Twenty years ago tomorrow, Jana Michelle Parker promised before God, our friends, and our families that she would be my wife. And I promised to be her husband. We had no idea what the next two decades would bring for sickness, health, riches and poverty, but no one ever does. By God’s grace, though, here we are, twenty years later. So here are twenty insights about marriage to mark this 20th anniversary:
1. Be on the same team.
It’s easy to be divided. We might argue about our kids, our finances, our choice of restaurants – but in the end, we are on the same team. This is a good and right thing to think about often.
2. Marriage will show you your sin.
One of the great ways God uses marriage is for the shaping of our own souls and lives. It’s through marriage that we find a mirror of our own selfishness, ambition, and self-protection. Marriage provides a near constant opportunity for repentance.
3. Marriage will show you the gospel.
Of course, marriage also shows the gospel, for when you wrong your spouse – and you will wrong your spouse – they have the opportunity to extend true forgiveness and restoration. It’s through these everyday moments of forgiveness from another, so close to us, that we are reminded of the greater forgiveness we have from God.
4. Intimacy takes more, not less work the longer you are married.
The longer you are married, the more life falls into a kind of routine. As it does, it takes real work to ask real questions of your spouse, and then actually listen to the responses. It’s ironic that so many live in such close proximity with another, and yet know them less and less as the years go by.
5. Marriage cannot be built on “paybacks.”
Your spouse goes out with friends. Then you assume you have the same right, and that he / she should watch the kids so you get your “payback.” Real lasting marriage doesn’t work this way. It works on grace.
6. Mentoring is good. Comparison is bad.
My marriage is not your marriage. True enough, I can learn from you just like you can learn from me, but to compare one marriage to another is going to result in frustration. Take the principles, but then live them out in your specific context of two people with different personalities.
7. A marriage should be safe.
The world gives us challenges on all fronts. Social challenges, vocational challenges, financial challenges – marriage ought to be a refuge. It should be an environment in which one can be scared, excited, and emotionally naked. Marriage should be safe.
8. A good spouse is one who goes to war against assumption.
The longer you are married, the more you assume. You assume your spouse knows how to respond. You assume you know what they’re thinking or feeling. You assume what they are sad or excited about. But a good spouse goes to war against assumption and actually engages.
9. Date nights are good, but they aren’t a magic bullet.
It’s great and important to have nights out. But it’s naiive to think that having a weekly date night is a cure all for marriage. Just as important as date nights are nights in playing Scrabble or watching House Hunters.
10. Praise should be public; criticism should be private.
We should be our spouses biggest cheerleaders in public. That doesn’t mean we don’t disagree or even offer criticism, but a husband or wife should know that in public, they always have an ally.
11. A marriage is a place to be simultaneously proud but unimpressed with your spouse.
You might be an important leader in business or community. You might have people who laud your intelligence or abilities. And any spouse should be immensely proud of who they’re married to. But at the end of the day, you come home and do the dishes and take out the trash. Proud, yes – but impressed? Not so much.
12. A home should be filled with Ebeneezers.
Ebeneezers are reminders of God’s faithfulness. Any marriage that is lasting through the years is full of moments and memories of God’s faithfulness. It’s a healthy thing to fill the home with tangible reminders of them.
13. Quick apologies, without equivocation, are difficult. But powerful.
Words get heated. Emotions run on edge. And both spouses have a wealth of past experiences to draw on for ammunition. But a gospel-centered marriage is full of quick apologies without justification.
14. Marriage enables another person to hurt you the most deeply but trusts them not to do so.
No one knows me better than my wife. That means she has the most arrows in her quiver with which to wound me. And yet part of marriage is knowing that, but believing that the person you are married to can be trusted with that weapon.
15. The days pass slowly. The years pass quickly.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years. In the days, or the weeks, time seems sometimes to drag on – that we will never get passed this stage or that one. The toddlers, the school plays, the whatever. And yet here we are – slow days, but a rapid passing of years.
16. Physical affection is an imperative part of marriage.
To this day, nothing gives me more confidence or comfort than holding my wife’s hand. I hope and pray for many more decades in which to do just that, in public and in private.
17. Each stage of life feels hard. And the next one is harder.
I remember when I was in graduate school. It felt like we had no money, no extra time, no margin. And then we had a child. And we felt it all over again, except we looked back at the previous stage and marveled at how easy it was. This is how you grow in your capacity for difficulty and challenge – one stage at a time. And mercifully, you do so together.
18. The longer you’re married the more you realize just how ridiculous you are.
Human beings are ridiculous. We are absurd and comical in so many ways, from the way we look, to our little habits, to our likes and dislikes. Nowhere is this absurdity more apparent than in marriage, where you are in all ways naked before another person. It’s a wonderful gift to be secure enough in marriage to good-naturedly laugh together at one another without feeling insecure.
19. Small, everyday acts of kindness mean more over time than extravagant gestures.
Bringing your spouse a cup of coffee. Cleaning up without being asked, and without asking for recognition. Bringing home a dessert from your spouse’s favorite coffee shop. These are small things. But it’s the consistency that adds up over the course of years.
20. The capacity for love – and like – grows over time.
It has for me. I thought, some 20 years ago, I loved this woman. And I did. But like the Grinch, I have found my heart growing for the last two decades. I fully believe it will continue to do so.