My friend Valerie is getting married in 16 days. At this moment she’s traveling across the country en route to her soon-to-be new home where she will unload her belongings and settle in a bit before returning to Charleston for the wedding.
I haven’t known Valerie long, but I just love her to pieces. She reminds me a lot of myself — only cuter, sweeter, smarter, and more holy. I miss her already.
It’s been such a joy to watch as she got engaged and now prepares for marriage. She has such respect for the sacrament and a deep, deep love for her fiance. We’ve talked a lot about marriage over the past few months and I’ve quietly wondered, “If I could share just one piece of advice with her, what would it be?”
There are, of course, so many things I’d like to share, so many things I wish I’d known prior to getting married. Every time I’d settle on that one thing I’d like her to know, though, it struck me that in order to know this thing I wanted to share with her — to truly know it deep down in her bones and on a soul level — she’s going to have to live it first.
You can read books about marriage, listen to all the advice in the world, and study other couples — and it’s good to do these things — but often, to be able to integrate a piece of marital advice, you have to experience the pain of conflict and the sweetness of reconciliation a few times before the a-ha! moment hits you.
After a few failed attempts to settle on that one thing that I want Valerie to know, I suddenly realized that the thing I was searching for was actually the one common thread that ran through every specific piece of advice I could come up with. It was this:
Be patient with yourself, sweet Valerie, and be patient with Nathan.
This whole sharing your life with someone thing has a way of bringing you face to face with your own limitations in short order. All of your vices will come out to play, and so will his, and (as shocking as this may be) they won’t always get along. But if you’re patient — and not just in a waiting for the time to pass way, but in a tolerant, compassionate, and merciful way — you’ll find that this love you share with Nathan will grow into something far more beautiful than you could have ever envisioned.
As for having to live through a thing to know it, here’s an example:
As a bit of a hot-blooded individual, I knew (very, very, very) well the importance of picking my battles long before I married Dan. There’s something about being a newlywed that makes everything feel so incredibly important, though. Talking through every last little thing? Important! Going to sleep at the same time every night? Important! Putting the milk on the third row, left-hand side of the refrigerator? So important!
This isn’t a bad thing. When a man and woman come together and endeavor to make a life together, they need to establish habits that will make their new life run smoothly. Some things simply have to be hashed out. But if I told you that it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things whether he backs his car into parking spaces, will that stop your blood from running a little hot?
Probably not. All the advice in the world wouldn’t have made any difference for newly-wedded me. I was right and Dan was wrong and the fact that he did not grasp this information was something that had to be remedied. It was as simple as that. I was willing to die on every last little hill.
But after a few years of ruined romantic evenings that found us stewing at opposite sides of the house instead of snuggling on the couch, those things that once felt so important to me suddenly started to feel a little less so. I just wanted to be with him. Life is hard enough without fighting unnecessary battles within the walls of your own home.
There are countless other examples, of course — getting used to the silence into which so many men retreat when they’re in problem-solving mode, learning how to endure the valleys, trusting God to fix things between you that you cannot — but if you extend to one another the same merciful patience that God extends to you each and every day, your marriage will flourish and be such a gift to this hurting world of ours.
Gosh, I hope this isn’t demoralizing. I don’t mean for it to be. My marriage is pretty much my most favorite thing in the whole world and I have no doubt that you and Nathan, too, will experience far, far more highs than lows in your own union.
But on those days when learning the art of marriage feels heavy on your shoulders, don’t let spiritual attack make you believe that any of these bumps in the road mean more than they do. None of these growing pains point to a lack of love or some profound deficiency in your union. It’s just a big change to go from two to one — one that every married couple has to wrestle with a little. And one that, you guessed it, takes a whole lot of patience.
The good news is that there are very few things in marriage that can’t be fixed with a few fervent prayers, a heartfelt apology, a touch of forgiveness, and a dose of sweet, sweet lovin’ (wink).