When starting out on a long road trip, you have options. You can follow your own sense of direction and take the turns that seem logical to you. That’s the adventuresome way of tackling it. Other folks, with a long road before them, choose to consult maps and plug in their GPS. Still others would go to someone who had already driven that way. They’d ask for the prettiest back roads or recommendations for great restaurants along the way.
Marriage is a trip. I mean, marriage is like a long road trip. You can be adventuresome and go it on your own—careful though, some of those high-traffic streets are dead ends. If you’re lost, you can seek council from a marriage counselor. This is a great option, like studying a map of the road that’s been proven to get people to their destination—even through construction and detours. I am no marriage councelor. I do, however, know some things firsthand as someone who has been driving this highway for awhile. Someone who has slid around bends on wet roads at night and miraculously lived to give warning. I don’t claim to have half of the answers. I only know that Ron and I have gotten to be increasingly better drivers during the journey. We can spot the potholes better, we’re more patient in times of construction, we have our road rage under control (mostly).
Ron and I have been married for fourteen years and we dated for five years before we got married. I’ve known this man for nineteen years. That seems long. It makes me feel old! It’s also the single greatest blessing in my life to date.
Last night I hurt his feelings. To be honest, it always catches me off guard. I too often think we have “arrived”. That we’re as good at this game as the old people who have made it forty years to our fourteen. Nope. Still stinking it up on at least a weekly basis. I’d say one or the other of us has to apologize AT LEAST once a week. I can think of two times in the last three weeks that were downright totally my fault. Recovering from the bumps and bruises we cause each other is hard. But that’s what intimacy is you know? We were made for intimacy. It is an innate part of our humanity. To be so close to someone that you feel completely understood. Completely accepted. Loved no matter what. The statistics say that only a small percentage of marriages have true intimacy.
Intimacy can be sex, but so much of the time it’s a bunch of other things that are equally (if not way more) important than sex. Ron and I have seen a lot of marriages fail. We’ve watched close friends break their vows. We’ve hurt with family members who have found themselves a detached part of a whole that endured a murderous blow. We almost lost this game ourselves. If intimacy is the key to a healthy marriage, how is it developed? Is it something you have from the start or do you learn it over time?
You know how I said we were made for intimacy? Well, Ron and I sure were. I remember how desperate we were for it when we first fell in love. I was sixteen and he was seventeen and we were both longing for someone to love us. I don’t know if we knew it then or could’ve put it into those words, but looking back it’s laughably obvious. We fell and we fell hard. We neglected our friends and our studies. We spent every minute we could together. We chewed each other’s gum. We kissed and tried to go as long as possible breathing each other’s air. (Isn’t that creepy and adorable?) We crossed the lines God lovingly put into place for us in a desperate search for as much intimacy as possible.
At the time I would’ve said we were “madly in love” or “head over heels.” Really though, we were just two kids who were dying to feel loved by someone and who also happened to be super attracted to each other. We lucked out—or in—or whatever that expression is. We didn’t follow the rules, we did it all wrong. We sinned against God and, in His great graciousness, He kept us together. A+B didn’t equal C and we got something we didn’t deserve: grace and a relationship that kept working when it shouldn’t have.
We got married. Take a moment to laugh with me here. Does it sound like these two dummies had a shot? We hated each other within the first two weeks. We fell victim to all the classics. Bitterness, unmet needs, unmet expectations, a listening ear with someone of the opposite sex— People…we screwed everything up. I mean everything.
So. How are we together today and actually madly in love? I’ll share with you what I think has built Ron and I into the professional drivers (ha ha) that we are today.
1. Divorce was never an option. I’m a runner. I don’t like conflict. If the zombie apocalypse happens I will be bit and turned by the very first zombie I come across. Ron loves this trait in me (not true) But, when it came to divorce, neither of us wanted that failure. I think it’s because we somehow knew that divorce WAS the harder option. Lawyers, shame, failure, moving back home with our parents (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) sounded worse than staying together. So we stayed. Everyone makes divorce seem easier than sticking. When marriage gets bad enough that you are considering or even talking about divorce, running away can seem like a welcome relief from the stress and conflict. It’s a lie though peeps. From the divorces I’ve witnessed and the consequences I’ve seen, sticking is definitely worth it in the long run!
Disclaimer: Some parents and/or friends make divorce easier on people. They step in and help out with a listening ear and a safe place to go. They let their loved ones get away with stepping out of the contract they made whether it’s good for them or not. If Ron and I had a cushy place to bail all those years ago, we would have. And we would’ve missed out on the greatest thing that ever happened to either of us. Get mad at me if you want, that’s just the honest truth with no punches pulled. This article isn’t about the past. If you’re divorced and remarried, this is for you now. This marriage is the one you must not give up on.
2. The second most important thing in our marriage? Ron and I laugh a lot. Let me remind you that this is not a biblical list I’m compiling. I think I could find scripture to back up all of my points, but there are hundreds of articles out there that do that. This is our testimony and our story. That dude cracks me up. One of my favorite things about him is his ability to laugh at himself. He’s taught me how to laugh at myself. In Sunday School this past Sunday our teacher finished the lesson talking about a man’s duty. He said duty over and over again. Ron and I are thirty-five and thirty-six now. We barely held the laughter in. We glanced at each other’s watering eyes and did our best to not interrupt the last few minutes of the class’ discussion. If you don’t get what’s funny about someone saying the word duty over and over again then you could consider practicing your sense of humor. It will carry you far in marriage.
