When I think back on the time I've been married, I mark the time not so much in terms of years or months or seasons but in ice cream flavors. Classic vanilla bean. Chocolate coconut. Peanut butter swirl. Cinnamon waffle. Eggnog spice. Double dark chocolate.
My grandparents gave Daniel and me an ice cream maker for our wedding—an appropriate gift considering how many memories of summer visits to my grandma and grandpa's house involve their ice cream maker. We'd spend the day on the crisp Columbia River—waterskiing, tubing, building sandcastles, and eating Grandma's homemade snickerdoodles out of a red Folgers coffee can. When we got back to the house, sprinkled by sun and sand, Grandma would start fixing dinner while Grandpa pulled out the old hand-crank ice cream maker. We kids would help eagerly at first, but our biceps and attention spans soon wearied, and we left all the tough cranking at the end to Grandpa.
And oh, there was nothing quite like that first bite of vanilla creaminess, especially when topped with fresh raspberries straight from Grandpa's garden.
So when Daniel and I opened the huge box at our wedding, I couldn't have been more delighted to get our very own ice cream maker. (And even better, we could plug our version into an outlet and it would do all the hard work for us.)
It was a Sunday evening, the night before we returned to work after our honeymoon, when Daniel and I decided to break in our new appliance. After the machine had done its magic, we sampled our creation—a simple concoction of sugar, cream, milk, eggs, and vanilla. We grinned at each other over our bowls: success!
"We should make this a tradition!" I exclaimed. "Let's do this every year on this day."
Daniel shot me an incredulous look, as if I'd just uttered frozen-confection heresy.
"Every year?" he said. "I was thinking it should be a tradition every Sunday."
And so it is that our marriage has hardly gone a day without homemade ice cream in the freezer since. (Please don't ask how my hips have fared in this state of marital bliss.)
As Daniel and I have experimented with various ice cream recipes, I've pondered what an appropriate metaphor it is for marriage. These ingredients—sweet grains of sugar, rich cream, eggs whipped to froth—taste completely different individually. But combine them, heat to 160 degrees, and churn in a frozen bowl for an hour, and you get an utterly unique sensation. It's not just five things mixed together, but something altogether new. The five melding into one.
Forming the Green Team
Before we got engaged, Daniel and I went to a marriage-preparation class taught by a married couple at a nearby church. On the first night, the instructors each held a glass filled with colored water, his blue and hers yellow. Both of them poured half their glass into a third container to make a glassful of green liquid. The two becoming one. It was a simple illustration, but something about it rang true for us.
When two become one, it doesn't mean yellow or blue disappears. It means that a whole new entity is created. Yellow and blue don't just coexist in some kind of relational trail mix. Instead, a new thing is formed in that sacred chemistry.
In Walt Wangerin's classic book on marriage As for Me and My House, he talks about the process of creating oneness in a marriage. True oneness, he claims, doesn't occur when the husband and wife are exactly alike or when one partner dominates the other or when everything is split 50-50. Here's his depiction of marital oneness:
"Up till now we have assumed that there are only two beings in a marriage, the husband and the wife. In fact, there are three complete beings in a marriage—you, your spouse, and the relationship between you, which both of you serve, which benefits each of you, but which is not exactly like either one of you. This relationship is itself very much like a living being."
He goes on to explain that the marriage relationship "needs you both (the whole of each of you), but … is not you (it is not the two of you added together, because it is distinct from either one of you)—that is your 'oneness.'"
After we finished the marriage-preparation class, Daniel and I started referring to ourselves as the "green team." Suddenly our conversations about conflict resolution took on a new tenor. It wasn't just about compromising or taking turns or making sure there was equitable give-and-take. Instead, we had another entity to consider—not just my interests or Daniel's interests, but also the well-being of us—our relationship, the green team.
The only way for a marriage to thrive, Wangerin says, is for both parties to value the relationship above the individual: "This is the real work of mutuality. This brings your various lifestyles into harmony (without canceling either one, without a forced similitude): that you have realized a common purpose together; that you are both committed to the nurturing, not of oneself and not of one's partner, but of this third being, the Relationship; and that together you seek the wisest ways to do so—and you do them."
Now that Daniel and I are on the other side of saying our vows, we're discovering that the concept of the green team is even more critical than we could have foreseen as we sat in the basement of that church trying to imagine what marriage would hold. As it turns out, the blending of two different personalities, two different genders, two different backgrounds isn't as simple as dumping yellow and blue in a glass in one fluid motion. It's an art that requires daily attention and intentionality.
Cases in point:
Yellow thrives on having people over for dinner; blue needs downtime to recharge at the end of a long week.
Yellow is bursting with words at the end of the day and wants to parse out all the details; blue is judicious in his speech, processing things internally before they see the light of day.
Yellow thinks there's no such thing as too many books; blue thinks there's no such thing as too many bicycles.
Honoring the Third Party in Your Marriage
So how do we deal with these discrepancies? Sometimes in an attempt at justice, we try to even things out, to keep track of who got their way last time. Or maybe we tend to follow the path of least resistance—to expect the more flexible person to bend with the winds of tension and conflict. But in the context of two becoming one, the entire approach changes. It's no longer about whether yellow's way or blue's way is better or how we can compromise, but about what's best for the green team.
" 'God made them male and female" from the beginning of creation. 'This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.' Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together" (Mark 10:6-9).
Whatever conflict you find yourself facing in your marriage, I challenge you not just to find middle ground but to honor that third entity—your relationship itself—above either of your individual needs and desires.
Maybe you and your spouse are contemplating a significant life change—moving to a new city, having a child, changing careers, becoming foster parents, making schooling decisions. Or maybe you are just dealing with the everyday ebb and flow of life and the tension inherent with two different people merging into one.
Whatever situation you are facing right now, consequential or routine, I encourage you to ask the same question: What's best for the green team?
Perhaps Grandpa's old hand-crank ice cream maker is the best metaphor after all. Yes, the disparate ingredients become one, a new creation. But it requires a lot of work to get to that point. Don't give up, though—I can assure you that the rich, sweet goodness that comes out at the end will be worth every ounce of effort.
Stephanie Rische is a senior editor of nonfiction books at Tyndale House Publishers, as well as a freelance writer for publications such as Today's Christian Woman, Christian Marriage Today, and Significant Living magazine. She and her husband, Daniel, live in the Chicago area, where they enjoy riding their bikes, making homemade ice cream, and swapping bad puns. You can follow Stephanie's blog, "Stubbing My Toe on Grace," at stephanierische.wordpress.com.