I can’t believe it, but it’s been three years since I said “I do” at the altar and married the love of my life. Three whole years. Among the joys we’ve shared together (some cool annual vacations, the birth of our first child, cheering on my favorite sports teams) and the struggles we’ve jointly endured (the passing of Rachel’s grandparents, some health issues, and some difficult work and ministry transitions), we have tried to prioritize our personal growth through it all.
You’ll recall that I reflected on what I learned after six months and one year of marriage, and now it’s two years after that. And so I thought it was important to slow down for a moment and consider if there is anything new that I’ve discovered that keeps our relationship humming along smoothly. Guess what? There is. Apart from (hopefully) serving as wisdom to others, parsing out the main themes helps me to remember always to put the lessons learned into action.
1) If you see a need, meet it.
So, in our home (and perhaps most homes?) we have certain separate duties that we are each responsible for. For example, I stay on top of cleaning the bathrooms, and Rachel stays on top of vacuuming. I handle the pest control, cars, and yardwork, and she handles the grocery shopping and errand running. I pay the bills, manage our debts, and make sure we are running an efficient budget, while Rachel shoulders the cooking (and, more recently, a ton of the baby-related stuff). We have a system that has evolved over time and which works really well for us.
However, just because we have adopted a “divide and conquer” approach to the household responsibilities of our lives, it does not mean that we stay solely in our silos and only tackle the duties we’ve been assigned.
Honestly, I really wanted it to be this way when we first got married. Before we exchanged vows, I remember making a list with Rachel that had two columns – one enumerating what I was going to be in charge of, and the other detailing what she was going to handle. I envisioned a world where our lives would be neat and tidy and caught up because each of us knew beforehand what we were supposed to manage, and we could do it whenever we felt like it – as long as it always got done.
It did not work out that way.
Because, well, you know…
I have had to learn that we are not co-workers in a place of employment where everyone has job descriptions and specializations, where we expect them to always suck it up and do what they’ve been hired to do, irrespective of how they are feeling. Instead, we are a team, and team members help each other out in order to win, to accomplish something for the greater good.
Some days I know that Rachel has had a rough day, and didn’t sleep well the night before. But then it’s dinner time, and I’m starving. And a lot of me is like, I’m tired too, and we agreed to this segmentation of duties, and I’m not responsible for cooking; you are. I’m responsible for a million other things, and life is hard and gahhhhhhhh! Mostly it’s just me wrestling internally with my fleshly desire to be selfish and my heart reminding me that I am called to rise up and meet needs and love my wife more than I love myself.
The point is, I’ve learned that in a great marriage we always need to be sensitive to how the other person is feeling physically and emotionally, and care about them by taking on their tasks whey they are struggling.
Sometimes, you have to throw your division of labor out of the window. Life isn’t neat and tidy and black and white (as much as I really, really want it to be, and have tried unsuccessfully to make it so). Rachel rises up for me in numerous ways when I am struggling or stressed out, and I’m so thankful for that. We both remember that we’re there to make the other person’s life burdens a little easier. If we see a need, we remember we’re a team, and meet it – even if it’s not in our job description.
2) Regularly communicate that you are there for them.
Okay, so I am a stereotypical guy sometimes, and as such, I have wanted to (cowardly) run far, far away from Rachel when she is in some sort of emotional turmoil. But also stereotypically, I have a compulsion to swoop in and try to rescue and fix things, and that makes me want to do whatever I can to solve her problem. Sometimes I stay away when I should instead press through the discomfort I’m feeling, and fully be there for her. Sometimes I swoop in and offer suggestions and solutions and black-and-white commentary on her complicated, kaleidoscopic situation when I should have stepped away and given her time to work through how she feels.
It’s honestly hard to know what to do. And before, when I knew that I was about to feel the weight of something heavy from Rachel instead of her normal, happy-go-lucky way of being, I would freeze and go into flight-or-fight mode. In my mind, I would be like, “Oh CRAP it is happening again!!!” and internally go on tilt.
That’s not good.
But what I have learned is that if I am regularly checking in with her by asking her “How’s your heart?” and inquiring whether there is anything I can do for her multiple times a day, it provides her genuine interest, space, freedom, and a welcome invitation to share whatever is on her mind. And it preempts any buildup of festering, unprocessed emotions. It’s very preventive.
She can safely share requests for help with work stuff, home stuff, relationship stuff if and when she wants to process about those matters out loud with me. Alternatively, she can say, “Thanks, but I’m good for now” if she really is fine, or if she still needs time to process alone before talking to me or someone else about it.
Buildup is bad. We are both trying to be intentional about being there for each other, instead of unnecessarily struggling alone and spinning in circles, or allowing resentment towards the other partner build up because they weren’t the support you thought they should have been.
3). Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Very little matters to me these days when I compare them to all that I cared about right when we got married. I don’t care how Rachel loads the dishwasher (I did back then). I don’t care if we are on time for an appointment or not. I don’t care if people come over and judge if our floors or carpets are as clean or picked up as they could be. I don’t care if the laundry piles up for a few days. I don’t care if I have to say no over and over again to people who want to get together with us.
We’re doing our best with our limited energy and time, and we are happy. We don’t need to add unnecessary stress into our lives and undermine the harmony of our relationship because we’re trying to maintain impeccable appearances or standards, and never others down. The priority has to be Rachel and Sameer. If we are great, then that’s all that matters. If I’m super caught up on everything, but our relationship is suffering, it’s not worth it. At the end of our lives, the health and status of our marriage – and how it inspired others, especially our children – means way more than having a perfectly ordered and manicured life.
This is what I’m learning. I don’t do these three things easily and flawlessly every time, but I’m getting better. Let me know if any particularly resonated with you – I’d love to hear if God used these words to show you something!