On December 28, 2019, I married my wife in the presence of our closest friends and family. The day flew by and my emotions ran high as we shared our vows and listened to our pastor explain the meaning and purpose of marriage. We celebrated and danced together and took hundreds of pictures with our loved ones. It was a day filled with joy and excitement for our new life together.
Three months later, we were quarantined in our small home and isolated from our families and friends for several months. My wife transitioned jobs and money was low. We never anticipated that our first year in marriage would be spent at home alone with one another.
It was a challenging season. I am sure both of us had second thoughts about the decision that we made. We experienced frustration, conflict, deaths in our families and many other issues. But being quarantined together turned out to be a powerful experience for us. Because we were at home all day with each other without much access to the world (outside of grocery shopping), we were forced to live and engage with each other in ways that we otherwise would not have had to. We learned lessons that we believe now will strengthen our marriage for the years to come.
Marriage is a community project.
The greatest lesson I learned over the last year is that my marriage is a community project. Life with my wife during our first year of marriage has exposed my need for encouragement from other men as well as my need to encourage others in the same or similar season of life. As a man of faith, I am reminded that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). This text does not only address marriage, but it also addresses the need for friendships with others as well.
Over the past year, I learned that I needed other men, peers and mentors, to help me grow and understand how I am to live as a husband and how I am called to relate to my wife. I remember calling one of my mentors and sharing a challenging situation between my wife and I. Being married for 13+ years, he was willing to listen to my concerns, to ask me thoughtful questions, and to provide helpful insights. He connected with my experience and helped me work through my thoughts so that I would continue to pursue my wife well. As I listened to his counsel, I realized that I was not alone. I had access to older men who had gone before me in this journey of marriage who could give me guidance when I needed it most.
In addition to more experienced men, I also had men who were married a few months before me who walked with me through the good times as well as moments of struggle. Knowing that I had brothers who were in the same season of life strengthened my resolve and encouraged me to grow and develop as a husband. And now, as we enter our second year together, there are men who have recently gotten married who I have been able to share my experiences with.
Marriage is a learning process.
I have also realized that marriage is a learning process. We all are evolving and this process looks different for everyone. We all have experiences that have shaped us and have revealed things about us. I am learning to live with my wife in an understanding way. I can tell you that my wife is not the person that I thought she was on December 28th. I have seen her personality more, I have experienced how she makes decisions, I have been confronted with our many differences. I realized early that I had to learn to accept my wife for who she is and not who I wanted her to be. During dating and engagement, I made assumptions based on my own understanding of who she was. In our conversations, I sometimes assumed I knew how she was feeling or thinking, rather than asking her and allowing her to share her feelings and thoughts. Making assumptions blocked us from growing in communication because I was unwilling to listen and learn. Consequently, our first year of marriage was a process of learning how to listen and how to respond to her in helpful ways.
Intimacy starts with relationship, and not just sex.
I am also learning that intimacy starts with relationship, and not just sex. As men we often think intimacy only involves sexual pleasure. We struggle with connecting with our wives on a spiritual and emotional level. But so far I have learned in marriage that intimacy begins with relationship. Relationships are formed by people living honestly and sharing life together. When I have been most honest with my wife, we have experienced true closeness and intimacy. This kind of intimacy in marriage has revealed issues and pain in our lives that we have been forced to confront and discuss in our marriage. Sometimes this comes with shame and guilt, but learning to accept vulnerability as a means of relationship has been a way for me and my wife to grow in intimacy.
Marriage has not fixed my flaws, it has exposed them.
Lastly, I have learned that I will fail my wife. This has been the toughest reality for me to accept as a man. In a year, I have failed to be the man that I know I am called to be. I have hurt her and needed her forgiveness in many ways. It is hard to look in the mirror as a man and see your weaknesses. It is difficult to know that you are not the man you want to be in certain areas of your life. Marriage has not fixed my flaws, it has exposed them. For me, one of the greatest struggles has been being honest about where I am and acknowledging my weakness. But as I grow, I am learning that failure reminds me that I am not perfect. At the same time, failure does not mean that I cannot remain faithful. Faithfulness does not mean flawless, but it means that I can recommit to the vows I've made and continue to pursue maturity. I am learning that I can still be faithful as I confess my flaws, seek forgiveness and pursue relationship in marriage. I can be faithful to share my weaknesses and limitations. I can be faithful to lead and serve even when I experience fear and doubt. Failure does not disqualify us from faithfulness. As selfless leaders, we only truly fail when we allow our flaws to direct us and define us.
True manhood requires us to learn to "fail forward." In other words, to allow our failures and flaws to lead us forward to humility and wisdom. As a Christian man, I have experienced the freedom to acknowledge my flaws in marriage because I serve a God who still calls me to follow him even as I fail. The book of Proverbs teaches us that even the righteous fall, but they will get up (Proverbs 24:16). Even in failure, men who live as selfless leaders still have the ability and the call to be faithful in marriage. This first year of marriage has given me a sobering view of myself, while also encouraging me to seek guidance, work through hard things and lead my wife out of a place of honesty and humility.