Jack Johnson sings “Banana Pancakes” in the background and he fries the eggs and sausage in a pan. At the table, I work the small pieces of a red dress into the puzzle’s framework and the hound wags his tail to be let out. The dog is our only company this morning which is quite the change from the five children who usually lay siege to our fortress. The good aunt whisked them away for the weekend providing opportunity to relish our eleventh year of matrimony. Gratitude and contentment spread across my face and I take note… in fact, to commemorate our journey together I take eleven.
1. A strong marriage takes more than two people. It takes good support and a measure of divine intervention. When times get hard, marriage can get toxic. We all have to wash off the residue from living life together. Usually that means talking with someone and processing through our hurts and fears. When you only do that with your spouse it’s like trying to bathe in your drinking water. Routine prayer and people who will defend you and your marriage are essential to maintaining a healthy union.
2. Don’t define things by their weakness- not yourself, not your spouse, not your marriage. Every thing on this planet is limited and that doesn’t mean it’s broken. Keep inventory of the strengths and build onto those. We’re all in process.
3. Time is of the essence. Problems usually don’t form in a moment and they’re not likely to be resolved in one either. Give it time- much like a river wearing a jagged stone smooth. Continuous, positive effort will eventually trump our sharp edges.
4. Time is of the essence. Don’t let days, weeks, and months go by without reconciliation. Don’t let hurt, bitterness or apathy fester. Take time and take stock. Go to the place of pain before it gets covered up by life and hardens into much deeper hurt.
5. Be nice. Speak gently to each other. Don’t spend all your patience and professionalism on strangers only to turn around and be careless at home. Do little things for one another. Save your best for each other instead of the leftovers. Love is in the small things as much as the big and you can choose to pile up a bunch of little hurts or a bunch of little blessings. After a while either will carry a lot of weight.
6. Men and women are different. Begrudging your spouse’s differences is limiting yourself to your own perspectives and abilities. Differences make us better if we chose to be humble and patient in applying them. Common ground may be the context for building a life together but differences fill it out. Look for the value in what your spouse can bring through contrast instead of emphasizing the difficulty such things present.
7. Don’t make big decisions when you are tired, angry, hungry or isolated. Get a good meal, get some sleep, let it sit and come back to it. Most situations are not as dire as they seem.
8. Don’t expect your spouse to be everything. It is a suffocating expectation. Men need other men. Women need other women. The idea that a spouse is our all robs us of the freedom to each be what we need to be. A wife/husband is an amazing gift but they’re not made to be our everything. There is only One who can fill that order.
9. Keep dreaming. If life has become only about managing the present needs then it’s time to make a change. Marriage is a place for dreaming together, for setting goals and imagining. It is the union of adventure and promise. Let it breath. Let it dream.
10. Marriage takes maintenance. You can’t date once, forgive once, listen once, serve once, stand once. You have to purpose to love each day. Life is hard on commitments. It will run them into a ground, rust them out, tarnish them. If you want your marriage to thrive vigilance and tender care are the only way the get there. Find ways to make maintenance enjoyable (have budget conversations over dinner) and keep the end goal in perspective. It makes it the effort easier.
11. Laugh. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at the dumb things we do and the stories we sometimes tell ourselves. It disarms the disagreement. It makes small the mistake. We take ourselves to seriously and yes, marriage is hard. But it’s also fun. In the grand scheme of things we’re all still children and we’re just not going to get it right most of the time. Laugh and have grace for that. It will clean the soul and relieve the pressure.