This week we celebrate our 11th Wedding Anniversary. That’s right, ELEVEN years! Snaps to us, I mean come on, that’s like 25 or 30 years in Hollywood marriages ;) I intended to write this post a year ago, because Ten Years sounds like a much more well-rounded milestone to celebrate and overflow from….but alas, I was 38 weeks pregnant and went into labour the next day. So although 11 doesn’t really sound like a magic number, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share what I’ve learnt along the way. Don’t worry, this post isn’t going to be a ‘5 Steps to a Happy Healthy Marriage’ kind of post, that’s definitely not my style. In fact, it’s probably going to be more ugly and painful. Not that marriage is ugly and painful, but, well, seriously….marriage done well is probably ugly and painful. Remember those vows? “For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and health, through joy and through sorrow?” Well, after 11 years, you really do experience both sides of the coin. As much as our ‘better, richer, healthier and joyful’ moments have been abundant and would probably make a great blog post, I actually believe the ‘worse, poorer, sickness and sorrow’ parts of marriage make a much grittier and far more powerful reality to share. So here it is, what I have learnt the hard way from the ugly truth of marriage…
It ain’t all sunshine and lollipops baby.
I don’t mean this to be negative or pessimistic, if you know me then you’ll know I’m an optimist and an idealist…which is probably why the reality of marriage hit me like a tonne of bricks! They say that the first year of marriage is the hardest. ‘They‘ are right. Take two completely different people, from two completely different backgrounds, in our case from two completely different generations, with two completely different family of origins, two completely different lifestyles and put them together and expect two to become one. BOOM. Recipe for disaster. Yep, that first year (or years, I would say) of marriage is a steep steep learning curve! The funny thing is, we thought we were soooo similar. In fact, that’s what attracted us to one another in the first place. We were drawn to each other because of our similarities – our beliefs and values, our dreams and desires. We thought we were on the same page! But it turns out, we were probably in different books altogether.
I don’t really want to go into the details of all the differences and how this has effected our marriage (I mean, come on, we’re talking 11 years worth here, how many volumes can you read?!), but I want to focus on the ugly truth that we need to face….marriage done right, is hard! Marriage, done well, is difficult! Combining two lives into one future and expecting it to be successful is ridiculously hard work! And that’s the whole point. We need to realise that it’s hard, and that’s ok. We need to realise that there are going to be major differences, major difficulties that we will need to walk through, and that’s ok. I feel like there would be so many less separations, divorces or even empty, lifeless marriages if we could all excpect that it isn’t going to be sunshine and lollipops the entire time. There are going to be dark dismal storms, and there are going to be sour gummies that are hard to chew.
A few years ago when Gavin and I were pastoring, we used to do a lot of pre-marriage counselling. We quickly discovered that the biggest hurdle engaged couples faced, was actually idealistic expectations of marriage. The couples who believed that marriage was going to be a walk in the park actually turned out to be the ones who had more difficulties in their first few years than the couples who had a more realistic perspective. The ones who expected it to be difficult ended up having a much smoother transition into living this life as one.
If we look at marriage from the perspective that there are going to be differences and there are going to be hardships, then I truly believe that we are already 100% more empowered to get through them and overcome them. We live in such a disposable world…as soon as we don’t like something we get rid of it, as soon as something is broken we throw it out, as soon as something is too hard we get something easier. Unfortunately this translates to marriage as well. But if we walk out that door every time something difficult arises or we have a major difference or discrepancy then…well…we’ll never fulfill our vows of the ‘worse, poor, sickness and sorrow.’ Marriage is the full package – the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
But you know what? If you walk through these storms and seasons, you are only going to come out on the other side stronger, deeper and I can guarantee, more in love. I look back on our wedding day 11 years ago. I truly thought I loved my fiancée/husband as much as I possible could. I was completely and utterly head over heels in love with him. Passionately! But the great thing about the ugly side of marriage and pushing through those difficult moments and seasons is that now I love him so much more than I did on that day 11 years ago. Our love today is deeper than it ever was back then. It’s stronger than ever. It’s got its foundations deep down and is unshakable. Honestly, the difficulties in those early years of marriage (and beyond) make it so appealing to just walk away. But if we instead choose to walk through them, we end up in a place where anything can be thrown at us, but we are standing strong and holding our ground, together, as a united front.
After 11 years, we aren’t just in love. Our love is mature. Our love is deep. Our love is strong. And our love is continually maturing, deepening and strengthening. Every difficulty we face, as we walk through it, binds us together tighter and stronger as we come out on the other side. I look back at the young 21 year old I was on our wedding day and now think how little I loved Gavin on that day! Gosh, I didn’t even know him compared to who I know now! Thank goodness he hasn’t walked out the door on me during these past 11 years, because I can tell you, he has had every reason to do so (I may be a little feisty. Just a little. I like to think of it as passionate ;) ). If he had given up on me, on our marriage when he had every opportunity to, we would have never discovered this depth of love we have now. We would have never experienced the bond and unity that holds us together now. We would have never realised our resilience, our strength, our persistence, our potential, because we would have given up before the beauty broke forth and blossomed.
11 years does sound like a long time in today’s day and age. But I look at it now and think that we are still spring chickens in the whole marriage thing. I feel like we are only just getting started. I feel like our foundations have only just been laid and now we’re being released to build upon them. I feel like our best days are ahead. I get so excited when I think of our future because, hey, if we can get through this, we can get through anything! I’m not in any way saying that we have made it, or that we are ‘there.’ Eleven years on we still have things thrown at us left right and centre (I think we always will, it’s called life!), but we have that unshakable foundation that we can hold on to and work from. We’ve been through enough to know that no matter how hard or bad or difficult or ugly things get, there’s no way out…it’s not even an option. The question isn’t ‘stay or leave?’ it’s ‘How do we get through this? What is the way forward?’
Marriage is hard.
Marriage is difficult.
Marriage is ugly.
But marriage is good.
Marriage is beautiful.
Marriage is fulfilling.
Marriage is empowering.
Marriage is a wonderful opportunity for a lifetime of adventure together as we walk along the paths of life – the rocky terrain and the lush meadows, the deep valleys and the mountain tops.
Marriage isn’t some black and white institution set in concrete on the wedding day…it’s a beautifully messy and vibrantly ever changing, fluid, flexible journey that we walk together until the day we die.