I love that photo Sarah took this month. It mirrors my favorite picture from our wedding:
It’s been thirteen years and we still love laughing together.
This year has been strange.
On the one hand, it’s been hard: I’ve watched marriages around me fall apart to different degrees for a few reasons. On the other, we’ve grown a lot. I’ve grown a lot. And it’s been good. I’ve debated much whether it’s worth putting out there—I mean, I’ve written posts every anniversary for several years now, and it seems a little indulgent to just keep going. At the same time, like our children, this marriage was designed to grow and change as it matures.
So I wanted to spend a few minutes looking at how we’ve grown this year.
I kicked my “mean husband” out of the house.
I have always sort of been prone to depression, insecurity, and a lot of negative self-talk. For the first 10-12 years of our marriage, I sort of projected all of that onto him and I assumed that the things he was thinking about me were the same awful things I was saying to myself, and I reacted based on those (false) bad motives. I can’t say I’ve outgrown that internal negativity, though I’m trying. A year or so ago, a switch flipped. I realized that I’d imagined a mean version of my husband that simply doesn’t exist and I… stopped. We now periodically joke about Mean Andrew, and he can call me on it if he senses his evil counterpart has entered the room again. It’s been a bit of a miracle to quit assuming my husband thinks all the worst things I fear true of myself.
We both feel safer.
Largely because Mean Andrew took a hike, my sweet husband doesn’t need to be afraid that I am going to freak out on him over everything and nothing. And now that I’ve figured out that I can trust my husband’s heart for me, I also feel safer.
We’re learning vulnerability.
Safety doesn’t make vulnerability easy—it’s HARD. It’s hard to entrust the deepest parts of myself to my husband. It’s hard for me to put words to these hidden parts of me. It’s hard when vulnerability from either of us so easily triggers defensiveness in the other. But we’re practicing. I can’t speak for him, but every time I manage to say whichever words are hardest to say, it makes it easier. No, that’s a lie. I felt it as soon as my fingers typed it. It hasn’t yet gotten easier. But it builds my confidence that I can, and, because he keeps loving me anyway (no matter how imperfectly), it improves my confidence that vulnerability does eventually lead to deeper intimacy between us.
Marriage and my husband both came down off their pedestals.
“Our hearts are idol-making factories.”* It’s true. And I am certain that I’ll have to revisit this as my heart tries to make these good things into God-things. But when I make my husband the object of my worship, anything he does wrong is absolutely catastrophic to my image of him. (How could it not be? God-like perfection is kind of a pass-fail thing.) When I have marriage on a pedestal, a couple of things happen. First, I expect a lot of my deepest needs to be fulfilled by the relationship which is both unrealistic and unfair. Secondly, when marriages around me unexpectedly fail, I feel deeply, personally insecure, because my faith is in “Christian Marriage” rather than Christ. (Just ask my husband how many times in the last year I’ve had to verify that he is not, in fact, cheating on me.) (Spoiler: he’s not.)
Finding my deepest security and fulfillment in Jesus is a thing I’ve struggled with for decades now, and I’m far from complete in this area, but I’ve seen some good strides in that direction this year.
Curiosity works in our favor.
Remember when my word was “wonder”? It’s good for marriage, too. It can keep me from grossly misinterpreting his motives. Also, When we’re at odds and neither of us even necessarily remember what the initial problem is because it’s spiraled out to be about all the Big Things that it’s always about, curiosity gives me a way to shift my heart toward my husband. I’ve heard “listen to understand, not to respond” since before we married, but it’s hard to do that when I’m just pissed and hurt. Curiosity doesn’t necessarily get me out of these tangles because I have to remember to want to stop. But once I do want to stop, adopting curiosity as an attitude toward him softens us both.
“I love you” is a short and simple sentence. But over this thirteenth year, I’ve come to a greater understanding of myself, of my husband, and of love, so “I love you” means a different and deeper thing than it did last year. And I am confident that as we both grow toward Jesus and each other, that will keep being true, year after year.
* “Our hearts are idol-making factories” is a quote from Counterfeit Gods, by Tim Keller. Coincidentally, Keller also wrote The Meaning of Marriage, which I just finished this morning and can safely say is the best book of the several dozen I’ve read on marriage.