After two and a half years of marriage, the phrase my husband and I return to again and again is this: “Life is hard, marriage is easy.”
I am painfully aware that this isn’t true for everyone. I know plenty of people with hard marriages, people who struggle to keep their relationships happy and healthy. But for us, marriage has been a pleasant surprise—not nearly as difficult as everyone warned us it would be, and a whole lot more joyful than we expected.
Sometimes I think we just got lucky. I’m certain I married up, and Sam swears the same. Our personalities are fairly compatible, our work allows us to spend a lot of time together, and our families get along wonderfully.
But when I look at what we’ve gone through in the past two years—transitioning cultures, living under the poverty line, and dealing with high-stress mission work in Eastern Europe—it’s an absolute miracle that our relationship didn’t crumble under the “life is hard” weight. No amount of dumb luck could combat that kind of life. We had to be doing something right.
Sam and I have been talking it over lately, and here’s what we think makes our marriage easy.
We Both Lead and Submit
Sam and I are passionate egalitarians: we believe leadership is merited by gifting and God’s call rather than gender. So, in our marriage, there is no one leader and no pre-assigned roles. In most areas, we co-lead. In others, we default to whoever is more gifted or feels called to take the reigns. While this might appear chaotic to more traditional couples, we enjoy the dance of it all, and the steps come naturally. I love seeing Sam shine in his strengths, and he rests easy as I cover his weaknesses.
We also practice mutual submission, and believe that the best way to lead is to be the first to submit. We’re constantly preferring each other, rather than fighting to get our own way, and we deeply trust one another to meet our needs without having to demand anything (though we definitely ask for what we want, which is a healthy habit unto itself). This can be a difficult cycle to start, especially if you have trust issues, but I assure you that it’s worth the vulnerability. With time, it only gets better.
We Do Hard Things Together
I know I just said that the “life is hard” bit could have tanked our marriage, and that’s still true, but it also forced us to band together. In any good story, the heroes aren’t very heroic until they have a mutual enemy to vanquish. For us, that enemy looked like culture shock, financial anxiety, and exhaustion as we struggled to make a life in Kosovo. We absolutely had to love each other, or neither of us was going to survive.
Sam and I never bicker. Never. Because bickering expends energy, and we quickly got in the habit of ignoring small slights in favor of dealing with much bigger problems. When I hear most American couples fight, I hear a lot of boredom. If you find yourselves arguing over what carpet to get, you probably need to challenge yourselves a little more. There’s plenty of hard in the world, and your relationship deserves a better story than redecorating.
We Practice Gratitude
This is another habit we picked up in Kosovo. When life got tough, we forced each other to list things we were grateful for, and eventually it became second nature. Now, we thank each other for everything: cooking, laundry, sex, communication, thoughtfulness, protectiveness. And it’s not some phony show we put on—we are really and truly grateful for all these things.
Besides general respect and faithfulness, nothing in our relationship is an obligation. Everything is the cherry on top. Everything gets treated as special. This is another bonus of not having assigned gender roles. I get thanked for cooking as much as Sam does. He gets thanked for going to the bank. Even though we gravitate towards certain roles, we’re never expected to stay in them forever, and we’re appreciated wherever we are.
We Buck American Culture
As I read through Christmas cards last month, I couldn’t help but notice how often people used the word “busy” to describe their year. Americans love this word, almost as much as they love keeping busy, but I see it as an epidemic. I know far too many people who rarely see their spouse, all because they want to do everything all the time.
Working hard and challenging yourself is great, but it’s not worth sacrificing your marriage. Sam and I are constantly saying “no” to things because we want to stay home and do nothing together. There’s nothing really efficient about relationships, and I’m learning to love that. In this season, we’re on furlough, living with family, and working minimal hours. We could have chosen to work more, make more money, and be less dependent, but we decided to seize the opportunity to live slowly and focus on relationships instead. It’s been so healthy for both of us, and our marriage has never been sweeter.
What makes your marriage wonderful? I love hearing how people love each other well, and I’m still learning about this marriage thing. Tell me all about it.