Happy Valentine's Day, y'all! In the last couple of days, especially with Valentine's Day coming up, I started to reflect on my relationship with Dan. This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the day we met (WHOA). And this May will be our 5th wedding anniversary. FIVE years, guys! I know that is so minuscule compared to those who have been married for fifty years, but it just seems so crazy to me to reflect back and think about all the bumps and blessings we've encountered over the years.
Prior to being married, I had a very naive view of marriage. I thought marriage was just continuing life as it had always been, just with a spouse, bills, and responsibilities. (I'm shaking my head as I type this... it's a little embarrassing to admit my naivety)
I didn't realize that marriage was work. I guess you can say, I viewed marriage as the perfect Pinterest life. Then I got married literally less than two weeks after college graduation. And the real world hit. Changes came. Bills came. Responsibilities came. New jobs came. And wow. I found myself facing the biggest culture shock of my life. Things got messy and heated. And because we were so young, looking back now, everything we argued about was petty. We were so immature if I'm going to be completely honest. Through it all, we both grew, we learned, we loved. God has been so good and gracious to us. Had it not been for His grace, we probably wouldn't be where we are today.
I jotted down five things that I learned in five years of marriage just as an encouragement. There are many more things I could say, but these, for sure, have been the biggest lessons I've learned.
ONE || Communication is key.
I always heard this growing up and into college. I heard this at church. "Communicate with your spouse." I thought, "Well, DUH! That's a given." On paper, it sounds pretty simple. In practice, it's not as easy as you may think. I cannot tell you how many times Dan and I have had a miscommunication because one of us thought we said something that was clear, but it really wasn't. You have to learn how your spouse communicates best. Here's a small example: for me, if Dan tells me he needs something from the store, he can't just verbally tell me. I tell him to text it to me.
Communication goes farther than just the verbal. It's also the body language we give off. Again, so many miscommunications have happened because of the misreading of body language. I think as women, we are naturally more animated with our gestures and intonation. We may not realize the signal we are giving off and sometimes that causes our spouse to misread it. And here is where we just can't assume. We either need to open up and let them know what we're feeling, or we have to ask the other what's going on. Having that open communication in a relationship is so important!
One thing that helped Dan and I really learn how to communicate with one another was by learning each other's Myers Briggs personalities and our love languages. He is an ISTJ and I am an ISFJ. We are alike in some areas, but then we are very different in others. For our love languages, we both scored high in quality time, and I also scored high in acts of service. In studying our Myers Briggs and love language, we learned a lot about the other person, even though we had known each other for years. It really helped us take our relationship to a new level.
TWO || Create non-negotiables.
I strongly believe marriage needs non-negotiables that both the couple agrees and adheres to. Some matters should not be grey. I believe that in creating non-negotiables, this helps create the firm foundation on which your marriage will be set upon. Every marriage and every couple is different, so not everyone will have the same non-negotiables. But it is so important that a couple is on the same page in building their marriage. Here are a couple of our non-negotiables:
- Big ticket items (aka pricey, expensive items) are always discussed with the other spouse. There are some couples out there where the husband will just come home with a new gaming station and flat screen tv without the wife knowing, or the wife will come home from a $500 shopping spree without the husband realizing it. And some couples may be cool with that. This is a no for us when it comes to expensive items. We always discuss the wants vs. needs as well as the budget. And this is never one-sided. Like I never call the shots on what Dan can buy and he doesn't call the shots on what I can buy. It is always a healthy discussion and we usually end up in agreeance with the other.
