17 Lessons from 17 Years of Marriage (Lessons 13 – ­17)

Love Coffee, by Ahmed Rabea, Flickr

Love Coffee, by Ahmed Rabea, Flickr

Tasha and I recently celebrated 17 Years of Marriage! Part of this year’s anniversary celebration included some time for Tasha and I to reflect on lessons from our first 17 years of marriage.

I provided an overview of the first 12 lessons in the past three posts (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3). I’ll take a look at lessons 13-17 in this final reflection on the topic. Before I do so, here is a quick overview of our 17 Lessons again:

  1. Prioritize Time Together
  2. Keep Short Accounts
  3. Laugh Often
  4. Learn and Speak One Another’s Love Language
  5. Appreciate, Don’t Expect
  6. Celebrate One Another, Including the Differences
  7. The Kids Are #2
  8. Ride the Waves like a Pro with the Ups and Downs of Life
  9. Keep the Friendship, and the Romance, Alive
  10. Give Tech a Timeout
  11. The Grass is Greenest Here
  12. Enjoy the Mountaintops and the Mundane
  13. Dream and Grow Together
  14. Change Yourself, Not Each Other
  15. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
  16. Listen and Learn
  17. Stay Connected to the Vine

Here we go with this final post on the topic: Lessons 13 – 17 with a bit more detail.

13. Dream and Grow Together

Part of doing life together as a couple involves sharing in one another’s dreams and being one another’s biggest fan as we pursue new opportunities and adventures. Some of these dreams have been shared dreams, like the desire both Tasha and I shared for adoption even before we were married. This dream came to fulfillment in our delightful daughter who is now five.

Other dreams are more individual in nature. But in a marriage, individual dreams are still fulfilled as a couple. For Tasha, this has included dreams like going back to school for a master’s degree and engaging in travel that has helped her connect with her love for both art history and biblical history. For me, this has often included dreams in the academic realm. One of the most expensive and challenging of these dreams was pursuing and completing a Ph.D. process. In both of our cases, Tasha and I would say that we could not have made these journeys without the support and celebration of the other along the way.

Seventeen years into marriage, we are still dreaming. Just last night as we were out on a date Tasha asked: “So what would you like to be celebrating a year from now?” As we shared our dreams for the next 12 months, I found myself once again thankful to have such a dear friend with whom to share life. What a great question to help each other keep dreaming and growing together!

14. Change Yourself, Not Each Other

As we dream and grow together, it is important to approach growth in a positive manner. Although both Tasha and I have areas of our life that frustrate one another, we need to be careful that we are not focused on changing each other. When there are areas of growth in a relationship, the best way to pursue this is not by aiming to change each other, but by aiming to change ourselves.

Tasha and I have found that when we are starting to feel empty (spiritually, emotionally, physically), we begin to project our emptiness through frustration with the people and circumstances around us. In other words, we try to inappropriately gain fullness in our lives by changing other people or each other. As you can imagine, this approach rarely ends well.

One key to a healthy marriage is learning to love and serve one another out of fullness (wholeness) rather than focusing on getting from one another in an attempt to fill our emptiness. Although the gospel reminds us that we are needy people who bring our emptiness to Jesus to be filled, constantly bringing our emptiness to the people around us leads to drained and broken relationships rather than ones that are healthy and vibrant.

In our final lesson, I will spend a bit more time on where we can go with our emptiness, but here I will end with emphasizing that Tasha and I are learning that when change is needed, the focus should be on changing ourselves rather than one another. When one of us becomes short and irritable, the problem is almost never with the other person. In these moments it is time to look in the mirror and consider how we may change so that we can return to one another with a posture of giving rather than taking.

15. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

As we live life together in our marriage, there are issues that come up between Tasha and me on a regular basis. One of the keys for us has been learning when to let things go and learning when to press into important conversations.

I have heard it said that there are two important rules for life. Rule #1: “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” Rule #2: “It’s All Small Stuff.”

Although Tasha and I mostly agree with these principles, we would modify it a bit. It is also important to not trivialize what is a big deal for our spouse by treating it as a small deal.

