What ‘marriage is work’ really means

When Matt and I were engaged I absolutely hated the idea that marriage would be “work”. Work had such a negative connotation with it and it totally made me itchy (that’s just my word for uncomfortable) to think about one another in that way. We were SO in love, right?

Then this thing called life happened.

Struggles, hardships, and trials came. Job changes, infertility, sickness, pregnancies, travel, difficulties with extended family, moving, home improvement projects, work, busyness, school, infants, toddlers, more moving, more babies, church drama, finances, losing friends, this thing called ministry, challenging relationships, more babies, health…

Just like any couple we’ve certainly had our ups and downs. But I can say that I feel we are stronger now than we’ve ever been. We just celebrated our 14 year anniversary this past April and I wanted to share a few thoughts on marriage so far:

  1. Marriage IS work: Matt was totally right. My pipe dream of “happily ever after” was not reality. And no, work is not always fun. Work is sometimes grueling. Work is sometimes the very last thing either one of us feel like doing. There have been plenty of times we have both wanted to walk out. But the intentional, meaningful work put into growing, cultivating, learning, and staying together has never come back void.
  2. Primary Satisfaction In Jesus: If we look to one another to fill our deepest desires for oneness, for approval, for encouragement, for joy, for peace (and the list could go on forever…) then we will always end up despairing. Unlike what the movies will tell us marriage was never intended to make us “complete.” Finding our identity in the finished work of Jesus is our ultimate freedom. We then can love recklessly without demanding and give generously without expectations.
  3. Marriage Changes: What “worked” for our marriage in year one is completely different than what works for us in year 14. The needs change, life changes, our preferences change, we change. If we stay stuck in what worked in the beginning we miss out on what is true for today. We can’t ever stop learning about one another.
  4. Never Hide: We have both been tempted in many, many ways to keep little things, and sometimes big things, from one another. We fear opening up about what is scary, wrong or vulnerable will bring distance and disunity. Living in darkness will never bring oneness. Conversations might be brutally difficult but there is always a deeper unity that follows walking openly and truthfully with one another.
  5. Get Good At Arguing: We are two people with different preferences, different opinions, different viewpoints, different pasts that have come together for life. The reality is disagreements happen. Fights happen. But fighting CAN be healthy and edifying rather than something that separates or brings destruction. Getting through those kinds of conversations are what sharpen us.
  6. Be Respectful: We must remain respectful and honoring toward one another…as in ALWAYS. We are continually learning to speak up for ourselves, but to still give deference. Sharing opinions must be combined with listening to one another well.
  7. Fight FOR One Another, Not Just WITH One Another: When we look at marriage as ‘me against him’ or ‘him against me’ there isn’t oneness. When we look at our issues and our struggles as things we are fighting for together it massively changes the perspective, the process and the outcome.
  8. Feelings Matter: Just because one of us doesn’t INTEND to hurt the other, doesn’t mean that hurt doesn’t happen. Learn to accept that and then move toward forgiveness and restoration.
  9. Listen Deeper: Listen not just to the words the other is saying, but to the pain, need, offense, fear or hurt behind it. Learning to look for what is under the surface is like a magic key in marriage. Also, things like stress, sickness, lack of sleep, hunger, loneliness, sadness, confusion etc… can play a huge role in how we relate and communicate to one another. Finding those root issues bring a deep connection.
  10. Have Thick Skin: Not taking things too personal is huge. Learning to roll with it and laugh things off goes a long way in a healthy marriage. Having a sense of humor, being able to make fun of ourselves and not getting offended by the little stuff is a skill to always be growing in.
  11. Apologize Well: A good apology is very specific and very sincere. Making eye contact, naming the offense, and truly engaging is crucial. We can’t be haphazard or flippant. Broad generalizations like “I’m sorry for anything I’ve ever done” is NOT a genuine apology. Using the word ‘but’ as an add-on never ever helps.  Blame shifting or taking the focus away from ourselves isn’t right. Facing what we’ve done, calling it what it was, and owning it fully is what brings restoration.
  12. We Are NOT Telepathic: We have been married for so long that we can often finish each others sentences, but we cannot let ourselves be fooled into thinking we know exactly what is going on in the other person’s mind. We must always keep asking questions. Always keep learning. Always keep talking. Always keep sharing.
  13. Soften: A kind answer turns away wrath. It only takes one to crack the ice. Learning to humble ourselves, to reach out, and to pursue one another even in the worst of times has had significant impacts on our marriage. Marriages don’t end because of big issues like adultery or addiction or arguments. Marriages end because of a hardness of heart. When one or both stay hardened distance and contempt will always bring ruin.
  14. Give More Than Take: If we approach marriage with the 50/50 mentality we will always, always, always be frustrated.  Marriage is 100/100. I give it my all even when I feel like he’s is giving 0%…and he does the same…because learning to love well is far more important than learning to demand more.
  15. Marriage Doesn’t Serve Me: Marriage was never intended to simply make us happy, rather it is first given to make us holy. The truth is I don’t deserve anything. And neither does my husband. We are two broken, imperfect, sinful people who have been given a gift in one another. There is no room for entitlement.
  16. Right Doesn’t Always Mean Righteous:  Many marriages have completely disintegrated because one or both people believe they are “right”. To be righteous means having a willingness to lay down the claim to be right in order to draw near to one another.
  17. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive: And just when we think we’re done forgiving, forgive again.
  18. Combining Weakness And Strength: Rather than letting our differences cause division we are learning to lean on one another, help one another, sharpen one another, and grow from one another. Maybe the two of us combined equals one kinda cool person!
  19. Give Grace: God’s loving kindness manifested in Jesus on the Cross canceled our eternal debt and granted us redemption and life everlasting.  Because we have been given so much we are now free to give grace to one another. Grace is unmerited, unearned, undeserved favor. Give it. Give a LOT of it. Throw grace around like confetti!

This originally appeared on MegMarieWallace.com and was republished with permission.

Now read this: The one thing guaranteed to end all marriages. 


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