Love and Marriage
Sappy post alert! Avert your gaze, as appropriate…
I don’t write much about marriage and relationships on this blog. This is because, a) I don’t think I have any particularly unique insight or expertise to offer when it comes to these matters; and b) I don’t really want to :). I find much of what is written on love and marriage (especially by Christians) to be either formulaic and fluffy or interminably doctrinaire and rigid. Or just boring. I’m very interested in marriage (particularly my own, you’ll be happy to know!), but I have rarely felt like writing about it.
Until this morning, evidently.
(My wife currently lies sleeping downstairs after getting home at 3 am from a fundraiser for our daughter’s swim club, so I am, understandably, overflowing with feelings of gratitude and devotion toward her.)
Next week, Naomi and I will be taking a short holiday with some good friends to celebrate our eighteenth anniversary (Eighteen?! Hmm, that sounds ominously close to twenty…Which sounds ominously close to an anniversary that is celebrated by, um, older people… Which means… well, never mind…). And as is so often the case when significant milestones beckon just around the bend, it’s natural to reflect upon lessons learned, mistakes made, insights gained, etc.
It is cliché to say that we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into at the time. Who knows much of anything at that age? We knew (or at least were pretty convinced!) that we loved each other and that we wanted to face life together, but of course we had no idea what that life would look like. We couldn’t imagine that words like “infertility” and “adoption” loomed on the horizon, nor could we have foreseen the tortured, meandering educational and vocational path that a certain someone would take (let the reader understand). We had no idea how the years would change and shape us into the people that we are and are becoming. We are not the same fresh-faced kids that giggled “I do” at the front of our home church on a grey November day in 1995. Obviously.
But—who would’ve imagined?!—“I do” has turned into “I have done” and “I will continue to do.” “For better or worse” has moved from a poetic abstraction mouthed by clueless, love-struck teenagers into actual challenges and choices, actual missteps, frustrations, hopes and fears. “I promise” has been tested and pushed and pulled in innumerable ways large and small. “I love you” has shown itself to be deeper and wider and truer and harder and grittier than we could ever have imagined. Real life with another real human being over real time has a way of forcing flowery words off the stage, far away from beautiful white dresses and suits and ties, and right into the trenches where their mettle is proved.
So, what have I learned about love and marriage in these eighteen years? Well, I have learned that our marriage wouldn’t fit many good Christian templates about how marriage is supposed to work. We’ve let the sun go down on our anger plenty of times (sometimes it’s actually a good thing, we’ve discovered… It’s easier to be civil when you’re not exhausted at the end of a long day). We don’t adhere to how good Christian gender roles are “supposed” to operate or anything like that. My wife is a far better leader than I am. I might even be the softer touch with the kids. We have found that those gender stereotypes don’t really work for us, so we don’t bother with much of that kind of stuff at all.
The lessons we have learned are mostly pretty simple, and not even remotely unique. They are good, sturdy, demanding lessons like, “there’s no such thing as a perfect marriage so don’t expect yours to be” and “marriage takes work and time and effort” and “love is not a feeling but a choice that must be made every day.” You know, the usual stuff.
But if I had to sum it all up, it would look something like this: That “love your neighbour as yourself” business that Jesus was always going on about… That actually works in marriage too.
We simply try (and fail, of course) to treat each other the way that we would like to be treated. Would I like to be consulted on this decision? Would I appreciate coming home to a sink full of dirty dishes after a full day of work? Would this parenting issue work better with one or two parents around? Would I like to come home to a clean house, the kids in bed, and a bottle of wine and a movie waiting? Is this argument where we keep circling the wagons working for me? Would I appreciate a time out and a commitment to try again later? And on and on it goes. We screw up, of course. Sometimes spectacularly. But we have found that “do as you would be done by” is actually a pretty good marriage strategy. Imagine that.
In other words, The best way to have a good marriage is to try to be a good human being. Not a “godly husband/wife” (whatever that might mean) but a good human being. Full stop. I have found that Naomi tends to respond to me better when I am kind and patient, when I don’t bring up past issues, when I am not proud or self-seeking, when I defend and protect her, when I’m considerate and decent. In other words, when I’m not a jerk (yes, Ryan’s profound marriage wisdom for the day: “Don’t be jerks to each other.” I should write a book…). Good human beings make most things better. Including marriages.
The last thing I would say comes purely from our own experience. Marriage seems to work pretty good when you marry your friend. Naomi and I have known each other since we were fifteen years old. Which is, well, a long time ago now. I think we were dating before we could even drive. Before we were ever lovers or spouses or parents, we were just a couple of kids who liked hanging out together and made each other laugh. We have, quite literally grown up together. We have gone from watching movies in our parents’ basement and blissfully drinking slurpees in her dad’s convertible VW bug to navigating the minefield of juggling careers, parenting of adolescents, and just generally trying to keep our heads above water. And we’ve done it together. Which is a pretty good way to do these things, we’ve discovered. A pretty good way for love to grow.
And as I write these last words, I (still) have the new Pearl Jam album blaring in my headphones. My wife doesn’t really like Pearl Jam (it’s been one of those complex challenges we’ve had to negotiate), but whenever I hear these words from “Future Days” I think of her.
If I ever were to lose you
I’d surely lose myself Everything I have found dear
I’ve not found by myself Try and sometimes you’ll succeed
To make this man of me All my stolen missing parts
I’ve no need for anymore I believe
And I believe cause I can see Our future days
Days of you and me
Due to the aforementioned anniversary vacation, this blog will be gloriously silent next week.