Yes, take my advice and you too can enjoy a love as romantic as stone-cold statuettes locked in an icy embrace.
About a month ago I was invited to give the devotional at a church bridal shower. The result was a success, even by my perfectionistic standards: snappy, heartfelt, and even modestly funny (I swear I got laughs... not that I'm Bob Hope or anything, but it went pretty well).
Afterwards, one woman said to me, "Wow! I thought you were a quiet person!" Yeah... sometimes. (It's the quiet ones you've gotta watch out for.) "I am...," I said. "But it's different with a crowd. Stick me in front of an audience, and you never know what might happen." Obviously... Later that night, whilst rehashing my speechy success with the man who made it all possible, he had the audacity to call me a ham. A ham? Mwa? I mean, moi? (French never was my forte.) I'm not a vaudevillian. I'm a quiet, introverted, painfully shy editor/reader/writer who would have been a librarian if a publisher hadn't taken pity on me and put me to work in the department affectionately (and appropriately) dubbed "the library" by the raucous (but observant) sales and acquisitions teams.
So apparently, despite my quiet exterior image, there lurks beneath the surface an inner comedian who loves to perform. In honor of her, enjoy the devotional below, which I followed pretty closely for the aforementioned bridal shower.
Wise Words of Advice from a Marriage Newbie
Or, Things I’ve Learned in My First Year of Being a Wife
When I was asked to give this devotional, I immediately had several thoughts. One, I wish I had taken my college speech class more seriously. Two, do they really want my advice? I mean, I’ve only got twelve months of marriage under my belt. I’m not exactly a seasoned veteran. Three, on the bright side, they can’t expect too much of me, since it was only last July that I was walking down the aisle myself.
So, with that disclaimer, here are some wise words of advice from a marriage newbie. Or, if you prefer, things I’ve learned in my first year of being a wife.
In the interest of time (making the most of it) and your own boredom as listeners (minimizing it), I’ll be sharing a list of 15 bullet points. (Kids, you keep track of the count and don't let me go over.) These will include some observations, some warnings, and some honest old-fashioned free advice, gleaned “in the trenches” of my first year of matrimony.
1. Find out what encourages your husband’s spirit and do it as often as possible. The old saying “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” is definitely true for some guys (including my husband, Doug). But whatever it is for your husband (food, hugs, kind words, watching sports with him, etc.), whatever feeds his soul and makes him feel like a million bucks, give him those things consistently and cheerfully. This is part of the way a wife can obey God’s command to “respect her husband.” For more on this idea, I recommend Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages.
2. Be honest, be vulnerable, and believe the best about your husband. Two becoming one is a wonderful, incredible, scary thing. Which brings me to my next point…
3. Prepare to have your privacy invaded. In fact, forfeit it outright. Remember that from the day of your wedding on, until the day you die, nothing is your private property anymore; it’s all shared, joint, “ours.” I grew up as an only child. Before I got married, I had never shared a bed with anyone. More accurately, I hadn’t even slept in a bed for years. My bedroom furniture consisted of a worn-out couch instead. So when Doug and I got married, sleeping arrangements took a little getting used to, to say the least. But having an attitude of surrendering my privacy and comfort for the sake of intimacy helped make the transition easier. And now, despite my history of sleeping on couches and Doug’s talent of snoring like a grizzly bear, we comfortably share a bed together, and nine times out of ten, we both get a good night’s sleep.
4. Just like your privacy, prepare to surrender your money. Yup, all of it. If on the wedding day, the bride has $5,000 and the groom has $10, congratulations; you both have $5,010. Becoming one includes merging your finances. There’s a reason they put that “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer” line in the wedding vows. It doesn’t matter who makes more money, who’s more in debt, or whose savings accounts is bigger. After the wedding, everything goes into one pot.
5. 1 Corinthians 7:4 says, “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.” Translation: When you’re married, even your own body—the one piece of property you’ve always owned and had control over since you were born—suddenly that body isn’t just yours. Like the money and the privacy, it now belongs equally to your husband. And since as a wife, your body belongs to your husband, treat it with care and respect, both for his benefit and for yours. And unless he’s the only one in the room, always dress modestly. Your appearance reflects on your husband and on the stability of your relationship. If your clothes grab the attention of another man, you’re sending the wrong message about your marriage. This might seem a little extreme, but I recommend always giving your husband veto power over your wardrobe. Instead of asking the ill-fated question, “Honey, do these jeans make me look fat?” ask “Honey, are these shorts too short? Is this shirt too low-cut?” Before I take the tags off new clothes, I ask Doug if he’s comfortable with them. It’s a good safeguard. Remember, your body isn’t just yours anymore, and your husband should never have to worry about what his wife’s clothes say about their marriage.
6. Kiss your husband good-bye every morning and hello every evening. I read somewhere that a wise wife should make her husband sorry to leave for work and eager to return home. Do everything you can to make that a daily reality for him.
