This July, my husband and I will be celebrating twenty years of marriage. I remember our wedding day clearly: a day that reflected us, our faith and our bank balance! I tell my ‘I bought my wedding dress in a sale’ story with pride. A friend of a friend offered us his beautiful car for our wedding at no cost. If this wasn’t kind enough, he was our ‘chauffeur’, he bought Champagne for us to enjoy on the way to our reception, and from the moment he knew we were getting married, he and his wife prayed for us every day until the wedding.
Another memorable moment was when I unintentionally created a rom-com style drama around our wedding vows. As we stood before each other, I found myself feeling so overwhelmed with emotion (this isn’t supposed to be cheesy, it’s an accurate retelling) that, as I was asked to repeat back one of my vows, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to say anything without crying and so I said nothing! My husband Nick responded as though he was following a script from a Richard Curtis movie by producing a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbing the tear that had appeared at the corner of my eye. The church was utterly silent as our family and friends watched, tearing up themselves and waiting with bated breath for me to speak. Thankfully, I did speak and get through our vows without becoming a soggy mess.
There were many beautiful aspects to the day that we’ll always cherish but, in truth, this momentous day was just one day out of the many that lay ahead as the real adventure of marriage began. And like all good adventures, they can only be worthy of this description if challenges and triumphs are included. In marriage, as we journey through these highs and lows, we grow, resulting in a stronger and deeper relationship as the years pass. The question is: how prepared are we for the big adventure of marriage when so much emphasis seems to be on ‘getting married’ rather than ‘being married’?
My husband and I had some marriage prep with a couple from our church which was great. However, there are plenty of couples that don’t have this and, as valuable as it is, there’s nothing like the actual journey to highlight the things that weren’t and maybe couldn’t be covered. As a mum of two, I’ve often likened this to having a baby and being a parent. So much emphasis is placed on the ‘birth’ day and, whilst it is indeed necessary to do so, going through the labour and giving birth now seem like the ‘easier’ part compared to the adventure of parenting that was ahead.
Without reservation, I would encourage marriage prep for every engaged couple. Nevertheless, it can’t predict how two different people will respond and react to each other in every possible circumstance. Annoying habits that you didn’t know existed: leaving dirty underwear on the floor; the opposing methods around the stacking of the dishwasher; shoes left out/not being allowed to leave shoes out; and, the classic, toilet seat up or down. During the honeymoon period, these all seem silly things that are easily overlooked. However, when you encounter these habits on a continual basis, there is the potential for the love of your life to appear more like the villain in the fairy tale. It’s often the apparently insignificant things that start arguments, so it’s important to be aware of this and to communicate with each other, talking about the small ‘mole-hills’ so that they don’t become huge ‘mountains’ in your relationship.
There may be times where one of you is under pressure at work and less able to do their part in the running of the house. When children come along, it can be easy to neglect each other and focus less on your relationship. Again, unless these things are talked about, resentment can build up, which creates a wedge between you both. Communicating, a willingness to forgive when we feel let down and to say sorry for mistakes, understanding their perspective and showing kindness are all part of our commitment – the ‘for better for worse’ that we signed up to.
Perhaps you spoke about such things before getting married, but it’s only in marriage that we are fully tested. This is why our friendship from the outset is so important – regularly spending fun time together within the domesticity of living life together reminds us of the love that we have for each other. In marriage, my husband and I have always sought to prioritise our relationship over everything else; work, children and church life. You may be thinking that children shouldn’t be on this list, and of course there are times when a hungry baby, with the most desperate of screams, is letting you know they need food NOW and so takes priority – for everyone’s sake. There will be other parenting scenarios that require a similar response but, otherwise, investing regularly into your marriage, making time for each other, maintaining intimacy etc. all result in a more stable marriage, being better versions of ourselves and, as a consequence, being better parents to our children.
National Marriage Week is a great resource for marriages. It reminds us that it’s a top priority to keep caring for our relationship. This year’s theme is ‘Recipe for a Healthy Marriage’ and there are six ‘ingredients’ being focussed on: commitment, communication, kindness, intimacy, forgiveness and friendship (can you spot them in this blog?). Marriage Week takes place from the 13 th – 19 th May and so I encourage you to do what I’ll be doing with my husband – reflect on these ingredients and ask yourselves, “What are we doing well and what needs a bit of attention?”
Our wedding was amazing, I loved it and I’m grateful for the milestone day that we had. But, as my husband and I celebrate our twenty years of marriage this summer, our emphasis won’t be on the memory of ‘getting married’, it will be on the ‘being married’. We’ll look back on the ‘for better, for worse’, how we’ve grown, and we’ll celebrate the adventure of sharing life, day after day, looking forward to all that is yet to come.
Michaela Hyde co-ordinates UK National Marriage Week, as well as being a Project Director at the Marriage Foundation and a Presenter. You can listen to Michaela’s podcast, The M Word, here.