My husband and I started dating when we were sixteen. I saw a sixteen year old at Panera Bread the other day, and I can hardly believe that I was her age when I started falling for Luke. I love the fact that we have grown up together, changed together, and figured out who we are together. But even though our years of dating gave us a great start, it didn’t take long to learn that marriage is an entirely different animal.

After our honeymoon, life got heavier as we began to realize the responsibilities we now shared. Fights came easy, and stress seemed to be our constant companion. Rash words Luke spoke out of frustration didn’t roll off my back – they struck me like knives. “Just kidding” didn’t cover my flippant phrases that were laced with resentment. Selfishness quickly began to deteriorate our intimacy. Why did it seem like we were pitted against each other? What happened to the couple we were before the wedding?

Then one day, about six months in, we had a conversation that became one of the foundational building blocks of our marriage. We took the main points of that talk, scratched them down on a piece of paper, and popped it up on our fridge. We wanted to be reminded, daily, how we could better love each other. It is a constant reminder of our first year, and the little flecks of gold we found in that murky stream.

1. Stay United: We are on the same team

We used to argue about everything, and of course money was the hot button topic. We had $40.00 to spend on groceries for two weeks. Forty dollars. Here I had imagined making my husband a beautiful dinner every night after work, and the reality was we were living off of mac ‘n cheese and corn dogs. I was so upset. My dreams were dashed. For months I would have panic attacks every time we went grocery shopping.

Our landmark conversation brought to light this first point: we are on the same team. Instead of fighting each other, we pledged to learn how to manage our money together. We wear the same jersey, the same colors. We had to adjust our attitudes from blaming each other to being there for each other. If we stay united as a team, we’ll have a better chance of staying together as a couple. We’re so much better together.

2. Speak Love: No one can love you (or hurt you) like I can.

From dating to marriage, it has been our goal to be open and honest. This calls for daunting vulnerability, and a commitment to keep each other’s trust. We’ve recently shared things from our past that have haunted us for years, and we are finally free of them. But, we never would have been able to share those things if we didn’t first have a foundation of trust; a history of supporting each other.

Words spoken to your spouse have unrecognized power. You are the person who knows everything about them – from their most shameful secrets to their highest moments of achievement. You hold a sacred space in your spouse’s life. Pointing out each other’s faults and criticizing, especially when they are trying hard to change, kills intimacy. You’re on the same team, so it must also be your goal to build up instead of tear down. Make it your aim to speak life-giving, encouraging, empowering words to your spouse, daily. You’ll bring life to the very heart of your home.

3. Apply Love: Love changes us both

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
(1 Corinthians 13:4)

When was the last time you read, pondered, and prayed through this passage?  Our relationship radically changed after we talked about the implications of these words on our marriage. I remember being an absolute mess as I held that verse up like a mirror – my reflection was hideous. It took intentional effort and prayer to remember those words every time I talked with Luke. I can tell you simply that living out these verses takes an open heart and a willingness to change yourself, but the effort we’ve made to live this kind of biblical love for each other has been what makes us strong today.

Marriage still has its hard days, but there is laughter in our home and safety to be vulnerable. We cheer when the other succeeds, and hold each other when we fail. Stay united, speak love, and give love. Pray often. And believe that together, with God at the center of your relationship, you will become a much stronger couple than you’ve ever been before. Those pieces of gold we found in our first year are precious, and they are still continuing to make our marriage richer.

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