In March, my husband Kyle and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. We got married during our seminary's spring break in 2000, went away on a lovely honeymoon, and then settled into a seminary house so small that our couch touched both walls in the living room and we could have a conversation with each other from any two points in the house. Those were the days.
The day we chose for our wedding has proven to be both incredibly fortuitous and incredibly difficult, as one year into marriage my husband became a college and missions pastor at a church, and guess when most college and mission trips are? Yep. Spring Break. We've spent many an anniversary with other people or apart from one another, sometimes even on separate continents. On our second anniversary, we were staying in a hostel in Austria, separated into girls' and guys' bunk rooms, and everyone on the mission team chipped in money so we could stay in a hotel together for a night. On our 14th, I was in Ethiopia, leading a team from our church as we served at a missionary hospital, and he was home holding down the fort. I tried to send him a Happy Anniversary email, but the electricity and internet blinking in and out prevented me from doing so.
The choice of our wedding date may have been our first mistake in marriage, but there have been many more I've made that have been of much greater consequence than how we spend our anniversaries:
Mistake #1: System Shut Down
In the beginning of our marriage, I had few conflict resolution skills. I also had not ever learned how to share my hurt feelings in a direct, unemotional way. My go-to response to these things, then, was what my husband eventually nicknamed System Shut Down: I would speak around my feelings, sending flares up in a variety of disconnected directions, often blaming and accusing my husband. When he inevitably didn't understand what I was feeling–because I never really said it directly–I would, in my frustration, completely shut down. I'd stop talking, forcing him to beg with me for my communication, and punishing him with my silence for not being able to read my mind.
Looking back, I realize I was insecure, afraid to share my true feelings because I assumed they were invalid. I also had never exercised any ability to pinpoint what it was that was actually bothering me in the first place, thus the emotional flailing followed by System Shut Down.
One day I was struck by the thought that my husband couldn't read my mind. He needed me to verbalize as straightforwardly and specifically as possible what I thought and felt in our conflict and communication. Making him fish around indefinitely for my thoughts and feelings as evidence of his love was not fair to him. This realization came with a challenge: I needed to be assured that my feelings were valid, but I also needed to prayerfully consider what I was actually feeling before going to my husband. Prayerfully considering enabled me to not only discern what specifically was bothering me, but whether it even needed to be said at all. If it needed to be said, I could say it directly and without manic emotions, prepared in advance with words and with the intention to forgive, listen, and ask for forgiveness.
Mistake #2: Overnight Mind Change Will Happen
Before I got married, I remember thinking that the struggles I had with temptation in my thought life regarding boys, confidence, physical appearance, and sexual desires would finally be over when I said I do. I was surprised to find, however, that my mind didn't change the moment I got married. As a married woman, I still noticed that other men were attractive. I still wanted to be thought of as attractive. I even struggled with the idea of never again experiencing the thrill of a new dating relationship. I was surprised by temptation, because I believed that an open and right avenue for physical and sexual intimacy (marriage) would instantly negate temptation's power in my life.
At first, I assumed this unforeseen temptation meant something was wrong with me. No Christian woman had ever warned me of it, so I was ashamed at being the "only one". But then I read 1 Corinthians 10:31: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man," and I knew I was not the only one. In considering why I desired to be attractive or to experience the thrill of new love, I discovered that my idols had come with me into marriage. When a godly friend confessed to me that she was thinking of a male co-worker too much because she enjoyed his attention, I knew that I too needed not only godly friends I could discuss this with and who would ask me hard questions, but I also needed to be constantly on guard and take every thought captive in order to honor my husband and honor the Lord. I'd always wondered how affairs got started, and now I knew: they start in the mind. This is where temptation first whispers in singleness and in marriage.
Mistake #3: Marriage is 50/50
I went into marriage believing it to be a two-columned endeavor: one column with my name on it and the other with his. Everything marriage incorporated, therefore, should be divided evenly under those two columns.
Although this works relatively well for chores, housecleaning, and even breadwinning, the 50/50 philosophy doesn't translate to the heart of marriage at all, because it basically teaches me that if he's not doing his part, I don't have to do mine. Scripture depicts marriage differently than this cultural idea. Biblical marriage insists that I not keep a ledger of who is doing what and not respect, submit, and serve only when my husband is loving and leading me. Biblical marriage calls me to give 100% to my husband as a way of loving the Lord Himself. Only in putting to death my self-serving, self-honoring record keeping could I forgive my husband, serve him without looking to be served in return, sacrifice for him when his needs were encroaching on mine, and seek to please him. 50/50 fights for self; seeking the good of the other in marriage is what best displays the gospel.
Mistake #4: Not Believing Him
When my husband speaks encouraging and thoughtful words to me, my first response has often been to negate him in my head. Instead of receiving his words as true and real, I've instead thought of the evidence of why he's wrong. When he says, "You are beautiful," I think of how I need to lose weight. When he says, "You are a great mom," I think of what I need to be doing better with my boys. When he says, "God is using you," I think of how I've failed Him. Sometimes I've even negated Kyle out loud: "Well you have to say that, because you're my husband."
One day, in response to my negativity and my unwillingness to receive his words, Kyle said gently, "Do you think that I'm a liar?" His words pierced me through. Of course I didn't think he was a liar. And his words to me, if I accepted them, could be life-giving, heart-swelling words. Why not just accept them at face value and receive his words as the gifts they were intended to be? It was a wonderful (and simple) lesson for me: believe and receive what he says.