Written By Mark Stromenberg, Canada
Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, who recently celebrated 70 years of marriage, once said, “If a man opens the car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife.” There’s a nugget of truth in this joke: novelty fades in marriage as much as anything else.
On Saturday, May 14, 2016, a cloudy, blustery, and unseasonably cold day, I married the woman of my dreams. As my wife and I prepare to celebrate our first anniversary, I have found myself reflecting on how we’ve grown and what has changed in our relationship.
There are many amazing things that come with marriage: making a home together (including spending gift money!), cooking together, entertaining others, and spending lazy evenings indoors together—a heavenly gift for the introverts that we both are—without one of us having to go home after. And of course, no boundaries or guilt on the flirty, fun, and sexy moments.
But while the honeymoon stage of a marriage or relationship is wonderful, at some point, the mundanities of everyday life will set in. It’s surprising how quickly marriage can begin to feel like being simply couch potato roommates, going to work, cleaning, watching a screen, falling into bed, and then repeating. What begins as feeling awkward about spending time apart in the same home can quickly become the norm.
My wife and I have been surprised by what has been easy for us and by what has been challenging. Nine months into it, here are my top six insights about marriage:
6) My character flaws do not go away in marriage.
Rather, they become amplified. Marriage is like a mirror that reflects the laziness, selfishness, and disregard for others underlying many of the habits and hobbies I have. If you are getting married, or would one day like to be married, do everything you can to address your baggage and to kill selfish or sinful behaviour patterns.
We all carry baggage into our relationships, but to ignore it is a recipe for disaster and pain. A mentor once told me, “Marriage is hard enough. Do everything you can to make it easier before you begin.”
5) Hard moments can teach me precious lessons about my wife, our relationship, and myself.
While constantly being with my wife provides more opportunities for conflict, if the communication between us is healthy, I can learn much more about my wife, our relationship, and myself in these hard moments than in the moments of happiness.
In these moments, it will be tempting to just shut down or to walk away. But when I strive to step outside of my own pain and experience, and seek to understand my wife and meet her needs, these moments turn into amazing opportunities to grow closer.
4) Married sex is about so much more than just sex.
Marriage is about connection, trust, intimacy, identity, value, servitude, and care. The quality of couple’s sex life (not so much the frequency) is the barometer of their marriage. The sooner you learn this, the better.
3) Marriage is hard—thank God we Have Him!
Simply because humility, responsibility, honesty, vulnerability, forgiveness, and self-denial are hard, and these things are required on a daily basis for a healthy marriage. This is why, I believe, so many marriages fail. As I look at the world around me, I wonder how people make marriage work without Jesus, simply because He gives me the strength to confess, to forgive, to love, and to grow.
It’s in my quiet moments with Jesus where God reveals my sin, my pride, and my selfishness, and where He gives me the courage, humility, and strength to apologize, to accept wisdom and rebuke from my wife, and to change my hurtful behaviors and habits. It’s hard, but if we allow God to guide us, He will use marriage to refine our character, and make us kinder, more loving, more gracious, stronger, more joyful, and more Christ-like.
2) My spouse is my “one” for life.
Once you’re married, your spouse is your “one” for life. My wife is, as she says, “my person,” and I am hers, so we need to make it work. That may be hard at times, but it’s much easier than trying to do all that work again with another person. As each passing month goes by, I and “my person” know each other more, understand each other more, and are growing to love each other more.
What amazes me most about this is that I really had no clue what I was doing when I married her. I thought at the time that we were a good fit, but I had no idea just how much Jesus knew that we would need each other. When I listen well and allow God to speak and care for me through her, I see how beautifully perfect and wonderful marriage can be. If you allow God to guide your life and your romance before marriage, if you allow Him to shape your character in marriage, you will see that He really does know what He’s doing, and that He beautifully uses the differences to grow, shape, and encourage you both.
1) Marriage cannot be about just me.
After the excitement of the honeymoon wears off, you very quickly realize that being together is not enough. My wife and I both need to seek something outside of ourselves, outside of going to work and coming home. For us, as Christians, it’s our relationships with Christ. And there’s more. God has called us to be together, not just for ourselves, but for a purpose, a goal, a vision, a mission. If we cannot determine what we want our marriage to be about, we’re in trouble.
Approaching one year into our marriage, I am incredibly grateful for my wife. While I’ve spoken a lot about the challenges of marriage, I cannot stress enough that the joy, beauty, and strength of marriage can only come through the refining process. When we persevere through these things, Jesus builds His character in us, which becomes the source of true joy and confidence.
To my wife: I love you. Thanks for being “my person”. I hope to keep opening the car door for you, as much after 70 years as after 70 days.