- Never talk negatively about the other to other people. Y'all. This is so important! I have witnessed other women talk so disparagingly about their spouse. And it wasn't a "I'm so annoyed right now because my husband forgot to pick up dinner." I feel like that's a normal frustration. Life happens. I'm talking about, "my husband and I had a giant fight about XYZ and he said this and I said this . . ." I'm talking about intimate, personal things that should not be shared beyond the home. When this person overshared information, I couldn't help but think negatively about the other. And for a while, every time I would encounter that person, it was just weird for me because I felt like I knew too much. It just makes for a very uncomfortable, awkward situation, especially when it's something intimate and personal. I don't want someone looking at me and my husband differently because of something I overshared. I don't want to ruin my husband's testimony. And if it ever got back to him, I know he would be not just upset, but immensely hurt. And this goes for him as well. We also never share personal things on social media. That's just a plain NO. Let me encourage you-- if there are issues in your marriage in which you have to complain, please see your pastor, pastor's wife, or a counselor of some sort. They can best help you without having a bias.
THREE || Compromise is essential.
So, compromise seems to link back to communication. When we are in disagreement over something, it's natural for both of us to stay stuck in our ways. I can tell you from experience, without compromising, disagreements just fester until they explode. And then no one is happy. Here is a super silly example that happened recently. After church one Sunday, Dan and I just could agree on where to eat. We kept going back and forth and the whole "you choose, I'm not choosing" ensued. Both of us were just tired and hungry and on top of that frustrated with the other because we weren't communicating properly which resulted in a lack of compromise. We ended up going home and I made some pasta and chicken and Dan went out to get Whataburger. The end result was just annoyance and frustration with one other and wasted time. Once Dan got back from Whataburger, we smoothed things over and discussed how ridiculous the whole thing was. But that didn't bring back the time we wasted. Again, that is just a silly (and laughable example.)
Another real life example, that doesn't involve any arguments is our bedtime routine with our daughter. This took a bit to figure out since we were first-time parents adjusting to a brand new life. But Dan usually gets her bottle, and I change her diaper and put her pajamas on. Sometimes, we'll switch this. But we've found that in doing this, both of us are working together to put her to bed. Some nights, Dan will just do everything to take a load off of me, and I'll do the same if he's had a hard day.
One area that seems to be a big thing when it comes to compromise is hobbies and activities. We shouldn't have to pretend to looooove something because our husband does. And we shouldn't expect for our husband to looooove something because we do. But we should appreciate their love for fill-in-the-blank: football, hunting, sailing, fishing. And I would hope they appreciate our love for fill-in-the blank: make up, scrapbooking, shopping, etc. Where does compromise fit in? It fits in when we do what the other person loves, and not because we are dragged kicking and screaming. And maybe it's not even something we do with them, but it's how we appreciate their love for their hobby. I don't expect Dan to do Pinterest home crafts with me, necessarily, but I do appreciate it when he acknowledges what I'm doing, or offers to help, or even takes me to Hobby Lobby. I've learned in doing things with Dan that I wouldn't otherwise do, I learn a little bit more about him and I do appreciate his love for whatever hobby he's into.
There are bigger issues in which compromising is key to a healthy relationship. We cannot be stuck in our ways and marriage is always give and take. Have you ever witnessed couples in which it seemed like the relationship was just one-sided or just called all the shots? To me, it always seemed like the other spouse looked miserable. Again, compromise goes back to having that open communication with one another.
FOUR || Continue dating...especially after the honeymoon phase is over.
I didn't realize this until we had Elli because that's when our life of two became three. And you mommas know babies and kiddos throw a loop into that settled life of just husband and wife. Before Elli was born, Dan and I went out all the time. If we wanted to grab some fro-yo at 8 PM, we could just jump in our car and go. If we wanted to have a 6 hour movie marathon and just veg, we could. But boy, oh boy, when Elli came along, that came to a screeching halt. But before I get into that, in the three and a half years we had just the two of us, in all those dates, it was just nice to sit back and relax and reconnect. Like I said earlier, both of our love languages are quality time. In going on dates, we were able to just open up with one another and talk about anything and everything. Whether it was frustrations at work and how we could solve the world's problems, our dreams and aspirations, our next vacation, our goals-- really anything. It kept us from pulling apart after heated arguments and debates. Dating helped us stay connected to one another and not be married to our jobs. Our dates were never fancy. I mean, driving around town running errands was a date for us. It wasn't the money spent or food eaten that made our dates a date. It was the quality time.
