With two decades of marriage to my husband, Rich, under my belt, I've learned marriage is a wondrous mix of joy and sorrow. Rich and I have struggled through the challenges of raising teenagers, battling cancer, surviving a layoff, losing a sibling, undergoing a relocation that didn't pan out, and a number of other ups and downs. We've been childish, selfish, and said things we both regret. Those are the times when we grit our teeth and hold tight to the commitment we made before God, friends, and family so long ago.
The truth is, Rich and I don't have a perfect marriage because we're imperfect people. We each entered into our union with unique baggage and unrealistic expectations that still crop up after all the years. But if given the opportunity, I'd marry Rich again in a heartbeat.
There are so many reasons why I treasure this wonderful, God-given gift of marriage—from the silly to the sublime to the deeply spiritual. Here are five that might help you celebrate being married to your mate.
1. Exclusive Membership
There's a Woody Allen flick from the '70s titled Annie Hall, in which actress Diane Keaton plays Annie, the sweetly offbeat, goofy girlfriend of Allen's nerdish, neurotic character, Alvy Singer. Two similar movie scenes speak volumes about relational chemistry. In the first, Annie and Alvy go on a beach getaway and decide to cook a live lobster. Allen goes into his manic shtick as they attempt to toss the lobster into boiling water, and Annie joins right in. The rapport between the two is obvious. Fast-forward several scenes later: Annie and Alvy have broken up, and Alvy's taken his new date to the beach house. Once again, Alvy goes into comic overdrive about boiling a lobster—while his date stares at him as if he's some alien. She just doesn't relate to him.
These scenes from Annie Hall demonstrate the importance of finding someone who gets you—quirks and all. And that's one of the great things about marriage! You enjoy the privileges of a club in which you and your spouse are the only members. After all, no other human being knows better what I like, what I worry about, what I cry over, and most importantly, what makes me laugh, than my husband—and vice versa.
While Rich can't read my mind, he does know how to read my body language. He knows the particular glance I use at social functions that says, I'm ready to book out of here immediately! He recognizes the powerful phrase we always use as an ice-breaker after an argument: "Do you love me anyway?" Together Rich and I have coined funny nicknames for ourselves, our kids, even our dog ("triangle head"—don't ask). We have private jokes that crack us up—and only us. Through the years, we've created an elaborate context of Rich-and-Jane-isms that demonstrate one way we've become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). After all, part of what binds you together are the unique looks, gestures, phrases, and memories you build together.
2. Double Your Pleasure
Remember that Doublemint chewing-gum ad with the slogan, "Double your pleasure, double your fun"? I've learned that my spouse's passions and hobbies can expand the scope of my interests and double my fun.
For instance, my husband, Rich, and I eagerly planned the Colorado vacation we took in August. We didn't arrive there by car. Oh, no—we were dressed in black leather, riding on our motorcycle.
If you'd asked me years ago if I ever envisioned myself a "biker babe," I'd have scoffed at the possibility. But then Rich purchased a motorcycle six years ago. While I was nervous at first (the phrase "road pizza" ran through my mind), I hopped on the back, clutching my husband for dear life—and had a blast! We've been hitting the roads ever since. But would I have jumped on the back of a bike on my own? Never. It was only because of my husband's newfound love of biking—and my choice to sidestep my innate timidity.
What interests or passions do you bring into your marriage? My friend Sharon and her husband, Phil, realized they lacked some shared couple fun, so they tried photography lessons. It never clicked. Then they tried golfing lessons, but their interest waned. Convinced couple time was important, Sharon finally decided her husband's love of fishing was worth investigating. So now they're doubling their pleasure when she joins him on an occasional Saturday morning to help him hook "the one that got away."
3. The Power of Two
I'm grateful for the way God wired my husband, Rich. He's what I often call "stoic." But at times his detached manner can frustrate me to no end. I typically react to circumstances based on feelings, while he depends on logic. I bring fun and enthusiasm into our relationship; he brings reason and practicality. But then I also excel at envisioning worst-case scenarios, while he excels in staying even-keeled and optimistic.
The reality is, our traits have upsides and downsides. But amazingly, most of the time we balance each other (thank goodness, because when I get hyper before company comes over for dinner, Rich can calmly vacuum while I frantically race around the kitchen). Individually, we're imperfect human beings, but together we comprise a pretty good team, whether it's serving together at our church's annual food drive, ushering at church, or parenting our kids. That attests to the wonder of God's design for marriage—to take two struggling people, bring them into intimate community, and transform them into a unit with the potential to accomplish so much more than they'd ever be able to do alone.
4. A Shoulder to Lean On
Right now we're feeling a little bruised by life: Rich's been having back problems, we've experienced a boatload of car repairs and other unanticipated expenses, and we're both still struggling with grief over the loss of my husband's brother last year.
That's why it's so healing to start and end each day in each other's arms. When circumstances drag us down, strip us of self-confidence, or pile on the stress, it's wonderful to know we have each other on which to lean. There's great comfort in knowing that in marriage, we don't have to face hardships alone. If Rich feels battle-weary, I'm right there on the frontline with him, ready to buffer the blows for a while. And he'll do the same for me.
Yesterday I had an off day—nothing major, just ordinary crummy. I couldn't find my favorite pair of reading glasses. Then I stubbed my toe on something. Next I noticed our teen had left the washer and dryer filled with laundry in various stages of completion. Then I ended up with the mother of all migraines. Rich listened to me vent, demanded our daughter finish her soggy laundry, ordered some take-out for dinner, brought me water and ibuprofen, and then let me sleep off my headache. How comforting it was to have his sympathy!
We're not perfect comforters for each other; only the Holy Spirit can be. But I love the intimacy of finding and giving comfort to the one who loves me—warts and all.
5. Higher Goals Marriage
Marriage just for marriage's sake is self-serving. But for believers, marriage has a higher purpose, a larger mission in life than a series of acquisitions or accomplishments, or an attempt to end loneliness. It's to reflect Christ's relationship with his church to a watching world.
I'm convinced God intends marriage to stretch us in ways it's hard to experience otherwise. After all, you're in the trenches of living daily with another flawed human being in need of grace, forgiveness, patience, and love—just as you are. Through the years I've been married to Rich, I've been caught short by my appallingly selfish and controlling nature . . . and exhilarated by moments of utter selflessness. As I'm willing, God can use the most mundane aspects of our life together—my frustration over having to wait for a longed-for home improvement, or a minor clash over disciplining one of our kids—to transform me into someone who's more Christlike.
The great thing about marriage is that even during those tough moments of life together, it teaches me constancy, commitment, and faithfulness. I love being married—and watching God at work!
Copyright by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.