I mentioned in my last post that on the day our family moved into our new home Brad and I celebrated twenty years of marriage. (According to my master plan, we were supposed to be in Paris or somewhere romantic like that—not in sleeping bags on the floor of an empty house!) I was twenty years old when we married, and Brad had just turned twenty-three. We were kids, really.
When I look back on my twenties, I think of them as my “growing-up years.” I can best describe that decade as a time of figuring out who I was, and what I thought about my faith and the larger world. It was also the beginning of my “growing comfortable in my own skin” journey—I needed those years to grow confident, it seems. I imagine others would say the same about themselves in their twenties. But this post isn’t about figuring out who I was during my twenties; it is about marriage.
I think marriage is a difficult topic for a writer. You either run the risk of portraying your marriage as a bed of roses and you make your readers insanely jealous or highly dubious, or you portray your marriage in such a way that your readers are left wondering if the marriage will make it. I think Brad and I have a good marriage. But that doesn’t mean our twenty years together have been a bed of roses! As young as we were when we married, we were both committed to our faith in God and we were committed to each other, which started us on a solid foundation. In spite of that foundation, our marriage has certainly experienced its share of bumps along the way.
I’ve written about this before, but I live with a lot of expectations about what I think my life should look like, and this includes what I think a marriage should look like. My first clue that our marriage wasn’t going to look like what I thought it would was during our engagement. My mom and I had just returned from the bakery after deciding on a wedding cake, and imagine my surprise when Brad became upset that I picked our wedding cake without consulting him. For some reason (a dumb one in hindsight), it didn’t even cross my mind that Brad would have opinions about the wedding cake, the invitations, or the flowers. I was supposed to be the one doing the wedding planning, and he was supposed to be off playing golf or something like that! Let me quickly hasten to say that one of the things I now love most about Brad is that he wants to do life together, and that includes planning special events, etc. It just took me awhile to figure that out.
Another marital challenge was communication. Of course, any healthy marriage must face this difficulty. Brad and I approach conflict from opposite ends of the spectrum. If Brad were writing this post, he would say, “One of us doesn’t like to face it at all!” He would be completely accurate in that statement too. When it comes to conflict, I first try to avoid it, then I get quiet, and finally, I stuff my thoughts and feelings until they erupt at random times. Brad, on the other hand, gets demonstrative. We both acknowledge that we have been influenced in our communication practices by our families of origin. It has taken me twenty years (literally) to learn that just because Brad is loud or expresses himself in a strong voice isn’t the cue for me to shut down and be quiet. We are both learning how to be respectful of one another when it comes to discussing a touchy subject or when we are in the middle of a conflict. I need more time than Brad does to process my thoughts. He has learned that just because I am quiet doesn’t mean I need him to keep explaining something from his point of view. We both have to tell these things to the other person, however. As much as I may hate conflict, I can honestly say our marriage has benefitted from Brad’s desire to seek the truth and to work through our conflicts even when it is hard work. I think Brad would say that he has learned that giving me space and time to process my thoughts makes our follow-up conversations all the more helpful as we go forward.
This past season of marriage while Brad was working on his PhD was probably our most difficult season of marriage. I know, I know, everyone says that graduate school is hard on a marriage, but our marriage wasn’t going to be like everyone else’s. I was surprised to find how easy it was to slip into a mental game of score-keeping. There were days when my thoughts ran something like this: “Does he know how hard I am working so he can go to school?” “What about my goals?” “Does he see how much I am sacrificing?” Anger seeped in like a noxious odor, and soon bitterness found root in my heart. Thankfully, I eventually came to the point where I could honestly tell Brad how I was feeling, and I had a trustworthy friend (thanks, Margaret) who prayed with me regularly and was a safe person to share with.
I’m really grateful for our twenty years of marriage. I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to the beginning. I know I still have a lot to learn about loving Brad better, and, frankly, areas where I need to change. For starters, I can be really stubborn about admitting when I am wrong. On either our second or third day of driving to New York, I was cycling through the CD’s I had packed for the trip, and came across a Fernando Ortega CD from a number of years ago. I don’t even know the title of the song, but one line jumped out at me. He’s singing about his wife, and he says, “We were made for the years.” I couldn’t think of a better way to describe my marriage to Brad—it’s made for the years. From our early days in Van Wert, Ohio, barely making ends meet, to our Chicago days and the start of our family, to our Vancouver adventure, to our Waco adventure, and now to our New York adventure, it’s all part of our years together. Lord willing, there are lots more to come.