The reality is that 99% of the issues that come up in our lives on a day-to-day basis are “small stuff.” For these items we need to graciously overlook our concerns and frustrations. Proverbs 19:11 puts it this way: “it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” We see this as being relationally gracious with one another as we let the small stuff go.

But there are a few items that are a big deal, at least from one of our perspectives. For Tasha, one of her “big stuff” items is time together. When life gets too full and we are struggling to have time together, this qualifies as a “sweat the big stuff” conversation. It is right and helpful for Tasha to raise her concerns. For me, one of my “big stuff” items is making sure we stay on track with our personal family finances. For me, this qualifies as a “sweat the big stuff” conversation.

In the case of both of these items, the criterion for becoming a “big stuff” issue is that it is something that can significantly impact the health and well-being of our family and our relationship. So, “don’t sweat the small stuff”, AND keep your “big stuff” issues to a minimum.

16. Listen and Learn

When it comes to a healthy marriage relationship, communication is key. While this certainly includes talking, we find that it is vital to emphasize listening and learning. In James 1:19 we are reminded that “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

In our relationship, Tasha and I want to keep our curiosity for one another at a peak level. Although I’m sure others might find some of our conversations boring (I know, that is hard to believe!), for us these conversations are of high importance. Because there is no one else with whom we are more interested in this world, listening to the important thoughts and feelings we share about our day or something that has been on our mind is fascinating.

We want this to be the case fifty years from now as well—maintaining a posture of eager listening and learning toward one another and what matters most in our lives.

17. Stay Connected to the Vine

This brings us to the final lesson: Stay Connected to the Vine. In John 15:5 we read the following words of Jesus: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this principle for us.

In discussing lesson 14, I highlighted the need to come one another with fullness, wholeness and a posture of giving rather than emptiness and a posture of taking. But this raises a key question: where do we find fullness and wholeness when we really are broken and empty people?

The answer we find in John 15 is that we are to stay connected to the vine — we are to stay connected to Jesus. While this verse points us to the reality that apart from Jesus we can do nothing, we can also speak to this reality from our experience.

When we are not daily drawing near to Jesus through trusting His work on our behalf, celebrating Him in our hearts through worship, talking with Him in prayer, and reflecting on what He wants to speak to us in His Word the Bible, Tasha and I experientially relate to one another differently.

When we are not intentionally drawing on the grace of God found in Jesus, we become short with one another and more selfish in how we relate with one another. Conversely, when we are drawing on the grace of God in Jesus—that is, when we are staying connected to the Vine—we are able to keep the small stuff in perspective, we are able to gracious with one another, and we are able to focus on serving rather than taking from one another in our relationship.

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And so our final lesson is a reminder for us to stay connected to Jesus, for He is the one who ultimately is able to bind our marriage together for a lifetime. Although Tasha and I are only at year 17, we look forward to catching up with the 72 years of marriage my grandparents enjoyed together before their passing earlier this year.

God’s grace to each of you as you live out these 17 lessons in your own lives and relationships. Take some time to share your lessons below!

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Here Are the Links for The Entire Series:

17 Lessons from 17 Years of Marriage, cont. (Lessons 5 – ­8)

Love and Marriage, by Dennis Skley, Flickr

Love and Marriage, by Dennis Skley, Flickr

Last week Tasha and I celebrated 17 Years of Marriage! Part of this year’s anniversary celebration included some time for Tasha and I to reflect on lessons from our first 17 years of marriage.

In last week’s post I started walking through our list of 17 Lessons from 17 Years of Marriage by providing some commentary on the first four items. This week I’ll continue the journey as we walk through lessons 5 – 8. Before I do so, here is a quick overview of our 17 Lessons again:

  1. Prioritize Time Together
  2. Keep Short Accounts
  3. Laugh Often
  4. Learn and Speak One Another’s Love Language
  5. Appreciate, Don’t Expect
  6. Celebrate One Another, Including the Differences
  7. The Kids Are #2
  8. Ride the Waves like a Pro with the Ups and Downs of Life
  9. Keep the Friendship, and the Romance, Alive
  10. Give Tech a Timeout
  11. The Grass is Greenest Here
  12. Enjoy the Mountaintops and the Mundane
  13. Dream and Grow Together
  14. Change Yourself, Not Each Other
  15. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
  16. Listen and Learn
  17. Stay Connected to the Vine

So here we go: Lessons 5 – 8 with a bit more detail.

