Husband and I have now been married for ten years.
Over the past ten years, I’ve been contemplating and collecting thoughts about what I’d say if and when Paul and I reached the Decade marker in our marriage. I decided a while ago that if we made it to ten years we’d be a Legit Married Couple. Because listen: Ten years is a long time, and a lot of shit comes up over that time. I figured if we made it ten years, we’d have some Real advice to give young couples on what to expect from marriage, and what to do when the bottom falls out (because it will).
I have many stories to tell.
About the highest points on the tallest mountains and the glory of the Lookout. About the coldness and darkness and loneliness and hopelessness of the super dark and terrifying valley when it feels like death is poisoning your marriage.
So many stories.
Lucky for you, I’ve boiled ten years down to three major points and some light housekeeping.
Oh. And quick aside: While I don’t presume every married couple are Jesus followers, for those who are, everything I’m about to say is predicated on the assumption that Jesus is True North on your compass. Your spouse is with you on the adventure through this meandering jungleous territory; Jesus is your guide. You’re partners following One.
So the Superseding Point Above All: Keep Jesus as your one and only God. Do not make your spouse your god, or you will be grievously disappointed and ruined. Seriously. Don’t do it.
1. ON FIGHTING: Nobody tells you this – or maybe it’s just that nobody told ME this – but it’s important, maybe most important: At some point, you will have such a massive fight, a colossal, feels-earth-shattering falling out, that you will think you’re the only couple in the history of all time to ever fight like this or deal with this kind of scandal. It will make you believe your marriage is different; that it is so deeply and irrevocably flawed that it cannot survive. You will look at couples around you and think, “Sure, we all argue and fight and have our shit. But only we are facing this.”
Listen to me. Take this in, and hold it close. This is your life jacket, okay?
You’re not the first to fight like this.
You’re not the only ones dealing with this.
You’re not the first to wonder if your marriage can survive it.
You are not alone.
And most importantly: This is normal.
Literally every couple comes to a point where they’re like, “Are you kidding me? This cannot be normal? This cannot be something every couple deals with. That cannot be real.”
But it is, and that is so important to remember because it will help you to not give up.
Every couple has or will be here, and so, so, so, so, so many have come through it not only alive, but stronger. Not only that, so, so, so, so, so many couples have survived worse. So trust me: You can survive this, whatever your this is.
That’s not to say it’s healthy. It’s almost definitely not healthy (unless you’re one of those couples who argues really sweetly slash doesn’t argue at all and then you have a minor little spat and you’re like OH MY GOSH WHO DID I MARRY!? Then your arguments are healthy but – and I say this with all sincerity – your lack of fighting my be unhealthy. But anyway…).
The thing is, don’t be afraid of fights. And don’t be afraid to ask for help when the fighting gets out of hand. All marriages need counseling at some point. Call a therapist. Don’t be ashamed to do that. In fact, keep one on call. If you’re willing to see a doctor for a general preventative health maintenance, be willing to see a therapist for marital health.
And keep one on call for yourself too.
2. ON BABIES: So the fear is that everything is going to change when you have a baby, right? That your sex life is gonna disappear. Women fear the disappearance of their bodies. Men fear… well I don’t know what men fear, but I bet they fear the disappearance of their wives. Both fear the disappearance of their marriage. Or at least, what it was.
This is the true thing I can tell you: All of that is real. Everything, and I mean everything, is going to change.
Your sex life is going to be way different than it ever was before. You’re gonna have less of it. It’s gonna have to be quieter (unless you’re creepy and think it’s fun to make your kids listen to you having sex. In which case, as I keep saying, hire a therapist.) Sometimes, maybe most of the time, you’re gonna have to schedule when to do it. Seriously. And that’s okay.
You’re not gonna be sleeping anymore. Baby is gonna wake you up at all hours of the night, and it’s not gonna stop when she’s in her own room, because nightmares happen and noises happen and sick happens and kids who want to cuddle with mom and dad happen.
Spousal needs are gonna go to the back burner for a bit, not because they’re less important but because they’re less immediate. A hungry baby has to eat. A kid’s broken foot needs medical attention on date night. Stuff just… comes up.
So your marriage isn’t gonna get quite as much attention as it did before kids. You spouses won’t get as much of each other’s attention as you did before kids. Time will need to be shared. Dating will have to be a deliberate thing you do. But the time you save for each other will be better, more quality time.
