Keep Doing “I Do”: Twelve things I’ve Learned in 30 Years of Marriage
This June marks thirty years since Pam and I exchanged our vows at Memorial Baptist Church in Parkston, SD. Over the years we have moved a dozen times, changed careers, suffered two miscarriages, endured two master’s degrees and several military separations, celebrated the birth of eight children, paid a lot of bills, bought a lot of groceries, worn out several washing machines, had more than a few conflicts, walked a lot of miles, and enjoyed some wonderful times together.
June is the month when many people choose to say “I do.” I am glad they do, but I am afraid that some of the unrealistic expectations of how life ever after is supposed to go lead to disillusionment and giving up on the promises. It is tempting to remember “for better” but forget about “or for worse.” I am grateful for a wife who has loved me through both and is still learning and growing with me. Here’s my list of twelve things I’ve learned throughout our married years, some from experience and some from others. I hope these might give you a realistic perspective on God’s good gift of marriage and help you to keep doing “I do.”
Stay committed to Christ and to a church body together. When we have had difficulties in our relationship the Holy Spirit has used worship and communion in particular to drive us to apologies and renewed efforts to work things out. We have learned insights and been encouraged by good models within the church.
Sharing meals together is good. Pam is a good cook and a fun person to be with.
Don’t reorganize Pam’s kitchen! Every person needs to communicate, understand and respect healthy boundaries.
Comparing your marriage to other marriages is not fair or helpful. We see others at their best and we see each other at our worst. This makes comparison dangerous. Some of the marriages that I compared ours to have gone through divorce. It is fair to look for good things you want to emulate in other couples, but don’t wish you had their marriage. Enjoy and develop the marriage you have.
Expectations may need to be adjusted to be more realistic. One time after a lunch argument about how orderly the house should be with little children, Pam said my expectations were too high and always going higher. I went back to the office and wrote out all my baseline expectations. I wanted proof that they weren’t going up; they were staying the same. Every once in a while I run across that document and I think, “Whoa! What were you thinking!” I know that Pam has had to adjust her expectations too.
Playful competition can be fun, but too much competition can kill the fun. That lesson was learned in the last game of checkers I played with Pam, over 28 years ago.
Avoid talking down your wife or husband’s family. Every one sometimes has some conflicts or disappointments with their family, but if you put down a person’s family you put them down too.
Kids are awesome. Enjoy them together, but don’t let them steal all your couple time away. Walks together have worked well for us. You have to find time to process life together and your relationship: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Money is an essential, recurring topic of conversation, but seldom a romantic one. However, avoiding these talks will undermine your relationship and your finances. Nothing brings out the different values two people hold than a discussion about how they have spent or how they should spend their money.
Every couple has conflicts, and some are difficult to resolve. Four things that come naturally to us when we are in conflict must be resisted (based on University of Denver research on why marriages fail):
Withdrawal – Checking out mentally or physically before a conflict is talked out and worked out.
Escalation – Talking louder and faster with high stakes attacks instead of listening to understand and try to work out a compromise.
Negative Interpretation –Imagining bad intent behind everything your husband or wife does. How can a person ever win your favor, or love ever grow, while such thought patterns are prevalent?
Invalidation – Saying, or expressing without saying a word, that your husband or wife is unworthy of your respect.
Just because you aren’t having arguments, doesn’t mean everyone is satisfied. Conversations about your different expectations for intimacy and affection may feel a bit awkward but are necessary and helpful.
Like all of life, marriage has seasons. Seasons of busyness, of separation, of little ones, and of older ones bring changes to your relationship. Each season has its blessings and challenges.