I have often thought that the first 10 years of a marriage are the hardest. You go from “me” to “us” and although it’s wonderful it’s an adjustment to have to put another person’s interests before your own. One friend remarked, “I didn’t realize how selfish I was until I got married!” Marriage is a bit like putting a big jigsaw puzzle together one piece at a time, learning how the two of you fit. And then the kids start coming and it’s as if you throw the marriage puzzle you have so carefully begun into the air and begin all over again.
In the early years, you have lots of challenges: a possible move, financial pressures, a fast track in a career or a search for a career, letting go of close ties with your parents, leaving close friends, or suddenly having to care for elderly or ill parents. Add to this the stress of daily living-carpools, commitments, emergencies—and it’s easy to find ourselves just trying to “make it” through the day. Marriage communication becomes about logistics-who is going to do what when? We find that we are no longer sharing our hearts with one another. And we adopt the mentality: We’ll work on our marriage when life calms down. But life will not calm down. It will simply become more complicated.
Years ago we bought a little cottage which came with an amazing red raspberry patch that produced two crops each season. In the early years I carefully weeded the raspberries, and we were rewarded with plenty of berries for jam, ice cream, pancakes, etc! However, over the years life got busy and I didn’t have time to weed properly. I wanted to. I was sincere. But with five children in seven years their activities simply demanded my time. I just couldn’t get to it. Slowly and subtly the honeysuckle weeds took over the patch and finally we had to mow it down. Gazing at the now barren patch I was struck by the thought: How easy it would be for me to let weeds begin to strangle my marriage simply because I am neglecting it in the tyranny of daily life. I realized that I had to guard against this and to be proactive in growing my marriage during this stressful season. Four things have helped me.
1. Plan a regular weekly or bi-weekly date.
Use this time to do something fun, not to discuss difficult issues. (Plan another time for that). Your goal is to nurture a marriage friendship. Your mate must take priority over your children.
2. Practice forgiveness.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to go to my husband (and my kids) and say, “I shouldn’t have said or done__ and I need to ask you to forgive me.” I can’t remember a single time I felt like doing it! We go out of obedience, not feelings. It takes time for healing to occur and trust to be restored. But healing begins with forgiveness.
3. Choose to believe the best of your mate.
Just because he didn’t… (she didn’t…) does not mean they are mad or don’t care about you. Something else may be overwhelming them.
4. Choose laughter over irritation.
I can either get mad because he lost his phone again or I can laugh. It is only a phone-not a child!
If we want to enjoy a sweet companionship in the empty nest years we have to pay special attention to our marriage in the busy early years. We are making deposits in a relationship that can last a lifetime and we dare not skimp.