I have a hard time being visionary. It’s difficult for me to imagine what might be, especially if it’s not something I’ve done before. Much of my life has felt reactionary and I entered into marriage with the same idea. I guess I hoped for the best, but wasn’t sure what led some people to a 25th anniversary celebration and what led others to a lawyer’s office for divorce. As my 16th wedding anniversary approaches and I think about how we got here, I can look back and see ways we’ve been intentional. Our marriage is solid and happy and is a source of great joy in my life. Here are some of things that got us here.
- Open communication – There’s no place for passive-aggressiveness in our marriage. If Bryan asks what’s wrong and I say nothing, then I better mean nothing. We don’t do “I’m fine,” all the while thinking “I’m not fine; why aren’t you figuring it out?” This one took me a long time to learn but it might be the most beneficial one on the list. This idea forces us to do awkward on a daily basis. It has led to numerous uncomfortable conversations that were met with compassion and ended with a deeper understanding of each other’s needs. I’m not always brave enough to speak up in the moment so let me share a trick with you: the dark makes me brave. When we are lying in bed in the dark I sometimes find the courage I couldn’t find during the day to address an issue. Or when we’re in the car sitting shoulder-to-shoulder I find it easier than face-to-face. However you do it, you’ve got to just grow a pair and do it if you want your relationship to be deeper and more honest than it was yesterday. Don’t hear me wrong; I don’t always share a hurt and then B apologizes. There are definitely times when my complaint is met with “Ok, but I did that because…” This isn’t an idea of “let me share whatever I want and you make it better.” It’s only in having the conversation where we can resolve an issue. Sometimes it’s met with an apology, sometimes it’s met with an explanation. Either way, it’s talked about until we are both at a level of deeper understanding.
- Clear expectations – This one died a slow, painful death for me. This habit held on for a long time and it took my therapist saying, “If you want him to do or say something in particular, you have to tell him.” I hated that advice and fired her instantly. I absolutely had the illusion that when I had a husband it would be all chick-flick romance all the time. Turns out he didn’t know I wanted him to make me coffee every morning until I told him that I wanted him to make me coffee every morning. So I rehired my therapist and asked her how to do this. I didn’t want to tell him what I wanted because I was afraid it wouldn’t be as special if I asked for it. She assured me that while the first time, and maybe even the second and third time it will feel like he’s doing it out of the obligation of me asking, but because he loves me and wants to make me happy he will continue the things he knows I want. It’s true. Turns out that the pot of coffee I asked him to make is just as delicious as the coffee he made just because he knew I would want some. When my friends say they are jealous of the things he does for me, my response is “Well, I asked him to.” I don’t have to do things for attention or figure out how to manipulate him into meeting my needs; I simply ask. (Maybe not simply. It is awkward, but so worth it in the end!)
- Knowing Goodwill – In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” he presents some research that got to the heart of how couples in a relationship interact and the number one indicator of the health of the relationship is whether or not contempt is present. Couples that can go the long haul do not harbor contempt. They believe the best and believe that their partner is a goodwill person who genuinely has the other’s best interest at heart. As we settled into this marriage, I had to continually remind myself that Bryan is on my side; we are on the same team. This is why it’s so important to not bury things and to have that open communication. When I haven’t shared a need but yet expect him to meet it, I quickly spiral into questioning my worth, questioning his feelings for me, and jump to the assumption that he must not like me anymore or else he would... But I don’t go there anymore because those lies have no place in our marriage. He is for me and more importantly, he is for US, and that’s the truth I choose to live in day in and day out.
- Community – We need to be in community with other couples. I have learned so much about how to be a good wife by watching how my friends interact with their husbands. We did this early on in our marriage, not even intentionally, and it paid dividends in our relationship. It is also important for us to continue to be out and about with other couples, making memories together. I have my girlfriends, whom I dearly love and treasure my time with, but we also have couple friends who have become so important to the health of our marriage. It’s encouraging to be with people who bring out a side of us we don’t always see when we only see each other. I love to stand by and listen when someone asks Bryan a question about his work. He is brilliant and articulate and passionate, and those are traits I sometimes miss when it’s just us in our every day work-from-home life. He’s funny, caring, and genuine and he loves his friends deeply. I am a better wife when I see those things shine through as we interact with other couples. I have a deeper appreciation for him when I watch how our friends respect him and regard him as special.
If you were hoping for a short check-list, I can’t help you. Don’t misread my bullets and assume that I have it all figured out. I was not a fun person to be married to for the first several years of our marriage. I brought lots of baggage and left to my own devices I would have been leading the charge toward the biggest train wreck of my life. These lessons were neither quick nor easy. They came from hard work, difficult conversations, awkward feelings, and many failed attempts. BUT--I got to a place where I decided that if I wanted to be better, I needed to do better. I’m a work in progress but I’m thankful for my husband who has stuck by and continued to draw out the good in me that I’m convinced only he could see. These ideas, along with lots of prayer and seeking Christ first always, have helped firm up the foundation of our marriage. As we celebrate 16 years this Friday, I am more in love with Bryan than ever before. And I like him. And I like who I am with him and who I am because of him. And I’m certain the best is yet to come.