18 Simple Things I’ve Learned About the Not-So-Simple Art of Marriage

Eighteen years ago I walked down the aisle to this handsome guy. 

And yes, I did steal him from the local high school. Go ahead and gawk. I’m well aware that we look like children playing dress-up in a white dress and tux. 

Perhaps I’m the last person who should write a marriage post because I’ve gotten it wrong more than I’ve gotten it right. But marriage has taught me more about life and love than any other relationship and that’s what this post is about. 

As is the case in all my posts, much of what I write is directed at myself. But in case you need some thoughts on marriage too, here you go. 


1. Marriage is like a garden. This is an unfortunate metaphor for me because I tend to neglect and therefore kill all living things that sprout from soil. Nonetheless, I’ve learned that marriage will wither without consistent and thoughtful cultivation.

2. We change. And we don’t change. My husband and I got married the summer after college graduation at the ripe old age of 22. Though I thought we were prepared and mature and invincible at the time, I realize now that we might as well have been toddlers. During rough patches {and by “rough” I mean the patches in which one entertains murderous thoughts}, it’s easy to indulge thoughts like: We got married so young; we’re simply not the same people. As we’ve grown up, we’ve grown apart.   

Yes, of course we grow up and change. We’re supposed to. But perhaps more stays the same than we may realize. Strip away the conflict and the kids, the budget and the balancing of schedules, and you may find that the endearing person you married is still very much there. 

Focus on the differences and you’ll find them. Focus on the the endearments and you’ll find those too. 

Think back to Point #1. What might you do to cultivate the beauty and wonder of that amazing person you married all those years ago? Chances are he or she is still there; they just may need some “tending to.”

3. Don’t value anyone’s opinion above your spouse’s. Not your best friend’s or your mom’s or your mentor’s or some expert. This is your life partner, the person you are one with. 

His opinion matters not because he is perfect or even right. His opinion matters because he’s your #1 person. 

Value him by valuing his thoughts and ideas. And then stand back and watch what happens.

4. Receive the love. If he tells you you’re beautiful or talented or funny, believe it. If she tells you that you’re handsome or wonderful, believe her. Don’t offer disclaimers and don’t wish for others to believe these things about you. This is your spouse. Cherish how he or she feels about you.

5. The Golden Rule especially applies to marriage. When something comes out of your mouth or a certain tone undoes whatever good thing you may have just said, ask yourself this question: If he had just said that to me in that way, how would I feel? Or go one step further: If any adult had just said that to me in that way, how would I feel? 

It’s a sobering questions for self-reflection. {Ask me how I know.}

6. Redefine conflict. We’ve learned that growth and “success” in marriage is not the absence of conflict. Instead, it’s how quickly you get through and recover from the conflict. Conflict, if handled and processed with vision and grace, can be one of the most fruitful things a marriage experiences and continues to experience as it grows deeper roots and bears more fruit. 

You’ll never love conflict and you’ll probably always have a tendency to avoid it. Be brave and ask God to fill you with grace and courage. You have to navigate difficult and sometimes unimaginable situations and emotions as you journey through life together. The beauty that dawns on the other side of necessary and fruitful conflict is worth the struggle. I promise. 

7. The Myth of “Quality Time.” Two years ago my pastor’s wife challenged me in the best way on this issue. She told me that it takes all kinds of time with someone to really know them. All time is quality time

And it’s true. You can’t cram the richness of the accumulated mundane into a capsule labeled “quality time,” swallow it whole, and then expect a relationship to flourish. Relationship takes time together. Not fun time, not special time, not romantic time. Just time. Don’t resent or neglect the everyday moments. They matter.

8. Kill comparison. And while you’re at it just go ahead and delete the word “normal” from your vocabulary. Your marriage is your marriage and no one else’s. No aspect of your marriage needs to look like your sister’s or your friend’s or that “perfect” couple’s at church. And it shouldn’t. Embrace the uniqueness–quirks, frustrations, and all–that is your marriage. 

Comparison is a murderer and a liar. It kills the imperfect but meaningful life you already have by comparing your “worst” with someone else’s “best.” 

9. Think of your marriage as a story. Which story would you rather read? 

Story #1: Two perfect people find one another and live a life of perfect jobs and beautiful children, fortune and glam, dream vacations and the best parties. They never fight. They get everything they want. Life isn’t so much a journey; it’s more of a plateau. A plateau of perfection. They are paragons of all that the world deems successful. In the end, the characters are much the same as they were in the beginning.  

Story #2: Two people, deeply flawed but very much in love, get married. Life is harder than they’d planned. Marriage isn’t always a bed of roses. They love, they sin, they doubt, they believe. Their life is a journey with peaks and valleys and everything in between. At times it looks like all is lost but they do not give up. Most importantly, the Author of the story doesn’t give up on them. In the end, the characters are scarred but sincere, broken but beautiful. Their life together was rich and true, not because it was perfect but precisely because it wasn’t. 

10. Find the funny. We laughed all the time when we dated. You too? That’s what I thought. No matter how serious your situation or how mundane your days may seem, find the funny together. Whatever it takes, laugh. Kids are good for this. So is making fun of yourself. And also You Tube.

11. Go away. Yeah, I know what I said about the myth of quality time but that doesn’t mean you can’t ever have romantic time. We just got back from a 2-day getaway. We didn’t spend much money but we did spend a full 48 hours away from home, kids, work, laundry, and dirty dishes. 

I can’t even tell you how restorative it was. I now think of these times together as an investment instead of an indulgence. And really, I’m thinking we can’t afford not to take time away to recharge and reconnect.

