The American Lie

A few weeks ago I was having dinner with my husband at a small restaurant near our home. There was a couple seated directly behind me carrying on with mostly meaningless, and rather annoying, conversation. I admittedly wished they would just be quiet… until their conversation turned to marriage. It started off with how they were at that age where lots of their friends are getting married or having babies. I, too, have seen this trend among young people I know. The young woman spoke of a friend who is “only 20 … I mean, she hasn’t even lived her life yet.” She mentioned that she likes getting to do what she wants and having “no responsibilities.” The two also mentioned how not “finding yourself” or “experiencing” the world prior to marriage would doom you to divorce.

Like I’m sure many of you have, I recently read an article titled “23 Things To Do Instead Of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23” (You can read the original article here.) This article, and the couples conversation, didn’t so much offend me as much as it saddened me. We really do live in a culture today that teaches young people to fear marriage, to look down on it, and that they “owe themselves” something that they can only get by being wild and reckless in their twenties. Our culture emphasizes and encourages independence and selfishness. It teaches us that it’s okay to be self-centered, to care more about yourself than others…

This isn’t the young American dream. It’s the American lie.

All I have to say about the article is that it strikes me as naive and, quite frankly, rather rude. It essentially mocks the institution of marriage while simultaneously belittling it. I also have to say that anyone who uses the term “YOLO” is not mature enough to understand marriage, let alone make assumptions of the marriages of their young counterparts. Marrying young is certainly not “hip” or “cool” in today’s society, and I will be the first to tell you that it definitely isn’t easy either. It is a big commitment, the biggest one you’ll ever make aside from becoming a parent, and you have to work at it every single day.

There is no denying that divorce and dissolution of marriage is definitely prevalent in married couples who are young. But did you know that you are most likely to get a divorce if you have been married 5 years or less? And that this estimated risk is regardless of age when first married? There is actually no reputable evidence that shows that 50% of all US marriages truly end in divorce. Sure, if you look at the CDC stats it appears that in a given year there are twice as many marriages as divorces. But how many of those marriages began and ended in that same year? Probably not many. In order for those numbers to truly represent a 50% divorce rate, half of the marriages that take place in a given year would have to end in that year. Truth is, it’s extremely hard to get a good idea or representation of how many American marriages are ending in divorce. And in fact, the current information on divorce rates reports nothing on their ages; age when married, age when divorced, or even the length of the marriage. The NY Times, which the author of the other article references, does report that “40% of all divorces [occur] in couples under 30”, but do you think that maybe that might be because the couples who marry in their early 20’s will be in that 5-year “window of risk” before the age of 30? Which, let me remind you, has nothing to do with their age.

I’m not here to say that everyone should be getting married young. It definitely isn’t for everyone. But young adults shouldn’t fear marriage – they should embrace it as the gift it can be. It shouldn’t be a taboo – it should be celebrated. Those of us who are young and married should not have to be told over and over again that our marriages will fail – we should be encouraged to keep working at them. And we should not be told that we are “inexperienced”, because marriage is not the end of experiences.

Dating? I experienced enough dating while I was in high school. And honestly, my frequent dates with my now husband are far better than any of my previous ones.

Higher education? My husband went to two vocational schools and earned two degrees – all before we even met. I graduated high school with 12 college credits and a resume a college sophomore would envy. Now I’m a student at our state university, and I’m thankful every day that my husband is here by my side to support me through it physically, emotionally, and financially. And what’s more, after almost 20 years of marriage my dad went back to school for electrical and construction training – at the age of 43.

Travel? My husband spent a month bumming in Hawaii before we met, and I saw DC, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Minnesota all in one year. We will have many years to travel whenever and wherever we want; and better yet, we get to do it together.

My husband and I also plan on buying a house in the near future, starting a family of our own in a few years, and recently we made the decision to sponsor two children in foreign countries. All of which will be or are new experiences for each of us. My husband also encourages me to try new things all the time, whether it be foods or activities.

