Nine Years

This Wednesday will mark nine years married to Chris.  Sometimes I feel like it’s been forever.  It’s hard to remember my life without him or imagine what it would be like if he wasn’t mine.  Other times it seems like it hasn’t been any time at all.  I still feel like I’m a young married girl – having just married my best friend.  We’ve had a happy, adventurous journey so far.

9 years
6 jobs
4 houses
2 cities
1 precious kid and 1 on the way

Here we are on our wedding day.  (Little side story here.  A couple of summers ago I was watching my friend’s little girl and she saw this picture hanging in the kitchen.  Here’s our conversation.  L:  “Wow, Shannon!  Who are those people in that picture?”  Me:  “Oh, that’s me and Chris when we got married.”  L:  “Really??” (shock evident on her face) You sure were a lot more beautifuler then than you are now!”  Cracks me up!  Such a smart little girl she is!!)

photo 1

And here we are on our honeymoon.  We were just babies.photo 2

We’ve shared nine years of marriage. Nine years of how was your day.  Nine years of encouraging.  Nine years of dreaming.  Nine years of fights. Nine years of making up.  Nine years of dishes and laundry.  Nine years of goodnight kisses.  Nine years of sharing.  Nine years of I’ll always love you.  Nine years of dinner together.  Nine years of hand holding.  Nine years of laughing together.  Nine years of crying together.  Nine years of we’re in this together.  Nine years of I’ll always have your back.I am so thankful for the life God has given me and the wonderful husband I get to share the journey with.

I’m not a marriage expert.  We don’t have the perfect marriage and I am far from the perfect wife.  When I started thinking about writing this blog, I thought, “How do we have such a happy marriage?  I have no idea what we do that makes it good.”.  Then as I began thinking about it, I realized that we do lots of things that make it work.  We take the wisdom we’ve learned from family, friends, sermons, and books, and try to put it to good use.  So, here ya go – nine pieces of marriage wisdom from our nine years as husband and wife.

1.  Have a “we’re in it for the long haul” attitude.  Going into marriage, it’s easy to imagine spending the rest of your life with that person.  You’re so in love you just can’t stand it.  Each of you has a set of rose colored glasses that you use to gaze at your new spouse with.  And then the honeymoon ends.  Life gets hard, feelings get hurt, and anger flares.  From the very beginning, Chris and I set out with the attitude that divorce is not an option.  We do not bring up the idea of divorce even in the most heated fight, and do not entertain thoughts about it either.  When we said our vows, we meant them.  There has to be no room in your mind for another option, a second try, a plan b.  This is it, and we are in it for the long haul.  (As a side note, I’d like to say that I know there are extreme circumstances where separation or divorce are necessary.  I’m not speaking to those situations.)

2. Set realistic expectations and share them with your spouse.  I have written about expectations previously, and I feel like this is a huge area of either strength or weakness in a marriage.  We all have expectations.  Some of them are good and others aren’t.  I think the biggest problem with expectations is that most of the time we leave them unspoken.  How often do we get mad at our spouse for doing something that we’ve never asked them not to do?  Or more often, for not doing something that we think they should have done, but haven’t asked them to?  I can think of countless times this has happened in our marriage.  Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we had these conversations before we were upset?  “Chris, would you please block off some time in your schedule to vacuum?  We have friends coming over for dinner tonight.”  “Shannon, I feel like you’ve been kind of negative toward me lately.  Would you please try to be a little more encouraging?”  Especially when a special event is coming up…like our 9 year anniversary.  “Chris, we’ve gotten to do so much this summer, I don’t feel like we need a special anniversary night date.  Maybe just lunch and a nice card.”  Then, everyone’s in the know, everyone’s happy, and everyone’s expectations are met.

3.  Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.  I am sharing this one with you because I am sure that it works.  I haven’t tried it out myself yet, as I prefer the quick to speak, get louder faster, act the maddest approach.  In truth though, I do try to put this verse into practice.  And it is so dadgum hard.  But, let me say, that when I really do try to slow down and listen, it makes all the difference.  So many of our conflicts are avoided when even just one of us decides to truly listen to what the other is saying.  Miscommunication happens way too easily.  When we really stop and listen before getting upset, it’s amazing how differently our disagreements turn out.  It’s like God really knew what he was talking about in this verse.

