As I type this, Kenny and I are celebrating exactly three years of marriage.
Despite three years being relatively short in the grand scheme of things, I have learned many powerful lessons about love in the years of living life alongside Kenny. While he does not complete me in the soulmate/he’s “the one”/“I was incomplete until I met you” kind of way, the unique, unconditional, persistent love I have learned and experienced through our relationship has changed me. In our marriage, I see how love has the power to transform from the inside out.
Two loved people fiercely committed to serving one another feels like a fulfillment of what God had in mind for human relationship. It feels like in the midst of this chaotic, messy world, we are recovering part of who we were made to be. But even operating out of the best of intentions, our love still misses the mark. We fumble and have to process, reconcile, forgive, listen, learn, and try all over again. I’m reminded often that if our love with all of its flaws can still fill me, transform me, and bless me beyond measure, then how much greater is the love that God has for us. Once deeply and truly loved by a good God, one can never be the same. My marriage has allowed me to feel this truth exponentially deeper in my soul than before. For this, I am forever grateful.
So on this, the day of our third anniversary, I will offer a few thoughts.
Starting in high school and leading up until our wedding day, I soaked up as much teaching as I could find about Christian relationships and marriage. And let me tell you, there is a lot out there that was absolutely horrific preparation for what our marriage actually looks like.
After conversations over the last few years with my engaged and newly married friends, I discovered that this was a widespread issue.
When I asked, “Did you find any book about Christian dating or marriage that was valuable to you in your relationship with your husband?”
They all replied with something along the lines of,
“Well, I certainly tried! I just didn’t see the teachings matching our relationship dynamic.” or
“I stopped reading when they assumed that I as the wife wouldn’t be working.” or
“Well. . .one book called my fiancé a ‘knight’ and I threw up in my mouth.”
“I understand,” I said. “I read that one, too.”
There are many teachings that come to mind as being impactful and important to undo as I stepped into marriage, but I’ve also learned a few truths that are helpful in combatting them:
The wedding is not the finish line.
While the wedding is an awesome celebration of lifelong commitment and vows to each other, it is by no means the end of struggle, waiting, temptation, finding healthy boundaries, confronting pain, or working through shame.
You know those things you were excited to be done with once you are married? The struggles that will finally end with the wedding? Well, for every ending challenge, there is likely a new challenge just beginning.
Here’s one small example: when Kenny and I got married, we were so excited to finally be finished with a long distance relationship. No more reliance only on phone calls and texts! In college, I was always so jealous of my friends who could meet up with their boyfriends for a quick lunch between classes like it was no big deal. Now that we were living in the same place, Kenny and I could casually grab a meal! It was the end of a struggle.
Once we were married, we jumped into the habit of playing catch up for the years we had spent apart.
It wasn’t long before we had a new struggle that was unique to our marriage: prioritizing finding community among our peers, rather than relying only on each other. We needed friends in our city! It wasn’t healthy to be each others one and only. We needed to find a solid group of friends, which was harder than it sounds for two newlyweds in their early 20’s in a church community of pretty much all families. It has continued to be a struggle with gains and losses along the way, and we are still learning. In short, conquering challenges is always something to celebrate, but it won’t prevent new ones from emerging. The wedding is not a finish line!
While the wedding might mark a time of taking on a new name and a new role, saying your vows does not make you a new person.
It’s tempting to say, “The wedding is not a finish line—it’s a whole new beginning!” But the thing is, that’s misleading as well.
Yes, our wedding meant I was now a wife, which was a new role for me. However, becoming a wife did not alter my personality, wipe away my insecurities, or transform my lack of experience in the kitchen, my tendency to procrastinate doing laundry, and thank God, my belief that farts can be hilarious.
I did not become new when I stood at the altar, knees shaking, repeating my vows. Our wedding was meaningful and sacred, but more than anything it was a natural, exciting step forward in what was already a long journey. The foundation we had built while we were dating and engaged was the same one we would build on as spouses.
Despite the teachings of popular Christian marriage books, a healthy marriage does not have to fit the mold of gender-based roles, especially if that isn’t what your dating relationship looked like.
When I started receiving and flipping through books about Christian marriage, I kept encountering teachings that uplifted a very specific picture of marriage by painting women and men in (unhelpfully) broad strokes.
The picture they painted of a wife was one of the (sole) nurturer, the organized one, the home-manager (but not the number-cruncher) who desperately wanted to be whisked away on a romantic date. Little, intended-to-be-humorous comments were made about how much we the women loved chocolate and flowers and bubble baths. We could all commiserate about how our husbands are emotionally unavailable but that the secret family pot roast recipe could coax the love right out of him.
