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:

Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation (Leadership Practice 2)

Reflection After Reflection, Dia, Flickr

Reflection After Reflection, Dia, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

Last week I highlighted the first practice—Modeling what Matters. This week, we turn to the second practice—Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation.

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Serving as a foundation for authentic modeling of what matters (Practice 1), the next servant leadership practice is Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation. One of the unique features of this practice is its emphasis on self-evaluation sequentially prior to the leader’s evaluation of others. While it may be easy for leaders to recognize faults and mistakes in others, leaders must first engage in in the hard work of looking in the mirror and engaging in a self-evaluative process of reflection.

The Leader’s First Look

This practice is consistent with the biblical admonition to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Engaging in honest self-evaluation requires leader humility. It requires a capacity for self-awareness. It requires a willingness to reflect on personal faults and shortcomings which shape the organizational environment and the experience that followers have in the organization.

Being (and Growing as) Humans

Shann Ferch argued that “one of the defining characteristics of human nature is the ability to discern one’s own faults, to be broken as the result of such faults, and in response to seek a meaningful change.” Leaders are not exempt from such important human characteristics. The issue is not whether or not leaders have faults and make mistakes in their leadership practice at times. Rather, the issue is whether or not leaders have the capacity to reflect on these mistakes and engage in honest self-reflection and self-evaluation. Leaders who do this are able to learn from their mistakes and then grow as persons and as leaders.

Greater Influence Necessitates Greater Reflection

Emphasizing the importance of honest self-evaluation, research participants noted among other things the danger of leader blind spots and unquestioned assumptions. One participant noted, “Honest self-evaluation is utterly important for leaders,” and that, “the blind spots of leaders tend to be far more destructive than the blind spots of non-leaders [because leaders] … impact more people.” In other words, the scope of one’s influence matters. While honest self-evaluation is vital for all people, it is critical for those with significant influence.

Self-Evaluation and Role of Trusted Friends

Research participants further noted the dangers of unconscious self-exaltation and the drift toward arrogance and individualism. They argued that honest self-evaluation is best accomplished when trusted friends are invited to provide the leader with feedback on their growth edges. In addition to effecting the leader’s personal growth, the absence of honest self-evaluation on the part of leaders decreases the capacity of teams to change and attain goals in an effective manner.

Looking in the Mirror 

It’s one thing to read about self-reflection and self-evaluation as a leader. It is another thing altogether to actually do the work of honest self-evaluation.

Have you taken time recently to pause for self-reflection as a leader? How are you evaluating your engagement with those on your team? Are you doing this evaluation on your own, or have you invited a trusted friend to provide honest feedback so that you may better see your leader blind spots?

Though pausing for self-reflection and self-evaluation may feel like you are simply not getting your work done, the research study that backs these reflections prioritizes leader self-evaluation as a first-order priority for leaders. Pausing for reflection and evaluation allows you the opportunity to make mid-course corrections in your leadership, contribute to higher levels of follower job-satisfaction, and contribute to the increased effectiveness of your team.

Take time for an honest look in the mirror today.

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”