When my husband, Manny, and I started dating he was 19 and I was newly 21. 14 months later we were engaged, and 9 months after that we were married and starting our lives together. There were some naysayers, of course, but we knew that God had brought us together and had a plan for our future. We ran together on the Chico State cross country, and track teams, lead a bible study, and started a Fellowship of Christian Athletes on the Chico State campus together.
That first year we both worked part time, minimum wage jobs, and Manny picked up odd jobs whenever and wherever he could. The first four years of our marriage we moved every year (within city limits). We both got good jobs out of college, worked a few years, and then I stopped working so we could have our three wonderful children. Our kids are now 6, 4, and 2, and we moved, hopefully for the last time, in our city last year. We live far from our families: Manny’s are 9 hours away, and mine are 3 hours away, but have created a lasting and loyal community here in Chico.
Because it is Valentine’s Day I thought I’d join the ranks of the mushy love posts, but also hopefully give you some little gems of advice we’ve picked up over our ten years of marriage. I love Manny more today than ten years ago when we said “I do.” We’ve grown up a lot together, and hit our fair share of bumps in the road that is marriage. He remains my best friend, the first person I want to share good news or bad news with, and the person who challenges me to be a better me. He supports my dreams, and I support his, and we do our best to work as a team to raise our children. He walks me through hard things with grace, and stays by my side regardless of our circumstances. If someone were to ask me what has helped us come this far, and kept us together I would give them these five bits of advice that we’ve gathered and used over the years.
Seek after God: individually and together. I’ve never heard of a marriage failing when both people are wholeheartedly seeking the Lord. Our marriage is not perfect by any means, but where our love fails God’s love never does. In our pre-marital counseling, the pastor told us “There will be a lot of days when you won’t like each other,” and in my blissful new love days I was so angry at that statement. I thought “Manny will always like me, and I can’t imagine not liking him!” But it has been a great reality check for me. When I am frustrated with Manny, or myself, I can often put all my worth into our marriage relationship. But I am a child of God first and foremost, and so is Manny. We find our worth in God’s perfect love, not in the love that our marriage creates. Loving Manny is awesome, and his love for me is great, but it can never fill the need in our hearts for love because it is not perfect; only God’s love is perfect.
And if we’re both seeking hard after the Lord, we will eventually come to the same conclusions: God’s conclusions. We will always be walking in the same direction, and if we are disagreeing we can seek God and figure it out together. In that same vein, if we’re having a rough week, or day, or hour, saying a prayer for myself, or for him often goes a long way in my feelings toward the situation. Prayer is humbling yourself and saying God is the one who can change me and my husband, I can’t do it myself. And oftentimes when I pray, I realize that whatever the hard thing was is not usually as big as I made it.
Be generous in your assumptions of one another. This advice is new for both Manny and I, but it has been a game changer in the way we argue, and the amount of arguments that start. Most disagreements begin with an event occurring, and one, or both of us, misunderstanding the intentions of the other. However, if we are both seeking after God, we can know that our spouse is looking out for our best interest, and trying their best to love us well. If we can be generous, and assume the best of their intentions, and their actions, then a lot of the fights don’t start. Our initial anger might still be there, but if we can pause and think, what is the best case scenario for what he was thinking in that moment, then we can stop a fight before it starts. We are sinful people, so sometimes we do hurtful things to our spouse, but if we know that at the end of the day we’re looking out for the best for each other, then we can let a lot go.
Ask for what you need. I am a 2 (helper) on the enneagram, so this one is a big one for me. Manny and I used to love the movie “The Break Up,” partly because it was a DVD we owned (this was before Netflix), and partly because it had Vince Vaughan and Jennifer Aniston as the leads. In their first big on screen argument, they have just finished a dinner party with friends and Vince Vaughans character sits down to play video games while Jennifer Anistons character cleans up. She bangs around in the kitchen enough to get his attention and they argue about the fact that he isn’t helping. He says she never asked, and she says “I just want you to want to do the dishes!” And his response is “Nobody wants to do the dishes!” And it’s so true! Nobody wants to do the chores, and the discipline of the kids, and the phone calls to the cable company, but we do want to lighten our spouse’s load when we can. Manny can’t read my mind, and he doesn’t know if I need help if I don’t say anything.
Our first daughter, Sarah, was a rough baby; she cried all the time, and she took hours to go to sleep. I spent a lot of nights bouncing her to sleep, and I often let resentment breed inside of me at Manny for not helping me. When I got to the very end of my rope, I’d go out into the living room and ask him to take over, and he would always say yes. And my resentment would melt away, and I would think “Duh, why didn’t I ask sooner?” Don’t let your unspoken expectations remain unspoken. Anne Lamott wrote “Expectation is resentment waiting to happen,” and I can’t agree with her enough, when we don’t speak our expectations then they only lead to resentment.
Know your spouse’s love language, and your own. If you haven’t taken a love language test, go and do it now, and have your spouse take it, too. My top two love languages are quality time and words of affirmation, and Manny’s are physical touch and acts of service. If we are not loving our spouse within their love language, it can leave them feeling unloved. No matter how many gifts I buy Manny, or nice things I say about him, he will never feel as loved as if I cuddle with him, or get his car an oil change while he is at work. And similarly, he can give me hugs, or do my laundry, but I will feel the most loved when he tells me I am awesome, or takes me on a date. If you know your spouses love language, they will feel loved by you in the best way.
The flip side of love languages is if we withhold their love language from them, it hurts them much more than anything else. So if I neglect to serve Manny, or decline physical affection on a consistent basis, it feels like punishment to him. We would never intentionally hurt our spouses, so knowing their love language and making an effort to love them that way is essential for making them feel loved.
Keep marriage a priority. We have three kids, Manny works full time, and we’re both involved in various ministries at our church. We could easily let our marriage slip to the bottom of the pile of priorities, but we can’t. God first, marriage second, kids third. That’s the priority list. That’s it. We can’t let our kids needs, our work needs, or our ministry needs come before the needs of our spouse.
We make date night once a month a priority. We pay the babysitter, we take the time, and we make it happen. There are a million excuses not to, but we have to. These date nights remind us of why we love each other so much, and that we’re not just mom and dad, we’re husband and wife. And at least once a year we go out of town over night together. We drop the kids with my parents and stay somewhere for one night, or more if we can afford it. It’s important, and it also shows our kids that the marriage relationship is important.
I have been so blessed by my marriage to Manny, and we have been so blessed to be growing and learning in life together. Marriage is not easy, but it is definitely worth it to have someone alongside you for better or for worse. So this Valentine’s Day let’s pray with our spouses, be generous and assume only good things, make our expectations known, and speak our spouse’s love language. Also, let’s prioritize our marriages: not just today, but every day!