This week I celebrate my nine-year wedding anniversary. As a result of getting married young, a big part of our journey has been growing up together. When I got married I thought that I was a secure and godly woman. Though it took little time for newlywed whiplash to set in as God revealed selfishness and pride that needed to be wrecked in my heart.
We have not arrived, nor will we ever, no matter how many precious days God gives us. The sanctifying work of marriage will continue until we meet our beautiful Jesus face to face. With this being said, I have asked Joshua to help me share with you some of what we have learned in nine years of marriage.
1. If there ever was a secret to marriage it would be forgiveness. Every time your heart clutches to its justification to hold onto to hurt, do not tolerate it. Any time our flesh cries out “It’s not fair!” Let us remember our Savior. He was without sin, gave up his rights as King of the Universe, came to earth to take our sin on himself to die the death we deserve. When we forgive we are loving Jesus well, as well as loving our spouse well.
2. Love is not a feeling to be felt but action to be practiced. New romance is exciting no doubt, but in our culture new love is taken and confused for the goal. I enjoy a good romantic comedy as much as the next girl. However, personal fulfillment and happiness are outgrowths of marriage, they cannot become our goal. Marriage is about bringing glory to God and about him working out holiness in our hearts. He brought you and your spouse together, not so you could “complete each other”, but so that your covenantal love and commitment would demonstrate the covenantal love of God shown through Christ. This illustrates to the world a love that is otherworldly.
3. Make friendship a priority. Take time to reconnect. In a typical week this looks like being intentional with each other for an hour or two every few days. I don’t mean staring into others eyes for an hour talking about the most intense things you can think of (and all the men said hallelujah). This looks like listening and responding to each other, playing a game together, going on a walk, making a date lunch or dinner happen, or a late night run for ice cream. Play together often. Learning to date and play together is vital for a healthy friendship. Whatever you enjoy doing, make it a priority and do it. Our marriages are a reflection of God’s relational essence towards mankind. This involves many different aspects, but delighting in each other is an important one.
Keep trying to enjoy each other’s hobbies, even if it doesn’t come naturally. I am still working on this one. I’m under no illusion that I will ever have the same capacity to enjoy watching so many different sports as often as my sweet husband. However, every year I get a little better at understanding and a little better at watching games. As for Joshua, he recently watched all five BBC episodes of Pride and Prejudice (the Herculean effort he exerted was not lost to me). And every time I reread one of my favorite classics he patiently listens as I read the same excerpts I’ve read to him a dozen times before. He still may not know the plot of Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, but give me 9 more years 😉
Take mini-vacays. I’ve heard it said a change of place and a change of pace results in a change of perspective. At least once a year Joshua and I get away for one or two nights. In the 365 days in a year take one or two days to invest in your friendship together and get away. It doesn’t have to be far away, just get out of the routine of life together. There have been times when we both were so emotionally and spiritually exhausted that what we needed was to read, journal, and to rest in solitude. Other times we have needed to hash through struggles, trials, and difficulties. While other times we’ve needed to be light-hearted and dream. And sometimes we have needed to be fed and we have gone to a conference to seek God together. All of these resulted in rich reconnection.
4. Show love to your spouse in the way they need. You may have noticed from #3 that I am a quality time girl. It is the primary way I receive and feel loved and it is the most natural way for me to give love. However, my husband is acts of service/kindness. I must be intentional in showing my husband love and appreciation in the way he most naturally receives and feels loved. Identify what each others primary love language is and start communicating to your spouse accordingly. (Words of Affirmation/Encouragement, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Gifts, and Acts of Service)
5. Learn to fight. This is a marriage skill that takes time and commitment to learn. And each marriage with its’ unique combination of personalities and backgrounds will be different. But two keys are to avoid the power plays of withholding communication and spewing in anger.
Don’t withhold communication. This often leads to a stockpiling of frustration or hurt that will eventually be dump-trucked on your spouse. Sometimes withholding comes from fear and/or sometimes it is from a desire to punish by withholding love. Do not let fear steal from the growth in your marriage and do not let the sin of punishing your spouse poison your intimacy. When we are stingy with what we are willing to share with God in prayer, the result is a breakdown of intimacy and a shutting down of surrender. The same is true in marriage. Avoidance builds a wall and stunts the growth in the relationship, while surrender and vulnerability makes love and intimacy the goal.
In your anger don’t sin. You may not be an avoider you may be a spewer. If you are married to an avoider nothing else will shut them down faster, and if you are married to another spewer the result will be explosive. Sometimes we can excuse harsh corrections or jabs as things “they needed to hear” or “it’s just the truth”. Our words need to be seasoned with the grace of the gospel. They are not meant to be weapons but communication is a tool to nourish and facilitate greater intimacy and growth.
6. Don’t try to fix her every concern. I didn’t realize this when we got married. Therefore, every time Tish’s heart spoke out a concern over any issue at all, I would feel responsible for fixing it, immediately. This led to me feeling like a failure because I wasn’t able to fix all of the concerns. I now know that I simply need to listen to the concerns and then later we can figure out what we need to do about some of them.
7. Don’t talk to your wife the way you do the guys at work. Can I get an amen husbands? I learned that when scripture says the wife is like porcelain, it meant it. A woman’s heart is very fragile. My Type A, Lion, High-D personality works great for production & high pressure at work. At home, however, I need to be gentle with my words, my tone, and my facial expressions.
8. Some drawers will never be closed and some trash bags will never be replaced. In case you were wondering, Tish is the one who leaves drawers open… everywhere. I am the one who doesn’t replace the trash bag after taking out the trash… ever. Early in our marriage I would get so frustrated with Tish about the drawers and she would get frustrated with me about the trash bags. Nine years in, I don’t think we even ask each other to try anymore. We’ve simply learned that there are some things not worth getting frustrated over. Drawers and trash bags are those things.
9. It’s okay if you rest in different ways. I like to spend a Saturday by waking up around 7:30-8:00, reading, being productive with whatever needs done, and THEN relaxing. Tish likes to spend a Saturday sleeping in past 8:00, resting and relaxing all morning, and then being productive later in the day. Early in marriage I would try to force her to rest my way, and she would try to force me to do it her way. Over the years we’ve learned that some weeks go my way, other weeks go her way, and some weeks we get both of our ways and we are ok with that. This may blow your minds men, but your wife should not be just like you.
10. Remind your wife and yourself that marriage is your greatest adventure in this life. I know what some of you are thinking; “Jesus is my greatest adventure in this life.” Touché. That is true. But of all of the callings and responsibilities he’s given you in this life, I would argue that marriage is the greatest adventure. It’s the adventure that best displays the gospel to the world (Eph. 5). This adventure was given to us by God, to daily remind the world, and ourselves of the gospel. Marriage is an adventure, given to us by God, until the day that our spouse or we pass away. My prayer is that this adventure would last much longer than any job we have or church we serve. Long after there are people to pastor, there will be a wife to serve. It is easy, especially as a man, to get distracted by other adventures – success at work, pastoring my church, making money, winning battles in life, etc. The night my wife asked me if she was still my adventure was the night that I determined she would never have to ask me that question again.
Joshua Hedger is the Pastor of Preaching & Vision at Emmaus Church. He is married to Tish and they have an adopted teen daughter and a biological toddler son. Joshua has served in several other ministry roles including Director of Church Planting at Midwestern Seminary, planting another church, a youth pastor, and as a missionary in West Africa.