Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What I Learned from a Year of Marriage

Some ladies at church have asked me how is married life, and isn't there anything I've struggled with this first year?

No, there really isn't, not anything between Yuya and I with our relationship anyway. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, maybe it means we chose each other well and have a peaceful, stable relationship, or maybe it means we're still in the honeymoon stage and reality hasn't set in yet? I don't want to think it's the latter; Yuya's start at his company took care of that, a nice dousing of ice-cold Japanese reality a month into our marriage.

I learned two big things about marriage this year.

One was, marriage is not so different from dating. In a lot of Christian circles, there is a kind of mysticism or romanticism surrounding the idea of marriage, this glorious end-goal of a dating relationship, a fountain of blessings, a tool for sanctification, a godly engagement of (hitherto righteously un-awakened) sexual passion, and unicorns and puppies and spiritual leadership and rainbows and sparkles.

But at least for us, it's not been so different from our dating relationship. The habits we made then, the trust we built up over the years, the basic ways we communicate (or not), remained very much the makes sense, it's not like a wedding ceremony was a mystical experience that changed us into different people! It is also true that like any human relationship, marriage is what you make it. The good things: romance, passion, sharing, companionship, partnership--are not inherently there on the other side of "I do"; they are all things that we have to work to put into our marriage. We can choose to put them in there or not. By the same token the bad things: fights, hostility, disdain, annoyances, power struggles, are not inherently in marriage either, but we put them there ourselves. For me it's very freeing to realize this. Putting the responsibility on ourselves to grow our marriage takes away both expectations and despair surrounding the idea of marriage. My side of it, what I contribute, at least, is in my control.
Whether someone believes marriage is a sacred covenant entered into by vowing before God, or just a social nicety and piece of paper, they will reap exactly what is sown into the relationship. Marriage can be anything from a special kind of hell, or a special kind of happiness and joy. It all depends on what you and your partner are choosing to make it.
For us, we are trying to model our relationship on patterns found in the Bible, where each party is thinking of the other's needs first, with honesty, self-sacrifice, and trust in God to make things right in the end. It's a lot to work on, but God is faithful!

The other thing I learned was, marriage is so different from dating! For one thing, we are now living together. Two quite different adults in the same (small) house can be a source of annoyance to both parties, but on the other hand, there is the feeling that this is it--we're stuck with each other. When we were dating, I realize I was always testing, or interviewing, Yuya. What does he think of this or that, and did that tiny thing he said/did last week make him good husband material, or not? It probably made me a pretty lame girlfriend some of the time, and it wasn't a very natural way of relating to someone, but it did make me confident I'd chosen a good one when I said yes to Yuya. There is the saying that before marriage, keep your eyes wide open, and after marriage, half-shut. And it's true. I don't "test" Yuya anymore because we belong to each other, and my duty now is not to keep on figuring out if I made a good choice or not, but to care for him as a partner in life.
So marriage is much more peaceful than dating, I've found. I don't spend sleepless hours of the night analyzing all possible meanings of that one text message he sent yesterday. There is a confidence and a trust and rest in the solemnity and permanency of our vows that we couldn't enjoy before.
Alright, marriage says, we've chosen each other and gotten hitched to the same plow, so now let's pull together! No looking back or to the side! Only forward, and together! I like this feeling, a lot. No insane worries like I had before (I swear, I must have been a pain-in-the-neck girlfriend).

Perhaps the only danger of this peaceful confidence and trust is if it goes too long unexamined, unspoken, thankless.

So, for this next second year of marriage, what I want to learn more of is thankfulness. Practicing gratitude is something that seems to fix a lot of ills. Being truly thankful for something means you've given thought to the value of the thing, and how you don't really deserve it. Thankfulness to God and to Yuya, for the large and small things keeps me humble. I get a little grumpy when cooking (a chore I dislike) but Yuya's "thank you for making this" instantly puts a smile on my face--his words give value to my efforts. Saying "thank you" ありがとう、is a way to cultivating humility...and it seems to me that humble people are the happiest. The secret, I think, is that humility puts the key to happiness in your own pocket. If I'm grateful for everything, I'm not dependent on other people or my circumstances to decide "yes, now this is good, this is happy" I'm much more free to value things as God does. And wow, does God ever value Yuya. I will never come close to loving him even a smidgen as much, but I know God must have a reason for putting us together, and I'm so grateful He did, so I'll do my best!

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