16 Lessons Learned in 16 Years of Marriage

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2015 marks 16 years of marriage for me and David, and as a 23-year-old naive bride in 1999, I assumed that people who had been married for 16 years and were 40 years old were wise in all things marriage, parenting, and life. (Insert hysterical laughter) Fast forward to January 2015. I am turning 40 soon, and Lord knows David and I don’t have marriage or parenting or life figured out.  Just ask our teenager.

There is a very real, societal war being waged on marriage today, and in light of our own family histories, we have been careful to guard and invest continually in our relationship, and it has made all the difference.  Marriage is sacrifice, hard work, and countless small, repeated decisions to keep loving when it’s easier to just quit.  In the words of my dear friend, Julie, from Pine Cove Family Camp, “We fail, get back up, fail, try again, love some more, forgive some more, and the very thing that brought us together (Christ) is what keeps us together.”

There is no shortage of “marriage advice” out there, and you’ve likely read alot of it. While that advice can at times be helpful, we have learned that the most important thing to keep in mind is that grace is the name of the game. Different seasons of marriage and ever-changing schedules require couples to make adjustments often. Over the last 16 years, we have learned a lot as a couple. This is not a list of rules or a secret formula to a happy marriage, just a few things to keep us going, growing, and thriving as a couple.

1. Recognize that your spouse is not Jesus, and he/she did not come to save you.
The pressure to be someone’s “savior” is far too great to bear. I vividly remember in late college after a painful end to a relationship, I wrote in my journal, “God, You are Enough.” This marked the beginning of a spiritual and emotional paradigm shift that has been key in our marriage. From the beginning, David was free to love me well without my expectations of him being everything I needed to survive.

2. Go to bed at the same time. Sounds silly, but it’s proven to be key for us.  Many days, this is the first opportunity we have to actually talk.

3. Do not speak poorly of your spouse to others.  Have a couple of safe friends to be transparent with about your marriage, but choose wisely.  There are those who will spur you on to love your husband well, and those who will not.  There is no room for public criticism of your spouse.

4. Go on a date at least once a month. Finances, babies, fatigue, kids’ activities, and just life can really put a wrench in this one. Breakfast or lunch dates can stretch the budget and accommodate schedules, too!  To keep it fresh, a date idea we are currently loving is to eat at every restaurant in Oxford.  Oxford, Mississippi is a small, but culinary-rich town, so we are slowly working our way through our own “hometown food tour!”

5. Be the first to ask for forgiveness. This is difficult for most folks.  Being willing to admit and discuss how you may have hurt your spouse can open up the floodgates, yet can lead to genuine reconciliation rather than ignoring issues that will eventually resurface again and again.

6. Laugh a lot. Life is hard.  There’s an awful lot of pain and suffering on the news, on our Facebook feeds, on church prayer chains, and in our own homes and families. Kids have definitely helped foster humor in our home. Sometimes you just have to laugh to avoid crying!  Thankfully, David appreciates my mildly inappropriate sense of humor, too;).

7. Figure out your spouse’s love language, then speak it!  “Love Language” is how a person expresses and experiences love. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman is an easy must-read.  After reading it, you will be on your way to filling your spouse’s love bank, yielding far greater returns than you can imagine!  Do a quick assessment!  Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.  Chances are, you have a good idea off the bat.

8. Find a married couple who is a stage or two ahead and befriend them! We’ve known a few of these dear friends and mentors over the years, and their wisdom and encouragement continues to leave a legacy in our marriage.

9. Read a trustworthy book on marriage once a year.  While real-life mentors are invaluable, they are not always available. Trusted authors have been excellent “mentors” to us over the years.  We’ve read a few of these books simultaneously, which has helped us grow closer and has exposed areas that need some attention.
Messy,Beautiful Love by Darlene Schacht; His Needs, Her Needs by Willard F. Harley, Jr.; Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggrichs; Sheet Music by Kevin Leman; For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn, Sacred Marriage by Gary L. Thomas; Team Us:Marriage Together by Ashleigh Slater

10. Get away once a year for a night or two without kids. For some, this is nearly impossible financially or logistically. It was for us for a long time.  If you can swing it, it is a great time to recharge and spend time together without the demands of home life. PS…if you live within driving distance of Oxford, Mississippi, plan a weekend to visit with your spouse!  It is a fabulous weekend getaway! Head over to VisitOxford to take a peek!

11. Once a year, do a marriage “check up.”  Typically, this conversation starts for us at Pine Cove Family Camp where, during the week, they provide the questions and build in time for couples to go through them. Long after camp is over, we are finishing this conversation. These talks can lead to hard conversations, yet they are so life-giving in the long run. Here’s an idea for starting this conversation in your own marriage…take some time to journal the current highs and the lows in your marriage and share it with one another once a year.   

12. Call or text at least once a day from work to check in. Calls aren’t always feasible, but both keep us connected despite busy schedules.

13. Assume the best of your spouse.  Don’t keep score.  Never hold a grudge. We are on the same team! Keeping a running tit-for-tat list of who’s done more with the kids, home, and work, breeds resentment, discontent, and distance. One way we avoid this is coordinating calendars to schedule personal time. I look forward to an occasional Saturday alone, guilt-free, knowing David is with the kids. I can shop and relax knowing that he won’t hold that time against me.

14. Spend time together doing a shared activity.   This can be recreational activities like exercise, sporting events, or other hobbies. Or just spend time at home watching your favorite Netflix shows! We try to cut off homework help and have the kids finished with lunch prep by 9pm. While it’s not always possible, it does communicate to the kids that our time together is important, too.