5. Appreciate, Don’t Expect

Somewhat of an extension of our previous reflection on learning and speaking one another’s love language, managing our expectations has been very important for us. Tasha and I have learned that we cannot expect each other to “read one another’s minds,” though we often want that. When we come to expect something from each other, we often are setting ourselves up for disappointment.

Rather, Tasha and I continue to learn the importance of appreciating rather than expecting. A mindset of appreciation helps us to receive from one another with gratitude rather than implicitly demand from one another with our expectations. A focus on appreciating nurtures the spirit of grace and gratitude we desire to have with one another rather than a contractual, quid-pro-quo type spirit. We are learning the joy of generously giving to one another and returning this generosity with appreciation rather than expectation.

6. Celebrate One Another, Including the Differences

Celebrating both common values and complementary personalities has been a key for Tasha and me over the years. This translates into genuinely celebrating one another. From a common core of values, such as our common faith in Christ, we are able to enjoy and treasure our differences.

For those that know MBTI personality types well, we are a marriage of an INTJ and an ENFP. Although we share our common “N” of iNtuition, we are on opposite sides of the continuum on most of the other personality dimensions. While this is only one way of looking at our differences, for us the adage that “opposites attract” feels quit true for us. From the way we approach work, problems, parenting, and beyond, our differences regularly complement one another.

Though early in our marriage these very differences often became points of frustration, over the years we have learned that these commonalities and complements enrich our lives and make us better people. Both the commonalities and complements are to be enjoyed and celebrated in healthy relationships, and Tasha and I are learning to do this a little better each year of marriage.

7. The Kids Are #2

With five children in our family, parenting is a major part of our lives. Although we treasure our kids, Tasha and I feel that one of the best things we can do for our kids is to show them that when it comes to Mom and Dad’s relationship, the children come second (sorry kids!). Rather than being the center of our relationship, children are an outgrowth of our marriage relationship.

Marriages that are centered on children often run into difficulties when children are launched from the home. Conversely, marriages that celebrate and prioritize one another often stand the test of time. We are not talking about being selfish and withholding what kids genuinely need. Rather, it is about affirming that the best gift we can give our children is a stable, loving, and health marriage. Part of fighting for the joy of our kids is by keeping each other, our friendship and our romance, as the priority in our family as the years of parenting move forward.

8. Ride the Waves like a Pro in the Ups and Downs of Life

As Tasha and I once heard musicians Sara and Toby Groves joke about in one of their concerts, we also sometimes say “We’ve been happily married 15 years, and married for 17.” While we joke about this, there is certainly truth behind the humor.

Not every year of our marriage has been full of joy and ease. We have had significant seasons where frustration, arguments, and depression have colored our relationship. For us this came around years four and five of our marriage especially. As we think back on those difficult days, we are grateful for the help of pastors, counselors, friends, family, and neighbors who supported us along the way.

In addition to the support around us, Tasha and I are also thankful that early in our marriage we banished the “D” word (divorce) from our relational vocabulary. Though we have had difficult seasons, we have drawn on our promise to one other to stay, and part of this has been to never channel our feelings in such a way where we would threaten each other with the language of divorce.

As we are now 17 years into this journey of marriage, one key benefit is the perspective that comes with the gift of time together over these years. When we had a difficult year after only four years together, it was challenging to find perspective. But now we have more shared history in life together. This history provides perspectives for us to see that the ups and downs are a normal part of life together in relationship.

Like surfing pros find the most joy in turbulent waters, 17 years into marriage Tasha and I are learning to ride the waves together through the highs and lows of life. We promised each other we would stay “for better, for worse … till death do us part,” and we actually meant it. There is no one I’d rather go through the ups and downs of life with than my bride.

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As you consider the principles of (1) appreciating over expecting, (2) celebrating both commonalities and complements, (3) prioritizing our spouse over our kids, and (4) riding the waves through the ups and downs of life, what is your biggest takeaway this week?

I’ll pick up with lesson #9 in the next post.

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Here Are the Links for The Entire Series: