This summer my husband and I officially began working on our 10th year of marriage. In some ways I am amazed because I still feel like the newlywed 21-year-old returning home from the dream-like honeymoon with her husband, ready to take on the world! In other ways, that life feels like ages ago. When I was 21, I thought my marriage was fireproof. No matter what the situation, we would prevail because…well, we loved each other and were committed to our marriage!
Fast forward nearly 10 years’ worth of trials. I would say we’ve certainly been through a bit—what decade-long marriage hasn’t? We live in a messy world, and we are all affected in specific and unique ways by others’ sin and our own sinful tendencies. However, my husband and I would both agree that the last two years have been especially difficult, marked by trials and sufferings. I do not say this to incite pity; I believe we all go through seasons, and for us the last few years have been a season of desert-wandering, pits, and trials.
During this past season I have come to realize that my early, fresh-eyed, dreamy view of my marriage was beautifully naïve. I’m so thankful I was raised in a home where divorce was never an option. However, I’ve also come to realize that no marriage is safe from the devastating effects of living in a fallen world, including my own marriage.
When we experience inevitable trials of life, it can have one of two possible effects: it either works to conform us to image of Christ (transforming into the best, or truest version of who we can be—Romans 5:3-4) or it burns us into a lesser version of ourselves. Hardships, sicknesses, unexpected diagnoses, financial burdens. They serve as a type of baptism by fire in our lives. The nature of heat either purifies an object or burns it to ashes. So in our marriages, trials have the power to either burn us or make us a stronger unity.
Over the last few years my husband and I have had to face our fair share of difficulties and trials. When we first found out our children would face this world with special needs, we were acutely aware that the statistics regarding divorce in special-needs families is not particularly encouraging. We both knew if we were going to have the family God wants for us, we needed to stick together.
We have come to view our marriage as something to protect aggressively, sticking to an offense-based approach verses a defense-based approach when difficulties come up. We certainly do not have everything figured out, I do believe we have some practical and realistic strategies when it comes to protecting our marriage that—if current statistics are accurate—helps us keep a better than average marriage even in the middle of hardships and trials. Obviously at the foundation of these practices is a commitment to our marriage and each other, but in our near decade of experience I’ve come to believe that a truly successful marriage requires more than just internal commitment.
We’ve found practical ways that help us live out our marriage vows for better or worse, sickness or health, richer or poorer.
- Make Self-Care a Priority. In marriage and family life it’s amazing how many different hats you are required to wear! You go hard and long until one morning you no longer recognize the woman in the mirror. Remember that before you are a wife, a supporter, a mother, a caregiver, or any other given title, you are you! An individual person! You are an essential part of your marriage. Certainly godly selflessness is required in a marriage relationship, but there is a distinction between selflessness and self-neglect. Selflessness fills our spirit and reflects the beauty of the fruits of the Spirit; self-neglect suffocates the soul, making you feel lost and aimless. Practicing self-care may look different for each woman, but without it you may not be capable of maintaining a vibrant and healthy marriage.
- Value and Appreciate Personal Identity. I knew my husband and I had different personalities when we got married, but I don’t think I really learned to appreciate what that meant for quite a while! I personally love the Myers-Briggs personality types because it helps clarify and specify how different people “tick” (shout out to all my fellow ESFP’s out there!). In difficult trials, you need people with different strengths. You certainly don’t want to give people tasks which are poorly suited to their strengths and weaknesses. In my marriage, understanding our own unique personalities helped us better plan to utilize and play to each other’s strengths and not our weaknesses.
- Figure out How Your Spouse Sends and Receives Love. Call it a love language, call it whatever you want, but my near decade of experience has led me to believe that every single person gives and receives love in a specific way. My husband and I are very different in how we give and receive love. Quite inconveniently, we did not enter the marriage automatically “speaking the same language.” When you or your spouse feels unloved, your marriage will suffer. It’s really that simple. We found in our own marriage there have been times when our relationship was suffering unnecessarily because one or both of us felt unloved when really our “I love you” messages were just getting lost in translation. Your marriage is worth investing in. Take the time to discover how your husband receives love and then tell him regularly that you love him.
- Make Respite a Priority. This is a simple yet absolutely necessary point when you are going through trials and difficult times as a couple. In whatever way that is realistic and financially viable, find time to regroup and reconnect as a couple. Respite is often overlooked and sacrificed in the name of “family” or “finances” or countless other excuses, but the truth is no warrior can fight an unending battle. During times of trials and difficulties, respite is often the last thing we feel we deserve or can afford, but valuing and prioritizing respite allows you to be a stronger and more united entity. Respite as a priority puts the marriage’s long-term health in perspective and establishes habits that will ultimately protect your marriage from burnout and isolation.
- Refuse to Play the Comparison Game. When you are deep in the throes of difficulties, there will be times when others’ fortunes seem to be blaring as loudly as your misfortunes. It will feel unfair. It will hurt. However, I urge you to wage war with your own thoughts, taking every thought captive. Refuse to allow your mind to wonder to the greener-grasses of Joe and Susie Smith’s marriage. Remember that our enemy, the devil, is a liar. No marriage is without issues and you cannot allow the ruse of a perfect marriage to keep you from thriving in the messy, human, loving relationship you have the potential to enjoy with your spouse. The comparison game trades reality for fantasy, the truth for a lie, and ultimately robs joy away from your marriage.
Finally, it should always be noted that no marriage can survive without an incredible amount of grace. Oh sisters do we need grace! Books and books could be written about this one point, but the bottom line is that, as Christians, we have already experienced God’s beautiful and compelling grace when He redeemed and restored us. Grace is the fresh oxygen that keeps a marriage alive. Grace can never be underestimated. It can never be overused. It can never be over-appreciated. May we give grace in our marriages as freely as it has been given to us.
We want to hear from you! What is your favorite piece of marriage advice you’ve received, OR what is one way you have worked to nurture your own marriage? Please leave your comments below!