I’ve been married twelve years. I remember life before Tiffani as though seeing through an old glass Coke bottle. I know there’s something on the other side, and I’m sure it was fun and enjoyable, but I can’t make out the shapes. And I don’t care to. I love Tiffani. I love my life with her. I love sharing life with her. I love parenting with her. I love sex with her.
The road hasn’t been smooth, though. Those first years of marriage were hard. We fought. A lot. Then, Tiffani discovered I had a porn addiction. Then, a chronic illness plagued my life and rendered our relationship a shell of its former self. I was so sick. Tiffani was so lonely. It was a dark time.
But we didn’t give up, not on ourselves, not on each other, not on our marriage. Before you get married, people don’t tell you about dark times. They don’t tell you that one day you might discover your spouse has an addiction or cancer. Maybe people shouldn’t say these things. Maybe there’s no point because you can only learn from life by living it.
Regardless, I’m telling you now. Marriage is hard. It’s beautiful and redemptive and life-giving. But it’s also very hard. Over the past twelve years, I’ve learned a lot, most of it through suffering and failure. I want to share a few things I’ve learned with you.
Here are the 7 most important lessons I’ve learned about marriage so far.
1. True love takes time. A lot of time.
Before you’re married, you think you love someone. Maybe you do. If you do, though, the love is newborn. It’s weak and penetrable, and without proper care and a lot of time, it will die.
Think about it. Two people exchange “I dos” then live it up and have lots of sex on an all-inclusive resort where every one caters to them. Every person on staff literally gets paid to give these emotionally intoxicated newlyweds everything they want. Then the couple returns to their starter home and 8-5 job, and they expect this infantile love, with its devotion to passion and emotion, to sustain them for the next 50 years. It won’t.
Very few people on earth ever experience real love. It takes too long. It requires too much effort. I remember an older couple telling me one time they didn’t begin to enjoy their marriage until year ten or eleven. When they said that, I thought, good Lord, do I really have to wait that long? Surely not.
I did have to wait that long. I’m on year twelve. This is the best one of the dozen, and there’s not a close second.
We don’t like to wait. We don’t like to endure, and in our right now culture, we don’t have to. That’s a tragedy.
Amazon can deliver a car to your front door tomorrow, but no matter how much we expedite services, life’s most meaningful realities will always take time. Love. Joy. Peace. These must marinate in letdowns and heartaches, in celebrations and triumphs. They must endure the ups and downs of life. There are no shortcuts or overnight deliveries. Sorry.
Love takes time.
2. The reason you get married is not the same reason you stay married.
The woman I married twelve years ago isn’t the same woman who woke up by my side this morning. People change. I’ve heard the cells in your body die and new ones replace them every seven years. I don’t think that means you’re a new person every seven years. It does mean, however, everything changes.
The reason I married Tiffani is not the same reason I’m still with her. My worldview has changed. So has hers. Our longings and desires have changed. And that’s okay. It’s more than okay, it’s healthy. Too many people view change as an enemy. That’s a sign of insecurity. Insecurity will suffocate love.
Kahlil Gibran, the great poet, says, “Love that does not renew itself every day becomes a habit and in turn a slavery.”
Love is change. If you’re not willing to change and allow your spouse the freedom to change, you’re not willing to love. It’s that’s simple.
3. The only problem with your marriage is you.
I’m remodeling our bathroom, and it’s going about like you would expect for someone with a job and three kids and a daily writing habit. A few nights ago, I was exhausted and frustrated. The clock hand showed midnight. Tiffani wanted to help. I’m not good at delegating, though, so I told her to go to bed. Then, I got frustrated with her. I got mad because I told her to go to bed. No, I got mad because I decided to take on a project I never should have taken on.
Do you see what happened? I got mad at her, but I was the problem.
Here’s a maxim for a healthy marriage: you are always the problem. Always.
The healthiest marriages involve two people who refuse to take their pain out on each other. Your spouse isn’t a sponge to absorb your anxieties. Those are between you and your God.
