Rachel told me a while back that the seventh year of marriage is supposedly the hardest, with statistics showing that half of married couples who divorce do so by this point. I had never heard of this concept, but apparently, it’s a “thing” – and related to the “seven-year itch” (i.e., the desire to have an affair). With this in mind, and as I’ve done with our six month, one year, two year, three year, four year, five year, and six year anniversaries, I thought I’d reflect on what I’ve learned. Here we go!
Find healthy ways to navigate life’s hardships
I have come to the realization that at least for us, marriage is not hard. It isn’t. But you know what is? Life. Life is really, really hard. And the blows that life deals us on a regular basis cause us to act in ways that introduce difficulties into our marriage. If life has made it so my back hurts or I have a nagging sickness or continual migraines, it’s very easy to convey impatience, annoyance, or shortness towards my wife. If life has made it so that work stuff is seriously stressing me out, it’s very easy for me to only partially listen to Rachel when she’s talking with me, or to give her pat “answers” to her “problems” when she really just wants me to hear her heart. If life has made it so that I’m not getting enough sleep, or solitude, or peace, it’s very easy for me to shut down emotionally and walk around the house with a sullen or even cranky face that repels others. If life has made it so that I am completely depleted because of all of the demands on my shoulders, I will fall short in loving Rachel well through hugs and touches and compliments and date nights that she (and many women) rightly need on a consistent basis.
I don’t pretend to know what is going on in the marriages around me, and where the root of the struggles lie. I just know that in our relationship, figuring out healthy and functional ways to navigate, handle, reconcile, and accept the hardships of life allows us personally to be in a better “place” for each other.
Figuring out healthy and functional ways to navigate, handle, reconcile, and accept the hardships of life allows us personally to be in a better “place” for each other.
And I imagine that if this is not done, it contributes to divorce or affairs. Of course, it requires time, and it requires time-outs, but I am constantly evaluating and re-evaluating areas of our life to determine what can be improved. Sometimes It’s super hard to even summon the energy to do this, and it feels easier just to procrastinate and just go numb myself with a distraction. But I know it’s a non-negotiable. I know this kind of intentionality will keep us going. It will give us more time to notice, appreciate, and really love each other. She does the same. And together, we are better for it.
Remember you are very different from each other
Rachel and I are very different (opposites attract, right?). We can fight against this reality, or we can truly accept it and try to make the most of it. For example, we just went paddleboarding together while the kids were at summer school and it really filled Rachel’s love tank. I was happy to do that with her, not because paddleboarding makes me happy but because filling Rachel’s love tank makes me happy. When Rachel takes the kids by herself to Lion Country Safari for five hours so that I can have alone time, it really fills my love tank. She is happy to do that not because Lion Country Safari makes her happy but because filling my love tank makes her happy.
Relatedly, a couple of times a year Rachel takes the kids to her parents’ house to give me a week of peace – and truly, it is the greatest gift that anyone on earth could ever give me. She realizes my need for occasional but extended solitude and silence is not a commentary on my love for her or proof of a lack of desire to be with her. I know she has wondered and struggled about that. I know that it’s very hard for her. But she accepts the way that I am wired, doesn’t exhaust herself trying to change me into a different type of person, and makes the choice to love me in this sacrificial way. And not to sound dramatic, but it kind of saves my life every six months. I am very, very grateful.
She accepts the way that I am wired, doesn’t exhaust herself trying to change me into a different type of person, and makes the choice to love me in this sacrificial way.
Challenge and compete with yourself to be better as a partner
The last lesson I’d like to share is going to sound a bit oversentimental and perhaps even nauseating, but Rachel and I have this ongoing competition where we try to outdo the other when it comes to demonstrating love. Now I’ll admit, I don’t know how to top her giving me a gift of a week alone twice a year, but I really do try. I’m not going to enumerate the ways in which I’ve done this because the specifics don’t matter. What does matter is the mentality. I’m always looking for ways in which I can make Rachel’s life easier and more enjoyable. If she suggests she may want to do something with her girlfriends, I am super supportive and work with her to make it a reality. If there is a new skill or ability or activity she muses about trying, I am super excited for her and do all I can to facilitate it and cheer her on.
I am constantly thinking about how I can be the best husband and father possible, even (and often) at the expense of what *I* want to do. Because, as I say to myself in my mind almost every day, “that ship has sailed.” That sentiment is not expressed in a defeatist, depressed manner. Rather, I’m simply reminding myself that I chose to trade freedom and irresponsibility and immaturity for the joy of having and building and serving a family. That was my choice. That was what I signed up for. And so I’ve turned it into a game, and I take great pride in being able to bless Rachel as much and as often as possible. She endeavors to do the same. And the result of this is more mischievous smiles, more whimsy, and more romantic fun. One thing builds upon the other, it seems!
I remind myself that I chose to trade freedom and irresponsibility and immaturity for the joy of having and building and serving a family. That was my choice. That was what I signed up for.
I hope these observations give you a glimpse into my marriage with Rachel in a way that is encouraging, practical, and beneficial. I mentioned that life is really, really hard, and I always seek to level up from the experiences of others by applying what I think is relevant and tossing aside what is not. Determine what sort of perspectives and practices you might adopt for your own situation, and in turn my prayer is that you see a deeper, healthier love grow within your relationship.