Eight years ago, I was 22 and he was 25. We are now 30 and 33, still young, still not experts in marriage and still learning so much.
We’ve been through a lot in these eight years-multiple moves, becoming parents through adoption, multiple job changes, lots of unknowns, lots of stress. Nothing, not one single thing, has gone as planned. Through it all, we’ve changed, we’ve grown, we’ve wavered and we’ve steadied. These eight years haven’t been easy, but they have been good. Even the not good, has been good, if that makes sense.
One ugly thing people never talk about and we certainly didn’t know, not that it would have swayed our decision in any way, is the toll growing your family through adoption has on your marriage. Though struggling through infertility is not our story, just dealing with the crazy emotional roller coster of waiting, the incredible financial strain, the being in the “public eye” with everyone “weighing in” and scrutinizing all of your life decisions and choices, the long-term effects of trauma, PTSD and secondary PTSD, it’s all very real. For us, add in our ages when we got married, multiple moves and job changes we weren’t prepared for, the odds are stacked against us.
But our marriage is not based on our circumstances. It is not based on our feelings. It is not based on our child. It is not based on our financial security or careers. It is not based on anyone’s emotions, and it sure is not based on what everyone else thinks. Our marital foundation is Jesus, and it’s first and foremost our individual commitments to Him and the covenant we entered into together. He is our stronghold, He is the knot that ties us together. And looking at each other through the eyes of the One who created us is what keeps us together for the long haul.
I love my husband. He is the steadiness to my ever passionate self who tends to get carried away. He is the “slow down” to my never ending “push the pedal harder.” He is the “we’re going to work this out” when all I want to do is push away. He makes me laugh, he reminds me to have fun, he broadens my horizons. No one is more supportive, no one recognizes when I need a break more and I don’t even have to ask for him to step in or step up. He is most definitely the “thermostat” to mine and Kai’s thermometer selves. We push each other, we believe in each other, we fight for each other and we are for each other. We’re not experts, but I wanted to share eight things I’ve learned in these eight sweet years of marriage.
- The first year of marriage isn’t always the hardest. If we heard this once we heard it 1,000 times. While we were dating and engaged, we went to several friend’s weddings. As we were preparing for our own, we heard so much that the first year is so horrible, one couple even said it’s so hard you will want to die, that we were like dang…does anyone enjoy being married that first year? It took us back a little. And praise God, for real, for the couple that mentored us pre-marriage and throughout those first two years, because they had been married and had four boys long enough to roll their eyes and put that “advice” into perspective. Listen singles and engaged peoples, our first year of marriage rocked. Honestly, we didn’t see legit hardship until year four. Difficulty is going to come in your marriage at different times. Like everything else in life, run your own race. Listen to wisdom, but know that just like every person, every marriage is different.
- It’s ok to ask for help and seek it individually. I’m not talking marriage counseling. Our second year and most of our third year of marriage I spent in counseling, without Jonathan. The issues were not about him or our marriage. There were things fleshing out in our marriage because of the way I viewed myself and never dealt with it, that I didn’t even know were there or that bad, until we got married. He lovingly said this was bigger than both of us, it was something he could listen and support me in, but couldn’t really guide me on how to process it or change it. Basically, we cannot fix each other. Single and engaged peoples, getting married will not fix your problems. Sometimes it will magnify them and you won’t even know it. You each are going to go through times and seasons where you need to look for outside counsel, and that is okay. You are not saying to your spouse “I can’t help you.” That may be how it feels, I know that’s how I felt at first when Jonathan proposed counseling, but that’s not true. It’s saying “I know we are both bringing baggage into our marriage. It’s time for me to deal with mine so that this relationship can be at its healthiest place.” For me, that was years 2-3. For Jonathan, that was years 5-6. It was my turn then to go to him and say “I love you, but this is bigger than both of us. It’s your turn to get help.” And honestly, can we just put this stereotype of counseling and therapy to rest? Everyone can benefit from counseling. Everyone has things they need to work on. You don’t have to have a major “problem” or crisis to go, we usually just wait till we hit that point to do it.
- Understand that the plans you make while engaged, will change. We always planned to have two incomes. One of the reasons we bought the franchise in the first place in our first two months of marriage, was because I could work from home and still make an income. Most everyone else who owned a franchise was a mom. I knew I wanted to stay home, but also knew if I didn’t have an outlet it would go well for no one. We ran into a problem though after bringing Kai home, because this franchise-my office was in my home, but most of my time was spent outside of it since it was a mobile business. I had employees to check up on, clients to visit, phone was constantly going off, it wasn’t really work from home. After we brought Kai home, I hit my busiest time of the year. I was trying to attach to my son, but we were hardly ever home. Employee called in sick, I taught classes in incredibly overwhelming environments with him in the ergo. I was wearing him in the wrap while answering phone calls, and won’t even talk about the fact that I never saw my husband, because when he came home I passed Kai to him and worked late. It was a nightmare, and I hated every minute of it. Mid-June, I walked into Jonathan’s office randomly one day and just said, “I want to sell the business” out of the clear blue sky. We hadn’t ever planned to have one income. And truth be told, that got us into financial trouble after we sold the business for well under what it was worth because I was just done. My point being, plans are just that, they are plans. They are not set it stone, and highly likely to be changed, because you will change.
