“No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.” Mark Twain
I recently realized that I am no longer of the age when my friends are getting married. I am now of the age when friends of my daughter are getting married. How did that happen? Rebecca, who will be a senior in college next year, already has a friend who has graduated and gotten married and others who are now becoming engaged. It’s strange to think that sometime in the next five years, Rebecca will probably be thinking about taking that next step. What’s even scarier is that I’m not sure young people today have any idea what marriage really is. Honestly, did any of us actually know what was involved when we took those vows? Were we simply planning for that one day, or truly thinking about for our future? Perhaps it has been the same through all generations, but today it seems that marriages are disposable, vows are no more than wishes, commitments are fleeting. I pray every day that I have instilled in my daughters what marriage really means – both the good and the bad. Here are some of the things that I learned over the past twenty-two years.
Love (and thereby, marriage) does mean having to say you’re sorry. I’m sorry, Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. It’s a nice sentiment, but nobody is perfect, and we all make mistakes. Owning up to those mistakes is one of the most important things to learn and actually do. Resentment is too easily built up, so while those simple words, “I’m sorry,” can’t take away the pain, they can open the door to healing for both of you.
It’s okay to go to bed angry. I know, you’ve heard otherwise your entire life; but sometimes, in order to say “I’m sorry” to someone else, you need time to realize that the words are true. Nothing beats a good night’s sleep, and perhaps a good cry on the way there, to be able to recognize that things are never as bad as they seem. Moreover, trying to get to the place where you’re no longer angry is not easily done in the heat of the fight. Sometimes, the sooner the conversation ends, the better.
Put away your phones, turn off your TV, curb your social life, and spend time in conversation. Remember back when you were first getting to know each other? All of those hours spent in conversation over dinner, on the phone late at night, or even using FaceTime were all meaningful. That’s when you opened up to each other, let out your feelings, your doubts, your fears, your hopes, your wishes. Don’t ever let that end. I remember once, when Ken and I were first married, we were out to dinner and engaged in conversation when Ken just stopped and motioned to an elderly couple across the restaurant. Ken observed, “They haven’t said one word to each other all night.” He looked at me and said, “Let’s never let that happen to us.” Yes, I admit that there are times when it’s nice to just be quiet and enjoy the moment, but those times when you can sit and talk without distraction are so rare. Take advantage of them.
It’s all right to argue and disagree. Sure, you stand before God and declare that you are now one, but let’s get real. You are you, and he is he (or she is she). You will not always agree, even on the big things. It isn’t the argument that counts. It’s making sure that you find a solution, a compromise, or a way around the situation that you can both live with. You won’t win every argument, but neither should he. Marriage is give and take. Learn that quickly, and deal with it.
Hold hands. Cuddle. Sleep curled up together. Kiss hello and goodbye. Never lose the desire to touch the one you love. Once you learn to live without the other person’s touch, you will lose the need for it. Intimacy holds a marriage together. Nurture it. Every day.
Speak kindly to one another. Full disclosure here. This is the one I have the hardest time adhering to. I am impatient and often intolerant. I expect everything to be done on my timeline and in my way. While I have the skill to be tactful (a former boss always sent me to deal with problem patrons because she knew I could be tactful yet get to the point), I don’t seem to have any idea how to use that skill with those I love. I try to always be kind. I teach and preach kindness, but my tongue is often quicker than my brain, and it gets me into trouble. I promise to work on that, and I encourage you to do the same. It’s the hardest habit I’ve ever tried to break, but I work on it every day. Actions may speak louder than words, but words can cut right into someone’s soul.
For those who are making their wedding plans as I write, always remember that the marriage is far more important than the wedding. Enjoy the time spent planning it, and know that it will not be perfect. Some small thing, or dare I say, maybe a big thing, will go wrong. Move on. It’s a day, not a reflection of the rest of your life. Face it with love and humility. Take your vows seriously. Stand up before your friends and family in an actual church. The reception can be wherever you want, but treat your marriage like the sacred event that it is. Pray for your spouse and your marriage every day. Ask God to be a part of it, on that special day and always, for He is the rock upon which you can build a strong foundation.
Amy Schisler is an author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages who lives with husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her latest book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015 as chosen by a group of independent Christian publishers. You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.