Lessons learned in 10 years of marriage:
1. Talk it out. It comes natural for me to avoid confrontation and just sweep it under the rug. I would rather hold a grudge than come face to face with opposition. When Ben and I disagree, and though it happens less these days than in our first years of marriage, it works best for us to talk it over. The longer we wait, the more stubborn we get and the more that selfishness settles into our hearts. Ben and I both agree that at first in our marriage when there was a disagreement, we thought we had a major problem. We thought we were the only ones in the world that didn't know how to communicate! Now we know we're normal. I have learned that it's even okay for our kids to see us disagree and work things out verbally in front of them. It's healthy for them to see that mom and dad make mistakes with each other and know how to resolve them. Of course, be sensitive about this. They don't need to hear every discussion. There are definitely times these conversations are best discussed behind closed doors!
[The bell tower at Belmont University, Nashville, TN where we served on CentriFuge camp staff the summer of 1999]
2. Date nights are necessary. Maybe now more than ever! Date nights range from catching up on Law & Order:SVU with warm chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven after the kids are in bed to trying a new restaurant to enjoying a cup of coffee while browsing a bookstore. Date nights are simply setting aside some time just for the two of us to talk about anything and everything but work!
[favorite coffee shop hangout on our camp summer nights across from Belmont]
3. Love what he loves. Ben and I could not be more opposite! He loves meat. I like veggies. He loves spontaneity. I love a schedule. He loves going. I love staying. He sees the big picture. I see the details. Yet, marriage is far more fulfilling when you embrace what your spouse loves. Ben models this far better than I. He listens when I want to read him my writings. He takes me to musicals and the ballet. He eats the food I love to cook. He will flow with my schedule, even if it means giving up the spontaneity! I am in a constant state of learning sports. In fact, I watched more SportsCenter in my first month of marriage than in my lifetime. And when it comes to sharing a meal, we both win...I take a bite of the steak and give him the rest and he takes a bite of the veggies and I get the rest!
[my gift to Ben: a fairy tale book and an angel made from my wedding dress]
4. Compliment publicly. As the wife, I am the one that has all the bragging rights for my husband. Well, not all of them! His mom and dad did a great job! But when I'm out with girlfriends, I want my words about Ben to describe him in such a way that honors him. I have no reason to talk down of him before others. Our marriage is far from perfect for we are imperfect people. Yet, what I say about our marriage should encourage others in their marriage. What I say about my husband should spur others on to godliness. Scriptures say that we are to praise our husbands at the city gates. (Proverbs 31) And I definitely have much to say about my man!
[Ben reading the story I wrote for him on the front steps of Bongo Java earlier this month - right back where our friendship began]
5. Celebrate the commitment. Commitments have lost meaning over time. As our previous generation would say, "They're not what they used to be." In fact, I would venture out and say it's rare and exciting when you can rejoice with couples who are happily enjoying their marriages. Celebrations are a way to say, "we've made it to this point" or "look how far we've come!" Every year that passes in our commitment to one another is a celebratory moment.
6. Surround your marriage with another couple. Ben and I learned this a few years ago. Someone had suggested for each of us to have a dear friend with whom you can confide in regarding marriage. Your spouse should also agree on this dear friend. This married friend is one who can ask the hard questions like, "Are you serving your spouse selflessly? Are you making time for them? Did you have your date night this week? Were you intimate with each other? Do your kids know that you love him? Are you looking forward together? Did you speak kind words about him in front of others?" This sharpening of one another's marriages puts a gate on the marriage door allowing accountability in, yet keeping a close guard on the details of the marriage. We would both say our marriage is healthier for having this sweet fun couple in our lives.
[sweet fun couple - Dan and Meredith]
7. Be happy or be right! This was Ben's contribution to the list! My Papa passed down this great wisdom! I think enough is said.
8. Endure. Not in a 'put up with' kind of a way, but in a 'I'm in this for the long haul' kind of a way. Which means if you're gonna endure, you have to lay aside selfishness and the right to be right. You have to think long-term and not just in the present moment. It's in those present moments where we want to give up-when we've had it-when we are tired. We have learned to take a step back, evaluate what really matters, and look at each other and say, "let's get through this together." And the beautiful reward that comes with endurance is stability and consistency. We strive for a marriage that is solid and will endure the test of time!
9. Share your story. If there is something I love to talk about it is marriage. And if there's a group I love to talk with it's young women. I have had the privilege of speaking into young ladies' lives as they prepare for marriage and getting random texts throughout their early years about their new journey. Ben and I enjoy giving pre-marital counseling and always seem refreshed and challenged in our own marriage after each talk. Ben and I try our best to live out our story before others. We share the joys and the struggles. We do this because there's enough media coverage on how to break up and move on to greener pastures. We want to tell the world that it's Christ who is our foundation and our hope. Our joy and our peace.
[Andrew and Ashley's wedding 12.5.10 - former students in our ministry in AL]
10. Dream together. Sure it's fun to dream about an island vacation or life after the kids move out, but I'm speaking of dreaming about what lasts. We dream of our children having happy and healthy marriages. We dream of our boys being independent, strong servant leaders. Ben and I dream of God growing Epic Church and how Epic Church can serve our city. He dreams with me of writing a book one day and I dream with Ben about the vision we believe God has given him.
[Ben and I on our first trip to SF]