Jake and I have been together for half of my life. I have almost reached the point, where my memories of life before him don’t really exist. Well, I have childhood memories, of course, but comparatively, I have very few of life before him. I was 15 years old when he asked me to be his girlfriend. We were married on June 14, exactly five years after our very first date. This month marks our 10 year anniversary. I often think that in our 10 years, we have been through more, climbed over steeper mountains, and overcame more obstacles the most marriages face in 50 years. I’m pretty stinkin’ proud of the fact that we have not only made it through these struggles, but we’ve thrived and grown.
I have noticed as the years tick in our marriage that more and more friends and family are age are starting to get divorced. Don’t read that as judgy – it’s just sad and it’s just true. No matter how it happens, it is always sad when a marriage ends. In fact, just the other day I was scrolling through Facebook and a friend and that was she was newly engaged. It occurred to me that I thought she was already married, and sure enough, in the midst of our grief and losing Mira she had separated from her husband. I felt a bit self-centered, that perhaps in my own sadness I had not noticed her going through her own loss. While I was excited for her new chapter in life, deep down, I was heartbroken for her for what she had gone through. I am grateful for redemption and renewal and that there was happiness to be found after such darkness. I was reminded once again how quickly and quietly cracks in marriages can begin to break apart the foundation of relationships that are supposed to last a lifetime. It made me that much more thankful that Jake and I l have survived together through the types of losses and hurts that can often crumble a marriage. I started thinking about what makes us different. I mean, look at divorce rates and then look at the number of weddings you attend… it is sadly going to happen to someone. How do you prevent it from being you? Why not us, instead of them? Lord knows we’ve been through the fire. We were dating and engaged so very young. The very thought of my own daughter getting engaged at 17 horrifies me. Life has thrown us a lot of strife, and it is all too easy to see how even in Christian marriages, the strife breaks marriages apart.
I started making a list of things that have made our marriage so sweet over the last decade. I so look forward to the day when I can say we’ve been married two decades! Adding years to our marriage is one of the most exciting parts of growing old to me. I am by no means a marriage expert at this point in my life, but I do have a sense of accomplishment that our love has flourished in more difficulty and trauma than many marriages endure.
What’s made us successful so far? These are our top five strategies:
- Active Membership in Church
Going to church regularly has been a key strategy in the longevity of our marriage, I believe it will be for all of our lives. Going to church doesn’t necessarily mean that your marriage will last, nor do I think Church automatically saves a marriage that is struggling, but I do think it keeps you focused on the important things. It provides consistency, accountability, and community. I remember searching every Sunday for 9 straight months looking for the right church. I am so glad we didn’t give up the search and fall out of regular attendance.
- Focusing on Effective Communication
Communication is also key. And Jake and I both tend to nerd out about being good, effective communicators. When we were teens, we used to listen to this CD set when we would drive around in Jake’s old Dodge. It was by Chip Ingram from Focus on the Family, and it talked about fighting fair in marriage. Yes, we were nerdy then too. We internalized so much from those CDs. One thing, in particular, is saying statements with I feel rather than You always. By doing this, we can share how things make us feel. It is so much easier to listen to someone who is honestly telling you what they feel than it is to hear offensive generalizations about yourself. It trained us to speak from the heart without being accusational, and it often means we can clarify intentions and fix problems at the root.
3. Being a Helpmate
Infertility, miscarriage, and the loss of a child all have proven to have negative impacts on marriage. Grieving differently and at different paces can cause huge chasms between husbands and wives, and here we have endured all three. The financial strain of treatments and the costs and complexity of adoption are stressful too. Yet, these things have managed to bring us to one another. We are careful to be mindful and watchful of those telltale signs that the other is struggling. We try to fill the valleys and help one another, even in while we trudge through our own valley. Christ loved His Bride enough to die for her, and the Bride honors and obeys and dies to self. We put one another before ourselves, even when it is the hardest. We strive not only to help each other emotionally, but we seek to out serve one another when it comes to household chores and daily tasks. He packs my lunch every single day, and I fold his laundry. It works well.
- Setting Personal Rules and Guardrails
We attained this wisdom through close observation of the world around us, and a little trial and error. This is definitely not an area of perfection, but something we’ve made huge growth in. Looking back, you can see potentially stupid mistakes in a relationship. Often, it’s hard to see those mistakes at the moment. For that reason, Jake and I have some personal rules we’ve set as guardrails to keep us from making wrong turns before there’s ever even an opportunity. First of all, we don’t ride in the car or go somewhere alone with a person of the opposite sex, unless there is prior communication and substantial reason. Also, we never speak poorly about one another front of other people. Ever. We don’t engage in husband-bashing or wife-whining, and we take our concerns about one another to one another in private. Keeping a united front and close lock and key on our relationship helps keep out the wolves.
- Seeking Wisdom through Prayer
Lastly, we pray for one another. As teachers, we’re both pretty reflective, analytical individuals, and so we are constantly picking apart the dynamics of our relationship, seeking wisdom from God in how to keep our marriage thriving. We pray for guidance, forgiveness, strength, and safety, and that we are able to stay closely aligned to His will for us, and we lay in bed at night, regularly sharing what God has laid on our heart.
I am incredibly blessed that God chose to bless me abundantly in the department of marriage. He picked His best, the cream of the crop, and set him aside for me. Reaching this milestone serves as a reminder to me to keep focused on the things we’ve done to help keep our marriage so happy, and also to keep my eyes open for those who may be struggling and keep them in fervent prayer.
Losing Mira, I think, showed us more than anything, that each and every moment together is a gift. It’s funny how I remember conversations during our premarital counseling sessions, saying the right answers to the questions, things like serving one another in love and praying for one another, yet I had no idea how devastatingly, mind-bogglingly true those answers are. The Bible says fire refines gold. I am grateful for the fires of our marriage, and that though even the hottest, most painful flames our marriage, like the gold in our wedding bands, continues to shine.
(Funny afterthought… we recently switched our gold bands to these silicone bands we got on Amazon… Because I might have broke my ring three times already… Life’s hard, ya know.)