We were married before I graduated college.
Pregnant with our first child shortly after. I finished college. New baby. Two miscarriages. Four more children.
Owned four homes. Rented a house and an apartment somewhere in between. Five different jobs with four different companies. Lived in four cities.
In many ways, life has been on fast-forward. We've been drinking from a fire hose.
In the course of these 12 years, we've learned a great deal. About ourselves. About each other. About the importance of marriage. And why it's worth fighting for.
We were young, in love and ready for marriage when we said yes in our early twenties. But that doesn't necessarily mean we were prepared.
12 years later, here are 12 things that have been clarified for us in our marriage:
1. 50/50 Expectations Lead to Disappointment. For a season, we viewed marriage like it was a game. A competition. If I do this, you should do that. Meet me in the middle here, do a little more there. If you do 20 things, I'll do 20. That sort of game. But the true work is done when one of you can't get to the middle. When it's up to the other to go the extra mile. Maybe that ratio is 90/10 for a season if a spouse is sick, stressed, even depressed. Don't view marriage as a scorecard, someone always loses that way.
2. Keep Adventure Alive. In my early days of dating Brooke, I pulled out all the stops. We went on long hikes, I made her candlelit dinners, I worked hard at the chase. When the years and responsibilities piled up, I let that fire die too many times. Fighting to keep adventure alive doesn't have to look like a trip to Paris; it could be a last-minute trip to a local hotel, a surprise baby sitter for the evening or even a simple handwritten note. Inject your marriage with adventure.
3. Kiss Each Other First. I'm imperfect at this, but I try to kiss Brooke first when I get home from work. Before I kiss our five kids. It's a small thing that points to a much bigger reality. For me to be a great dad, I have to be a great husband first. Otherwise, we'll become roommates who are collectively raising our kids.
4. Grit Is Often The Best Description Of Love. It was easy to love Brooke when we were newlyweds. Easy for her to love me during seasons of comfort. But it's much more difficult to fight for love when you lose a baby. Or have a huge financial setback. Or confess a really ugly secret about yourself. Fairy tales are great for movies, but real life is more often confusing, chaotic and messy. Dig in when it gets hard.
5. Real Life Happens In The Mundane. Huge promotions, babies being born, buying the dream house. The peaks of marriage are great. However, most days are mundane. I've been guilty of missing the little moments while I work to make the big ones happen. I'm realizing that life happens in those little moments. I'm learning to love the journey every bit as much as the destination.
6. Proximity Doesn't Equal Presence. Getting home from work early, getting a sitter for a date and even taking a vacation alone are all great things. But physically being close isn't the same as being close emotionally. For me, most of the time that looks like staring at my iPhone instead of looking my wife in the eye. Being more concerned with my Twitter or Instagram feed than I am about hearing my wife's heart. When you have the ability to be together physically, be there emotionally as well.
7. Comparison Will Kill Your Joy. In an age of edited facades of other people's lives on Facebook and other outlets, it's easy to feel like your marriage sucks. Like you're getting lapped by the Jones family. When I begin to compare our money, house, kids' performance and marriage to others through a distant lens, I'm the one that loses. It robs my joy. There will always be others with more; don't play that game.
8. You'll Each Have The Opportunity To Throw It Away. We all know the marriages that end in pain instead of celebration. Divorce instead of dancing at the 50th anniversary party. Brooke and I are realizing that some days it's far easier to give up than keep fighting. But each day, we keep choosing each other. We continue to be honest about where we fail each other. Because it's worth it.
9. Take Initiative For The Benefit Of The Other. We talk often in our family about whether we're being givers or takers. Are we giving and serving? Or are we only taking and using? I'd argue that life is best lived when you're giving yourself away for the benefit of another.
10. Live In Community. Marriage is hard and messy, but also beautiful and redeeming. Lived in isolation, you may be tempted to give up. But when surrounded with friends and family that know your strengths as well as your struggles, you realize you have support and encouragement.
11. Will You Forgive Me? Let's face it; in marriage, we fail each other more often than we'd like to admit. We tell a white lie, we forget a huge appointment, we get angry. There are a million other examples. Instead of shifting blame or dodging responsibility, marriages get stronger when you start to say "will you forgive me?" Even more than an "I'm sorry," this question leads to restoration and healing.
12. Love Wins. This list could be a mile long. I didn't touch on things like honesty, making time for dates and speaking highly of your spouse. But all the lists in the world won't keep your marriage strong if it lacks love. In the end, love wins. It conquers all. It removes doubt. It pushes through fear. It invites deeper purpose. Love wins.