But listen to me: When I say everything changes, it changes for the better. If and when you choose to have kids, it will strengthen your marriage, because you’ll be partners in raising this little human that was literally made from Love. You won’t ever want to go back. You may look back on pre-kid days and remember them as joyful, fun, spontaneous days that you loved and are so glad you had. (And please. Please please please take time for your marriage, because that Just Us time is holy.) But you will never want to go back.
Unless you had a baby to fix your marriage.
Don’t ever be so stupid as to try and fix your broken or breaking marriage by having a baby. Instead of having a baby, HAVE A THERAPIST. I am so serious about this.
If you have a baby to fix a broken marriage, your baby will not fix your broken marriage. Instead, your broken marriage will break your baby. Don’t do that.
Now, once you’ve had your amazing baby and everything has changed…
Show each other affection often, and in front of your kids.
Gross them out.
Make them go “ewwwwww! Get a room you guys!”
Be good wives and husbands because your kids are learning how to love and be loved by a Lover by watching you.
And here is the Truest Truth I’ve ever heard, and my daddy told it to me long ago:
The most important gift you can give your kids is love for each other.
So always, always put each other first.
Your kids don’t need to be your sun and stars, the thing you orbit around and hang on for Life.
Plus, putting kids at the center is way too much pressure for them.
They need to be free to hang on you.
Don’t ever hang on them. Ever. Ever ever ever.
Also, your kids don’t need stuff; they need stability.
And speaking as one whose parents literally went through hell and back a dozen times over some pretty major things, I know this is True.
Your child doesn’t need a fancy house or organic food or the best schools or financial stability, though those are all nice things.
They need their parents.
Stable marriages make stable parents make stable kids.
3. ON EVERYTHING ELSE:
Love each other fiercely.
Be unwaveringly selfless.
And be the first to apologize. Don’t wait for your spouse to say she or he is sorry first.
There will be times when you feel like your spouse is walking all over you. Demanding or expecting too much. You will feel like you’re giving, giving, giving and receiving nothing in return.
Sometimes that feeling will reflect what’s actually truly happening.
Keep on giving.
This may be an unpopular point, but I believe it with everything in me:
Lay yourself down for your spouse.
Let yourself be walked on.
If there is one person in your life who deserves to walk on the softer ground of your back or belly, rather than the rocky ground beneath you, it’s the person you’ve given your life to, and who’s given their life to you.
Be willing to give up your comfort; be willing even to be pained and splintered to spare them the pain and splinters.
You can do this thing.
It is hard and painful and awful, and it bears the most wonderful fruit.
Do not punish or resent your spouse for having a bad day, week, month, or season.
Instead, be their respite. Their resting place. Their safe place to be broken and hurt.
Be the place where they can be their absolute worst, while you remain your absolute best.
Also, don’t be the reason they’re having a bad day, week, month, or season.
When push comes to shove (not physically – don’t ever tolerate physical violence or aggression; Duh.)…
When you’re at the point where you cannot give any more of yourself to your spouse, and they cannot give anything more to you, pour into your marriage.
Because this union is holy. It is sacred.
When you can’t be For Each Other, you can be For Your Marriage.
Don’t say mean things.
Focus on small things because small things become big things that are way bigger than Big Gestures.
Do the big gestures sometimes, but not always, or they’ll become meaningless.
Drink morning coffee together.
Kiss each other hello and goodbye.
Say “I Love You” often.
Say “I was wrong” often.
Make dinner together.
Go on dates.
Make out in the car and in the shower.
Smile at each other.
Talk about real things.
Strive to understand rather than to be understood.
Undress in front of each other, and praise each other’s bodies.
Don’t entertain the thought of any other person. (The grass is never actually greener, okay?)
Make long, exhaustive lists of each others strengths,
Highlight them often,
Add to the list daily,
DO NOT MAKE LISTS OF ANYTHING ELSE.
(Get me here? No record keeping, people. Do not keep records of wrongs.)
Watch movies you don’t want to watch just because your spouse likes them.
Look at each other across a crowded room, and wink.
Praise each other in front of other people.
Never, ever, ever mock or degrade one another in front of other people.
Create the kind of marriage you want your kids to have when they’re grown up.
And don’t give up.
Don’t give up.
Don’t give up.
Don’t give up.
