My husband and I just celebrated ten years of marriage. In honor of this milestone, and because I feel like we have gained at least a little bit of helpful marital wisdom, here are 10 things I’ve learned in our 10 years of marriage.
1. It matters who you marry.
A spouse who loves Jesus more than they love you can ultimately love you with a truer and deeper love that comes not from their own volition, but from God. His love is truly never-ending and far better than our capacity to love on our own. If you are not yet married, look for a spouse who loves Jesus more than they love you. I don’t mean someone who loves Jesus in word only, or because of Christian culture, but seriously, deeply loves Him and is being transformed by Him. You will not marry a perfect person here on earth, so marry someone who practices repentance. When conflict arises (because it will), they will take those things to the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit to transform them. If you’re struggling in your marriage, know it is not beyond His capacity for renewal because our God is in the business of redemption. My own parents are a testament to His work in this way.
2. Let grace abound.
I committed early on in marriage to speak up when my husband did things that hurt or bothered me. Since marriage is for the long haul, I might as well put in the hard work of communication and conflict resolution, right? But I’ve also learned along the way that it’s not always beneficial to bring up everything your spouse does that annoys you all the time. Sometimes when I’m frustrated my husband didn’t put his dishes in the sink again or didn’t text he was running late, I need to choose to believe the best about him instead of making assumptions that put me at war with him in my mind. I don’t need to exasperate him by bringing up every little thing he does that annoys me every time. After all, God doesn’t point out our every flaw every time. That would totally overwhelm us, and He knows us well enough to know what to bring up when and how. We should know our spouses well enough to do the same.
3. Marriage is not 50/50, but 100.
My husband and I talked about this idea early on, but I didn’t necessarily apply it then. Early in marriage, I often felt like I was doing my fair share of the work in our home and relationship and it needed to be reciprocated to the same extent. The problem was, though, he felt the same way. If we do our 50% and expect our spouse to fill in the rest, we will have very missed expectations of what we think our spouse should fulfill. Not because our spouses are incapable of doing 50%, but because we have a tendency to overestimate our contributions and underestimate those of our spouse. Instead, we must give everything we have to our spouse, giving them 100% no matter what. 50/50 kind of thinking often results in a “you owe me” mentality instead of an “I’ll serve you” mentality. We are called to imitate our Savior who died for us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). We owed Him and yet He served us and gave his life up for us. We gave him 0% and yet He chose to give us 100%.
4. Consider your spouse as more significant than yourself.
I cook dinner in our family. As silly as it sounds, after years of cooking and serving our food, I will still wrestle in my mind over giving my husband the better plate! You know, the best part of the steak, the perfect corner of the lasagna, the juiciest piece of the watermelon. I wrestle with wanting to keep the best for myself (and let’s be real, sometimes I do). Most of the time, I choose to give him the better portion, and I know he does the same for me. These little moments in our days when we choose to view our spouse as more important than ourselves have a huge impact on our marriage. So, whether serving dinner, or having sex, choosing how to spend your time, or choosing how to spend your money, make a habit of putting the other person’s needs and desires before your own. Think of your spouse as more important than yourself, like you were serving Jesus Himself. Ideally, both people in the marriage would think and act this way in beautiful reciprocity. But even if not, as you lay down your life, you can become a living, breathing picture of the gospel. This is the heart attitude behind giving 100% in marriage.
5. Be slow to speak, unless it’s “I’m sorry.”
Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Being an internal processor, I’ve naturally been slower to speak in our marriage, which has generally benefited our marriage. But I have also always been very slow to speak, “I’m sorry.” There have been many conflicts where I have refused to apologize in my stubbornness because I didn’t start the conflict, or because I only responded a certain way because of his sin in the first place. Just as in the very first marriage, it feels shameful and uncomfortable to confront my sin and it’s far easier to blameshift (Genesis 3:8-13). In every conflict, I’ve learned to assume I’m part of the problem and try to take ownership of my sin. Even when I feel I’m only 2% at fault, I have learned (and am still learning) to take 100% ownership for my 2%. In any healthy relationship, we have to recognize our own sin and our own harmful contributions to the relationship and be a spouse/friend/employer/church leader marked by repentance.
6. “You’re on the same team.”
I have no idea who, but someone wrote this on a card of advice from an activity at my wedding shower and it’s stuck with me for 10 years. Thank you, friend! Along with the advice, they wrote Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” My husband is never my enemy, but there is an active enemy that would love to make it appear that way! As much as my mind and heart go to war with him, I have to remind myself my husband and I are on the same team. Always.
7. Disciple your spouse.
This hit me way later in our marriage than it probably should have, and still, regular life and kid chaos can make it difficult to do. Discipleship is simply living out 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” In my discipleship relationships, I try to ask intentional questions about another person’s heart and walk with Jesus. I intentionally try to point them to Jesus. I graciously point out areas of sin and help them grow in holiness. How much more should I do this for my husband and point Him towards the Lover of his soul?
8. Date nights matter!
I cannot stress enough how important I think it is to have an intentional, regular, and scheduled date night. It is so worth it to invest in your spouse! We recommend adding date night as a repeated event in your calendar and make very few exceptions, otherwise life will just get in the way. My husband and I have had a date night every week since we were married (with very few exceptions, like while on vacation or in the newborn hazy stage). In this season with small kids, we occasionally get out of the house for dates, but often our date night looks like a night at home after the kids are all in bed. These are our nights to both disciple each other and have fun!
9. It’s seriously important to have fun.
We have had to intentionally give ourselves the time and freedom to have fun with each other. It’s so easy for us to forget to make space for laughter and fun and to get bogged down with life responsibilities, kids, work, resolving conflict, paying bills, mowing the lawn, cleaning the kitchen, going to the store, taking a shower, taking the car in for oil changes… But Proverbs 17:22 reminds us that “a joyful heart is good medicine.” Laughter and fun is like a medicine that can bring healing or like a good vitamin that continues to aid to the good health of our marriages. Even more, it reflects the way God is with us. Our God is full of joy over His Bride, He “will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). May our marriages truly reflect the joy between Christ and His bride (Ephesians 5:32)!
10. Marriages need godly community.
Older and wiser married couples, newlyweds, and our single friends have all played a part in investing in our lives and have contributed to the health of our marriage. We desperately need community to be an example for us in godliness, to challenge us in our sin that so easily entangles us, to encourage us to love each other well, to speak truth in love, and to give practical advice to specific issues that arise in marriage. Spiritual growth happens in the context of community (Ephesians 4) and in marriage it is no different.
God has used these ten years of marriage to teach me far more than just these ten lessons. He has graciously show me my own sin, He’s refined and grown me, and He’s shown me more of Himself. In His kindness, I hope the next ten years will hold more of the same.