Marriage. What a wonderful and mysterious institution!
My parents were married 74 years ago today, on my mother’s twentieth birthday. By the time I was aware of her celebrating both birthday and anniversary on the same day, she was saying how foolish she had been. But she’d always said she didn’t want to be a teenage bride, and she was eager enough to marry my dad that she didn’t want to wait a day past her twentieth birthday.
Their marriage was not perfect. Whose is? But for forty years they made it work. My mother yelled a lot when things didn’t go her way. Daddy was unflappable, merely adjusting to suit her and never yelling back. She was devastated when he died at age 62.
In one instance after I was an adult, she managed to insult both of us at once. I’d dumped the clean utensils from the dishwasher onto a towel and was putting them away. She said to my father: “See! Even Lanita knows to dump the silverware and not just take it out one piece at a time.” Even Lanita? And I was embarrassed for my dad.
But two characteristics they showed constantly we try to show in our marriage as well: mercy and appreciation. My mother’s family of origin rarely offered either mercy or appreciation. I thought my mother yelled a lot until I was around her adult siblings and parents. Yikes! I just got out of the way so I’d live to tell about it. But, amazingly, they get credit for never being profane in their yelling and insults. I guess that says a lot for both their vocabularies and their efforts at Judeo-Christian values.
I’ve always felt that we either emulate the behavior of our early family or go to the extreme opposite. My mother did both—yelling a lot and yet also offering mercy pretty quickly afterward. My parents forgave each other constantly—literally kissing and making up no matter which had wronged the other.
As for appreciation, Mother would thank Daddy for whatever he did to help, and Steve and I try to do the same for each other. When I hear people complain that their spouses take them for granted, I always think that if they just expressed appreciation to each other, neither would feel that way. A simple thanks for diapering the baby or washing the dishes or unloading the dishwasher can go a long way. Of course they are trivial things, but we all love to be appreciated, even in small matters. (If you aren’t used to thanking your spouse for taking out the garbage, don’t be surprised if you get a funny look when you do—kind of a “What’s up with you?” look.)
Just showing you’ve noticed what they’ve done can make a difference. Many times we feel burdened and think our spouse isn’t doing enough. But if we make ourselves look for what they are doing, we might notice that they are doing more than we realized.
If they are not doing enough, that’s where mercy comes in. “I went ahead and folded the clothes, honey, but I love you anyway,” sweetly and given with a kiss, can do more for what will happen the next time than any “You told me you’d fold the clothes, but I ended up doing them, as usual!”
Reframing to include a merciful attitude can work miracles. Not immediately, perhaps, but over time your family will follow your lead.
A few years ago, I went through some bad times with my cars. I had a problem with knocking off the right mirror, to the point that I would go to the parts supply place and the guy there would just go out and put it on my car. Within one year’s time, I totaled two cars (but I must add that about any wreck will “total” a 10-year-old+ car.) And NEVER in all that time did Steve berate me. Maybe an occasional eye-roll with a “not again” look, but what he said was always amazing to me. “I’m so glad you weren’t injured,” turned out to be the perfect response to “I’m sorry to tell you, but I had a wreck.” Details can come later. The car situations prompted me to realize that people truly can change, and Steve has. Early in our marriage, neither of us practiced that much mercy. I’d like to think I’ve changed some of my habits, too, since I haven’t had a wreck since 2008.
We’ve now been married 51 years, 7 months, and 25 days, so we do have advice for other couples. We’ve decided it boils down to showing appreciation and offering mercy. Try it for a while. You could be amazed.
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings,” Hosea 6:6, repeated by Jesus in Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7.
So when, in our marriage, I end up with burnt offerings for dinner, I’m grateful that my dear husband offers that mercy that Jesus championed so overtly. And when the dinner is tasty and not burnt, he’s quick to express appreciation for that as well.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful (Colossians 3:15.)