Today Dennis and I celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. Our marriage is now old enough to be an adult. That is something amazing to me because we are two flawed humans who chose each other day by day.
Over the past 18 years of marriage we have succeeded and failed in business, struggled as parents, packed up and started over, lost a parent, and so much more—through it all stayed together. Marriage is messy. It isn’t that perfect moment at the altar throughout the years. We have tripped up on the small stuff, fought over the big things, laughed together, made the other one cry, supported each other, hurt each other, loved unconditionally, failed to live up to all we should be for each other, worked to show each other love and respect, fallen into silence, fought it out, held hands, yelled at each other in public places, forgiven and forgotten, and all the beautifully messy parts of marriage in between.
After the minister pronounced us husband and wife, Dennis and I shared our first kiss ever at the altar, everything slowed down in a moment to cherish the preciousness of a kiss so long awaited. The slow pace of that moment didn’t last long though. From that moment on married life seemed to be as if we were drinking from a fire hose. In an instant Dennis went from being single to being a married man with a nearly six year old son.
We started out life together in our thirties. I came with a son and a cat. He was in the midst of finishing his college dreams that had been interrupted by being called back into service. Within the first year of our marriage we had expanded our family, moved across the country, and started a business. We have repeated the process of moving many times, of building businesses together and added one more child within the first 3 years of marriage. We repeated the pattern of raising kids and building businesses, and moving throughout our marriage.
We have reached great highs and hit our knees in the great depths. I’ve learned a lot being married for these past 18 years and here are just 18 of them.
- There is more than one way to say I love you. Remove all doubt by flooding your spouse with love, forgiveness, shelter and acceptance. Early on in our marriage I read the book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts which opened my eyes to the realization that Dennis doesn’t necessarily speak the language of love that I do. We need to discover the love language of our spouse and learn to speak it fluently.
- Never be too proud or ashamed to say I’m sorry to your spouse. We are simply two flawed humans who make mistakes. And remember there is more than one way to say I’m sorry—but silence is not one of them. If saying I am sorry does not come naturally to you, and then you must work at it, because your spouse needs to hear it. It is not implied by just going about life as usual. There is something exceptionally healing about hearing the words, “I am sorry.” But just as your spouse may speak a different love language, they may speak a different language of apology. Learn them all in The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships.
- Fight for your spouse rather than against them. Marriage is hard and messy. It does not feel like the height of your honeymoon on most days. Life can be a bit of a trudge and if you are not trudging together you may be working against each other. It can be the small things and the big things that cause use to fight against each other instead of for each other. Reposition your mind, heart and efforts into a position to fight for your spouse. Lay down the weapons of harsh words, divisive thoughts, and inaction and pick up the healing salve of loving words, forgiving thoughts and purposeful action.
- Be a storm shelter for your spouse that is safe in any storm. There will be seasons of great grief and tremendous storms that can come from outside your marriage or within it. Whether you are the cause of the storm or not, be a storm shelter for your spouse. Even when you are right in an argument, the righteousness of your position is compromised if you do not provide shelter and warmth for your hurting spouse. And your spouse will take a beating from the outside world sometimes that you can’t fix any other way other than to provide safe harbor while they heal.
- Isolation and silence destroy. When you don’t talk out the little things they build, compact and cement into the cracks in your marriage that silence creates. A lack of communication can ooze into all the crevices of your marriage and pull you apart from within. Show your spouse the love and respect they deserve by sharing your thoughts, making them part of the big and little decisions, and being an open book to them.
- Lavishly forgive one another. When two people live day in and day out under the same roof, in the same bedroom, sharing the same bathroom and steering their lives together there will be toes stepped on. You will slight each other. Arguments will build up and explode. Harsh words will be said. Dirty looks will be shot at each other. Sighs, body language and cold shoulders will convey what isn’t said out loud. Hand out forgiveness with generosity.
- Marriage is two imperfect broken people, so don’t ever count yourself out of the equation when problems arise in your marriage. It is amazingly easy to see the fault in your spouse. You can clearly trace back how they started an argument, caused a problem or are solely guilty for an infraction. But the reality is that we each play our role. We are both abundantly flawed. If you focus on their fault, you will lose your focus on your own.
- Be teachable. Period. Do not look at another marriage in jealousy. Study it, read marriage books, go to seminars, work on becoming the best spouse you can be and leave the responsibility of your spouse doing the same in their hands. Work on your flaws, rather than focusing on what is wrong with your spouse. There are countless ways you can learn from others how to improve your marriage, don’t ever be unteachable.
- Sometimes selective amnesia is the best remedy. This can be especially helpful when you allow the small stuff to create a wall. But you even have to let go of the big stuff too. You might not forget it completely, but you can have selective amnesia to the anger and hurt. If you do not let go of the anger and hurt then a bitter seed will take root in your heart. It will grow and flourish as it sucks the nutrients of love, hope and forgiveness out of your life.
- Suffer together rather than suffering in silence. I am an open book—in the written word. But to speak out loud when I am suffering is a struggle. Sometimes, if you can’t speak the words, write the words. And sometimes you must work up the courage to speak the words. But silence is deadly in a relationship and it cannot be allowed to take up residence in your marriage.
- Understand the differences of love and respect. In the book Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs the authors explain that love best motivates a woman and respect most powerfully motivates a man. Research reveals that during marital conflict a husband most often reacts unlovingly when feeling disrespected, and a wife reacts disrespectfully when feeling unloved. Unlocking this reality can change the way you hear and respond to your spouse.
- Make time for your spouse. Be purposeful throughout your lifetime together to stop what you are doing and focus on your spouse. Work will always be there. Being busy is a constant of life. Don’t ever get so busy that you miss the wonder of your spouse choosing you as their happily-ever-after. It is a gift to be promised a lifetime. When the courtship is over and the honeymoon has passed you must continue to pursue your spouse.
- Marriage lasts beyond raising children together, build to outlast. In the midst of raising children it can be easy to lose focus on your marriage. The needs of your children can seem overwhelming at times and there is nothing left to give your spouse. But the longevity of your marriage is essential, because one day all the kids will leave and you don’t want to be strangers when the nest is empty.
- Leave and cleave. Just as it is easy to put too much focus on your children, it is easy to never fully leave your parents nest and cleave to your spouse. In marriage your spouse must come before your parents. A meddling in-law will only pull apart at the bond of marriage. We were blessed with parents that fully supported the value of leaving and cleaving, but I’ve watched others struggle and couldn’t skip mentioning this important lesson of marriage.
- Marriage isn’t the game—so don’t keep scorecards. Sometimes one spouse will do more, give more and sacrifice more deeply and at other times the roles will be reversed.
- Come and go with a kiss. Be intentional to stop what you are doing and greet your spouse. And when you go your separate ways be just as intentional to disconnect. This tiny gesture shows both love and respect.
- Love is a choice. It is easy to love when you feel the emotions of being in love, but you must chose to also love during the hard seasons. There is more than one way to say I love you. Continuously use the full dialect of love languages to love your spouse. Their love language may be different than yours, but not only that—their need for your love given to them at different seasons in your marriage may change.
- Don’t give up in the trenches and trudges of marriage. Chose to focus on the promise of a lifetime together rather than your footfalls in the journey.
Today we celebrate the firsts of our wedding day. We pause in the journey to look back fondly while we move forward hand in hand towards working to love and to cherish each other as we promised to do from this day forward in 1998.