4. Set boundaries.  I remember my grandma saying that one way she knew my grandpa loved her was that she always knew where he was.  That really struck me because I find that feeling in myself.  I appreciate so much that Chris lets me know where he is and what he’s doing all the time.  I don’t mean we stalk each other, or don’t trust each other, or we always have to be on the phone.  But I think it shows a high level of respect for your spouse to let them know your plans.  If Chris is going to work late, he tells me.  If I am going to run errands after I pick up Claire, I let him know.  Along with that, we don’t put ourselves in compromising situations.  I will never be alone in a car or house with another man, and vice versa for Chris.  Since Chris works with pretty much all women, he is particularly careful about situations he puts himself in at school.  We share with each other any extensive conversations we have with members of the opposite sex when one of us isn’t present.  This may sound extreme, but when you stop and think about it, we safeguard the things that matter most and have the most value to us.  Our marriage should be no different.

5.  Reverse the situation.  This is one of our most used phrases.  When we’re fighting about something or disagreeing, one of us will say, “Reverse the situation.”.  That means we pause and try to think about things from the other person’s perspective.  It’s amazing what a difference this makes.  When I really stop and try to put myself in Chris’ shoes in the given situation, or the other way around, it changes the climate of the fight.  Even if I still think I’m right (and I always am), I at least gain an understanding of where Chris is coming from and why he feels the way he does.  Once you get that far, your heart is softened, and it’s easier to come to a resolution.

6.  Spend time together.  For us, this is an easy one.  First of all, I have a “I want to be with people 24/7 and I don’t ever need any alone time” personality.  Second, I think Chris is freakin’ awesome.  Really, he’s so funny.  He makes me smile, makes me giggle, makes me laugh.  He also makes me think, makes me dream, makes me plan.  He’s just good to have around.  We really do like doing everything together.  Going to walmart – great.  Playing basketball in the driveway – sounds like fun.  Folding laundry – let’s do it together.  Time for bed – I’ll go too.  But for lots of people who are not wired like we are, it’s not so easy.  I think you have to make it work for you.  You probably won’t do everything together.  But pick a few things that you both enjoy doing, and don’t give them up.  And sometimes, do something that your spouse loves, even if you really hate it.

7. Seek wisdom from the wise.  If you’re seeking financial advice, you wouldn’t ask a person who’s going bankrupt.  If you’re seeking fitness advice, you wouldn’t ask a person eating 3 meals a day at McDonalds.  When you need marriage advice (and everybody does at some point), seek wise counsel.  Parents, grandparents, pastors, and friends can be great sources of wisdom, advice, and encouragement.  Sometimes it just helps to know that someone else has gone through the same situation you’re going through.  Just be careful to not take advice from anyone who offers it.  There are a lot of people who say they know what they’re doing, but their track record tells a different story.  Of course, the true source of all wisdom is God himself.  Who better to turn to in times of trial, in times of heartache, or even in times of joy?  Whatever season of marriage you’re in, allow God to not just be a part, but to be the center of it all.

8.  Be positive about your spouse.  This one applies both in thoughts and words.  It is so easy to fall into the habit of bashing your spouse…in your mind.  It feels good to really let him have it and say everything you want to say, all in your imagination.  But unhappy thoughts produce more unhappy thoughts and negativity produces more negativity.    It is just as easy to complain about our husbands with our girlfriends.  Husband-bashing is a common language spoken in many circles of women.  But why?  What good does it do to constantly complain about and criticize our husbands?  It doesn’t cause a change in them, it makes us miserable, and it draws out in our friends their own criticisms of their husbands.  My feelings would be terribly hurt and I would be humiliated if I found out Chris sat around with his friends telling them how I don’t do laundry often enough, I’m not patient enough with Claire at times, and I never clean our bathroom (all true).  So why do we do it to our husbands?  We have a choice to think and speak about the negative or dwell on the positive.

9.  Give grace.  There are some times when I just blow it.  I’m rude and mean and hurtful. I say that I’m sorry, but I know that doesn’t make it better or take away the sting of my words.  It’s in those moments that I just need grace.  And I ask for it.  Throughout the years, we are both going to need healthy doses of grace.  Without it, no relationship can survive, especially not for decades.  Chris and I have both had to say numerous times, “I know I’ve blown it.  I know I hurt you.  Sorry is all that I can say, and I know it’s not enough.  Can I please have some grace?”  In those moments, when you’re the giver of grace, try not to be stingy.  It’s so hard to give when you feel you’ve been wronged, but someday soon, you’ll be the one asking.  Just like love, I believe grace covers a multitude of sins.

I’ll end with this beautiful quote by F. Burton Howard:
…and then one day I realized that she had known for a long time something that I was just beginning to understand. If you want something to last forever, you treat it differently. You shield it and protect it. You never abuse it. You don’t expose it to the elements. You don’t make it common or ordinary. If it ever becomes tarnished, you lovingly polish it until it gleams like new. It becomes special because you have made it so, and it grows more beautiful and precious as time goes by.  Eternal marriage is just like that. We need to treat it just that way.

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