- Adding a child means re-learning your spouse. One of the reasons I think year four was one of our hardest, was that was the year we brought Kai home, and we just didn’t know the adjustment that would be. Remember, it was relatively smooth-sailing for us up until this point. Then, we were learning how to be first-time parents to a baby who didn’t know us and wasn’t attached to us yet. We were learning how each of us really were in our parenting, and it was crazy. Seriously, we had to re-learn each other because of new habits, new routines, new emotions, new schedule, time together and life just looked different. Finding your new stride when you add children, and I imagine each time a child is added to a family, is a challenge and struggle to work through. Add in the fact that help, for us, looked different. No one was allowed to hold Kai except us those first three months (our rule to ensure a good attachment), he was already 5 months old and mobile, there were still 1,000 appointments and paperwork and a social worker coming to visit our home those first 6 months, lots of “extra” things. We wouldn’t trade it, but blessings do not mean a life of ease, let’s remember that.
- Community is key. This has been a major struggle for us. When we first got married, we were in two different life stages. I was fresh out of college, most of my friends were single girls. Jonathan had been out of college for awhile and established a solid community in Denton with friends from college. Most of them were married, and they all knew each other and had a history together. I felt like an outsider stepping into “his world.” Let me just tell you, this is an introvert’s worst nightmare. I felt like I was constantly being judged, didn’t fit into his friends, 9 times out of 10 didn’t know what anyone was talking about because they had all shared experiences together that I had not been a part of, and it was downright lonely for me. Here’s the deal: for an introvert like myself, it’s quality over quantity when it comes to friendships. I felt like I didn’t fit into my single friend’s world anymore but I didn’t fit into the married world either. It was weird and hard, and honestly wasn’t until we moved and both started at zero that we found people we both connected with. Then when we went through our adoption, we really learned who our true friends were. When I look back on our hardest seasons, it’s the times we lacked community. Single and engaged people, when you get married, don’t forsake all your friends not in that life stage. But be sensitive to your spouse, and ya’ll make some new friendships together. Find your tribe.
- Do what is best for your family. Please note the word that I underlined. This, by far, has been the hardest thing for me as a wife, mom, and woman. Y’all, I love social media. Clearly, I wouldn’t be doing this otherwise. However, you know there are major pros and major cons. And one of those major cons is everyone has an opinion, and they sure are not afraid to tell you behind the screen. In my experience, when we opened the door for people to peek into our journey, something we don’t regret, the downside is then there are a lot both behind the screen and in real life who feel they have the right to ask you really personal questions, and offer their “wisdom” on every decision you make. Let me tell you something: Social media is a highlight reel. I keep it raw, I keep it real, I keep it authentic. I share more struggles and personal things than most, but only when I feel prompted to do so because I know it will help someone else. But unless you live inside my home, you don’t know 100% what is going on here. In the past couple of years, it has been really, really difficult to drown out the nonsense and not question the decisions we feel are best. Someone will make a comment or share their opinion and I start questioning my motherhood and how I’m managing my home. This is something that this year, even in just the past 3 months I am really learning to discern the voices, shake things off, and stand firm in what we feel is best for our family. The decisions you make, not everyone is going to understand. The decisions you make, not everyone is going to like. The decisions you make, not everyone is going to agree. But you are not accountable to everyone else. You are accountable for your family. Do not make decisions out of fear or based on what everyone else thinks. Still preaching to myself on that one.
- Know your why, and walk in it. The hardest years for us so far were 4-6, 7 we saw a turning point, and 8 has been the year of the greatest growth and freedom. When I look back at that 4-6, part of the reason it was so difficult is because we were not walking in the gifting that the Lord gave us, particularly Jonathan. He was doing all that he could to support our family, but decisions were being made out of fear and he wasn’t doing what he really loved to do, passionate about, or what he was good at. As a wife, I saw what that did to his confidence as a man, husband, and father, and how his leadership in that time affected all of us. It’s my job as his helpmate, to encourage him to chase after what he loves, what I know he can do, to not give up on his passion. Him continuing to write when he could, to give him space and make room for that, him submitting and winning that contest back in March wasn’t random y’all. This is something he’s wanted for years, and for far too long his talent took a backseat. Since then, it’s amazing how our home though not perfect, has changed and we are seeing another turning point because he’s actually doing something he enjoys. Though not full time yet, he is using his gifts, and we see a different man when that happens. I’ve always known my why but never had the vision to hone in on that. He has helped me be more cognizant of giving my best yes, not just doing things because people ask me to, and he’s supporting me in my gifting by using his gifts and allowing me the time and space to also use mine. Seriously, life’s too short. Make wise decisions, but chase after what the Lord has set out for you to do, and stop making excuses.
- Life is just better together. It’s as simple as that. Life is just better because we have each other, because God gave us as good gifts to each other, for each other. I wouldn’t have it any other way or want to grow my family with anyone else. Marriage is worth fighting for.
Here’s to 8 years, and many, many more.