning off lots of lights

Marriage is having the confidence in a group of people that if your spouse is there with you, you will never ever get a single detail wrong in the story you are telling

Marriage.

Sweet marriage.

4 years, 9 lessons

1. The nature of giving gifts

It seems that true gifts in marriage are often far less grandeur than we imagine them to be yet far more meaningful than we give them credit for. One of those unexpected gifts that we have discovered (especially as parents) is the gift of letting the other person leave in peace. It’s an act of sacrificial love to hold down the fort and say “Go! Work. Enjoy. Rest. With no guilt. We’re good here.” Being given the gift of leaving well enhances the gift of returning well. It’s good to study which ordinary gifts mean the most to our spouse, and then practice giving them when and how we can.

2. Keep asking the questions

Real life is a lot of doing the same things over and over again. I think marriage is too. And one of those things we’ve discovered is asking the same ol questions: how was your day? How are you? What do you think about this? These sort of every day questions have a way of continuing to say “I still care. And I care about your whole being (heart, mind, interests, concerns, etc)”

3. Remind them you need them

Even after 4 years, maybe especially after 4 years, there’s something so powerful about knowing you are still needed. To know you are needed means there is a special place that you fill. It means you bring something unique to the table that they often lack and are bettered by. But the best part of all is knowing that you’re not just needed for what you give, but solely who you are. The significance of receiving “I need you” beats the awkwardness of being the one to say it.

4. Remind yourself you don’t need them

Something I’m glad I was told is that even in light of all of the very best things we desire for our spouses to be, in the truest of senses, we don’t need them to be those things. It’s really good to want a loving and gentle and thoughtful and fill in your own blank, spouse. But if our spouses fail us in those ways, we do not have to come undone. For the believer, our deepest needs have been truly and fully met in Jesus. We do not have to lose the essence of who we are when our deepest human needs are not being met by another person. We are still whole.

5. Joke away your annoyances

A while back I heard this idea of lightheartedly picking on our spouse as a way to actually guard against seeds of resentment being subtly planted against them. The person who shared this (on a podcast) used the example of nicknaming her husband “Ogre.” This was due to his apparent inability not to clunk around loudly in the morning while the rest of the family sleeps. Of course this doesn’t mean there is not a place for confronting our spouses in the areas of needed growth. But, other times we need to just laugh a little and decide to nickname them. Because after all, no one can be mad at Shrek in the kitchen just doing his normal ogre thing.

6. Give them space to try and fail

Is it really possible for someone to “fail” at going grocery shopping, loading a dishwasher, or mowing a lawn? Probably not. But, to the other person who would have never purchased that item even though “it was an amazing deal”, it can sure feel like the one who did, failed. Or at the very least it can feel like they did it “wrong.” It’s clunky and hard and hilarious to merge a life with someone else. And not only live life with them, but in some senses let them live parts of it for you. Yet this past year especially we have seen how important of an aspect it is to give the other person space and trust to do certain things their own way, even if it’s very far from our own (obviously most sensible) way.

7. Keep first things first

I think this can be applied in a much broader sense, but as is the nature of these anniversary blogs, I mean it in a very every-day sort of way. One helpful way we’ve been told to think about this is “product vs procedure.” If the final product is a painted room, was it really worth it if the whole time we painted the room we gave each other the silent treatment? When we keep first things first we value unity, listening, respect, enjoyment, growth, etc as much as we do the destination itself. The result is much more satisfying when the relationship is not lost along the way to get there.

8. Like them, too

In my less-fond-of-Kyle moments, I’ve been known to quote the movie How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (definitely our most quoted movie in marriage)I love you Binky, but I don’t have to like you!” And the truth is, we don’t always like our spouse.. especially when they kill our love ferns. But in all seriousness, it’s really sweet to be reminded that we’re not only loved but also liked. Recently Kyle commented on a random Nat-ism, “I’ve always liked that about you!” My response was both “oh, I really do that, don’t I?” And “Aw, you like that about me?” Then we keep doing those things.

9. Knowing and being known

Kyle and I continue to grow in the knowledge of just how exposing and humbling being known is. Yet also just how comforting and freeing it is. Tim Keller sums up this idea in a beautiful way:

“To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

This knowing and being known doesn’t just happen in the context marriage. But, marriage gives us a unique taste of what it’s like to be both known and loved by the Creator of the universe. And in marriage too, this is something to continuously behold and to be held by.

Milk, messes, and marriage

Somehow marriage can tend to get a little lost in the midst of parenting.

And by somehow I mean at the end of the day when those keys jingle at the door and a big hug and warm greeting turns into “here— take him!”

Or when a conversation ends in one big “never mind!” because it couldn’t have possibly been important enough to continue after 6 times of being interrupted.

Or when watching a movie together actually means crashing on the couch.

And alas, when you do find yourself sitting across from each other at a fancy restaurant— surrounded by grown up people having grown up conversations— you somehow also find yourselves singing the praises of, or sharing concerns about, (wouldn’t you guess!) the kids.