7. Genesis 2:24 says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” That’s the NIV. The KJV says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” “To cleave” to something means to stick with it, to stand by it, to hang on and never let go. That’s how husbands and wives should hold onto each other. It makes sense that if two people share every part of their lives together for years on end, they will end up merging, becoming one. But the reverse is also true. If a wife starts pulling herself away from her husband, cleaving or sticking to something else instead, sooner or later the union of marriage will suffer. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Don’t cling to anything that pulls you away from your husband.
8. Discuss the big issues (household budget, the holidays, children, jobs, etc.) well ahead of time. This doesn’t mean you’ll solve these questions in one sitting, but you’ll at least get a good head start. I remember Doug and I sitting at Chili’s, eating nachos and discussing who we would invite to our wedding, who would be our groomsmen and bridesmaids, what kind of house we’d live in, how many kids we would have… all years before we even got engaged. Did those conversations reveal any lasting answers? No, but they were great training for when the time came to make those decisions for real.
9. Apologize early and often. Because really, what have we got to lose? Nothing, except maybe our pride. And since pride goes before a fall, anything that keeps us humble is to be embraced. Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” And when you apologize to your husband, don’t just shoot out the automatic phrase “I’m sorry.” Be sincere, and add a little more detail: “I’m sorry for [insert specific sin here]. Will you forgive me?” This shows that you recognize exactly what you did wrong and invites the concrete step of your husband saying, “Yes, I forgive you.” Without this step, the circle of repentance and forgiveness is incomplete. It would be like you confessing a sin to God, and having Him grumble, “Whatever, it’s okay.” On the flip side, offer your husband forgiveness whenever he asks (and even when he doesn’t), however many times it takes. (Remember the seventy-seven bit from Jesus and Peter? Matthew 18:22. That’s all the more true when forgiving a husband as when forgiving a brother.)
10. Prioritize togetherness. There will be times when your schedule reaches the breaking point, and something’s gotta give. Don’t let that “something” be your time together. If you occasionally have to skip church or a family event or a friend’s birthday party to spend time with your husband, do it. And don’t feel guilty. Protecting your marriage should always come first.
11. Celebrate miniversaries, as well as the “big” once-a-year anniversary, in fun, personal ways. For our six-month anniversary, Doug surprised me with a trip to a movie theatre that was having a special showing of the 80’s classic Goonies and letting fans get autographs and pictures with one of the actors. It was crazy and fun and a perfect night out for us. Then for our one-year anniversary just two weeks ago, we drove to Niagara Falls, which had been a runner-up honeymoon location. Now, would everybody enjoy watching a 25-year-old movie on the big screen and driving 1,300 miles to see a giant waterfall? No. But these trips were perfect for us. Find out what works for both of you and make time to celebrate your miniversaries.
12. Pray together every day, even if it’s only for five minutes, or two minutes, or 30 seconds. Whatever you've got. James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” I wish Doug and I were more consistent in this area, but we’re working on it. It’s easy to let life, sleep, and different schedules get in the way. But remember that Satan would like nothing more than to break up your marriage, and sabotaging your daily prayer time is just one way he will try to weaken your bond. Don’t let him do it. Make prayer a daily habit. Make it a priority.
13. I don’t have a verse to back this up, so as Paul would say, this is my word, not the Lord’s. With that said, here’s my take on martial conflict. Say there’s a big decision you disagree on. Maybe he wants to rent a condo and you want to buy a house, or he wants to buy a brand new car and you think a used one would be fine, or he wants to switch churches and you don’t. Whenever this happens, and you feel strongly that he’s making the wrong decision, here’s what to do. Express your concerns and explain calmly and reasonably why you feel the way you do. Then, pray for God to give him wisdom. And after all that… follow your husband’s lead. Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” Now obviously, the Lord is perfect, and husbands are not. So does this mean you’re stuck with whatever stupid decisions he makes? Well, to quote the wise Greek mother in the movie My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding, “The man is the head of the house. But the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.” A good wife knows how to gently turn her husband in the right direction, without ever twisting, shoving, or giving him a headache in the process.
14. No matter how tempting it might be, don’t try to change him. Time will. And if you’re praying for him consistently, God will. Or, he might just change you to be more patient and more loving. Iron sharpens iron, says Proverbs 27:17, and I’m convinced that God uses a husband’s rough edges to smooth out the sin in his wife’s heart.
15. Grace, grace, grace… Give your husband grace, and let him give you grace. As James 4:6 says, God gives us more grace… more than we deserve, more than we expect, and certainly more times than we can count. So, when you’re frustrated with your hubby, give grace. No matter how much he might deserve an “I told you so,” give grace. When you’ve had a bad day and he says or does something that makes it even worse, give grace. When in doubt, give grace.
And there you have it, the top 15 things I’ve learned in my first year of marriage. Let me close in prayer.