We were not designed to be independent beings. We were created to live in relationship – strife free relationship – with other people and with God. “We were made to live face to face with the God of the universe, who fashioned us in His reflection” (Lee Hudson, June 2013). Granted, the “strife free” and “face to face” parts went down the drain in the Garden of Eden, but the point is that we cannot live full lives independently. This idea that we should develop ourselves independently and that any kind of structure or commitment will only hinder us is one of the biggest lies that we are fed as young Americans. I have seen first hand what happens when these ideas are embraced, and do you know what I see? I see a 26 year old woman whose entire life has been focused on self advancement and on her career, who has nothing but her job, and is quickly approaching middle adulthood – alone. I see a newly married couple in their mid-30’s who are struggling tremendously to learn to coexist, because they’ve spent the last 30 years not having to grow and develop with someone else in mind – or someone else to rely on. I see people trying to plant two full grown trees in the same pot and expecting them to thrive; instead of putting two saplings in the same pot and watching them grow together – intertwining and sharing resources. I see young people, our next generation, who think marriage is a consumer item or obsolete entirely, because that’s what their media and society is telling them. And these things break my heart every day.

When Andy and I met, we just knew. We thought “why wait”, not “why rush.” I was not expected to marry him. I felt no social pressure. I wanted to be his wife. I was not afraid to face the world alone – I already knew I could. [In fact, I always expected to end up on my own. Even a year and a half before I married Andy I didn’t think I would ever be married.] We’re still growing, we’re still learning – like all other married couples. We go out, we cuddle, we explore, we read, we like being at parties with friends, we try new things. We aren’t settled down at 21 and 24 with a white picket fence; we are flying by the seat of our pants with a Christmas doormat still on the doorstep in February. But this disorganized mess of a life that we share is ours. We get to learn lessons together and change and develop together, rather than coming from completely different life experiences and lessons 10 years down the road and trying to blend together then. Our marriage is a blessing. Not a hindrance.

I didn’t ask to be put on this earth, but here I am. A young woman. A young wife. I don’t owe myself anything, and I really don’t know where my generation gets that idea. I owe everything to God, because He chose to put me – little old simple me – in the here and now. On this path. And He gave me a purpose. I owe it to Him and my husband to be grateful, respectful, obedient, kind, compassionate, and the best wife that I can be – all and only by the grace of God.

Marriage is not a cop-out. It’s not for guilt free sex. It’s not taking the easy road. It’s not until I get bored with my spouse. And it is not obsolete. It’s forever. It’s choosing to walk the narrow path, to pass through the narrow gate, and to not conform to this world. It’s choosing to walk in obedience with Christ and in the commandments of God. It’s putting your commitment to God and to your spouse above all else. It’s putting the needs of your spouse and of your marriage [or family, if you have children] before your own needs, but knowing that your needs will still be met because your spouse is doing the same for you. It’s being a team. It’s realizing that there is more to life than what this world is offering us.

So to those of you who are young and married, do not lose heart. Do not be discouraged by our media and by our society. Be a light. Be the example you want the next generation to look up to. And if you are young and unmarried, I do not wish you to be offended by my words. But I do wish you would look around at the America you live in and decide where the lies lie for yourself… Our nation is broken, and it’s not just its marriages.

These things can be applied to couples of all ages. I have geared this toward my generation simply because we are constantly being ridiculed and convicted by our own peers for choosing to be married. I hope that this article changes the way that some of you may view marriage. I also realize that I have readers from all over the world. If there are issues surrounding young marriage in your country please share in the comments below. I would be very interested to hear about it. Thank you.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” [Romans 12:2 ESV]

The First Year

This may be more than a few months late, but I’m pleased to announce that we survived our first year of marriage! We celebrated with a fancy night out (that included dinner and a horse-drawn carriage ride through downtown Anchorage) and taking the train to Whittier the following day for a day-cruise.

Andy & I with Surprise Glacier - June 2013

Andy & I with Surprise Glacier – June 2013

As I’ve said before, whoever first said “The first year of marriage is the hardest” was definitely onto something. Some days I want to strangle him (and I’m sure he sometimes feels that way too!) and there have been many days where I have thought to myself “What did I get myself into?” But more often than not I can look at my husband I think “Oh yeah” with a loving and grateful heart.

There is a stigma that surrounds people who choose to marry young. They’ll never make it. You’re throwing your “fun years” away. You’re going to change so much in the next 5-10 years. We’ve heard it all. Granted divorce rates are highest among young couples and those who have been married for less than 5 years…

I will be the first to admit that the D word has crossed my mind more times than I care to count in this last year. Our road has been long and winding, full of potholes and bumps. Marriage is a beautiful thing, but its not always pretty. I have had to continuously realign myself with God’s vision for marriage and remind myself that I refuse to let my marriage become a statistic. At least a negative one. I won’t let all those folks who adhere to that “young and married” stigma be right.

I want to share with you a few things I have learned in my first year (now nearly year and a half) as a wife. These lessons weren’t always easy for me to learn and remember – I am my fathers daughter after all! My hope for you is that you will be more open and less hard headed than I was starting out.