While many can speak to this topic with much more experience and expertise than I, I wanted to share three words that have the potential and power to bring some meaning in the mundane and some calm in the chaos. And mostly they have a way of re-connecting two people who are already one, but may feel miles apart.

The words can be shown: making sure to give a quick goodbye kiss before rushing out the door, or meeting eyes and offering a quiet wink in a loud moment, or complimenting their looks on just an ordinary day. The words can also be uttered. Right there in the middle of the madness, three small words.

I see you…

Behind the work clothes you put on every morning and behind that spit up filled t-shirt. I see you.

Underneath loads of laundry and stacked up dishes. I see you.

With a greeting at the door after a long day. I see you.

When you watch with pride or cower in fear. I see you.

Having a dance party in the kitchen or disciplining in the back room. I see you.

With tired or tear filled eyes.

With stretched or scarred skin.

With a heavy or happy heart.

I see you.

Not just the ways you give and the things you do. But you. A person. My person.

The one I used to lay under the stars with. The one I danced with and dreamed with.

My favorite laugh, my greatest confidant, and my forever adventure partner.

Still the one.

Plus so much more that these years have given to you and made of you.

And when the kids are grown up and gone, it will still be you. The same you I’ve been seeing, or missing, all this time.

[Quote from one of my favorite shows, This Is Us, that captures this reality well]

You want to know why my marriage ended, Jack, hmm? Okay, for as long as I can remember I’ve woken up at 6:30 everyday and made Shelly coffee. Splash of milk, two sugars. I would make it, and bring it to her in bed. And she says that her day doesn’t even start until she’s got caffeine in her veins. And then one day, woke up, 6:30, like always. I made myself one, I just didn’t feel like making Shelly one. And the worst part is, she didn’t even notice. We stopped noticing each other, Jack. We stopped trying to make each other happy.

So we fight to keep noticing.
And trying.

Because marriage really is made up of these moments.

3 years, 8 lessons

As some of you might remember, last year I did a list of 13 lessons from year 2 of marriage. Once again this is not a list of things “mastered” but more things we are seeking to grow in or maybe have just failed miserably at.

After reflecting on another year (which is always such a sweet and good thing to do), here are 8 lessons that continued to stick out and come to mind:

1. We’re both broken

This year Kyle and I realized in new, humbling, and even liberating ways that we are both indeed, broken people. We have learned this reality should be met with confession and not concealment. We have also learned that we both have needs that are good and right and often even the same. But, in our brokenness, we start grasping for them to be met in our own selfish and side-ways ways. This should lead us primarily to empathy and understanding and not judgement or isolation.

2. We’re both redeemed

Even though we’re still broken beings, redemption in Christ changes everything. Including marriage. When I truly understand that God loves my husband, I can look at him and say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there I will look at your magnificence and say ‘I always knew you could be like this, I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!'” (Tim Keller)

3. Time matters

We have discovered that quality time typically doesn’t just happen on its own. The truth is, with or without kids, it is more about seizing the time than finding it. The time, in some form, is there. Whether early mornings or late nights, it’s there. Sometimes after a long day, it’s choosing to unwind and be mindless, together. Watch a show together, play cards together, or just sit and be together. 

4. Get inside each other’s worlds

Instead of resenting the thing that takes much of our spouses attention or time, we should let it have ours as well. We should ask them to teach us about it. Maybe this will mean their sports team becomes our sports team. Or maybe this will mean they sit down with us at our favorite coffee shop. Whatever the case, we don’t have to be clueless outsiders to their jobs and interests and hobbies.

5. God’s way is best

While these words might sound simplistically obvious to Christians or outdated and rigid to non Christians, when our friend spoke them to us this year, they were exactly the words we needed to hear in the moment we heard them. These words have continued to ring true time and time again when we have sat in the utter mess of trying to do marriage our own way.

6. Remember your spouse is for you

Walking with the confidence that your spouse is “for you” promotes trust and security. It is life giving and nourishing. A silly and simple example of this is that I love to take notes at church; but 99% of the time forget a pen. One Sunday, as if I was surprised by myself, I was aimlessly looking around for a pen. I looked over at Kyle who was holding one out for me and said he brought it for me. It hit me: he knows me. He brought a pen for me. He is for me. In both the big and seemingly insignificant moments we have to look for evidences of this truth.

7. Be for your spouse

Because we are human, we are not always going to perfectly be  for someone else. While it will not be perfectly or unfailingly, it can and should be strivingly. Without giving and receiving this powerful ingredient in marriage, we subtly start to see the other person as actually against us. We, then, naturally resort to guarding and defending ourselves. But a unique beauty of marriage is seen in being remembered by the very person we are forgetting ourselves for. We don’t have to watch our backs because the other person has them.

8. Listening to hear

This seems super simple. After all, the point of listening to someone else is to really hear them, right? Yet we have seen how easy it becomes to “listen” mostly for the sake of responding or assuming. Recently, Kyle and I had a conversation where the listener had to repeat back to the sharer what they heard them saying until the sharer felt they were accurately heard. There is freedom found here. Here, not where our spouse agrees with everything we say, but rather where we are heard and understood.