10 Things I’ve Learned in 20 Years of Marriage
Today, marks the 20th anniversary of the day I said “I Do” to my husband James. I can honestly say it has taken
quite a few miracles and a whole lot of God to get to this day. You can’t spend 20 years married to the same person and not have learned a few things. In honor of 20 years, I’d like to share 10 things I’ve learned.
1. Even though you think you KNOW everything about your spouse–you don’t.
You know what he will order at his favorite restaurant, how many times he pushes the snooze button, and all the signals that let you know he wants ‘special attention’. While you know the day-to-day routines and desires of your spouse, there are things still to be discovered.
As humans we change and grow. Some changes emerge due to life circumstances. Others may happen because of a desire to try new things or improve themselves. (Sometimes its a midlife crisis that brings the change–buckle your seat belt and hope a sports car is as crazy as it gets!)
When people change, it can make the marriage relationship ‘interesting’. (did I say fasten your seat belt?) Many a marriage has crumbled because of unwillingness to change or accept change.
Odds are you and your spouse will both reinvent yourselves several times before you reach your 20th wedding anniversary. Accept that you will both grow–its up to the two of you if you grown together or a part. I know it can be painful to grow together, but it is way less painful than growing a part!
2. Don’t chase the ‘Tingles’
Early on in a relationship everything is new, fresh, beautiful, and exciting. The tingles make you long to be with your significant other. You think nothing could ever be better than the electric giddiness you experience while together.
Time, coupled with life experiences, causes the tingles fade. Many people get confused when this happens and begin to think they aren’t ‘in love’ any more. The loss of the tingles causes many people to exit their marriage in an attempt to capture the tingles with someone else. Chasing the tingles will always leave you frustrated and unfulfilled.
Tingles were not designed to last. They are the seeds from which something much more beautiful and sustaining grows. As the tingles decline you have the opportunity to develop a deep rooted and strong love that will weather the trials of life together. This deep love will be what helps you stay the course during the hard seasons of marriage and life.
3. Your spouse can still surprise you–and you him.
As married life moves forward day after day, it is easy to fall in to routine. Routine can easily begin to feel like a rut. Ruts lead to boredom and boredom can lead to feeling trapped.
Feel free to mix things up. Get a baby sitter “just because”, leave love notes in surprise places. Dress a little daring for some ‘adult time’ (You are married–its permitted and encouraged!)
The biggest surprise I ever gave my husband: He had gone out of town om a business trip. My mom watched our young children and I booked a last minute flight to join him. I was SO VERY NERVOUS! I had never done anything like that before and honestly haven’t done anything that BIG since.
I had no idea how he would respond. I knew it was going to be either very good or very bad. We had been married for 14 years and I was shocked by how nervous I was. I was more shocked that I wasn’t certain of how he would react.
I was sitting in his hotel lobby when he returned from dinner with co-workers. One of them saw me before my husband did, and exclaimed, “Dude! Your wife is here!” The look on his face was priceless–so was our time together! Surprises are good! (and they don’t have to be big either)
4. Rigidness does not equal maturity.
When my husband and I were first married, we embraced the responsibility of adulthood wholeheartedly. We worked very hard to do everything we were ‘supposed’ to do. We had good jobs, bought a house, had two children, and got a minivan. With each of these added responsibilities, we became more rigid. We were uptight and stuffy. The more rigid we became, the less enjoyable life was.
We operated by a set or rules and expectation instead of mercy, love, and grace.
It was a path to disaster. Believe me when I say you can be responsible and mature adults and avoid rigidness. Rigid people and marriages break. If you must live by a check list, make sure the list is dictated by mercy, love, and grace–your family will thank you!
5. Honesty is ALWAYS the best policy.
A lie, even a small one, is not worth the damage it does. Trust is one of the most fragile things. Once it is broken, it can take a life time to mend. (except when asked”Does this make my butt look big?” either lie or be very tactful!)
If you realize you have lied, come clean! Don’t wait. You can still protect your marriage from some of the damage by ‘course correcting’ and telling your spouse the truth. It will hurt them, but not near as much as it would if they found out from a different source. (Always assume they will find out)
If you get caught, don’t deny it. Wear your stripes and be willing to accept the fall out. You may have the opportunity to explain and begin making amends.
Smaller lies in marriage grow to larger ones. Once you lie or keep something hidden from your spouse (a lie of omission), it becomes easier to repeat the behavior. It can easily become a mode of operation and can seep its cancerous tentacles in to every area of your relationship with your spouse.
You will be tempted to lie or omit. Don’t do it!
