It’s our anniversary today. Four years down. We’re working our way towards the really respectable numbers: Ten. Twenty. Fifty-five.
But at four years down, we really don’t feel like newlyweds anymore. Whatever it is that comes after ‘newlywed’ and before ‘seasoned veteran’—that’s where we are. It’s a good, comfortable, not new, but still-getting-surprises-now-and-then kind of feeling.
Last night after the baby was down, we talked about our four years, and we talked about what we might have learned over the course of them. One thing we agreed on emphatically—learning has taken place.
Here are four of the things the Lord has been gracious to teach us since September 22, 2012:
- Generalizations about men and women will only get you so far.
Men and women really are different. We know this. We’ve gotten decades of commentary on this from the world, from scripture, from our friends, and from the church. But one thing we each noticed in the first year of marriage was that the person we were married to didn’t fit the stereotypes.
Justin is a man, but he’s actually very sensitive to my emotional state. I am a woman, but it’s very difficult for me to monologue about my day or my feelings. Justin is a man, but he doesn’t like to watch or play sports, doesn’t care about cars or guns, and likes British period movies as much as I do. I am a woman, but I am not good at multitasking, do not enjoy shopping, and don’t feel that my husband’s sexual appetite is out of sync with my own.
On the flipside, Justin does get angry when he feels disrespected, doesn’t understand home decoration, is a ‘visual person’, does feel the burden to provide, and does have a penchant for burgers and beer. I am a stereotypical woman in that I do sometimes cry without knowing why, do have an urge to protect my baby that is almost guttural, do eat pickles when pregnant, and do roll my eyes when my husband laughs at bodily functions.
Men and women are really different from each other in some fundamental and typified ways. But there are lots of things that Justin and I simply had to learn about each other from scratch. No book or survey could help us. And almost every other young couple that I talk to says something along these same lines: “My husband isn’t like most men in [fill in the blank way]…”
- The marriage bed just keeps getting better (but it’s definitely a seasonal sport).
Before we got married, Justin prepared emphatically for the wedding night… how? By reading about it, of course. Hey, everybody’s learning style is different. Several good books were recommended to us during our engagement (especially this one, which we recommend only for married or nearly married couples). I don’t know, but I think he might have read them all. As the day of our nuptial bliss drew near, I read up as well.
Nobody could say we weren’t prepared.
When we came home from the honeymoon, we bragged to each other like children. “No one has ever picked something up so quickly,” we said to each other. “No one else has ever had such a fantastic honeymoon.”
I can’t really comment on the accuracy of these claims, four years later, but I will say in retrospect that there was lots of room for growth. The nice thing is, if you get two people together who are committed to learning, committed to honoring one another, and committed to the other person’s enjoyment… well, time is on your side. Stay married, and keep coming back for regular batting practice, and God will bless your well-placed efforts.
Every year has seen new levels of intimacy, new skills, and—yes—new challenges. Pregnancy, childbirth, long work hours, weight gain and loss, low-grade annoyances and spats… each year of marriage has seen its own shifts and seasons, and each has presented new opportunities to love and serve one another in the bedroom. The one thing that hasn’t changed is that we prioritize this department, and have learned at the same time not hang everything on it.
- “Think before you speak” is good, but so is “Repent after you speak.”
This is another of those stereotypes that we don’t quite fit into. I don’t tend to struggle with ‘speaking my mind’ too quickly—Justin doesn’t feel that I henpeck him or lose my temper with him. My anger is hidden, longstanding, and passive-aggressive. Not only will I not say what I’m thinking accidentally, I have to concentrate very hard in order to say it. Justin, on the other hand, is more likely to speak quickly with a short outburst of anger.
Since the beginning of our marriage, he has also made it a standard practice to “pick up the floor” every day. This came from something he read when he was single (he credits Douglas Wilson): ‘You can’t help but drop things on the floor every day when you are in a relationship with someone. Wrongs will be committed because you are both sinful people. The problem comes when you don’t pick up.’
Although sometimes quick to speak, he is also quick to repent. He is also quick to notice if I have an unspoken grievance that I am sitting on; he knows if something just isn’t right. And he goes after it until it’s been dealt with.
That’s why I say that in practical terms, we’ve noticed ourselves more willing to offend one another as the marriage has progressed. Politeness arising from unfamiliarity and a fear of conflict has slowly disappeared, but in its place has come a more disciplined politeness arising from courtesy and mutual respect. By necessity—instead of simply tiptoeing lightly enough to keep the peace—we’ve begun to develop the skill of making peace after it’s been compromised or broken.
- Children really do change the marriage (harder but better).
We expected it. They told us it was true. We told each other that it was true and that we should expect it.
But it still hit pretty hard: our marriage will never be quite the same after children. This is exactly why we wanted to have them.
I think it was earlier for us than for others—I got baby fever pretty soon after the wedding day, and had to control myself for our agreed-upon year. But after that year was over and we were actively praying and trying for children, Justin was soon right there with me.
There is a legitimately procreative tendency to marriage. This is why infertility is such a painful thing for a couple to go through. You make a family when you marry one another, but then, the marriage wants to grow branches. This is what a healthy tree tends to do. It sprouts, and as it grows taller and stronger, it starts sending energy and oxygen outward.
We sprouted children because we were compelled scripturally to do so, wanted to do so, and because it felt imminently natural to do so. It still feels “right” in all those ways.
But it also is just a whole lot of work. Sometimes, we’ve wondered to each other if we’ll later call these “the tired years.” There have been weeks of time when I thought our marriage was not doing well—and then realized that all I needed was to get a babysitter for one night to feel that all was well again.
I have sometimes felt that my attention is so constantly being zapped by two small people (one out, and one in), and that I’m simply not keeping enough in reserve for Justin. This has led to very edifying conversations with older married women, resulting in practical advice that has helped.
But Justin and I are fully aware that our marriage is forever different—and we mutually describe the difference as an enrichment, rather than an impoverishment. It’s like getting married in the first place: you trade something you had (independence and a self-centered lifestyle) for something better (dealing with somebody new, but with extra joy and spiritual growth resulting).
Four years have brought changes, certainly. But here’s one thing that hasn’t changed. We’re still huge fans of marriage itself—as an abstract idea, an experience, a picture, a gift, a discipline, a state, a ride, and a practice. By God’s grace, we’re in it for the long haul.