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Images above via Amber Weimer and Katie Ruth Scoresby respectively.
Firstly, if this first year of marriage is truly the hardest, then sign me up for sixty more! I’ve genuinely enjoyed my time being married to this man I chose, but I can see how it’s an adjustment to join your life with another person. I’ve learned some lessons that might be helpful to those counting down until their big day, or amusing to those whose first year was long ago.
Lesson one: how to skin a moose. No, I’m just kidding. That is a lesson I learned (the picture on the right above was taken two days after our first anniversary and only a few blissfully ignorant hours before I skinned one quarter of a moose myself), but since that lesson is a little less universal in scope, maybe I’ll leave it out. But related to it is our real first lesson:
1. We are two very different people
This applies to any two people on the earth that choose to wed, I think, and it certainly applies to us. Would freezing my tail off just south of the Arctic Circle, waiting for the fog to clear so we can shoot a bull moose, be my first-choice activity in the world? Probably not, but it was an adventure and an experience he dearly looked forward to and that I wanted to share with him. Would spending two weeks sitting on a bus sightseeing and visiting 19th century homes and learning about history be his first choice activity in the world? Probably not, but it meant a lot that he came, and he made a point to tell me each day the things he was enjoying.
Obviously the real differences between people generally are more affecting on a daily basis, but the takeaway is still the same: embracing your differences is what makes life a rich adventure. I have a lazy side and an active side of myself, and I’m going to be honest–sometimes my lazy side gets fed up with BC’s constant need for activity, but I’ve never once regretted a hike, bike, walk, or swim that he’s pushed me to come on (even when I got stung by a sting ray, I was glad I’d gone to the beach instead of staying home). Our differences are an opportunity to challenge each other and grow in areas that might otherwise stay dormant. The key is loving the person enough to stretch a little for them.
2. It feels good to be remembered
I came home from a particularly bad day once–I don’t even remember what made it so bad–and plopped down on the couch. BC was in the kitchen and immediately noticed the kind of day it had been and said, “Do you want me to make you some Bengal Spice tea and turn on an episode of X-files?” My little eyes welled up with little tears to hear it, not because it had been a bad day, but because he knew just what would make me feel better.
One of the privileges of marriage is the chance to get to know someone deeply, but it’s also nice to remember their not-deep stuff—like how much they like popcorn or cheesecake or entrepreneurship podcasts. That may not seem to have a lot of bearing on the state of one’s soul, but it feels so familiar and secure and lovely just to be noticed and remembered. Just to have someone take note of what you love and love you enough to give you opportunities to have it.
3. It feels terrible to be misunderstood
On the flip side of that coin and on a deeper level, it feels just terrible to be misinterpreted or misunderstood. I don’t mean misunderstood like, “How could you forget that I don’t like chocolate?” I mean like, “Why don’t you think I’m responsible enough to pay the insurance bill on time?”
It’s sometimes hard to have another person always around and always affecting your life who you can’t control the way you can control yourself. You don’t know whether he’s going to remember to do that thing because you’re not inside his head to see that he’s already thought about it three times today. From the outside, it appears he hasn’t thought of it at all, but it’s important to remember the reasons you admire this person, and the trust you’ve built to this point, and not underestimate what they’ll do from here just because you don’t get to hear every inner working of their process.
I want him to believe in my strength just like I know he wants me to believe in his. I’ve found it’s better to err on the side of confidence in someone than to doubt that they’ll follow through. Knowing how bad it feels to be underestimated is motivation to make sure you’re trying your utmost to understand and encourage your spouse.
4. You’re almost never fighting about the thing you think you’re fighting about
At my bridal shower, my aunt gave me a little basket of different colored pairs of candles with a clever poem that told what each set was meant to be burned for: first Valentine’s Day, first house guests, first anniversary etc. The most intriguing of the pairs was, of course, the “first fight candles.” It quickly become a running joke that whenever we had a tense conversation we’d say “Oh no, do we need to burn the first fight candles?”
We haven’t burned them yet, but the would-be fight that brought us the closest had to do with something that shouldn’t even matter. I was sitting at the gate waiting for a plane and he had gone to get us some food. When the people he went with came back, they said he hadn’t bought anything yet, and he’d gone to find a different restaurant. Just then, the gate agent announced that the flight was going to be bumped up and leave ten minutes earlier. In my lifetime of flying, this has never happened to me and I got a little panicked that he would be off somewhere looking for food and miss the flight. It turns out he was eating an ice cream cone just out of my eye-line but right across from the gate, and he was fully aware of the situation.
