My wife Holly and I have been married 16 years. I know—it’s hard for me to believe too. It’s flown by!
To celebrate, we recently boarded a plane to Los Angeles with our three kids. We visited all the fun places: Malibu, Beverly Hills, Universal Studios Hollywood and more.
While we were soaking up the sun, we reflected on all that we’ve learned in the last 16 years—whether it came easy or hard. What we realized is this: Our understanding of marriage now is worlds away from what we thought marriage was when we were engaged.
It turns out that there’s a colossal difference between the way single people and married people think about marriage. Imagine that! So what are the biggest lessons I’ve learned from 16 years of marriage? Here’s what I came up with, and what I pray you’ll consider if you’re walking down the aisle soon yourself.
1. Holly and her family are a package deal.
When you get married, you inherit the obligations, stresses, and benefits of a whole new family. In other words, your spouse is not the only new relationship you’ll have to learn to navigate. I’m blessed to have married into a rock star family that has loved me unconditionally. I’m especially grateful for that since I came from such a broken home.
Now, you might get along superbly in the beginning when everything’s new and exciting, but imagine each other’s family at its worst and discuss how you might handle it. Even healthy families have bumps in the road, and, as a married couple, your relationships with your extended family will change. How to approach those changes may be one of your most important discussions as you approach your wedding day.
2. Little things matter!
In the early days of a relationship, everything feels grand. As you woo each other, all of the surprises, gifts, dates and even the wedding feel ceremonious and special. We’re usually the best version of ourselves.
But want to know if you could live with your fiancé(e) for the rest of your life? Consider the little things—your partner’s quirks, habits and strengths—because in the day-to-day life of marriage, those add up, for better or worse.
Early in a relationship, you tend to overlook the small annoyances that could drive you crazy years later, like your hairbrush never being where you left it. Totally no big deal, Holly . . . I promise . . . really! (I’m sure she’d say the same about my corny jokes!) So even though they may not bother you now, know that they probably will at some point. Figure out a way to deal with them as they come up so things don’t build up over time.
On the flip side, small acts of everyday kindness keep a marriage going. Romantic gestures like opening a door, pulling out a chair at dinner, buying flowers, or planning a surprise breakfast date are great. But even pitching in with the mundane tasks of daily life, like unclogging a drain or bathing the kids, can keep the fire burning. It’s kind of weird but very true!
Related: 7 Verses that Define My Marriage
3. It’s about progress, not perfection.
Every marriage is a journey of progress, not a picture of perfection. In other words, there’s no such thing as an automatic “happily ever after” when the wedding ends.
Now, true, sacrificial love, as God has modeled, is super important to a great marriage. When times are tough, it’s often all you have. But the romantic gestures and butterflies we associate with love early in a relationship aren’t enough on their own to make a marriage work. A successful marriage requires commitment, intention and lots of teamwork. Those are the byproducts of love—the kind that’s sometimes prickly instead of soft; the kind you feel toward someone even if you don’t really like them at the moment. And it’s that kind of love that sustains a marriage, even if it doesn’t feel perfect.
Holly and I don’t have a perfect marriage. No one does. But we’ve worked hard to nurture gratitude for each other. We do that by going on regular dates and occasional mini vacations, when we can reconnect and continue to learn about one another. For example, Holly recently told me on one of our dates that she wanted to get a small tattoo on her wrist. I had no idea!
We have to work hard to stay in love with our spouses. It’s an ongoing and worthwhile pursuit. I will never know and love Holly perfectly, but thank God He doesn’t call us to perfection—just progress.
As you prepare for your wedding day, you probably have a thousand things on your mind. I don’t want to discourage you as you think through some tough issues, but I do want to encourage you. I want you to know that a successful, lifelong marriage is possible—if you’re willing to put in the work.
Now, go say those I do’s. Congratulations on not only a fantastic wedding day, but on a God-glorifying marriage every day after that.