6. There are times when staying married is a decision–not a feeling.
If someone would have told me this on my wedding day, I would have thought they were nuts. I stood at the altar with tingles in my body and stars in my eyes believing that I my love for my husband-and to-be was the deepest and strongest love I could ever experience and that this magically powerful love would last forever–no-matter-what. Boy was I in for an awakening!
Let me just say–it was a decision that kept us married years 8, 11, 14, and 16. There were periods of time during these years that I didn’t WANT to be married to my husband… but I knew I made a covenant promise on our wedding day and I didn’t want to break that. (I also didn’t want my children to experience a broken home)
We CHOSE to stick it out during those seasons even though part of me wanted to be finished with all of it. Mind over matter can save your marriage–all you have to do is DECIDE to stay. (Please don’t think this will be easy, but it will be SO worth it once you enter a season of restoration and renewal)
I want to stress the truth here–just because your emotions tell you to end the marriage doesn’t mean God can’t or won’t restore your relationship if you give it time. A decision to stick it out can make all the difference in the world and you will be happy that you did once the restoration happens.
*note: These suggestions do not apply to you if you are in an abusive marriage, protect yourself.
7. There will be times you dislike (possibly hate) your spouse–and vice-versa.
I entered marriage knowing we wouldn’t always get along. I speculated there would be times when I didn’t like him very much. I didn’t know there would be times when his voice made my skin crawl and his very presence made me angry at the world. What was even more shocking was finding out I had the same affect on him! (How could I ever have that affect on someone?!?!?)
Remember the miracles of making it to years 8, 11, 14, and 16? Year 16 was the year things collided and we both disliked (dare I say hated) one another at the exact same time–for over a year! When I say miracle–I MEAN MIRACLE! It is a miracle that we would have blocked if we would not have made the decision to stay.
8. Sometimes God changes circumstances–often He changes hearts.
I can’t tell you have many times I’ve prayed, “God fix this problem!” or “God, change my husband!”
The truth is, nothing changes in my marriage for the better until I began praying, “God change my heart!”
The longer a tough time lasts, our focus can become blurred. We turn inward and focus on our own pain and desires. Circumstances and difficult relationships can cause us to pull away from our spouse, attempt to be self sufficient, end even stop trusting God for a marriage miracle.
Refocusing on God and allowing Him to work on your own heart and mind will help you have the strength to endure the difficult season. You can be okay with your DECISION (see lesson 7) to stay the course of your marriage even if your spouse or the circumstances don’t change.
The past 20 years are proof that God works miracles in hearts and marriages. He has miracles planned for you and your marriage too! Hang in there–stop keeping score and allow Him to work on your heart–“God change ME!”
9. Marriage is similar to a business partnership–Don’t shoot the messenger!
I was angry the first time I was told that marriage is like a business partnership. I wanted tingles and romance, not trash duty and electric bills. Even though this statement was difficult to hear I realize there are some truths in it.
In marriage, just like a business partnership, there are times when a person has to do a job that isn’t their responsibility just to make sure the marriage (business) is successful.
When a business succeeds, all members of management benefit. When is doesn’t, all members of management suffer. It is the same with a marriage. It is in a business person’s (and spouses) best interest in the long run to step up and carry the load when necessary.
The good can be enjoyed doubly and the burden of a difficult season can be shared and made not quite so difficult.
In marriage you may have a season of carrying a heavier part of the load. In another season, your spouse may carry the heavier load. So long as you work together with a common goal and vision to make your marriage (business partnership) as success, you will reap beautiful rewards–even if you endure during the difficult seasons.
10. You really do become one with your spouse.
I had been married over 10 years when I recognized this truth and it scared me to my core.
I was raised to be very independent. I was taught and conditioned to not need or count on anyone. I was to be self sufficient. The only exception I had was when it came to my relationship with God.
Even though I loved my husband and wanted our marriage to stay together, I lived (and think I honestly believed) that he was part of my life because I allowed him to be there–not because I needed him. There is no way he didn’t feel the walls my independence created.
One day, all of that changed. I went to him crying and told him that I finally needed him. I would be devastated if anything happened to him or if he royally messed up and caused our married severe damage–“So DON’T mess up!” The vulnerability I felt was devastating, yet beautiful. I had become one with my husband. His heart was my heart, his breath mine.
When we are in a good season of marriage, we thrive in beautiful ways. During bad seasons, we battle a cancer that wants to sever that oneness. When I hurt my husband or I hurt him, we are actually injuring ourselves. Its quite mind boggling!
I have to say the largest miracle I have experienced, beyond the saving grace of Jesus, is becoming one with my husband!
What have you learned?
I originally planned to make this post “20 things I’ve learned in 2o years”, but it would have become a novella! I know there are many more things that can and have been learned from marriage. I’d love to hear from you on what your experiences and lessons have been!
*PS–Don’t we make 20 years look good?