“What did the past year of marriage teach you?”
That’s the question I asked 10 friends during our annual reunion trip (I’ve shared about this tradition before here and here.) While sitting in the 160-year-old Pennsylvania house we’d rented for the weekend, I listened to their answers and took notes.
And I really think they’re worth sharing.
Tracy: This year has been a period of adjustment, as we raised a baby girl and Kmele has been pursuing a lot of entrepreneurial goals. In this season, he’s working a lot. And that’s not always easy. But while we’re adjusting, I’ve tried to make my motto to “be kind and to be helpful.” Be kind in the challenging moments and be helpful to him however I can.
Kmele: As people, we’re always changing. The idea that spouses will always evolve in compatible ways is unrealistic. So the thing is to find new ways to collaborate and be good together. To find something new and inspiring that can make things great. And to recognize the virtue in all the phases of your relationship, so you can put frustrations in perspective. We started dating as 16-year-olds, and we’re not as amorous as we were back then, but there’s something way more beautiful about the love we have at 38.
Mike: I’ve learned that Ashley is the most accurate barometer of my success. So if other things around me are flourishing, but she’s struggling, who really cares? And that doesn’t mean I’m responsible to fix everything in her life — sometimes I haven’t known how to appropriately respond to her emotional struggles. But whatever I can do to create an environment for her to flourish or to heal, I want to do that.
Ashley: This past year was tough, adjusting to life with a third child and dealing with postpartum depression. Now that that cloud has lifted, I can see how, subconsciously, I sometimes looked to Mike to fix all of my problems. And I started figuring out he’s just one person, with his own problems, and that’s too much pressure to place on him.
Kwaku: This year, I’ve worked hard to listen to what my spouse is really saying. A lot of times you assume you know what she’s talking about. When she’d tell me she was burnt out, I tried to digest it and not necessarily solve it but try to add relief or just show I understood what she was going through. And if I can fix it, I’ll try my best. It’s easy to focus on yourself, and as though you’re on your own in your marriage. But in the end, I’ve learned when I support my spouse, I become happier.
Paula: This past year we bought a house, and the process was really stressful. At the same time, I was overwhelmed with wanting to do so much for my family but also struggling with not being home as much as I wanted [Paula is a doctor and works non-traditional hours]. I couldn’t sleep, I was down at work, and we argued a lot. But even in all that, Kwaku was so supportive. At one point in our home-buying process, we passed up a house that I know he wanted but I didn’t feel comfortable buying. Seeing him put my need to feel supported above his own desires really meant everything to me.
Mary: This year we walked through the “in sickness” part of our vows [Mary was diagnosed with complete placenta previa while pregnant with their third child and was on bed rest for half of her pregnancy – including the last four weeks in the hospital]. Sometimes in a marriage it’s not you or your spouse who have issues — sometimes it’s your circumstances. There was the stress of me being handicapped or not being home and the financial stress of new hospital bills every day. I didn’t get to be the kind of wife or mother I wanted to be. We had to learn to find joy in the midst of it, and our love and faith are deeper because of what we’ve seen God do for us and through us. I’m so blessed to be loved so well by Mark.
Mark: Life with three kids means there’s a lot going on. I try to be supportive, but this year, I’ve learned that doing this well means I have to be in tune with what’s most helpful in the moment. It doesn’t help to do the dishes if all of the kids are screaming in the bathtub upstairs. I’ve tried to be more aware of all that’s going on, so I can ultimately be a better partner.
Tish: I believe loving your spouse is a choice. There’s that high in the beginning, but the reason some people don’t work is because they stopped making the choice to love each other when it was no longer the easy thing to do. And something in this season I’m trying to get better at is self-reflection. It’s easy to ask why your spouse is doing this or that or not changing. But I’ve tried to gain perspective about what I can do to change. I have no control over another person’s actions, so what can I do to be a better wife, mother, and friend?
Delali: We do it together. That’s been a theme for us, both at home and in pursuing our career goals. [Tish and Delali have worked together at a company he started.] We’ve been good about giving each other space to recharge when we need it, even when that meant alternating vacations so one of us can stay with the kids. If Tish were to move on to a new role outside of the company, I’d feel the void of not having her there because of the partnership we have. She’s a calming spirit for me at work. But it’s that same partnership that would make me happy to see her succeed in whatever she does. We’re making sure we win together.
Jordan: This year I’ve learned that the same level of intention I would give to planning a big initiative at work, I need to give to my marriage. And really, when I look back on my marriage and work in ministry, I want to confidently say I gave more to my marriage and family than anything else. I used to have a bias for the “organic” in our relationship, but those days are gone with two small kids. So we’ve really been intentional with our plans together, and I’ve found deep joy. The planning has freed us up to enjoy each other.
Jessica: I’m learning that the disagreements we had when we first got married are still very similar to the ones we’re having five years later. And it’s quite possible that we’ll continue to disagree about those things for the next 20 years. Because we’re different people, who at times see the same things differently. I’m learning to be ok with that. With not winning Jordan over to my side. And that when we disagree, the goal shouldn’t always be to resolve conflict, but that we connect and build intimacy in the way we communicate.
What’s a lesson you’ve learned in marriage, whether this past year or over time? I’d love to hear.