If our marriage was a book, it’d be four chapters long today. 🙂
Here are excerpts from the ever-expanding epic (that I’m not actually writing):
“Married Life: Lessons Learned by the Lavoies”
Chapter One: Community – Get some.
Our first year of marriage was pretty darn awesome. I laughed at John’s fastidious quirks and habits and provided ample entertainment by running into door frames and waking myself up with my own snores. It was evident we were embarking on the adventure of a lifetime and we soaked in every minute.
The difference-maker in this year was the people around us. We had an incredible community of friends and family who were cheering for us and loved us both. Many couples make the mistake of adopting an isolationist mindset when they first get married — “It’s all about US now.” Which is an easy trap to fall into because you’re trying to figure out how to set your own boundaries, make your own decisions as a couple etc. But it’s marital suicide. The people who made our first year of marriage great were the ones who asked us how we were doing as a couple or how they could pray for us. The ones who took us out on girls nights or guys nights, who weren’t weirded out when we admitted we had problems to work through and pushed (sometimes shoved) us closer to Jesus.
Find friends who know and love both of you and can speak into your lives when you need direction, encouragement, and prayer.
Chapter Two: Change – Expect it. Better yet, embrace it.
Our second year of marriage brought change. A LOT of it. I graduated from college, two weeks later we moved from VA to TX, one week later we traveled to Haiti for a 3 week mission trip, returned to an apartment full of unpacked boxes and I began my job hunt while he began learning the Greek alphabet in preparation for his first on-campus seminary semester. Also, we had two friends in TX. Wonderful people! But not exactly the equivalent of a church home or network of community that we desperately needed (see Chapter 1).
As you can imagine, we communicated perfectly, met each others expectations flawlessly and practically skipped into the bedroom every night!
Year two for us was the proverbial “Year One” crash-course that we had missed out on earlier. It was hard.
In my zeal (read:panic) to dive head-first into this new normal of working while John went to seminary, I burned John to the ground. I just wore. him. out. I didn’t want him to get a job because it was MY job to bring home the bacon while he focused solely on and ALWAYS on school. Without realizing it, I not only let him drown in syllabi, flashcards, and commentaries, I was holding his head under the water.
He sunk into depression. I became angry and scared that he wasn’t charging into seminary and tackling every assignment with gusto. “That’s why we’re here in the first place, right?!” But he’s not a scholar, he’s a shepherd. And shepherds need to be shepherding
even when especially when they’re surrounded by a lot of scholars.
After a few weeks of counseling, John was aptly diagnosed with “spiritual constipation.” In short, he had gone from a hands-on life of campus ministry that was full of discipleship, evangelism, and staff meetings … to a life of exegesis papers and deadlines. He desperately needed an outlet to be a shepherd again. Once he got a part-time job tutoring college students and began discipling some guys he slowly rose above the tidal wave of our unrealistic expectations. We both began to settle down and take our new life one day at a time – finding a church home, meeting new friends, and making new memories together.
Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing, just give yourself (and your spouse) the grace and the space to adapt to it.
Chapter Three: Common interest – find it, keep it, cultivate it.
When John and I were dating/engaged we went on tons of fun dates and enjoyed looking googly-eyed at each other and admiring how awesome we were. It was fabulous. Unfortunately, we didn’t prioritize finding some mutual hobby that we could do together as a couple. Once we got married, we quickly realized I was far from becoming a car enthusiast and John’s idea of scrapbooking was dropping jpegs into a folder on his computer and occasionally clicking through them (UNacceptable).
We dutifully started trying each other’s hobbies to see if we could find some common interest but it usually just led to frustration and disappointment. We enjoyed watching TV shows on Netflix for a time but felt like we were getting to know the characters on Frasier better than each other. Finally, after much prayer we landed on something: running*.
Running had never been a favorite pastime of mine because, as the license plate frame on my old car quipped “I’d rather be dancing!” But I was not about to slap a leotard on my black-belt husband and tell him to catch me as my tutu’ed self leapt into his arms. Not happening. (But great visual, right?)
Instead, we both embraced this new hobby and all that came with it: icing our knees with bags of frozen veggies, sharing a huge smoothie after long runs, instagramming our running dates (exclusively Rachel), researching how we could do it better (exclusively John), and ultimately running in races together.
Running with John has been one of the key contributing factors to the deepening of our friendship. It reminds me that he and I are on the same team. Not only while we run but while tackling the day-in, day-out crazy of life.
*John has already hinted that our knees may not be able to keep up this hobby indefinitely and that we should try bike-riding instead. But I’m banking on our next mutual interest to be something I’m actually good at — like ice cream eating competitions or bargain shopping. *fingers crossed*
A common interest or hobby is worth having so be intentional about finding it and once you’ve got it — run with it! (Pun is 100% intended)
Year Four: Conflict happens! LET IT.
I despise conflict and am an expert at avoiding it. The moment I see it coming, I run in the other direction which almost always leads to more conflict. John doesn’t like conflict either but he sees the very real danger in leaving it unresolved. When left unresolved, conflict festers in the heart and leads to increasing feelings of bitterness and anger. It’s not pretty.
But, it happens. Conflict happens because there is no way two people will always agree on every little thing, and certainly not on every BIG thing. John and I have said hurtful words and kept hurtful silence more times than I can number. We have both left the room in frustration, slammed doors, cried into pillows… the works.
Earlier on it was primarily John who would say, “Rachel, what’s wrong?” But in this last year of marriage I have realized how selfish I’ve been in leaving it up to him to always approach me when there’s an issue. When I bury my emotions I’m not helping either of us. It’s been tough for me to say “I’m angry. I’m hurt. You’re making me feel X-Y-Z” because the people – pleaser in me is always saying, “Really, Rachel? Do you really want to turn this into a problem? Can’t you just let it go?” But when I “let it go” it doesn’t disappear. It just buries itself deeper into my already seething mind and heart and then eventually erupts into this hot, roiling, mess of emotions that takes twice as long to work through and often cuts twice as deep.
The greatest aspect I’ve discovered about conflict is that you can actually get on the other side of it and still be friends! In fact, you can be better friends! It’s amazing. Despite my ridiculous fears that conflict will destroy our relationship, the exact opposite has happened. It builds, unites (eventually…), and strengthens us as a couple.
When you encounter conflict, work through it rather than around it.
Four years later and what I can say about our marriage is that it’s different than it was. It requires harder work and produces sweeter dividends than I had ever anticipated. Each chapter has it’s own unique flavor of lessons learned and we are most definitely in a better place than where we started.