On our next anniversary, my husband and I will celebrate thirty years of marriage. As I look back on our lifetime of love, I am astonished to find so many years have passed since two young kids went on their first date. We were only sixteen years old and juniors in high school—who would have thought we would still be traveling together at fifty-one? Yet isn’t that how life works? One decision leads to another, there’s a fork in the path, and a trajectory is set. When I think back on those two kids, my heart is tender, knowing what I know now about the ways we complement each other, the ways we’ve formed each other, the decisions we’ve made to make our marriage work, no matter the cost.
It wasn’t always easy. In fact, there were points when I wasn’t sure it would work. Because of issues in my family of origin, I went into marriage with a chip on my shoulder and an escape plan firmly in place. In theory, two extremely bossy and controlling people should not be able to make a marriage work. But I learned that I couldn’t stomp my feet and scream when I was angry, and he learned that he couldn’t shut down and hope I would go away. We learned to choose our battles, love each other sacrificially, and make our marriage the top priority. We also laughed a lot and figured out that prayer would save us over and over again. And we both decided that we were in it to the end, for better or worse, in sickness and health, until death do us part.
As I look back on our journey and consider what worked and what didn’t, I want to share with you two pieces of advice that were given to me, which made all the difference:
You are not the Holy Spirit for your husband.
When I heard this at a women’s conference years ago, I was immediately convicted. Early in our marriage, during a particularly rocky season, I discovered my husband was deeply hurt by my habit of teasing and correcting him in front of other people. Although I thought I was being funny or playful, he was not amused. Joking or not, pointing out his flaws, especially in front of others, was unkind and hurtful.
In my experience, many of us treat our husbands as if they are our own little DIY fixer-uppers; home improvement projects waiting to be torn down and rebuilt to our particular specifications. While open communication about issues that are impacting our relationship is essential, constantly trying to change or “fix” our spouses is damaging and disrespectful. The only people we have the power to change are ourselves, so we are wise to love and accept our spouses as they are and practice assertively asking for what we need. The world is tough enough without tearing each other down at home. My husband has access to the Holy Spirit himself, so I don’t need to interpret the way God is working in his life. My role is to be my husband’s biggest fan, closest confidante, and most enthusiastic cheerleader, and to leave any transformation that needs to happen in God’s much more capable hands.
If you have kids, don’t forget hubby.
In the midst of the busy years of raising little people, sometimes our husbands feel like they get left behind in the battle for our affections. It is important to remember that these children who seem to take up all of your energy are eventually going to leave, and you will be alone with this guy who has been wandering in and out of your home all these years and helping you raise these kids. Moms of littles, do what you need to do now so that he is not a stranger when that time comes. In the early years, when you are exhausted from little people climbing on you all day long, keeping the romance alive will be difficult. The idea of anyone else touching you will seem excessive, to say the least.
Staying connected as a couple will require work and intentionality. Sometimes, the kids and their never-ending needs will need to come second. They will survive this “neglect,” and in fact, will be better off for the example of a healthy marriage. Say yes to those opportunities to get away for a weekend. Say yes to date nights and moments alone. Listen to him, tell him he is gorgeous and smart, and thank him repeatedly for his hard work on behalf of your family. Don’t take him for granted. When you do make that mistake…