David and I celebrated our first anniversary over the course of multiple days, with a walk on a bridge, chocolate croissants, pizza, a cupcake with one candle in it, and a really fancy dinner. We like to celebrate a lot in our house. I hope that never stops. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about our first year of marriage–about how it’s changed us, ways we’ve grown, and where we want to go from here. When I thought about things that I’ve learned over this first year of marriage, these were the three that come to mind. (Please take these words with all the authority of someone who has been doing something for three hundred and sixty five whole days. My book will release next month. Not.)
1. I’m learning to embrace imperfection.
No one has a perfect marriage. But when I was struggling through the dating game it was easy to look at married people and think they had it all figured out. They weren’t trying to figure out if they should text back or ask out or break up. Their lives looked easy. I admired so many of the relationships I saw–and these marriages started looking pretty perfect to me. Then when I got married, I wondered what we were doing wrong. Why wasn’t our marriage perfect and conflict free like all those other marriages I saw on Sunday morning? But over the course of this first year we’ve been married I feel like I’ve slowly been let into this club of people telling me, finally, the truth about marriage. We’ve spent time with couples we admire and heard about their struggles. We’ve heard stories of marriages that weren’t supposed to make it and did anyway. We’ve had people tell us about how incredible counseling has been for their relationships. We’ve had couples share with us about seasons that they fought all the time or were really selfish or slept on the couch. I respect and admire so much couples that have initiated these kinds of conversations with us, that have given us permission to see their imperfections and be imperfect ourselves. There is so much beauty and power and healing in this kind of vulnerability. It’s comforted us where we are and pushed us further. I think it’s important to note that I don’t think we should embrace imperfection in a way that leads to complacency (“our marriage won’t ever be perfect so I’m going to stop trying to work on it”), but I think that really, when I got down to the core of my exceptions for our marriage, I expected it to be perfect. It sounds ridiculous but it’s true. I expected us to never fight, to always talk kindly, to always have enough money, to never disagree on huge issues, and to always constantly make the other person feel loved. I needed to learn to embrace the idea that our marriage will never be perfect–and embracing that idea has given me both contentment and courage.
2. I’m learning to dig down deep.
Conflict in marriage has taught me just how deep down roots can go. David and I are both fairly rational people (…right David?) and usually if we have a fight over something “dumb” or “little,” we’re not actually fighting about something small, we’re fighting about something big that’s being manifested in a small way. I say “it hurt my feelings that you were late coming home,” but what I mean is “I’ve been feeling really lonely lately and I need some quality time with you.” And sometimes I don’t even know that’s what I meant until halfway through the fight. We’re both having to learn to really dig deep inside and be brave enough to share our real feelings. It’s easy to say “I’m mad you were late.” It’s hard to be vulnerable and say “I’m lonely and I need you to spend time with me.” But that vulnerability takes the conversation from a petty fight that’s likely to end with two frustrated people (one who has no idea why being a half hour late turned into such a huge deal and one who has deep needs that are going unmet) to a serious conversation that’s likely to bring about comfort and understanding. We’re learning to spot these deeper issues in one another. David is so good at gently getting to the bottom of my feelings and uncovering the real issues we’re talking about. And learning this in marriage is helping me be more gracious and understanding with people in other areas of life, realizing that sometimes the person that snapped at me on the phone was up all night with a new baby. Or the coworker that said something rude was feeling inadequate when they said it. This kind of mindset in dealing with conflict can be exhausting, because deep feelings take a lot more emotional energy than petty squabbles. But I’m convinced that this process of getting deep down is knitting us together in a way I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
3. I’m learning to lean into the uncomfortable.
Some people told us marriage was going to be “just so fun.” They were wrong (on some level, anyway). Other people told us marriage was going to be just awful. They were wrong too. Marriage isn’t the DMV, but it’s not Disney World either. And then some days it’s both. The one thing that people told us before we got married that has proved to be true is that marriage is really sanctifying. Imagine asking someone to be your accountability partner, but instead of meeting for coffee twice a month, they move in your house and set up shared banking. That’s marriage. Some of your nastiest parts will come out. Someone will be right there, seeing how you spend your time, how you use your money. It’s intense. The best thing I’ve learned in this regard is that when marriage is pushing my buttons, when it’s making me uncomfortable, I need to lean in instead of run away. The “uncomfortableness” is telling me truth, it’s revealing areas of selfishness and immaturity in my life. If I lean into what makes me uncomfortable and find out how I can grow from it, it usually (ok, always) ends up way better than if I put my head in the sand or put up walls of self-protection.
I’m thankful for everything we’ve learned these past 365 days. I kind of have a feeling that these three lessons are things we’ll be learning on some level for our entire marriage. And as I reflect on what I wrote, I see how these principals–embracing imperfection, digging down deep, and leaning into the uncomfortable–could apply to so many other things in life (with a few tweaks, anyway). Because this marriage journey is a lot like parenting, like traveling, making art, climbing mountains, or running a distance race. It’s like most really bone-good things in life, I think: exhilarating, challenging, exhausting, and rewarding.
Photo at the top by the super talented Chase Richardson
who is now snappin’ pics through followell fotography.