3. We are both good forgetters. This is probably the best thing we have going for us since we both have wronged each other so many times. Ron is a look forward and don’t dwell on the past kind of guy. It’s a trait he has cultivated his whole life, partly because his young life was tough. He had some really hard, sad things happen to him as a kid. He could’ve held onto all that damage and let it scar him and morph him into “The Thing” but he didn’t. He doesn’t do the victim thing – and he totally could have. No one would’ve blamed him if he had turned out a bit bruised from all the tough stuff. My forgetter is less a trait and more that I’m like the fish, Dory, in Finding Nemo.
Dory: “I have short term memory loss. It runs in my family. At least, I think it does. Hmmm. Where are they?” Yup, I’m Dory.
So, Ron forgave me for all the garbage I pulled in the early years and continues to forgive me for the insensitive moments I still have today. And I forgive him for all the times he… And that time he… and that other thing he did…. Which leads me to my next point….
4. Don’t talk bad about your spouse. It’s one of the topics we’ve covered in Sunday School lately that has most challenged me. I know I’ve done it. I’ve told my mom or my sister or my best friend that irritating, ungodly thing Ron did and how I’m worried it will affect our kids and how I wish he would read his Bible more and change…You know what? I can honestly say that Ron NEVER talks bad about me. This is due in part to the fact that Ron doesn’t share personal information with anyone. He doesn’t want people to know anything about him. (Poor guy, he married me!) But I know that all my worst moments and all my embarrassing traits and all my failures are locked in the vault. He never embarrasses me or vents about me to friends or throws me under the bus for being human. I’ve got a long way to go in being as good at that as him. When our secrets and failures are safe with each other, self-esteem and trust are formed. Self-esteem is dire in this quest to stay married. If you don’t feel safe with your spouse you can’t be honest. If you can’t be honest, love dies.
5. Dating. EVERY OTHER MARRIAGE ARTICLE SAYS IT. Ron and I aren’t very good at it. Money gets tight, we’re terrible at giving our kids to anyone, and…. no wait, those are the only two reasons. But we spend time together almost every day. We tuck those kids in and watch a funny show. We obsessively watch whole seasons of Fringe until 1a.m. at which point we eat something terribly unhealthy and totally regret it but we finished that pie off together dangit! We tell each other about our day and we don’t make big decisions without each other. We powwow. We communicate. We’re besties.
6. We are finally learning how to let each other be different than what we thought we wanted. When we were young, I can’t tell you how many times we walked away from a conversation and I immediately got yelled at for saying too much, talking too much, sharing something I shouldn’t have. It got to where I was always nervous when engaging in a conversation with someone and Ron. These days, we walk away from conversations and I say, “Was that ok what I said? Are you ok with me?” and Ron says, “Yes! I love that you shared that. I think it was just what that person needed.” He’s letting me be me.
Conversely, I’m learning to let him be him. When we were kids, I thought that a Christian looked like this: my dad. My dad who never swore in his whole life, never drank a beer, never tasted a cigarette. Poor Ron. What a tall order to live up to! (Of course, now I know my dad had his own list of sins and mistakes – don’t we all!) Ron likes to play video games and sometimes those video games have swearing in them. I used to think that made him a HORRIBLE Christian. But Ron is different than me. He has a different background. He has different strengths. He doesn’t get stressed out by swear words (though he’s super respectful to never play them when the kids are awake). You know what? Ron’s a lot more godly than I am in a lot of ways. He’s a very good man. I respect the crap out of him. I’m learning that he can handle some of the things that I can’t and it doesn’t make him a bad Christian. He doesn’t have to look like the presupposed picture I had. I’m lucky to have gotten so much more than what I thought I wanted. The Bible says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” I think we make more sins for each other when we have a list of rules and specs to live up to. When we decide to unabashedly love our spouse just the way he/she is, there is so much less opportunity for us to fail each other and God.
7. I feel bad that I’ve put this one last. It should’ve been first. Jesus. Jesus in the reason we are happy and in love and finding intimacy together today. Both of us know Him. Both of us love Him. Both of us trust Him and agree that His plan is best. If you aren’t both on the same page spiritually, you can’t achieve true and lasting intimacy. You can’t drive two different routes and say that you went for a drive together. You might be able to get to the same destination, but it wasn’t as “one flesh” like God says it was meant to be. There are too many things to disagree on in this life. The intricacies of finances and how to raise kids and where to spend our time and what we should value. Even with Ron and I both following Jesus, we still disagree on these things all the time! It’s in those times that believing the same thing matters most.
I believe that Ron is the boss of our home. I know that a team can’t follow two captains. The captains will disagree and the team will fall apart. There has to be one person, and I believe with all my heart that it is the man, that makes the final call. It stings sometimes, but friends, it works. I could write pages about this one. I could tell you all the reasons it has worked for us and list all the benefits. But if you aren’t willing to try it, there’s no point. I’ve found incredible fulfillment and satisfaction in being Ron’s helpmeet. It’s an old fashioned word but it’s as valid as the Word of God. Studying what it meant changed our marriage and our life. I was created to be Ron’s helper and it’s been the greatest blessing afforded to me.
I’m sure there are other things I could write about that helped us get to where we are now, successful instead of failing miserably. But these 7 stand out to me as vitally important. I know we have a long way to go. I still need to teach myself how to like football and heaven knows I still talk too much. But today, fourteen years into this drive, I’m sure that we’ll make it to our destination. I couldn’t always say that. I pray for each of you that read this that you find encouragement and value in this testimony of ours. If a Forkey and a Cusato could make this thing work, I know that God can give you the same success and then some!