10 Things I’ve Learned in 20 Years of Marriage

10 Things I’ve Learned in 20 Years of Marriage

“We’re going to show the world how marriage is supposed to be done!”

We actually said this before we got married. Of course it was before we got married. Marriage itself has a way of humbling people.

And now we’re celebrating 20 years! Our slogan now might sound more like, “We know how marriage is not supposed to be done!”

Here are my top ten things that I have learned in 20 years of marriage.

  1. Be humble. In some ways I am a model American – proud and independent. My whole frame of reference from birth has been myself. Being married forced me to consider his point of view. So unnatural and uncomfortable! Impossible to imagine that there is another perspective on how to celebrate Christmas or what to do on a Friday night. Or, that our disagreement might be more easily resolved if I try to see it through his eyes.
  2. Slow down. This is an outflow and discipline of humility. My personality leans toward fast thinking, fast speaking, fast acting. It’s been awkward, but so helpful, to slow down those fast reactions. It’s hard to retract words that spew from reflexive anger. I even try to have a little speech prepared that will give me time to reflect before I speak. “I feel too angry right now to talk about this. Let’s talk about it later.” The challenge is to actually talk about it later!
  3. Journal. Everyone has a different way of processing muddled thoughts and feelings. Writing in an old notebook gives me a safe place to write out my feelings and thoughts. I start by spilling all the feelings on paper, and then I’m able to get a little deeper and unravel the source of my frustration – which is usually fear of some kind. It deflates my defensive anger, and I’m more able to engage in discussion with him.
  4. Sit on the couch. We are not always in this habit. But, it is a great discipline to sit and relax and connect for 15 minutes at the end of the day. Little things that happened during the day come up. Even though we’re usually exhausted it is good to connect. Our lives are usually so constrained by daily obligations that couch time doesn’t come naturally. But, it’s a good way to nurture the friendship of marriage.

  5. Date night. Of course! You can’t have a top ten marriage list without date night! Over the years, our date night currently looks more like date afternoon. And we have found that grabbing a cherry limeade and sitting and talking at Sonic is a nice break from a house full of kids. We also realize that hiking together is a great, budget-friendly way to do dates. Actually, it was a surprise to realize that we both like to hike! We are certainly thankful for colorful Colorado! Afternoon dates are a good way also to compromise the energy levels for a night owl and an early bird.
  6. Pass the pencil. I have become a conflict avoider over the years. It’s taken me awhile to realize that just blowing off conflict doesn’t make it go away. But, oh how I dread those hard conversations that can be a door to reconciliation! A great tool for us is passing the pencil. We each get a turn to “tell our side.” When it’s his turn to talk, he holds the pencil. I am not allowed to speak until he hands me the pencil. And then, during his turn, when he hands me the pencil, I am only allowed to paraphrase what he has just said. The goal is that he can express his “side” and that I can show that I understand. So much of conflict is simply feeling “not understood.” Then, when it’s turn for “my side,” we switch the pencil. It’s a great tool, but I find that I still need a time limit as we do this. Even if we don’t get to actual steps of resolution, just feeling heard is huge.
  7. Celebrate! My romantic husband insists that we set aside time to intentionally celebrate our anniversary each year. This year, the big 20, he actually asked me to take a day off of work for it! Not easy for me, but what a great way to prioritize celebrating our marriage! We even re-enact our first date every December 1st. He brings me a poinsettia like he did on our first date and we do our best to copy what we did on that first date.
  8. Keep learning. Before we were married we felt pretty confident that we knew how to do marriage, but since our first heated argument on our honey moon in Hawaii, we’ve been undeceived! We’ve read marriage books and blogs, attended retreats and workshops, and done some counseling over the years. No silver bullets. But a lifestyle of growing and learning. (Couples that have been married for 40 and 50 years tell us that this never changes!)
  9. Kids take a backseat. This is counter-intuitive for me as a mom. From the moment the kids arrived on the scene I was consumed with caring for them. I’ve sometimes thought, “I’ll prioritize our marriage when they leave the house.” But in the same thought I realize that it would be too late. One of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is parents that worked on having a healthy marriage.

  10. Hang with Jesus. The greatest gift I can give our marriage is a heart that is close to Jesus. My times of quietness with Him re-calibrate how I approach our relationship. Where my instincts are self-focused, He tends to whisper wisdom. When I start to forge ahead in emotion, He tends to slow me down. He gives me courage and peace and deep, true satisfaction no matter the ups and downs. Marriage is from Him and through Him and for Him. A mystery indeed!

Here is a little list of resources that have been very helpful to me in the marriage area:

  • Family Life marriage conferences
  • For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn (I’m sure that For Men Only by the same author is great for husbands also!)
  • The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller
  • The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian
  • The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

I also gain so much wisdom by talking to other people about their marriages. Everyone has a unique experience and perspective. It really encourages and enriches me to hear from others.

SO, I would love to hear your nuggets of marriage wisdom or favorite marriage resources. Please comment below so we can all be encouraged!


The Slow Beauty of Tangles

HairMethodically I pull the pink brush through long, golden curls. It feels soothing to brush my daughter’s hair.

The inevitable tangles take a bit of time and patience.  I start at the very top and slowly pull down toward the tangle. When I get stuck I patiently start at the top again and pull down. I get a little further this time. And I start over again.

Working out tangles is a life skill.

Marriage, for example.

Sometimes we glide along serenely. Clear sailing ahead!  And then we hit another patch of conflict. It feels discouraging. “Really? Are we here again? I thought we were done with this.”

It’s good for me to remember that it’s just another tangle.

In long hair and marriage, tangles are inevitable. They just require time and patience.

So, we start back at the top. We re-establish date night. We brush up on active listening and hand the pencil to the one who is speaking. We pray for each other and with each other. We sometimes sit with a wise counselor and ask for help with the more stubborn tangles.

I guess I need to accept that even the marriage tangles are, as Calvin and Hobbes’ dad says, “Good for my character.” They slow me down and begrudgingly shift my eyes away from myself.

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” Galatians 6:9

So, I will go back to the top and keep practicing good… ways to bless my husband, to teach math, to work on character training for the kids, myself.

And I will reap a healthier marriage, kids who can divide fractions, patience, and the relief of humility that reminds me that my will power is not the source of good. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is what lives in me.

We honeymooned on the island of Maui 18 years ago. One of the most popular attractions there is the Road to Hana. It’s also known as “Divorce Road.”

Ominous, huh? Especially for honeymooners. The problem, I think, is the name.

“Road to Hana” implies that you are driving to a place called Hana and then driving back.  This is especially tantalizing to young husbands who love to accomplish a straightforward goal.

Actually, the beauty of the Road to Hana is the journey itself. Hana is just one small part of the experience. You are meant to stop along the way and breathe in the waterfalls and stunning views. If you know that before you set out, it sure eases tension.

And so our life journey. The goal isn’t to hastily get through the myriad of tangles that we meet every day. If so, we could just take scissors and cut the pesky things out. Which would kind of destroy the original goal to have pretty hair.

Some of the most beautiful parts of our life journey are the parts where we work through the daily nitty gritty. We humans are made for this hard stuff! It’s like mining for diamonds in the rough. Deep, strong joy that we could never find on the easy days.

May I remember to not lose heart when I’m looking at the prospect of starting from the top. May I be thankful for the opportunity to get a little further through the tangle.