**Trigger Warning: The following post contains discussion of sexual assault & sexual violence, and may be disturbing or triggering to survivors.**
As anyone who follows my Facebook goings-on knows, I wasn’t remotely surprised about last week’s Duggar Scandal. I’ve been very vocal in my criticism of Quiverfull Patriarchy sub-culture and the abuse and repression endemic to its fundamentalist theology.
What was largely lost, yet again, in the blog-flinging from both sides – those condemning Josh’s actions and the QF movement, and those rallying in support of the Duggars – were the voices of the victims. So, in gratitude to and support of a brave soul whose experience closely mirrored the Duggar’s story, and who courageously raised her voice via this blog before, I offer her perspective in her own words. ~Amy
When I was 12 and my brother was 14, I was awakened one night by his hands pulling off my underwear. I froze. As he fondled me, I sat in the shame of that darkness completely lost. After he was done, all he said as he left my room that night was “don’t tell mom and dad.”
It was steaming hot, delicious, and perfectly sugared and creamed.
He brought it to me at 9:45am, after having gotten up with Eli at 7:30am.
That’s right – he let me sleep in. Til 9:45am.
I know, right? I’m one lucky broad.
I say all this like it doesn’t happen every day.
I’m serious people:
Paul gets up with Eli each morning, letting me sleep in like a pathetic college kid, and waking me up to the half-gone day between 9:30a-10:00a with a steaming cup of coffee Every.Single.Day.
I’m not telling you all this to brag. I mean, I totally could be bragging, and I’d be right to do so. My husband loves me well in these small ways every.single.day.
I’m telling you all this because lately, I’ve been a horrible wife. I’ve been keeping records of his wrongs.
Like, it makes me so mad when he empties and refills the dishwasher, but neglects to wipe down the counters and stove.
It drives me bonkers when, after cooking my favorite meal – asiago cheese egg-in-the-hole bagels with bacon – he doesn’t wipe the table off, and leaves the dishes in the sink instead of taking them to the dishwasher.
Want to know what really drives me mad? When he takes his sweater off at bedtime – so he can comfortably curl up next to me – and throws that sweater on the otherwise clean and clear floor.
And good lord, when I come home from a 10-mile-run during which I enjoyed an hour and a half of uninterrupted “me” time while you solo-parented our child, would you please not ask me how it went? Geez!
You can punch me in the face now.
One night, after a fight, I went to sleep in the other bedroom. Not necessarily because I didn’t want to sleep with him (though I didn’t), but because my mind was racing a million miles a minute, and I needed to get clear. So I googled stupid things like, “What to do when your husband doesn’t appreciate you.”
[Before you go any further, just know that I am keenly aware of the incredible irony of my previous sentence.]
I stumbled across this blog. The author tells about how, when she told her mom she wanted to leave her husband, her mom said, “Do this first: Make two lists. The first should be a list of ‘everything that makes him impossible to live with’.” She assumed the other list should be of his good qualities. But instead, her mom said to write down opposite of her grievances all the ways she responded to them. Then, her mom said tear the sheet in half and throw his side away. She was to reflect on HER side of the paper.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot.
Then, yesterday my husband – the very one who makes me coffee each and every.single.day after letting me sleep in, and who usually takes that morning time to do the one chore I absolutely hate doing (dishes – you know, when he fails to wipe down counters. Ugh.) – shared this blog from Business Insider, declaring that, scientifically speaking anyway, the one thing that practically guarantees marital bliss or destruction is kindness. Are you kind to your spouse? When he invites you into an intimate moment – whether it’s about a bird chirping or snow falling or a funny video or a job frustration or straight-up sex – do you turn toward him, listen to him, affirm him? Or do you turn away? Do you ignore him, or worse, make him feel like he shouldn’t have bothered because you just don’t care?
Turns out, marriages that last are always built and nurtured by two kind and generous people.
And recently, anyway, there’s really only been one kind and generous person in my marriage.
The other one has been a raging bitch.
I’ve held him to these impossible standards and unrealistic expectations. I’ve kept a tally of minor grievances, even making shit up when the list isn’t long enough to match my unreasonable and disproportionate rage, while failing utterly to notice the myriad ways he loves me so well Every.Single.Day.
Whatever list I may be able to make of his “wrongs” – which, I’m sure you’ve noticed, are *just so horrible* (she said, tongue dripping of sarcasm) – the corresponding list of my responses is dastardly.