Meanwhile, a husband earns, provides, leads, and counts down the hours until his next hunting trip. He is thankful for his wife spending so much of her time with the kids because those kids are nuts! He may not speak about what he is feeling, but rest assured that he wants to feel like a man. He will cherish you and feel cherished by you through affection, praise, and obviously that perfect pot roast.
Anyone who personally knows me or my husband knows that applying this picture of marriage to us is both hilarious and gross.
I found practically zero aspect of myself in the picture painted of Godly wives. How discouraging!
At first, I thought that meant I was the worst female specimen ever, but I came to realize that their picture of my role in marriage was based solely on the fact that I am a woman, disregarding any unique strengths or weaknesses I might have that didn’t fit the extremely feminine understanding of a wife. I mean, I think bubble baths are gross and flowers make me sneeze. Want to spoil me? Don’t tell me you need anything for 24 hours. Let me leave all of my clean clothes in the dryer and dress myself in the hallway for a week. Hold my hand while we watch football. Yes, I know, June Cleaver is clutching her pearls.
Up until our marriage, sometimes I would lead, and sometimes Kenny would. I worked to prioritize care for him, and he worked to prioritize care for me. We functioned as equal partners before getting married, and it felt right. We related to each other in healthy ways, and we were pretty successful communicators and sources of love and support for each other. Why did we suddenly have to fit this new order to become “husband and wife”?
Answer: we didn’t.
Instead, we donated the books and talked openly with each other. We believed that a marriage of glorifying God would look like deepening and continuing what we had already started: prioritizing care for each other in what we call “mutual submission”.
Kenny cooked a lot in our early days of marriage because he had more experience than me, and we took into account that one time I cried actual tears when I couldn’t dry the salad adequately. I shopped for groceries because Kenny began harboring rage against the nincompoops who leisurely walked through the store like they enjoyed the experience. I picked out our paint colors, and we both spent the day wearing ill-fitting old clothes, listening to music, and making our house a home. I painted the lower trim, and Kenny got the places up high.
When we shifted roles, it was because the situation called for it rather than because our gender warranted it. There have been times in our marriage when I have been the top earner and times in our marriage where I haven’t earned a steady salary. Both situations required a shifting of duties to make everything flow. And still, we have found our rhythm. We work as a team, offering what we can and trying to learn together in joy, love, and humility. Our relationship as husband and wife is a continuation of the relationship we had been building for years, and it fits us better than a picture painted in a book ever could.
Finding a metaphor for marriage is pretty challenging. Both the finish line and the new beginning fall short. If I were to offer an accurate picture of marriage, I think it would look something like this:
Have you ever renovated a house? What a wild ride. It’s wonderful, and it also will be the bane of your existence at times. Marriage is the beautiful and messy continuation of a building project you started when you were dating.
Some people stacked strong bricks while they were dating and then came to realize that they didn’t use any mortar. Sometimes you’re close enough to the starting point to add the mortar after adjusting only a few bricks. Sometimes you have to undo layers and layers of what you’ve made so far and re-do it the right way, the sturdy way, using all of the necessary tools.
You might realize that somehow you built your closet out of straw and chewed-up bubble gum. Were you blindfolded for this portion of the building process? It’s a legitimate possibility. You have to tear that down, maybe laugh a little at the mistake, and then sigh, gather more bricks, and mortar, and go about building it up again.
Then the question, “Is that what I think it is…?”
In clearing space for your living room, you found an old pipe that seems to have been placed there around WWII. Where does this even lead? Is it connected anywhere? (Hint: it’s always connected somewhere.) You have to track that down, put in the exhausting efforts of removing it, and then start your living room floor all over again.
You’ll know at some point whether this house will weather the coming storm. Sometimes you need to kick your work into high gear making the necessary preparations before it hits. Maybe there’s time to board up the house and maybe there isn’t. It’s possible that damage will be done, but rebuilding can allow you to create something even more beautiful than what you had before.
Maybe in fifty years, you’ll have a pretty awesome house to live in. You’ll always need repairs though. When the roof leaks a little or theres a mouse living in the wall…(Ugh.) But you’ll figure out a way or call the right people to come in and help.
In the end, no brick will have been laid for nothing, even if it crumbles after you accidentally screwed your Christmas lights into it. You will work on what you need to work on, and you will do it better with two sets of hands.
So reader, if you’re looking for a relationship, I hope you find a great co-builder. If you’re in a relationship, I hope you would describe that person as a great co-builder. One who is crafty and plays good music while you work. One who follows the instructions but also knows how to get creative. One who isn’t spooked by the snakeskin you found in the pipes and forgives you for building with bubble gum. I hope you laugh when you’re drilling holes in the wall and keep missing the studs. I hope you know when to pick up the pace and when to stop and eat pizza on your newly installed floors.
And by all means, if you can manage it, marry your best friend.