The argument that followed involved me being frustrated he didn’t somehow let me know where he was, and him being frustrated that I would assume he didn’t know that the flight had been changed. Certainly not a very intelligent debate, but a persistent one, so much so that the guy sitting on the other seat in our row was literally plugging his ears with his fingers. Sorry random guy, I really am.
The truth is, we weren’t fighting about making flights or buying food closer to the gate or even time management. My husband wanted me to believe he is competent and capable human (which he is) and I wanted him to care about my feelings enough to keep me in the know. That’s it.
I would venture to say that the topics that you fight about are almost never as simple as whether the toilet seat is up or down or whether mustard goes in the fridge, they are merely manifestations of deeper desires to be validated, understood and secure.
5. Think before you speak
Since what you’re saying in the midst of conflict often isn’t really what you mean, it’s advisable to think before you say it. Once, I arrived home after a very exhausting day of a lot of work and a lot of driving only to find that BC had lost the only key to the apartment. I truly had only enough energy to trudge inside and collapse into bed, so the thought that I would have to do anything else—especially some kind of problem solving–sounded truly miserable.
I was tired and angry and the things I thought to say were not particularly nice and not particularly true, but somehow, I had enough presence of mind (or presence of the Spirit) to think “Is it more important to tell him off and speak your piece, or is it more important that he feels safe enough to always be honest with you when things go wrong?”
So I chose not to speak and you know what? He found that the key had fallen to the bottom of his backpack, so we got into the house only a few minutes later anyway. That could’ve been a moment of broken trust between us over what was ultimately only a ten-minute delay in getting to bed.
When you start to get upset with someone you love, it’s worth taking a minute to think through where they might be coming from or whether it’s important enough to start a fight before you say a word.
6. The importance of creating rituals together
They say that couples that pray together stay together and they’re right (even though BC likes to say that somehow it always seems to be his turn to pray…), but I think it’s just delightful to find other routines and rituals to do as a couple. For example, we try to go on a long walk every Sunday night after dinner. Not only does it help digest the often rich Sabbath foods, but it’s opportunity for our own little companionship inventory. It’s a space we’ve created where we can discuss whatever needs to be discussed in peace and calm and communicate honestly and openly about whatever needs to be said. I love those walks. I hope we always take them.
Having things that you create together and that belong to you builds unity. When you’re united, you support and defend each other, and when you’re doing that, you rise together.
7. The power of working on something together
On a whim, I bought BC two weeks at a boxing gym for Christmas, and by the time he was ready to use it, I had bought myself the same. It’s so happy for him to share his interests with me and for me to share my interests with him (even if sometimes, it’s a stretch), but there’s something especially joyful about learning to love new activities together. We love boxing. We pick two heavy bags next to each other and push ourselves to work harder and be better than we were before. Now we’re learning Spanish together and es bueno. We speak kindergarten level Spanish, but to be working towards it together motivates me so much more than doing it alone.
Those activities are really more like hobbies, but they lay the groundwork for working towards the life we want together; working to eat healthy, to be fit, to save money, to accomplish our goals. We keep each other accountable (and try not to be grumpy about accepting a little push from one another now and then).
8. How Fun it is To Have a Best Friend Around All the Time
I know it’s sneaky of me, but this last one is not so much a lesson as it is an opportunity to gush. During the first couple of months of our marriage, we were on a hike and happened upon a rope swing. The evening was already beautiful, with a golden setting sun and the leaves turning red. It was a moment of discovery and spontaneity to swing under the trees with my best friend. I suddenly thought, “It would be so fun if he could come over after this to watch a movie. I should invite him.” Then I remembered, we have the same home! He’s always going to be there and I have a permanent adventure buddy. He’s always invited, and I’m always invited.
Marriage seems perfectly designed to make it impossible to atrophy. It is a constant growing experience; a refiner’s fire whose warmth you also get to enjoy. If I’ve learned anything from the first year of marriage, it’s that life is going to be good and the Lord is wise for putting such emphasis on eternal companionships. I know I’m excited for mine.