Rachel and I just celebrated our first wedding anniversary on May 23rd. So here I am, starting my second year as a husband. I’m no longer a newlywed, and in the parlance of sports, my rookie year is over.

It’s been a great first year. I say that with hesitation because I know many, many couples have had a crappy first year as they get used to each other and learn how to put the other person first. Much like my years of singleness, some were rough and some were awesome, and I know we will move in and out of different types of seasons. “For better or worse,” and all that :)

Some of you will have read my blog entitled “What I’ve Learned in Six Months of Marriage” – I hope it provided you a nuanced picture of the struggles we did/do face. These are in the areas of communication (because we’re different people who can’t read each other’s minds!), the reality that I can never coast (demonstrating love in any great relationship must be consistent and enduring), time (because marriage takes a ton of time in order to do well), and watching my mouth (because it’s easy to betray frustration or impatience and be a bit of a jerk sometimes). I must stay ever vigilant and mindful about those matters – and have been. At this time, I wanted to intentionally reflect on the first twelve months of matrimony from two other angles.

This summer, we backpacked parts of Europe for a few weeks, and what struck me was the lack of wedding rings on young adults and even middle-aged adults. I never really used to look at people’s hands, but now I do – as if their ring finger gives me feedback about who they are as a person. I know there are a million reasons why a person may not be married or get married, but coupled with what I’ve learned about the culture in many European nations, most people don’t want the “marriage” sort of lifestyle. The responsibility. Being tied down. The perceived lack of independence. The weight of commitment.

This made me sad. I am all about solitude, and independence, doing what I want when I want, and charting my own course – but from my perspective now on the other side, marriage is not about the loss of all that. It’s about gain. The very, very best thing about marriage – in my opinion – is that I have Rachel in my corner. She cheers me on. She encourages me. She understands why I am the way I am – the way I mask certain insecurities, the way I try really hard and sometimes still fail, the way I struggle in certain situations, the way I fight the demons and doubts, the way I hope and dream. And she prays for me – and I know she does it with her whole heart, out of the purest of love, devotion, and commitment.

I kind of want that for everyone. It’s really wonderful and while God is and always will be my main anchor, Rachel through our marriage relationship provides another constant source of stability and strength and support.

I wish that so many more of those who I saw while walking the streets of London, or Paris, or Munich had that. Maybe they don’t want to get married. That is their choice, and a solid choice. But I hope that someone else in their life provides an anchor of unconditional love for them. I just think it makes life easier. My marriage to Rachel provides that for me.

The second observation I have after my first year of marriage occurred to me while doing a lot of hiking in the Swiss Alps. If you haven’t been or are not familiar, villages are spread up and down and across the mountainsides, and most tourists travel between them via train or cable car. A few people hike between villages. But what we realized was that most people travel via train or cable car to a higher village, and then hike down to one at a lower elevation. Rachel and I did the opposite. And we realized this while we were slogging our way upward and couples kept passing us on their way down. And I was like, what the pez, why do we always do things the hard way? But of course, I said it tongue-in-cheek and never actually wanted to do it the other way around. And neither did Rachel.

And after talking it out with her, this is what we realized…. We are not masochists. We don’t do it to prove our strength or endurance or mettle. And we’re definitely not better than anyone else for doing so. But we did think it was a metaphor for life. On one of the hikes, I started singing to Rachel improvised lines from Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl (“You’re my Uphill Girrrrrrrrl!!!“). Even though I couldn’t hit the high notes, it still made her smile.

I’m glad she is like that. I am glad we are like that. We choose to go uphill when everyone else is going downhill. We choose to climb when there is a much easier way to travel. And specific to marriage, she commented on a train ride a few days later that recently-married couples in a relationship will face a rough slog of it sometimes – and if they’ve never trained or prepared themselves for those times, it’s going to be brutal.

We continue to intentionally work on ourselves – individually and together – so that the uphill seasons of our married life aren’t as brutal as they could be. Yes, they will be tough (just like it was every single time we headed up a mountain trail). But they were doable. They were bearable. And they made us better. We regularly tackle our emotional health. We assess and adjust boundaries. We identify and articulate personal struggles. We stop and fix small conflicts or weirdnesses before they fester and metastasize. We allow each other the freedom to point out unhealthy patterns or destructive attitudes, and receive correction in love – reminding ourselves that the other person has our best at heart.

None of this is easy. It would be much simpler to just sweep those things under the proverbial rug and get on with working and paying the bills and dealing with health issues and in-laws and kids, and eking out a little comfort and pleasure when we can. And while we could definitely coast by taking the downhill path for a while, those problems will rear their ugly heads in much worst manifestations than if we dealt with them upon first notice. This has to remain our priority, perhaps above all else in our lives.

Every time we confront wounds from the past, or we ask the hard questions, or face the dysfunctions, or call out the false pretensions, we’re getting stronger. And it’s not only increasing our ability and skillset, but also our confidence that we can overcome anything. Plus, anyone who has ascended a hill – let alone a mountain – knows the view is so much better and the air so much sweeter when you reach the summit. This is true literally, and it’s true figuratively – in education, business, and of course in relationships. Our love grows deeper every time we go uphill, and work together towards reaching the top. What is more, our intimacy becomes richer – on every level. This is the glory of marriage. I can’t even imagine what a lifetime of this will produce. God willing, we will keep climbing. For you, for me, the way is the same: one step at a time.