Hooray! Happy Anniversary to me! To Rachel! To us! That also means it’s time to share what I have been learning in marriage! Yep, the lessons keep coming. I think they will never stop, even twenty or thirty years into this thing (God willing!). I’ve written out what I’ve learned at our six month, one year, two year, three year, four year, and five year anniversaries, and hope you find my reflections helpful in your own romantic relationship. Now, let’s get to some of the mental notes I’ve made over the last twelve months, and perhaps – here too – you’ll find something of use.
Remember that they are not you.
Have you noticed that you tend to expect your partner to be similar to you, especially now that you’re married? In psychological circles, this is because we’ve formed an illusory connection with them called a “fantasy bond” where we see both them and ourselves as part of a couple (“we”) instead of as separate, distinct, unique individuals (“you” and me”). Sure, you are a unit moving together towards your collective goals and dreams. But your partner is not your clone.
What has helped me in my marriage is constantly remembering that Rachel is completely different than me. And that it’s okay. Actually it’s way better than okay, because if there were two Sameers occupying a household, we would drive each other absolutely crazy. Or, we would be incredibly boring and miss out on a new way to experience life. Let me try to make this practical. Rachel cannot stand visual clutter. That is, when Maya and Ravi’s toys are all over the family room floor, it really bothers her. It occupies her mind, it agitates her emotions, and she really can’t feel much peace if it stays that way. For me, I don’t really care at all. I mean, what is the point of picking them up and putting them back in the toybox in the afternoon if we all know the kids are going to pull them out and play with them again in the morning? It feels like such a futile endeavor. But, I’ve learned that I need to respect how Rachel is different from me, and just help pick up (or help the kids pick up) all of the toys every day. It’s the right thing to do, and the most loving thing to do.
Relatedly, Rachel has learned that I cannot stand aural clutter. I am used to silence. Frankly, I adore silence. I just don’t like it when the kids act like kids: yelling, hollering, screaming, crying, and even talking loudly. I don’t like it at all. It actually drives me batty. (I know you are thinking that I probably shouldn’t have had kids, but I am a really good daddy, I promise). Anyway, to deal with the aural clutter I often get exasperated with Maya and Ravi and sometimes wear earplugs (not earbuds, but earplugs that help approximate silence) all around the house. This is how I cope.
I would imagine that my behavior annoys Rachel a bit. Maybe a lot. But she doesn’t betray annoyance. From the very beginning, she has been understanding that I am wired a certain way, and just can’t handle noise. The yelling and screaming doesn’t bother her because she grew up with seven other siblings and her home was always super noisy.
But I’m different. And she’s different. And that makes us unique, and our stories unique, and what we bring to the relationship unique. We must embrace and respect our differences! And actually be thankful for them! This is one of the purest forms of love. Everything and everyone that God created is good, and we should just let people be people because we want them to let us be us.
Don’t tell your partner how to do everything.
As we grow up, we each have refined and honed a specific way of doing things – of doing life. Some of this comes from what our parent(s) taught us, some of it comes from what we’ve learned from websites and videos and blogs and books and shows, and some of it comes from our own previous experiences. I often have felt compelled to share my dishwasher-loading strategy with Rachel because I believe it’s just the most optimal way. And my strategies when grocery shopping, doing laundry, choosing a restaurant, encouraging a friend, working out, and getting other things done. But, can you imagine being in a friendship or relationship where one is always telling the other the best way to do various things? Especially when they haven’t asked for advice? That would make a person feel like they were a slave, with no autonomy and freedom of their own to live their life and do things the way that they want to do things.
So, I have learned to lean far in the direction of not giving input and advice and suggestions that are not solicited. This is hard. Even if my way is the most optimal or even the “right” way, if their way isn’t causing any damage, I just want to let it go and think about other things. Of course, I know my way isn’t always the most optimal or right. Heck, I bet it’s wrong at least some of the time! Who am I to think that I have figured out the best way to do life? I actually have so little truly figured out. Please don’t tell your partner how to do everything. No one likes to be micromanaged. Please try to keep your mouth shut more often. It will make for a much happier home.
Keep things between you and God.
Want to know something I really struggle with? It’s letting Rachel know when I’ve done something that helps the family. For example, I remember to change the air conditioning filters regularly to prevent wear and tear on our unit. Should I tell her, or should I just keep between me and God? Personally, I want Rachel to be overwhelmingly thankful that I do these sorts of things. Because there are a million of these sorts of things that I feel like I’m responsible for, and it takes a lot of time and forethought and energy, and I think I deserve to be recognized and commended for it! But am I seeking the favor of man or the favor of God? Do I want to be honored by man, or honored by God? Plus, there are numerous things that Rachel does that I know for certain I don’t see or notice. For example, she is largely responsible for the children when I am working, and I don’t have a full picture of the little (and big) things she does to keep them thriving. I mean, I see many things, but definitely not all of them. She isn’t always reminding me that she is teaching them Scripture verses, or making sure they have a very balanced diet, or making sure they are on top of their pediatrician appointments. She doesn’t tell me all of the ways she pours into our children’s hearts and minds. She’s just doing those things, and keeping it between her and God. And it’s blessing our family tremendously, just like what I do blesses our family tremendously. It’s not a contest. I want to stay humble. I want to be unassuming. I want to do things as if I am doing them for the Lord, and not for anyone else.
These are three things that I’m still working on; I haven’t mastered them. But I’ve seen fruit from the progress I’ve made. It takes intentionality and effort, but that’s what differentiates a great relationship from all of the others. We got this. God will help us. And God will help you, too. Sending you all kinds of support and love from this side – reach out if you want to chat about any of these reflections!