Having two of my five children engaged has got me thinking a lot about marriage these days. It seems so long ago when I was planning a wedding, yet the years have gone by way too fast. I can remember someone asking me how long I had been married. “Three weeks” I replied. That scene froze in my mind and I committed to leave it there for a reference point because I knew that someday life would have moved on and the three weeks would be three years and now has become over three decades.
I look back at how I felt in those early years of a friendship budding into romantic interest. I smile when I think of the engagement and the plans that we made and the dreams that we shared. We were going to take on this journey in the walk of life and do it together! Just the thought that this was the person who was going to be my life partner was a reality that became more and more clear with each plan that was made and each day that drew closer to the wedding.
I enjoyed planning the wedding but deep down inside I knew that at the end of the day there was a marriage that would need to be tended to and thought of and it would begin after the “I do’s” were said. There would be this other person who would now be considered in every detail of my life. It would no longer be “I” but “we”. Little did I understand the mystery of “the two becoming one flesh” and the level of selflessness that is required to truly make a marriage work. How can any newly married couple comprehend something that they had never experienced before? The only thing to do is dive in and be willing to learn and to grow….together.
We knew that standing before God and making promises means something. Taking vows before the one who created the institution of marriage is a very serious covenant ceremony and we did not take it lightly. We knew that the feelings of love would wane at times and that we would need something stronger to carry us. This covenant that we made in the presence of God and with Him as the key witness has kept us committed to always working on our marriage and to never quit learning and growing in how to love each other better. We have learned many things about marriage over the years both personally and from observing others. Here are some of my top best pieces of advice for an engaged couple:
1) Treat each other with respect and consideration. Do not ever resort to calling each other names or making fun of each other unless it is playfully teasing in love. Don’t be mean spirited but make it your aim to build that person up through encouragement. You know their greatest weaknesses and their deepest vulnerabilities. Avoid using that knowledge to in anyway abuse, undermine or attack them. In other words, be trustworthy with their deep places.
2) Speak well of them to other’s. There will be times you will be annoyed or angry with your spouse and you may need some wise input. If you do seek counsel from someone to get advice, make sure it is someone who loves and cares about both of you and will be helpful in pointing you towards a positive solution. This is only after first trying to communicate your frustration with your spouse.
3) Know that a marriage is not built on happiness but commitment. Happiness comes and goes and trust me, there will be many times that you will be very unhappy with each other. Commitment says “Despite how I feel about you right now, I am not going anywhere. You are my partner and we are a team. Together we are going to work this out no matter what.”
4) If you have children do not put them before the marriage or let them pit you against one another. Remember, you were a couple before they came along and will hopefully still be one after they are gone. Once again, you are a team. The best security you can offer your children is for them to see that mom and dad love each other and that they parent together. Do not undermine each other’s parental authority. If you disagree on something pertaining to your children then go away and have a private conversation to work out getting on the same page. Do not take sides with a child against their other parent unless there is abuse happening and then that is a whole different set of circumstances.
5) Practice selflessness. Not every hill is a hill to die on. Not every point has to be made. Overlook the small stuff and irritations and extend grace. That verse about doing unto others, yeah, good stuff there!
6) There will be conflict, count on it. Learn to disagree productively. Don’t fight like children with name calling and pouting or giving the silent treatment. Communicate using terms like “sometimes I feel…” or “help me understand where you are coming from.” Learn to listen to each other and hear what is being said before responding. Repeat back to them what you heard them saying and ask if they thought you understood it correctly. It will get you nowhere to accuse or use words like “you always” or “you never”.
7) Continue to grow and learn in your marriage. Read articles, books, go on retreats, gain wisdom from others. For young couples, remember there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. Look at the people that have great marriages and ask them questions. Meet them for an evening and find out how they have landed where they are at. We encourage our kids to learn from others. As parents we are well aware of our deficits and that we will have certain strengths and tools to help our children and their marriages but we won’t have it all together. We want other’s to come along beside them and give input where we lack.
Most of all, enter into marriage with the anticipation that God designed it to be a wonderful union and start of a new family unit. You will leave your family and cleave to one another to start a new one. My prayer for my own children is that they build their marriages on the foundation of Christ being the center and that they experience deep and abiding joy as they learn to love and serve each other. Who could ask for anything more?