4. Marriage needs privacy.
Marriages thrive under a veil of secrecy, meaning some things must remain between yourself and your spouse. There’s something mystical and magical about this bond. Opening the front door to your marriage and exposing it to the world destroys the magic.
Maybe you don’t do social media. Kudos to you. What about your friends, though? Your parents? Do they know the inner workings of your relationship? Should they? Probably not.
Here’s something Tiffani and I both practice: we never say a negative word about the other to any one outside our home, which is everyone. I don’t use my friends or family as a sounding board for the things that frustrate me about my marriage, and I refuse to entertain conversations with people who do.
This is simple respect for the one you love. If you engage in this behavior, that’s fine. Just know you’re eroding the sacred bond of love.
5. Laughter is essential.
So, here’s something I’ve learned in my years with Tiffani. I can measure the health of our relationship by two things: how often we laugh and how easily we get offended. If you’re not laughing with your spouse, that’s a red flag. Laughter is essential to health. If you don’t have fun with your spouse, it’s not long before love leaves the room and apathy fills the void. Laughter is a balm for love.
I’ve also noticed that when I’m easily offended by Tiffani’s words, a rift exists somewhere, and I need to fix it. When we’re connected, I rarely take things personally.
Remember this: love, in its purest distillation, is un-offendable.
How often you get offended is a marker for health in your marriage.
6. Your relationship will become an average of the relationships you surround yourself with.
You will become an average of your closest friends. You’ve heard that before, I’m sure. Well, the same is true with your marriage. If you don’t have examples of thriving, healthy marriages in your life, you shouldn’t expect your marriage to end up that way. If you spend time with couples who argue and talk about one another and so on, you will do the same.
Unfortunately, sometimes the people you need to distance yourself from are your closest friends or even family. If you value your spouse, though, you can’t take this point lightly. You must protect your marriage.
You can do a lot of things right in marriage. In fact, you can nail all the points above. If, however, you surround yourself with toxic people in unhealthy relationships, none of those things will matter. The unhealthy people will choke out the good. Don’t allow toxic relationships to shackle yours. Make hard decisions, if you must. The future of your marriage depends on it.
7. Go to bed angry.
In the early years of our marriage, Tiffani and I never went to bed angry. We followed this out-of-context verse from Paul in Ephesians 4:26 about never letting the sun set on your anger. We often stayed up until midnight arguing, and we accomplished nothing. Then, we would wake up tired and bitter and, guess what, we were still angry.
We stopped that crap years ago. Here’s why. Most of the things you argue about at night are insignificant. You’re arguing because you’re tired, not because there’s legitimate conflict. Chances are when you wake up the next day, what felt so important the night before will melt away in the cauldron of good sleep.
Tiffani and I don’t argue about anything past 9 p.m.
This is one of the best decisions we’ve made in our marriage. I’m serious. It transformed our relationship. If something needs to be addressed, we sleep on it and discuss it the next day, when we have energy and mental clarity and we’re emotionally sober.
8. Your spouse is NOT your better half.
Here’s a bonus point because I love you guys so much. I’m playing. I don’t even know you.
You here it all the time, right? “Where’s your better half?” I despise this question. It implies that in a marriage, two whole people somehow becomes less than God created them to be.
The foundation of a healthy relationship is two people who could live separately but choose to live together. Write that down.
If you can’t live by yourself, then you won’t have a healthy marriage. Here’s why. You will depend on your spouse to fill the voids that exist in your heart. And your spouse can’t do that.
Tiffani is a beautiful, independent woman. She doesn’t need me. I don’t need her, either. And I’m grateful for that. This frees me to love her as she is and not expect her to become some idealized image of who I need her to be.
You must love yourself and love being with yourself before you can love another person.
Marriage is incredible. It’s also hard work. It’s a paradox, in other words. Life’s most transformative realties are that way. I’m so thankful for my marriage. I pray God’s blessing on yours as well.
Grace and peace, friends.