15. Pray regularly for your spouse! We have the privilege of knowing tiny, intimate details of our spouse’s life, whether it be emotional, spiritual, physical, or work-related! We can pray for them like no other person can and see God work “behind the scenes.”  Pretty cool! Kat Lee’s Praying for Your Husband Calendar is a great guide!

16. Your marriage is a testimony to those around you, kids included.  Kids see the good, bad, and the ugly in our marriages. We long for our children to know that our marriage is a priority and that we are committed to following Christ and loving each other well, above all else.  Prayerfully, this will translate into their own lives and marriages one day as their time in our home becomes a cornerstone for their future relationships.

Marriage is hard, but investing in it can lead to a healthy, thriving relationship no matter what life throws us.  Here’s to the next 16!

Leave a comment and share your ideas!

One Year in Oxford and Pine Cove Family Camp

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Hey friends!  I sure have missed being here regularly this past year!  Hope you all have enjoyed your summer…can you believe school supplies are on the feature aisles at Wal-Mart?  Where did the weeks go? Hopefully, you have found some time to let your soul rest with the slower pace. We just returned from our favorite vacation, Pine Cove Family Camp, which could not have come at a better time for our family.  This month marks one year since we uprooted our kids and moved to Mississippi.  Not the easiest year, so we were counting the days til the start of camp this summer!

If you are not familiar with “family camp,” it’s basically just what it sounds like! Summer camp for the whole family. But do not be fooled if your first thoughts are to click away because you hated camp as a child or wonder if there is AC! Pine Cove Family Camp is the ultimate vacation for moms. I am convinced the Lord, in His tender mercy towards mothers, created Pine Cove.  Servant leaders, aka counselors, are there loving on families, meeting needs, and fulfilling requests before you even know you have a need or request! They unload all your luggage, cut your kids’ meat at the table, hold them if they as much as make a peep, refuse to let you pour your own coffee, and demand that you get up and walk away from every meal without lifting a finger! They also spend countless hours with our children, loving on them, pouring into them, and being sweet examples of Christ to them. Priceless. If you’d like to read a past post about what else Pine Cove offers, click HERE. Not to mention, all three of our kids swear it’s better than Disney.  And I sorta don’t love Disney, so this is good news for me.

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Last 3 photos: Pine Cove Photographer

Ten summers ago, when we first pulled onto the property of Pine Cove Woods, I was a much younger wife and mother of only two very little people, tired but not overly worried about much other than nap schedules and disciplining kids who hadn’t started school yet. Both challenging, mind you, but life’s a bit more complex now, putting it mildly. This year, as we pulled onto the property at Pine Cove, I was excited to be there, as we have dear friends who come the same week every year, I knew my kids would be well cared for, and I would NOT think about, shop for, cook, or clean up 17 meals! But also this year as we pulled in, there was a secret place in my heart brimming with worry, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and fear.

Just a few short months ago, I found myself in a pretty low place. In typical Southern fashion, I had learned the art of hiding the hurt places, not asking for help, and just hanging on til whatever it was went away, got better, or more likely, got covered up with another fine layer of distraction.

Our move last August from Arkansas to Mississippi was extremely difficult on so many levels. Watching my children grieve when the move was still fresh…I’m talking all-out wailing a few times, making me seriously consider getting in my car and driving back to Arkansas at 10 pm on a Tuesday. Living in a bare rental house and moving twice in six months. Transitioning from a smaller Christian school to a huge public school setting…scary to say the least, but it’s been such a great experience. Sending my youngest baby to kindergarten after having a small person at home for 13 straight years…I was unprepared for the sudden, very real grief. Parenting a teenage girl from my heart that was running on fumes…not recommended. Visiting and searching for a church home…if you’ve done it, you know it is low on the fun list. Feeling disconnected from David as he struggled to understand my feelings…not much changes for husbands during a move. They just go to work, whereas moms are the primary cultivators of networks with neighbors, new friends, doctors offices, and schools, among a thousand other connections necessary for running a family!)  More than a few times this past fall, I came home to our impersonal, rented kitchen and wept.

Life for me this past year was a constant paradox…internal conflict hovered as I experienced all of the above mentioned scenarios, yet many days I felt filled up, energized, cared-for.  Go figure. Nevertheless, we were in the middle of several of “Life’s Most Stressful Events” list simultaneously.  As the year went on, so many contributing factors helped and to continue to help me get back to “myself.” Although there are a thousand little things, these are just a few of the biggies…a husband willing to enter into the hard stuff with me (he has the patience of Job and really deserves a medal), a wonderful counselor to help me unpack my junk (I’m convinced we all need therapy haha), exercise (which I loathe but it helps), a handful of friends to be real with, Oxonians who welcome newcomers with dear hospitality, embracing the intrinsic pride of our new community, knowing David is enjoying his work, and time away with my family this summer, namely Pine Cove.

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I so appreciate the authenticity of the families and staff at Pine Cove and the sweet spirit that abides there.  While Pine Cove itself is merely a location on a map, we have seen lives changed, family legacies restored or start brand new, and the world getting put on hold for a glorious week.  Pine Cove is not a magical week where God waves a wand and life is suddenly easy and ordered, but it is a week where we can safely share the stuff of life and hit the “reset button.”  We leave filled up and commissioned to go back home with hope, courage, and Truth. We like to say “the start of our spiritual fiscal year.” I’ll take that any day over Disney;)

As always, I’d love to visit with any of you who are interested in hearing more about Pine Cove!  Praying for us mamas as the start of school and the promise of busy, action-packed weeks awaits us.  May we not lose sight of what’s most important, even in the midst of homework, activities, dinner, baths, and bedtime.

I’d love to hear ideas on how YOU keep your faith, relationships, marriage, family time, and yourself a priority when life is hard or schedules are demanding!  Here’s to August…!!

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