20 Lessons Learned in the First 20 Years

Recently, Heather and I celebrated 20 years of marriage.  One of the topics of our conversations lately has been the lessons we have learned in the first 20 years.  While there have been far more than these, here are 20 of them, in no particular order…

Find joy and friendship in the mundane of life.  Not all of marriage consists of romantic dinners, walks along the beach, and staring lovingly into one another’s eyes.  Most of life consists of things far less ‘sexy’ (i.e.: cleaning the house together, going to the grocery store together, driving to a home improvement store for yet another time while remodeling, etc.).  The point is…together.  A friendship is built not just on the mountain tops or valleys, but in the plains in between.  And in the ‘plains,’ don’t forget to hold hands, ask great questions, and simply enjoy the presence and opportunity of being together.

Pursue big things together.  ‘Big’ can mean a lot of different things to different people, but our point is this…chase goals together.  We’ve consistently found, we are far better pursuing together, than we are separate.  Don’t let your marriage be without goals.  Talk about goals, pray through them, write them down, and pursue them together.

Words matter.  They can build up and they can tear down.  They can feed your pride and they can speak life to another.  Let your words, even those that are true, be sweet and gracious.  Choose them carefully, whether you are with your spouse, or apart from them and yet speaking of your spouse.  See Proverbs 12:18, 13:3, 15:1, 16:24, 18:21, and 21:23.

James 1:19 is true.  “Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry.”  Trust the order, and reject your sinful heart’s tendency to order them in reverse.  It will create far less relationship trouble if you trust and obey James 1:19.

God’s grace is greater than our sin.  Outside of the Lord, horizontally speaking, the person we have each sinned against the most in this life is one another.  In ways we would not have imagined on our wedding day.  And yet His grace is greater.  Extending and receiving grace and forgiveness is THE greatest intimacy builder you will find in marriage.  People assume intimacy is built on mountain tops and while that is a possible environment, we’ve found it to grow and develop best in the humble valley.

1 Peter 4:8 is beautiful and true.  “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  So stop bringing up the past and holding it over one another’s head.  Psalm 103 gives a powerful picture of how our Heavenly Father sees those who trust in Christ.  Seek to reflect those verses.  Let your marriage be centered on the Gospel.

Fight to not allow your child(ren) to be the center or basis of your relationship.  One day they won’t live with you.  Now your children, if you have them, are not the enemy.  Don’t misunderstand me.  Our children are gifts from the Lord, but our marriage relationship is not founded on our children.  It is founded on Christ, which ultimately is what your children need and want.  They need to see a mom and dad who are not just loving and providing for them, but loving the Lord and one another.  Your example of marital commitment is shaping the next generation.

Humble yourself to not allow YOU to be the center of your marriage either.  When Romans 12:10b says, “Honor one another above yourselves,” trust it and obey it.  It is in the context of marriage that our pride has most been exposed.  Our desire to have it our way, all the time.  Instead, seek to outdo one another in how you love and honor the other.

Conflict doesn’t go away on its own.  You need to deal with it quickly and the first thing you should admit in the conflict is your part in it.  Your own sin.  Ask forgiveness and be specific about where you went wrong.  Otherwise we give the enemy of our souls and marriage an opportunity to sow seeds of bitterness and resentment.  “…do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26b-27).

Your sexual intimacy can actually be joy filled and satisfying.  Now, the world would say otherwise…that if you get married, you can just kiss romance, joy and adventure goodbye.  Simply put, that is a truckload worth of lies.  Song of Solomon says otherwise.  God is the designer and creator of romance and sex.  Neither of those are man-made ideas.  So stop trusting the world’s wisdom and advice, and seek the Lord’s counsel through His Word.

The longer you’re married, the more likely you are to hit seasons where you’re just coasting or the relationship has taken a back seat to other matters (stress at work, extended family relationships, children, etc.).  When that happens, the worse thing you can do is pretend as if it is not happening or ignore it.  The best thing you can do is to talk and pray through that season as you seek to not let that be the new normal.

The greatest thing you can do in your marriage to deepen the relationship, is to deepen your own relationship with the Lord.  Jesus tells us in John 15 that if we abide/remain/stay connected to Jesus as a branch to the vine, we will bear much fruit.  We want our marriage to bear much fruit.  So get into the Word, pray, live in Biblical community, and ask the Lord to grow your love and devotion to Him.

Speaking of, your marriage needs community and others to support and encourage you.  You can’t hike this trail called marriage alone.  Walk in the light of Christ alongside others who will pray for you, encourage you, love you, and spur you on.

There will be some subjects that your marriage will be prone to avoid.  Money, sex, past, sin, communication, in-laws, faith, etc.  We’ve avoided some in the past and by avoiding, the matter never resolved itself on its own.  So step into the mess of awkward and difficult conversations, seeking to be full of grace and truth.  And if you need outside counsel, ask a trusted Christ-following friend(s) to help you navigate the waters.

Pray with one another out loud while you hold hands, or kneel, or hug.  We haven’t always done this well, but the times when we have, have been sweet and building to our relationship with the Lord and one another.  If you can get naked with one another, you can pray with one another.  Start today.

Do the little things to serve and love one another.  Before marriage or before kids, you probably pursued one another in great ways.  You didn’t stop saying “I love you” after the wedding day, so don’t stop saying it through your words and way of life.  If you’re waiting for your spouse to serve you first, that is evidence of your pride.  We love because Christ first loved us.  So go and do likewise.

Never stop dating and setting aside intentional time of being with one another.  Set aside the distractions, get it on the calendar, and make the plans.  And don’t relegate dating to just mean a simple formula such as ‘dinner + movie/activity + sex = date.’  There are a thousand different ways to ‘date’ one another.  Brainstorm ideas together.  The point is intentional time together with the purpose of building and strengthening the relationship.

Be a student of your spouse.  Never stop learning about them.  Heather and I continue to learn how one another tick and are wired.  And here’s the challenging thing…it can change over time.  So stop thinking you have them all figured out, or assuming ‘they should know me by now.’  Part of the joy of marriage is getting to know someone over the course of a lifetime.  The more you seek to learn about your spouse, the greater you will be at loving and responding to your spouse

Go on vacation just the two of you.  It may be overnight, it may be a weekend, or it may be for a week.  Much of that depends on the season of life you are in.  We’ve done all three, and those have been sweet times together.

Your spouse is a gift from the Lord.  The longer Heather and I are married, the more we say to one another, ‘Thank you for saying yes, and continuing to say yes.’  Because the more you look at yourself, the more you realize your quirks and ways that are not always easy to live with.  So in each other, we see an evidence of God’s grace that He saw fit for this person to live with and love me for a lifetime.  Treasure and treat your spouse as such…a gift from the Lord.