So, how did that change when Elli was born? And how did we continue dating? When Elli was born, we were thrown into "first-time parent survival mode." And everything we had learned about marriage, like communication and compromise, kicked into high-gear. We both set ourselves aside to take care of this little girl who was entrusted to us. During that time, Dan was unemployed and we ended up spending a lot of time together taking care of Elli. I don't think we even went out on a date by ourselves in the first three months of her life. But that was okay. Our dates consisted of figuring out how to best take care of Elli, whether it was 2 AM feedings or cleaning up baby messes. Dan was able to find a job right around the time I was going back to work from maternity leave. Again, with our very different schedules, we had no time to go on dates. Our dates consisted of quick phone calls or text messages, just to keep that communication open. During that season, I really missed going on dates with my husband. Our situation changed again as he decided to go back to school for post-graduate work. Thankfully, this really stabilized his schedule and our days are pretty much in-sync. We don't go out as often because we do have Elli, but we make sure to still have those dates. Whether it's hanging out in the living room after Elli's in bed, or going out to dinner, even if it's with Elli since she's too young to really understand our conversations anyways.
In our season of "date-less" nights, as I like to call them, I realized how easy it could be to continue life without really dating my husband. I could envision just getting so wrapped up in taking care of Elli, and if all we did was focus on our kids, we'd forget about each other. I don't ever want to look at my husband and say "who the heck are you?" when we are empty nesters. I want to always keep dating my husband and grow our marriage.
FIVE || Keep Christ at the center.
This by far is the biggest lesson learned. Our faith is so important to us. In fact, it is the foundation of our marriage. I will say though, there have been times where our focus had shifted off of Christ and off of each other. There was a time early on in our marriage where our focus wasn't centered on God. And that time was rocky. We were selfish. We couldn't agree on anything. We argued over stupid stuff. I speak for myself when I say that my focus was solely on myself. And I wasn't happy. I was miserable. We were going to church, but really, at that time, we were just going because we knew we had to. I didn't want to go to church. Praying seemed to be a chore. I just mentally churched out, especially after spending four straight years at a Christian college. And I think we both were. But, God kept working us separately. We both knew we had to make a change, otherwise, we would just be miserable. We knew the reason of our misery as well and that was the fact that we had shifted our eyes off of Christ. We were sinking, just as the apostle Peter started sinking when he took his focus off of Christ.
We ended up going to different churches. We needed a fresh start and wanted to go a church where no one knew us. Where no one had high expectations of us because of our last name. We decided we would go to church because we wanted to, not because we had to. And we didn't go to every service, just as we had growing up with our families. We wanted to make sure our relationship with Christ was honest. In this time, our focus started to fall off of ourselves and back onto Christ. Once we focused our eyes of Him, our marriage started to circle around Him. We started to feel that joy once more. We started to see blessings flow. We were communicating better and our marriage was again blossoming. Slowly, we started getting back into church and going to Sunday and Wednesday services. And now it's not because we're forced to go. It's because we want to and value to time we have to worship Christ.
We had gone through a few personal trials over the years, and maybe one day I'll share my personal story, but for now, I will say that had it not been for Christ, I wouldn't know where I would be today. He is the ultimate comforter. He has shown me grace and mercy. He has been our rock through hard times. Through it all, God had proven to us time and time again that He is faithful. With each trial, it has brought us not only closer to each other as a family, but it has also brought us closer to Him.
Phew! That was so much longer than I intended, but I hope it was an encouragement to you all. I am just so in awe of the last five years, and I look forward to the next five hundred years with Dan.
If you are married, what are some lessons learned over the course of your marriage? If you aren't married, maybe you've witnessed some fine examples of marriage and could share lessons from those couples. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's Day with your lovelies! XOXO