Yes. There will be change. In both of you and in your life together. Learning how to handle household responsibilities between two people, how to share you personal space with someone of the opposite sex, and learning to see your home as not just your home but a home that you share can all be hard things to get used to. But the point about trying to be one is that you both learn to adapt to those changes in one-another together.

As a wife and student with a stressful day job, Andy and I face fluctuations in our financial state a few times a year. I work full time in the summer and between semesters, but during the semester I cut my hours back  so I can go to school. That means our income takes a hit. Last fall, that change in income was scary and I worried that we wouldn’t be able to afford our bills or many social activities (and Christmas was coming). But we made it work. We cut back, switched to cheaper alternatives where possible, and put money away when we could. Since then we’ve both gotten raises, and when this fall semester came and I cut my hours at work in half, I felt much more secure because I knew we could take care of each other. It was one change that we adapted to together.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. This tends to be more of a problem for us ladies (but gents, you’re definitely not exempt!). It took my husband telling me several times before I learned to manage my tone of voice. He would ask me a question, I would snap at him, and immediately feel bad for doing so. And the cycle went on and on. I’ve since learned to be mindful of how I answer him (remember your mother teaching you to “think before you say”? Mmhm), and to be gentle and calm when requesting he do (or not do) something. This is especially important when your spouse hurts your feelings or does something offensive. Responding with a gentle and sincere tone generally yields a calmer reaction in your spouse.

Learn your spouses love language(s). And most importantly, learn to speak them. We don’t all feel loved in the same way as our spouses, and this is an area you should work on together to build a better relationship. For example, my top love languages are Quality Time, Physical Touch, and Words of Affirmation. I feel most loved when my husband does simple things like hold my hand, tell me I look nice or pretty today, and when he puts the phone down or mutes the television to listen to what I have to say. Can you see how that information can help my husband love me more effectively? If you don’t already know each others love languages you can find out here. All it takes is 10-15 minutes to complete the survey and you’ll get your results emailed to you. (Be sure to share them with each other!)

Get out and do things. Don’t let work, school, housework, or anything else in our day to day lives bog you down. Change things up! Pick a new activity to go try, a new restaurant, or volunteer with your church for a weekend. You will both quickly get bored if you don’t shake things up now and again, and more often than not that boredom gets taken out on each other.

Take advantage of marriage resources that are available. Find out if there is a small group at your church for married couples. Not only can you fill your spiritual and fellowship tanks, but you can also form healthy friendships with other like-minded married folks [Having married friends is also a very important thing]. Marriage Works! has wonderful resources and encouragement for couples at all stages of marriage. They offer faith based, biblical teachings and insight for marriage. Like their Facebook page to get daily encouraging words right in your news feed.

Don’t play the blame game. When you blame your spouse for problems, nobody wins. When you “win” an argument, your marriage loses. Make sure you examine your own words and actions before you point the finger. Often times both spouses are contributing to the issue, and who started it is irrelevant. What matters is you put it to rest together so that you both win and your marriage benefits.

If you survive the first year of your marriage, you’ve already beaten so many statistics. Marriage is a learning process. These things don’t happen over night, and there will always be new lessons to be learned. God doesn’t give us challenges that we can’t handle. He gives us opportunities to learn from and trust in Him.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3 NIV)

Weathered

“Waiting for the sunrise, waiting for the day. I’m waiting for a sign that I’m where you want me to be. You know my heart is heavy and the hurt is deep, but when I feel like giving up you’re reminding me…” These are words from The Afters’ song Lift Me Up. These are words I can’t stop singing.

Here is where I start my married life blogging. And I can promise you it isn’t always going to be pretty.

Whoever first said “the first year of marriage is the hardest” was onto something. One of my sister-in-laws told us in the weeks before our wedding that getting married and having children makes you realize how selfish you are. I think she was onto something too.

My husband and I have struggled tremendously in these 7 months. There has been no “honeymoon period” and we have been seeking help for a little more than a month now. I in no way wish to spill the private details of our imperfect marriage out into writing, but I have advice that I hope can spare some other couple out there the hurt, abandonment, shame, and unbelievable stress that I have felt over the past few months.

Communication is so important, as cliche as that sounds. Lack of it can destroy your marriage. I don’t mean sending text messages throughout the day or coming home in the evening and giving your spouse an entire recap of your day. I’m talking about discussing each of your needs, telling one another [calmly] when you’ve been offended or are upset about something (and listening when your spouse does this in return), and actually talking about your future – children, a house, career paths and choices, etc. Just because those things aren’t happening tomorrow or next month doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t discuss them now.

