Today marks the 35th anniversary of the day my wife and I walked down the aisle. (Yes, we were married when we were four. Next year I’ll say three. Funny how the math works.)
I look back on that day with a certain amount of both wonder and amusement. We had met in college as teenagers, and had already been dating (if you want to call it that) for four years when we tied the knot. Four years is certainly a start–we didn’t exactly rush into things. But we were both still living with our parents, and in retrospect, were so, so young. How young? The age at which you haven’t grown up enough to realize how much you don’t know.
Do we realize it now? Sort of. In a sense, we had to grow up together, and the process isn’t over yet.
Marriage researcher John Gottman says that even the most stable and successful couples may have their so-called “perpetual issues.” What he means is that some problems never get solved. It’s simply not true that success in marriage depends on getting rid of all your relationship issues; some of the things that rankle you early in the marriage never go away. And they may continue to rankle you decades later, if you get that far.
But the difference is that couples who do make it that far are able to respond to each other positively despite the issues. When one person reaches out in some way, even during an argument, the other responds appropriately, neither pushing away nor turning away. One speaks, the other actually listens. One apologizes, or at least smiles sheepishly, the other softens.
Personally, I would add this: you gain a little perspective in three and a half decades. You let go of things more easily, and sooner. The automatic how-dare-you-treat-me-this-way? reaction doesn’t go away completely, but it gets progressively overshadowed by a calmer, more settled kind of acceptance. After all, if you want marriage to be a bed of roses, you’d better accept the thorns. As the traditional vows suggest, every marriage has its “better” and its “worse”; the more we focus on one, the less we even notice the other. Resentment can crowd out gratitude, and vice versa.
We can choose gratitude.
Today in particular, I am grateful to be married to a woman of both deep faith and compassion, whose love of God is tangibly expressed in her care for people. She is a living example of the description that closes the book of Proverbs:
A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. … She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. (Prov 31:10-12, 26-31, NIV)
And there’s one thing that the writer of Proverbs left out: “She has faithfully and patiently put up with me for 35 years.” Can that be anything but the grace of God?
Happy anniversary, sweetheart. I love you and am grateful for our many years together. Here’s to the next 35.