I used to think being 39 years old sounded scary. Now I’ve been married for 39 years! As I look back today I realize how foolish and selfish I was when we got married. I’m so grateful for these 39 years; they’ve been good for me. Here’s how 39 years of marriage changed me.
Lesson One: It’s not me, it’s we
As I’ve written before, I grew up in the exciting 60’s, and eagerly embraced the women’s lib movement. I truly thought my life was all about me. I remember a woman that I worked for in high school telling me if her husband ever stopped meeting her needs, she was out of there. I applauded her attitude. Thought she was wonderful.
I planned on being married to Bruce for life, and I’m grateful for my parent’s great example of a long lasting marriage. But I still thought it was all about me. That changed when I learned the marriage dance.
Do you remember learning to dance? Did your daddy teach you like my daddy did? We would get so excited to take our turn. We carefully placed our small feet on daddy’s big shoes. We grabbed hold of his hands. And away we would go. Every time daddy took a step forward, I would take a step backward. Every time I would take a step forward, daddy would take a step backward.
Little did we know he was teaching us marriage lessons.
Bruce and I waltzed through our wedding dance thinking that we had found our perfect partner. But shortly after the wedding, we began to realize how different we were. He’s organized, I’m scattered. He is goal oriented and self-directed. I struggled with goals. He’s forthright and embraces debate, I prefer to avoid conflict. He is accomplishment oriented, I’m relationship oriented. He’s decisive, I wallow in indecision.
I think by the end of the first year we had each decided we needed to “improve” the other. Our graceful foxtrot became an awkward jitterbug. Apparently our spouse-improvement plans failed, because we are still just as opposite as we were 39 years ago.
What we learned was God’s view of marriage was oneness.
““For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32 NIV).
This one-flesh marriage is a profound mystery, a mega-mystery. In The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Timothy Keller, this mystery is described as an “extraordinarily great, wonderful and profound truth that can be understood only with the help of God’s Spirit.”
It’s true that opposites attract. Some say 89% marry their opposite and the rest marry someone significantly different from them.
- The introverts marry the extroverts.
- The optimists marry the pessimists.
- The relationship-oriented marry the accomplishment-oriented.
I believe the opposite traits are meant to be a gift to us, not a source of annoyance. Your spouse’s gifts are tailor made to help you in your areas of weakness.
Think of your personality strengths as specialties for the dance of life. You have some specialties, and your spouse does as well. In each step of life, yield to the spouse who has the appropriate specialty. As you step, yield, step, yield, you begin to perform the marriage dance.
- When a situation calls for detailed analytical specialties, step back with your big picture ideas.
- When social skills are needed, swallow your introversion and let your spouse shine.
- When a decision needs to be made, defer to your spouse instead of wallowing in indecision.
- When dealing with a delicate relationship problem, relax your grip and let the soft-hearted spouse lead.
Lesson Two: 1 + 1 > 2
Bruce and I met in calculus class in college. That’s why I always told my kids, math is very romantic. I was good at math back then, and I probably would have argued with anyone who said 1 + 1 >2, but that’s what I’ve learned in 39 years of marriage.
We do have some things in common. I love to laugh and Bruce loves to make me laugh. We both love to travel and learn new things. We are both intelligent. We really are a good match for each other.
Without me, we would never get out and socialize with other people. Without Bruce we would never get back in the house, because I lose my keys regularly.
As I mentioned above, we were very different from one another in our early years. But as we grew to know God better, we each began to see our need to change. Marriage is the one relationship where you are most likely to come across your sin nature. Your spouse knows you like no one else, and if he is very different from you (as most are), your sin nature will be glaringly obvious.
Marriage will force us to face things we would rather not know about in our character. But as Christians, if we are to ever make progress in growing to be like Christ, coming face to face with our own sin is the first step in overcoming it.
Katherine Anne Porter writes, “[Marriage] is the merciless revealer, the great white searchlight turned on the darkest places of human nature.”
Gary Thomas wrote Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy, which explores this theme. He writes, “Any situation that calls me to confront my selfishness has enormous spiritual value.”
In 39 years of marriage, I have come face to face with my own selfishness more times than I care to count. And I am blessed because of it.
So 1 + 1 is not equal to 2 in marriage. If we each embrace this plan of God’s, then 1 + 1 can become much more than just 2. I am immeasurably better because I’ve been married to Bruce than I could ever have been on my own.
Lesson 3: Respect for him = love for me
One other lesson I’ve learned is about love and respect. I struggled with respect for Bruce for many years.
Since the 60’s, respect for men has declined. It’s popular to see men as buffoons in media. I cringe when I think of all the times I read a certain children’s book series to my kids. The dad is always the one who messes up and needs rescuing. The mom is always the one with the level head, the one who swoops in and fixes everything. Her eye rolls and sarcastic comebacks are classic.
This attitude is still pervasive. I hear from women all the time that they consider their husbands as just one more kid.
“Respect? There is no way I can respect my husband until he proves himself by doing…” Is there a condition attached to your respect?
The passage of Ephesians above about marriage being about Christ and the church concludes this way. “However, each of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33 NIV).
In 2004 Shaunti Feldhahn conducted a study of hundreds of men to quantify what they wanted in relationships. The results were revealed in her book, For Women Only, Revised and Updated Edition: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men. One of the most astounding conclusions was not just that men needed respect, but they would rather feel unloved than inadequate and disrespected.
God knew what he was talking about in Ephesians!
Most of us want to be loved by our husbands. We want to be loved every day. We want to be loved when we are pretty, and when we are not so much. We want to be loved when we are sick, and when we are well. We want to be loved when we are lovable and when we are not. In fact, I just bet that we especially want to be loved when we are feeling unlovable.
Did you know when a husband loves his wife it makes her more love-able?
I bet if you asked him, your husband would say that he would like to be respected every day. He would like to be respected when he is making a good income, and when he isn’t so much. He would like to be respected when he is sick, and when he is well. He would like to be respected when he is feeling respectable, and when he is not feeling respectable. In fact, I just bet that he especially wants to be respected when he is not feeling respectable.
Did you know when a wife respects her husband it makes him more respect-able?
Dr Emerson and Sarah Eggrichs have a marriage ministry called Love & Respect. I will be starting a small group study this fall on their newest offering, Respectfully Yours – The Secret to Power and Influence in Your Marriage – Leader Kit. I’m looking forward to learning more about the concept of respect. There’s always room for improvement!
If you’re interested in more about marriage, I’ve compiled most of my marriage posts into a free ebook called How to be Happily Married, Naked Hangers and All: Surviving and Even Thriving with that Quirky Person you Married. The ebook contains practical tips to help you understand your spouse and thought provoking questions to ponder. You can receive this free ebook as well as two others by clicking below.
Next year we will reach our 40th anniversary. We’re thinking about the next steps we will take in life; assisting aging parents, encouraging adult kids and growing grandkids, working together in ministry, and heading toward retirement. I’m so grateful for the husband God gave me, and so grateful we both found a relationship with God. I truly don’t know where we would be today if not for God’s Spirit in our life.
I can’t wait to see what He brings to us in the next years ahead. If the past is any indication, we are heading for more adventure!
Bruce, I love you with all my heart; all ways and always.
…because U count, deb