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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. 

Obviously.

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.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. MDAELE #

    awe so sweet

    November 16, 2013
  2. Can’t wait seeing you two in a couple of days and celebrating with you!

    November 16, 2013
    • Looking forward to it immensely, Petra.

      November 16, 2013
  3. John H Neufeld, Winnipeg, MB #

    We’ve been married 40 more years than you. Sometimes it feels like it! I agree with you that the secret is being a good human being. I came across this bit of insight, “more gifted than I had imagined and more flawed than I had feared.” Best wishes!

    November 16, 2013
    • Well there’s something to aspire to! Thanks, John.

      (Love the quote, by the way. So very true…)

      November 16, 2013
  4. I, too, rarely write about my marriage. For me, it’s because words are so inadequate and I end up re-reading what I’ve written and either gagging or blushing. Then I crumple up the paper or select all and delete. You’ve done an excellent job writing about something that is hard to put into words. And the two of you, besides being a blessing to each other, are a blessing to those around you too.

    November 16, 2013
    • Gagging or blushing… Yeah, that sounds about right :). I have similar sentiments.

      Thank you very much for the kind affirmation. I do appreciate it.

      November 16, 2013
  5. Ryan, although I know nothing in this area, I really really enjoy your realness. Seriously. I too find most relationship articles to be really really fluffy. This is not. I really appreciate that. Thank you. And for that reason (the real/rawness of your posts), your blog is one of my favorites to read.

    November 17, 2013
    • Thank you. Really appreciate the affirmation.

      November 17, 2013
  6. Joyce #

    I read your blog yesterday and today I received an email with a little story about apples, and it ended with a quote which was not attributed to anyone, but it fit right in with your post, so here it is: “Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It means you’ve decided to see beyond the imperfections.” My husband and I have been married for 63 years and the quote above says it all.

    November 17, 2013
    • Great quote, Joyce. Thank you for sharing it.

      November 25, 2013
  7. mike #

    It’s interesting to note just how much the ideal of Marriage and romantic Love have both evolved since Medieval times – when marriage was viewed as a contractual agreement born out of practical necessity more than anything else. And if the couple were fortunate, they gradually learned to love their partner with authentic love. At some point in early Christianity,it was deemed necessary(for dubious reasons?) to ritualize the contract, thereby making it only ‘officially’ sanctioned by God if done within the Church proper.
    As for the notion of Romantic love, It’s only been within the past 75 years or less that “Love” has blossomed into a multi-billion dollar moneymaker,covering everything from cosmetics and flowers to jewelry and clothing, thanks chiefly to very creative marketing and the American Capitalist Spirit.

    November 17, 2013
    • Yes, things have definitely changed over time, for better or for worse. For my part, I’m glad for a context in which romantic love and opportunities to learn how to love can and do frequently intersect :).

      November 25, 2013

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