Today I’ll get on a bus with my wife and travel from Freiberg, Germany to Munich and then a train from there to Schladming, Austria, on this, our 35th wedding anniversary. Now that we’ve reached this milestone, I think we’re most grateful, not that we’re still married, but that we still love each other, likely more than ever before (and this after hiking together for the past 35 days). This has me thinking about how this has happened, and so I offer these marriage observations. It’s less advice, than observations about our marriage, but if these 35 thoughts help anyone else, we’ll both be thrilled.
1. I had a short list of qualities I was looking for in a spouse:
2. Sense of humor—someone who would make me laugh,
3. Someone who would give me the freedom to fail,
4. Someone who would be willing to live anywhere in the world.
5. All three qualities have been vitalizing, sustaining, and life-giving in our marriage.
6. For much of our marriage we sought approval from each other for purchases over $20, and this served us well.
7. We’ve paid off our credit cards completely each month, and this too has served us well.
8. The shared values of thrift, coupled with the discipline of generosity which has included giving to church have helped limit financial tensions.
9. We’ve needed to learn about our own family of origin issues, because we brought those into the marriage, and they created problems at times. But marriage has been a lab to expose those issues and that’s been good, though hard.
10. We’ve made major decisions about the future by praying for guidance and then deciding together what God was saying to us. None of this, “I’m the man and so you’ll do what I say” kind of thinking.
11. Both of us have felt a profound sense of responsibility for the family unit, though we each contribute(d) to it in profoundly different ways. It’s a bit like climbing —belayer, climber, both matter to the success of the mission, and both know that if either fails to pay attention, it’ll be costly to everyone.
12. We light a candle at meals as often as possible. This seems to help create an atmosphere for conversation.
13. Our shared love of the outdoors has served us well as a common passion.
14. We don’t do devotions well together. We never have. This is because we like very different reading material.
15. There were years when I tried to make my wife like the same reading material as I liked.
16. This lead to the sad revelation that I was trying to turn her into a version of me.
17. I’ve since learned that we’re happier, and it’s better, if she’s becoming the best version of her, not me.
18. Our tastes in movies are largely different.
19. Sex has gotten better over the years, as we’ve learned how to serve each other and communicate our desires.
20. Grace and forgiveness are two of the most vital ingredients that have sustained our relationship. I’ve failed, told her, and she’s forgiven. And she’s done the same. I can’t stress this enough.
21. We didn’t date very long before I proposed. I wouldn’t recommend that for everyone, but I think many people today wait too long to make a commitment because they’re “shopping for a spouse” as a sort of commodity that will help them with their own goals. This is bad at so many levels that I’ll need to write about it in a different post.
22. My wife has gifts of serving others, and I have gifts of teaching and leading. Knowing this has helped us accept and liberate each other to focus on what we do best, while still seeking to grow in areas where we’re not as strong.
23. I traveled extensively while our children were young, and this would have been impossible if my wife didn’t believe in my calling.
24. I went through seminary while my wife worked full time—again impossible without her belief in my calling.
25. Her vast investment in me is just one of a hundred things that makes the notion of my ever being unfaithful impossible to imagine without getting sick to my stomach.
26. Because she doesn’t thrive in the morning, I find the time I need for intimacy with God by rising early.
27. We’ve prayed together often, but the most memorable prayers have come after hours of hard conversations, late at night. These prayers were cries from the heart.
28. We’re good enough cooks that we’d usually rather stay home and cook a great meal than eat out.
29. When we’ve argued, 99.6% of the time we’ve ended with both of us feeling heard by the other and valued by the other. This has been priceless.
30. Donna lets me invest in skiing because “it’s cheaper than therapy.”
31. We started, and ran, a non-profit together. This was hard work, that we loved, and was very good for our marriage.
32. When we had children, we mostly brought them into our lives of faith, outdoor activities, and the non-profit we ran.
33. I’ve decided that “staying married” is setting the bar too low; that nurturing love and intimacy are worthier goals.
34. As we’ve grown older, we’ve grown more comfortable with ourselves as individuals, and this has, ironically, strengthened our life as a couple.
35. Donna’s personality is one of the greatest assets to my ministry and calling, but long after I’m done with my profession, I hope and pray she’s still around to make me laugh and give me the freedom to fail—anywhere in the world.