Four things I have learned about marriage from my wife
By Trevor Lee
Over the years I have learned many things about marriage from many people. My parents taught me that commitment is an essential component of love. My wife’s stepfather has taught me what it looks like to be selflessly generous as a husband. Some dear friends at church have helped me grow in my understanding of how to press into the uncomfortable places of marriage to find growth and healing.
But there is one person who, more than any other, has taught me about marriage—my wife. Here are four things I’ve learned about marriage from Michelle (pictured with me.)
1. Marriage is worth fighting for.
The first few years of our marriage I thought our marriage was a unicorn. Everyone told us that the first year, it would be all we could manage to grit our teeth and survive. But the first year passed without any significant difficulty. In fact, it was really fun. This smooth ride continued in the following years, and I started to think all the accounts of marital struggle didn’t apply to us. You know how that turned out.
Michelle and I have now been married 15 years, and it hasn’t always been smooth. One of the things I love most about her is how disturbed she is when we’re not doing well. I don’t just mean when things are really rough and we are both acutely aware that we need to work through some things. I’m talking about the times when the kids keep us running around, and almost without notice we end up disconnected. I’m talking about the times when an exchange has an unnecessary edge. The times we skip a kiss goodnight. Those times disturb Michelle, and she doesn’t let them pass.
Michelle consistently models the truth that marriage is worth fighting for. And it’s not just worth the fight when things are going horribly wrong. It’s worth fighting for every day when you come home from work, when you wake up and when you see each other in passing. Each moment is an opportunity to take a small step toward wholeness and beauty or toward brokenness and pain.
2. I have choices even when my marriage feels out of control.
There are times in a marriage when for a variety of reasons we find ourselves in a place we wouldn’t choose. We aren’t as connected as we’d like to be. We’re butting heads out of the blue. We may even feel emotionally or physically pulled toward someone else. There are things that contribute to this, but they go undetected and all of a sudden our marriage feels out of control.
When that is the case, it is so important to understand that we have choices about what we do in the midst of it. Michelle and I have gone through times where our marriage felt out of control. Neither of us knew how to “fix” things. But this didn’t stop Michelle from stepping up her practice of the things that build our marriage. She encouraged me more than normal. She reminded me that she loves me with a love that goes beyond how she feels at a given moment. She bought my favorite iced coffee even though the price tag usually keeps me from buying it.
I can guarantee she didn’t feel like doing all those things. She just made up her mind to do them. And I think Michelle knew that none of them would be a magic Band-Aid that made everything better. But in the midst of marital turbulence she made choices to move toward me rather than away from me. That is not the natural direction in those times—it is a direction that takes courage, intention and practical action.
3. Working on myself is an act of love.
Lately God has been working with Michelle in some really deep and painful ways. She has entered into these tender and difficult places with grace and courage. She has responded to the presence of God in painful places—not shutting him out but choosing to let him work. She is not doing this for the sake of our marriage. She is doing it out of love for Jesus and hope in his intentions for her. But when the “two become one” it is inevitable that the development and transformation of one, or regression and destruction, will significantly impact the other.
As I watch Michelle learn to trust God in the unsafe places, to give things over to him that she has held tightly and to find a depth of connection with him that can only come from difficulty, I see it affecting our marriage. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying this is the primary point. But we also shouldn’t pretend that our own formation is divorced from our marriage.
As we work on ourselves, we are becoming the kind of person who can be a better spouse. Refusing to work on our selves is not an act of sacrifice; it is an act of selfishness. To be honest, I’d rather buy Michelle flowers or rub her shoulders than enter into the painful places where transformation is needed. But the latter is a greater gift. She’s inspiring me to see that working on myself is an act of love I can offer to God and to her.
4. Our spouses help us see what is and what can be.
Michelle’s vision of who I am and who I can be is significantly different than the vision I have of myself. She knows my faults. She knows them well. And somehow, with that knowledge, she is still able to look at me and see the person who is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” She sees what I can become, not just what I am. She calls it out of me, entreating me to believe it.
That is the vision we should pursue of our spouses. Not a vision that denies flaws but one that sees the beauty that is there despite the flaws. A vision that sees the potential of what can be when the other struggles to see it. I know the love of God more because of what I have experienced in this area with Michelle. She sees my deep flaws and loves me anyway. That’s what God does too. She loves me as I am and out of love wants me to become what I can be.
Lovingly sharing a vision of who someone can be is a deep and mysterious gift a wife or husband can offer her or his spouse.
A hopeful direction
There are many things in a life following Jesus that can seem out of reach. We focus on all the ways we fall short of God’s intentions for us. This is important at times, but it is also important to recognize the ways he is helping us to live into his vision for us. This is certainly true in marriage.
I’m sharing these things about Michelle not because she’s perfect or because our marriage is perfect, but because in them I see hope. They remind me that God is at work in my marriage, and one of the ways he’s working is through my wife’s actions. I need to pay attention to this and not get so caught up in what isn’t right that I miss the growth and beauty right in front of me.
Take 15 minutes to reflect on what you have learned about marriage, especially from your spouse. How is your relationship different now than when you were first married? What does your spouse do that makes you smile? What do you deeply appreciate that you’ve never told her or him? What are the redemptive aspects of the ways you’ve seen your spouse work through pain, especially the times there has been pain in your marriage? Who knows—if you take the time, you might learn something.
Trevor Lee is the lead pastor at Trailhead Church, a USMB congregation in the Denver metro area. He and his wife, Michelle, were married in 2000, and they have two children, Isaiah and Ayla. This article first appeared on Lee’s blog at http://trevorslee.com/
Photo credit: Angela Kleinsasser