12. Know thyself. Whatever it takes, know who you are, how you’re wired, what makes you tick, what makes you come undone. I so wish we had done more of this in our younger years. 

There are lots of ways to take inventory of yourself: the Myers-Briggs test, StrengthsFinder, the Enneagram. {It’s best if you have someone who understands these inventories and can help you.} I’m no expert but I do know that getting a better idea of my own intricacies and the ways in which I interpret the world around me, has helped me tremendously. 

I better understand why I relate to my husband in the ways I do. And he understands why I am so crazy and confounding. Which brings me to the next point…

13. Know thy spouse. This is crucial. My husband and I are opposites in every way. Every. possible. way. That’s why we work. And also why we don’t. But knowing how one another thinks and operates, even if we can’t personally understand how the other thinks and operates, has been invaluable. Communication, responses, approaching the inevitable decisions that life brings–all have improved because we’ve made an effort to know and even appreciate the uniqueness of the other.

14. Counseling is not a badge of failure. Why do we think this? Why do we think we need to be in full-on crisis before we get help? If you think you may need it, you probably do. It doesn’t even have to be a formal, expensive thing. 

Sometimes we simply need the gift of objectivity that outside perspective brings: a pastor, a trusted couple who’s a bit further down the road than you, or an actual marriage counselor.  

15. Don’t struggle alone. Perhaps you want counseling and your spouse doesn’t. That’s okay. You can still go for you and it will help. Perhaps you’ve been privately struggling for years and no one knows. Resolve to talk to someone you trust sooner, rather than never. 

God gave us relationships and communities because we need them. There is help, healing, and freedom when we bring what’s hidden into the light.

And because we are human and we will always struggle, it’s important that we continue to have ongoing conversations with trusted others about how our marriage is doing.

16. Your story is never over. We know marriages that have overcome unspeakable odds and those that didn’t make it. And if you’re in the latter category, hear me: you are not a failure or a second-class citizen. 

Marriage is a good and sacred gift but it is not the ultimate thing. 

Your marriage may have ended but that doesn’t define you and it doesn’t limit the beautiful hope of redemption in your life. Sometimes we have to let go of the good gift of marriage because there are decisions and circumstances beyond our control. 

If this is your hard road, keep journeying my friend. Do not give up and do not live in a place of defeat. I pray that Grace will give birth to acceptance, hope, and courage in your life. 

17. Guard your emotional intimacy. I’m all about close relationships with trusted others in my life. I have deep and honest connection with friends and family. Truly, there are certain situations in which I need a female perspective, just as my husband needs perspective and camaraderie with men in his life.

But. The deepest emotional connection in my life needs to be with my husband. If I find myself telling someone else certain things that I don’t feel comfortable telling him, well, that may be a red flag. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. 

18. Get back to dreaming. Way back in those early years, we dreamed. We talked about them, planned for them. The beauty and wonder of possibility is intoxicating. 

But real life enters the picture, doesn’t it? Though there’s beauty in the midst of all that real, it’s so easy for the dreaming to die. 

Somewhere along the way, we stop dreaming and focus on surviving. 
A couple of years ago we started dreaming again and it ignited a spark. And though none of those dreams have actually transpired, in the dreaming we learned about the depth and desires of the other and even about the unspoken depth and desires within our own selves. 

Dreaming together isn’t entirely about the destination. It’s about the intimacy forged in imagination.

So go ahead. Dream together, and see what happens.


Happy Anniversary to my husband of 18 years. Saying yes to you is one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. Also, my mom was right when she predicted all those years ago, He’s going to age really well. 

Want more thoughts on marriage? I shared a few others on my 40th birthday post


{This post was featured in Grace at Home over at my friend Richella’s place, Imparting Grace.}


  1. says

    I don’t know WHICH chapter this will be, but it will definitely be one of the best in your book! You have so aptly, succinctly, and clearly written volumes in one little blog post. How DO you do that?


  2. says

    Happy Anniversary! I’m thankful from afar for the testimony of your marriage and family :). Number three on your list really hits home with me. I’ve been working on it: really seeking his advice, really listening to it, really following through. It’s mostly mundane, everyday stuff but I’m learning how to show my husband that I value what he thinks more than any other person.

    Love you, friend!

    Also? Your mom is awesome. She leaves the sweetest and most encouraging comments.

  3. says

    Happy Anniversary, Marian! These are beautiful words on marriage… I love number 17… Yes, your husband MUST be your best friend and closest confidant. May God continue to bless you for many years to come.

  4. says

    Great post!!! I love this line as I am praying for help to stop picking up the awful habit of comparing: Comparison is a murderer and a liar. It kills the imperfect but meaningful life you already have by comparing your “worst” with someone else’s “best.”

  5. says

    Lots of great stuff here, Scooper. I’ve long expressed my belief in your pastor’s wife’s thoughts on quality/quantity time. So true. And I think every other point you’ve made is a good one.
    I celebrate 43 years of marriage to my best friend in a few weeks, and, like you, I’ve gotten it wrong as much as I’ve gotten it right, but God is good when I am not, and He has kept us together and somehow kept us best friends after all these years. I wouldn’t want to spend time with anyone more than my husband. And I still think he’s the cutest guy around. : )

  6. says

    Bravo! Well said! And well lived. It’s a very, very REAL life together, isn’t it? It ain’t always pretty, but it’s real! And you’ve put together a must-read list of advice. Thank you for sharing your hard-won wisdom.

    And congratulations! Here’s to many more years!


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