I married my cousin this past weekend. Wait. I need to rephrase that. I officiated at my cousin’s wedding. I performed a simple service in a little brown church on a beautiful mountaintop. No joke. That was the real setting. I married my cousin and his fiancee, both in their late twenties, still full of youth. It gave me a chance to reflect on marriage and commitment and why any of us dare enter it.
Marriage is one long experiment in learning to love another person. It’s hard. You have to learn to love the quirks and idiosyncrasies and even the things that get on your last damn nerve. After all, these too are part of what make a relationship rich and meaningful. You gotta learn to love your partner for who they are and as a whole person. A wise friend once told me, “You know you have found love when you are not sure if you want to hug the person or put them in a headlock.”
On days when I am wallowing in my own self-doubt, I know my insecurity is annoying. My wife probably wants to slap me across the head and tell me to grow up. She has heard enough of my sad song and has every right to tell me to take it elsewhere. I’ve dumped it on her enough. But she does a remarkable thing. She hears me out. She helps me return to reality. She believes in me. She helps me believe in myself. And before I know it I am back in a sane place. She knows how to love me when I feel like my anxious head might spin off. Of course, even my patient wife has moments when she loses her cool. The other day, she lunged at me with my toddler’s plastic hedge trimmers. A fire burned in her eyes.
Loving your spouse gets more complicated when you have children. And the potential to get on each other’s last nerve increases two-fold. There is the loss of time, energy given to kids and taken away from your relationship. Communication suffers. This is natural but figuring out how to pay attention to one another is difficult. At the end of the day when you actually have a chance to talk and snuggle you are so worn out from work and changing diapers and bedtime battles that you want to switch into zombie mode and just stare at the television or scroll through your newsfeed. Often, my wife and I agree to lie in silence on the couch or pass out on the floor. A bit of physical affection goes a long way and helps overcome the things we’ve done to step on each other’s toes.
Married with kids is a stage that reveals further that love is not a warm, fuzzy feeling but action. Love occurs through specific behaviors like patience, kindness, and forgiveness. Action, not mere words. Love is not an idea that can sit nicely packaged on the shelf. It needs to be unwrapped and practiced on a daily basis. This is the difficult part. One day you will succeed in loving your partner, the next you will fail, and some days you succeed and fail on the same day. But every day you wake up and try to love them again. And again.
The more you love, the stronger your marriage will grow. Marriage is a commitment you will spend the rest of your life fulfilling. It is one long experiment in learning to love another person.
So, below is the mantra I wrote for my cousin. I wrote it for myself as much as I did for them.
When you are frustrated, choose to show patience.
When you are hurt, choose to offer forgiveness.
When you are certain you are right, choose to see things from the other person’s perspective.
When you have every right to punish the other person, choose to show grace.
When your spouse is upset and wounded, choose gentleness.
When it would be easier to stay quiet and harbor resentment, choose to communicate.
And when you have grown tired and weary and feel like you are at the end of your rope, choose to love.