When Mark and I first met and fell in love, we were walking on clouds. All it took was one look from the other and we tingled from the ends of our hair to the tips of our toes. We talked for hours about everything and about nothing. Every moment together felt like a fairy tale. So, it didn’t take us long to decide that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.
But honestly, when we said “I do” all those years ago, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Don’t get me wrong, getting married was (and still is) one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. But let me tell you, what marriage meant to that starry-eyed bride has changed over the past 39 years. I’ve learned a lot about marriage during that time — some of it the hard way!
I no longer think of marriage in surface-level terms like “happily ever after.” (Even though I am very happy to be married to Mark.) Because, just as I have grown and matured over time, my ideas about what makes a good marriage have also deepened.
Here’s what marriage means to me now.
Marriage Means More Than Just “Being in Love”
One thing Mark and I often hear from the couples we coach is that they “aren’t in love anymore.” And we get it. We’ve been there. We know what it’s like to lose that loving feeling.
But it’s important to remember this: Feelings and emotions — including love — come and go. That’s a normal part of any relationship. Think about it. Even in your relationships with siblings, parents, and friends, you have periods when you feel closer to them and times when you feel further away. The same holds true in your marriage. There will be times when you’ll feel close to your spouse and the feelings of love are strong. There will be other times when emotions are strained and the feelings of love lessen. But here’s the key. Love is not just a feeling. It’s also a choice. In fact, we like to say that love is making one Christ-centered decision after another.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should accept a loveless marriage. When distance starts to edge its way between you and your spouse, it’s time for action. Learn to be intentional about reconnecting. You’ll find, more often than not, that the loving feelings will increase as your loving actions do. So, roll up your sleeves and put on your boots.
Marriage Means Lacing Up Your Work Boots
Like most things worth having, a good marriage takes hard work. It requires large investments of time, money, and energy. You can’t set your marriage to “autopilot” and hope for the best. Not if you want it to stand the test of time.
If you want a marriage that goes the distance, you have to be intentional.
Intentionally thoughtful, intentionally selfless. Intentionally generous, intentionally patient. Intentionally humble, intentionally forgiving.
And all of that intentionality takes work.
The truth is, no one starts this journey knowing how to be married. We all understand that we should love, honor, and cherish each other. But it’s hard to know what that looks like in the day-to-day.
So, seek advice from other married couples. Go to a marriage seminar at your church. Learn your spouse’s love languages. Keep a date night on the calendar. Take vacations alone. Talk to one another when you’d rather zone out. Be generous with kind words. Help without being asked.
Do the work. Because every deposit you make into your marriage is worth the effort. And it pays dividends, not just to you and your spouse, but also to your children and your grandchildren.
Marriage Means Accepting Each Other’s Differences
When Mark and I were dating, we were intrigued by each other’s differences. But it didn’t take long for those differences to cause conflict once we were married. It took us a while to realize that we weren’t supposed to try to change each other. Instead, we needed to learn to accept our differences.
For example, Mark is an extrovert. That means he is emotionally refueled and recharged by being around others. He loves parties and double dates. I’m an introvert. I need time alone to refuel and recharge. I also prefer one-on-one conversations as opposed to group discussions. As you can imagine, this led to plenty of conflicts.
Mark would get his feelings hurt when he came home from work and I asked him to watch the kids so I could have some alone time. He felt rejected because I didn’t want to spend time with him right away. On the other side of things, Mark would often want to invite other couples along on our date nights. He wanted us to have a fun night out with friends. Then it was my turn to feel rejected because I wanted to spend one-on-one time with Mark.
But once we understood that we operated differently, we could step into each others’ shoes. We could offer grace and compassion. We realized that if we compromised — and planned our schedules with the other in mind — we could each get what we needed. Now, we build in alone time for me and time with friends for Mark. That way neither of us is zapped of our energy, and we don’t have to feel rejected anymore. We’ve taken the time to understand how the other works and made allowances.
A good marriage requires us to understand our God-given differences, accept them, and even learn to appreciate them!
Marriage Means Communicating with Kindness
Everyone knows that communication is important for a good marriage, but not many of us are born knowing how to get it right. And in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we often rush our communication and make bad habits.
We talk about schedules and what to eat, but we neglect deeper conversations. We make snide remarks instead of speaking honestly and directly about our feelings. We roll our eyes. We use harsh or exasperated tones. We criticize and complain. Sometimes we sulk and give the silent treatment. None of these forms of communication are life-giving. Instead, they’re disrespectful and unkind, and, if left unchecked, they will suck the life from your marriage.
