A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I celebrated five years of marriage. I’m still in the novice stages but here are five things I’ve learned in our five years together.
My marriage is not like your marriage. I don’t mean to be elitist. I’m not saying that my marriage is better, healthier, or more fun than yours. I simply mean that no two people in human history have ever been alike and so when we get two unique individuals together in oneness, the possibilities are endless. Everyone and their mothers wanted to give me marriage advice when I first got engaged. They meant well but it was almost always an oversimplified yet laborious list of do’s and dont’s. This often happens to marriage advice because intrinsically we understand that most of what we know to be true about marriage is actually quite unique to our own specific combinations of two-becoming-one. Your marriage [or future marriage] is one of a kind. Sure, there are big, universal truths that apply to all relationships. But I’ve learned to embrace and enjoy the process of discovering the specifics and particulars of this amazing thing that only Jenny and I share. With that being said, please take everything else I write here with a grain of salt. It’s just what I’m learning to be true in our marriage; it may not be true for you. Take what’s helpful, ignore what’s not.
Don’t assume that you speak the same language. In response to the axiom, “the mediums change but the message stays the same,” philosopher Marshall McLuhan was fond of saying, “the medium is the message.” I’ve discovered these past few years that how we say something and why we say it that way are far more important than what we’re actually saying. Early on, because we both speak English, I assumed that my wife and I were fluent in a common language. But as most married people know, this simply isn’t true. Our histories, experiences, and personalities all shape the endless why’s and how’s of the things we say to each other. I’m slowly learning to take on the posture of a beginner in my marriage, approaching conversations with the humility and curiosity of one learning a new language.
The little things are the big things. Just the other day, the dishes had piled up in the kitchen sink so I decided to do them. I’m not a fan of doing dishes but I knew Jenny would be home soon from a long day of teaching. I wasn’t super thoughtful or intentional about it. I just figured getting the dishes done would give us more time to relax and have some fun that evening. Even after five years together, I was astonished at her joy when she saw an empty sink and clean dishes. You have no idea how happy this makes me, she said. I laughed. But this is how it works, I think. The little things are the big things. I’m learning to get off my high horse of big words and big dreams a little more often to wash dishes, take out the trash, vacuum, etc. It makes all the difference in the world.
Laughter trumps [almost] everything. Jenny and I laugh a lot together. It’s a gift from God. I say this without a hint of sarcasm. I consider it one the greatest allies to our marriage. We laugh daily. Sometimes it’s an episode of Saturday Night Live. Sometimes it’s an impromptu dance, usually childish and playful, always hilarious. Sometimes it’s something unexpected and surprising. But we’ve made it a daily habit to laugh together. We don’t think about it much anymore and it almost feels effortless at this point but I’m realizing that it’s taken years of work to craft this beautiful dynamic into our regular routine. Laughter really is the best medicine, not just for the things that ail us but also for keeping our marriage vibrant, healthy, and fun. Laughter can diffuse tension, alleviate anxiety, and offer tremendous perspective. This isn’t to say that laughter should be forced. There are seasons and moments in life that require grieving and solemn quiet, amongst other things. But I’ve learned to take extreme advantage of any and every opportunity to laugh together. It builds equity in the bank of our marriage and has become our prime investment objective.
Love trumps [absolutely] everything. This obvious truth is simple but so easily forgotten. We’ve all heard countless times that love is a choice. And so I choose to love my wife every morning. She chooses to do the same for me. But much like learning to speak the same language, love requires a humility and curiosity. The truth is, love is just a four letter word we use in our attempt to describe something that is incomprehensibly mysterious. Love is near impossible to perfect and yet, paradoxically, it’s love’s unattainable nature that makes it the very lifeblood of a healthy marriage. Love provides us the consummate common good toward which Jenny and I can spend our lifetime working together to attain. It is both our present bedrock and our talisman just beyond reach. We know it like an old friend and a hazy figure in the distant fog. And this journey together with it and toward it keeps us alive and invigorated.