Listening when your spouse has things to say about these issues, and responding to what they’ve said, not only shows that you care about them and value their opinions, it helps you to function more as a team and less as individuals. And yes, it is normal and healthy to come home and talk about your days since you didn’t spend them joined at the hip. Just make sure you aren’t neglecting the other important communication aspects.

Love through your actions, not just your words. Saying “I love you” twice a day will not fill each others ‘love tank’ (term courtesy of two old friends of mine). The idea of “never stop dating” goes along with this one. Hold hands in the car, in church, at the movies, and when you’re out around town. Send each other cute or sweet messages throughout the day and say those things when you’re in person as well. Sit close to your spouse on the couch, even if you’re just watching TV or chatting with each other. Kiss your spouse every chance you get and enjoy it – they’re the only person you get to share that with. Surprise one another with a nice meal, at home or out at a restaurant. Be spontaneous! The list could go on forever. Do these things every day, pursue them as your pursue your spouse. Forgive me for being upfront, but don’t wait until you want to have sex for these things to come out. That may and most likely would have a negative effect on your spouse, making them feel used or only wanted when it’s convenient for you.

Leave and cleave. Yes, your parents raised you. Yes, your parents are wonderful people who will always love and support you no matter what. But when you take your vows and say “I do” you are leaving them to form a commitment with your spouse and start your own family. Your parents did it. Your grandparents before them did it. And so on. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24). This in no way means that you essentially shun your families or never speak to them! It simply means your spouse is now number one, most important in your life. You have your own home and family now. Your marriage comes before all other relationships. We recently learned at a marriage seminar that your spouse is also now your number one ministry. Their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being are now a top priority. Both spouses should strive for this.

Want to talk to someone? Talk to your spouse. Have questions about a life choice or anything else? Ask your spouse. If you have news – whether it’s good or bad – make it a habit to tell your spouse about it first before telling anyone else. No matter how big or small. Not only is this considerate, but it’s also a part of functioning as one unit. Also, don’t be so quick to bring your parents or other family members into your marriage troubles; this means anything from financial disagreements or health insurance right down to abandonment or worse. Always always always try to fix things together and involving just the two of you. There may come a time to reach out for help, but only when it becomes clear that you can’t do it alone…

Be considerate. Your spouse is a human being, designed by God, and possesses emotions, opinions, and desires. I guess you could also say here “don’t be selfish” and “never stop dating” (again). When you were dating was it acceptable to be rude or cut corners or be a slob? No. And it isn’t anymore acceptable now that you’re married. You also didn’t have to think about anyone else’s needs or opinions other than your own prior to “I do”, but guess what? Now you do. Think of it this way: You are now one body. You don’t take care of only the right side and neglect the left do you? No, because your body would break down and die if you didn’t maintain both parts equally. Your marriage is the same. You can’t focus on yourself and neglect your spouse. Your marriage will suffer and may ultimately fall apart.

So be considerate of your spouse. Pick up after yourself (your spouse is not your mother), value and respect your spouses wishes or opinions, listen to the things they have to say, and most importantly apologize when you upset, offend, or have a spat with your spouse. Not apologizing when you need to is just as hurtful as the words or actions that were said or done to cause the upset in the first place. (Sarcastic and insincere apologies are just as bad if not worse…) Both spouses should do these things.

Some of you may be wondering “But how do I know that I need to apologize?” Get in the habit of apologizing anyway. If your apology isn’t necessary, it’s likely your spouse will respond by saying something similar to “No hun, you don’t need to apologize.” It’s as easy as that.

Something all married couples must come to terms with is that things will not always be perfect and easy. Each of you will stumble. Each of you will make mistakes. You will fall short of the commandments God has given to husbands and wives. But by recognizing that, and asking for Him to help you and give you strength to pursue that goal, you’re taking a step in the right direction.

I think that’s all I can say for now. I understand that not all folks are going to agree with the things I have to say, but I hope that some of you will find this simple advice helpful and valuable. Although I may keep most parts of our marriage private, I would like to ask for your prayers. Pray for wisdom, for healing, and that the love of Christ will saturate every inch of our being together.

 

“Those who sow in tears will reap a harvest of joy; for though they may weep while going forth to plant their seed, if they persevere, they will undoubtedly return rejoicing — bringing their sheaves with them.” (Psalms 126:5-6)