- If you recognize any of these bad habits in yourself, make a point to work on them.
- If you’re rushing conversations, slow down.
- If you’re being sarcastic, learn to speak openly about your feelings without trying to hurt or wound your spouse.
- If you’re using a harsh or exasperated tone, pull your emotions back and speak to your spouse in a respectful way.
Good communication habits are skills that can be learned. It takes time and practice to replace bad habits with good ones, but it’s worth it to show your spouse that you respect and care about them.
Marriage Means Learning to Listen Well
Listening well means listening to understand, not listening to react — a.k.a. argue, debate, or defend a point. When we’re in reactive listening mode, we often miss the heart of what our spouse is trying to say to us. James 1:19 puts it like this, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” And Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”
So, instead of listening to react, start practicing reflective listening. This is when you listen to your spouse, and in an effort to understand them, you repeat back what you’ve heard them say (in your own words). Then you ask if you understood them right. We laugh and say this is the fast-food method of communication, because it’s similar to what happens when you place an order in a drive-thru. But reflective listening is an invaluable tool to improve your conversations. It allows your spouse to feel heard, and it lessens the likelihood of misunderstandings.
Another important thing to remember is that listening involves more than just your ears. Listening involves your eyes, your body language, and your heart.
Give your spouse your full attention when they’re speaking. Put your devices down. Make eye contact. Lean in. Make it a priority to want to understand your spouse. And allow your heart to hear what theirs is saying. As you do, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your connection will deepen.
Marriage Means Expecting Imperfections
What we expect marriage to be and what it actually looks like are often very different. It’s important to accept that your marriage won’t always be perfect because it’s made up of two imperfect people. In fact, in our No More Perfect Marriagesbook we like to say, “A real marriage isn’t perfect. A real marriage is two people being perfected.”
Unrealistic expectations actually cause discontentment. When you’re disappointed day in and day out in a marriage, you become discontent, disillusioned, and eventually disconnected.
Holding onto unrealistic expectations of your spouse and your marriage will only set you up for heartbreak. No one gets it right all the time. So as you and your spouse navigate differences and bump into one another’s imperfections, offer grace and forgiveness.
Marriage Means Apologies and Do-Overs
It can be hard to admit when you’re wrong. It can be even harder to forgive your spouse when they’ve wronged you in some way. But marriage requires apologies and forgiveness.
Without humbling yourself and admitting when you’re wrong, you can’t establish safety and trust in your relationship. A true apology is one of the greatest gifts you can offer your spouse. When you admit that you’ve hurt them and ask for forgiveness, it validates their emotions and gives them the closure they need to move forward.
And when your spouse asks for your forgiveness, be quick to give it. Giving forgiveness allows true healing to take place in your heart and theirs.
Marriage Means Asking for Help When You Need It
Some conflicts are hard to resolve on your own. Never be afraid to get outside help from a pastor or marriage counselor when you need it. Mark and I saw the value of counseling early in our marriage and sought help on several occasions. Our counselors helped us identify the root causes of issues that we couldn’t recognize on our own. And they helped us learn the skills we needed to overcome them.
If you have a good marriage, coaching or counseling can help you stay healthy. If your marriage is broken, outside help can help you mend it. If you’re interested in learning more about the marriage coaching Mark and I offer, you can find out more about that here.
Marriage Means a Lifetime of Learning to Love
Everyone imagines a lifetime of love when they walk down the aisle. But it’s easy to forget that love doesn’t always look like holding hands and swapping kisses. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 tells us, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
So, sometimes love looks like being patient when you’re frustrated with your spouse. Sometimes it looks like putting your spouse’s needs ahead of your own.
For us, it looked like me forgiving Mark’s infidelity. And it looked like Mark shaving his head in solidarity with me as I went through chemo for breast cancer. But no matter what it looks like, I can tell you this with absolute certainty: A lifetime of love is worth it.
But we most certainly can’t love like we should if we don’t depend on God.
Marriage Means Depending on God
There have been countless times that God has come through for me and Mark. There are so many things in marriage (and life in general) that we couldn’t have done in our own strength. But with God, they were possible.
He’s shown us how to have joy and peace in our marriage. He’s given us the wisdom to raise our children. And he’s given us a ministry that has turned our tribulations into triumphs for His purposes.
So, learn to lean on God. Let him lead and guide you. He will give you wisdom when you’re confused. He will fill your tank when it’s empty. He will give you peace in the middle of chaos.
To learn more about marriage, listen to this No More Perfect Podcast episode where my husband and I talk about the slow fades in marriage you need to know about and stop from happening.
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