I wrote him an email at 1:30am this morning to tell him I’ve made the right list. That I’m trying.
That he’s a good lover, a champion friend, and a faithful and long-suffering teacher of generosity and kindness.
That he deserves to be noticed, acknowledged, hugged, kissed, thanked, seen, heard… every.single.day.
I apologized for being a demon woman.
And I told him I would have asked for his forgiveness if I thought for even a second that he hadn’t already forgiven me.
But he had.
And he does.
“I thought I could fly…well, at least until my wings were clipped at the age of 4 when I first lost my innocence to my grandfather.”
In my last blog, I told a little bit of her story…
She was four years old when her grandfather molested her for the first time.
She was five when he raped her to the fullest extent of the word.
She was eleven before he quit, presumably because she’d soon begin menstruating.
Soon after, another family member began molesting her.
When told, a trusted youth pastor brought it to her parents rather than the police.
They not only deemed her a liar, refusing to believe her, but threatened her with shunning and worse if she didn’t remain silent and protect family secrets.
And in the decades since, she’s sunk deeper into their grave of lies, afraid to speak, afraid she doesn’t matter, afraid what they said about her worth, her belovedness, her value – or lack of all – is true.
Now, at 32 years old, she is beginning to find her voice.
It’s my honor to share her story in her words.
I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it…
Funny the way life circles out and then back and then further still again. Often the journey is conceived geographically, but it’s the circumnavigation of waypoints deep within that map who we are as the circles widen.
My roots are nestled deep in the rural South of the US. There’s a friendly politeness to the people even if it lacks any genuine concern and a certain brand of Christian religion weaves through-out the culture. God often seems not one of compassion for those of us who doubt, question, are gay, or live in the grayer areas of life, but a God who casts off any who struggle to walk the straight and narrow.
For a precocious child who found turmoil way too early in life, I’ve found that such beginnings reverberate for years even as our small circles widen until we return again only to reach out further still. It’s hard to hold hope in such a God, especially when life curves.
Innately, I was always a bit of a risk taker, I pushed the envelope, I questioned everything, I thought I could fly…well, at least until my wings were clipped at the age of 4 when I first lost my innocence to my grandfather. For a while, I fought as best as a child could. I became insolent and angry, and in the midst, tried to reach out to the Church and my family, all who labeled me the problem. To them, it became more important to protect those who hurt me than how I felt. I lost all trust. As the next several years wore on with no relief, I slowly lost the rest of myself. In 9th grade, alone and with not much hope to cling to, I tried to kill myself.
In the hospital I found that tumultuous anger got me nowhere. So, I numbed to the pain and instead sought comfort in food and cutting. AND as my circles widened further into college, grad school, and finally, divinity school all of which I ran away to, to make sense of life…like my hidden scars, my weight increased proportionally through the years.
I’ve been to Burma and back, Appalachia and back, San Francisco and back, and a number of other places…and if any answers were found, it only lead to more questions.
AND then my life circled back to where I swore I’d never return when I left at the age of 17. BUT see the roots of my present journey started in the previous circle while I was in Nashville. The place I came to know as home. It was there that seeds of hope were first planted quietly in music, which has always been my life-blood, and then friendship, my saving grace and anchoring; whose beginnings were unknowingly fertilized in the circle of my high school days.
Now in my 30s and somehow back in the hauntings of where it all began; I couldn’t just sit still and languish. I found the courage to return to one of my first loves…horses. AND in the span of a year, as I’ve fought to find myself again, I’ve loved and lost and gained in so many ways: Friendship that challenges and teaches much about love, trust, and family. A beloved pony who began to teach me how to fly again even when I fell and had to get back up again…and again. I’m no longer carrying over 100 lbs that I had before… AND because I think it has something to teach me and a couple of good friends have encouraged me, I am training to run a half-marathon in February despite the fact that I’ve never ran more than 2.5 miles up to this point.
I’ve found that you CAN’T run from the things that are killing you…instead they must be faced. AND that’s why we circle back. How else can we heal? Only then can we make another revolution, wider still, and bring life and love to those encountered along the way.
The process is painful, excruciatingly so…and I DON’T know if I will complete this one. BUT maybe I’ll FINALLY begin to live into myself.
…I circle around God, the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?
*The poem bookending this piece is from the Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke.
<<<<< If you or someone you know has been or is being sexually assaulted, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE