Peter and I have been married for 20 years this week. I am grateful in a way that words cannot convey for the ways we have grown up together. I’m not going to proclaim publicly the specific reasons I’m grateful for him, but I will offer four things that have helped us to stay connected to each other and also to grow into ourselves:
One, when we were still dating, we reoriented our relationship so that it wasn’t only about the two of us loving each other, but rather about the two of us rooted in a love that was deeper and wider and broader, more patient, more kind, and more everlasting than ours would ever be. (See Ephesians 3:14-21 and 1 Corinthians 13).
Also, I should note, this didn’t happen because we were super awesome spiritual people, but rather because I decided to walk away from our relationship and hang out with another boy for a while and when I came back to Peter we both knew we needed a deeper foundation for our relationship than each other.
We stopped allowing our worlds to revolve solely around each other and instead wondered how we might be called to love and serve others side by side and support each other in lives of love. That deeper love has sustained us, anchored us, nourished us, and connected us. That deeper love also has kept us from thinking that we have to save each other, be enough for each other, guide or lead each other, or perfectly love each other.
Two, we have a weekly date night. I know. It’s hard. It costs money. Who has that kind of time? And how do you even find, much less pay babysitters? And there are so many other obligations, and the kids sometimes feel neglected, and do we even still have things to talk about after two decades? We’ve all been there.
But week after week, usually on Thursday nights, we make a reservation, get a little bit dressed up, and go out to dinner. It sounds romantic, and sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s routine–I hear about his meetings, his frustrations, his exhaustion. Then he hears about my meetings, my frustrations, my exhaustion. Sometimes it’s terribly painful–I end up crying regularly at those dinners, and he’s been known to shed a tear or two as well.
And yet the cumulative effect of valuing that time with each other more than any other recurring event has built a base of trust and support and love that has carried us through the tedium and the pain and has often offered us life and joy. (And sometimes evenings just won’t work, so we schedule another time together–lunch, a Saturday morning hike, a weekday morning walk.)
Three, we have a weekly(ish) calendar meeting. We sit down for an hour once a week and talk about who is driving William to soccer practice and how Marilee will get to sleepaway camp this summer and whether Penny can have an iMessage account so she stops texting people from my phone. We talk about our finances and when the garage is going to get cleaned out and how much to spend on outdoor furniture. That way all that stuff doesn’t overtake date night, and our five minutes of seeing each other in between shuttling children hither and yon in the evenings doesn’t become the only chance to schedule things or ask who will take responsibility for whatever chore/errand/task needs doing.
And finally, we protect Sundays. It took us years to settle into this rhythm, and now our bodies, minds, and spirits expect a respite from the busy of the week. These days are almost embarrassingly simple. We go to church in the morning. We eat lunch as a family. Peter takes a nap and the kids and I read. We go for a family walk if it’s nice and play a game if it’s raining or cold. We sometimes have a full family meeting (at least once a month), which includes items various family members have flagged for discussion and giving out allowances. We always take a quick look at the week ahead. We eat dinner. We go to bed.
Peter and I have an imperfect marriage now, and the same will be true in another twenty years. But we have established some practices that have helped us grow along the way. And we have been sustained and nurtured by a deep, abiding, perfect love, a powerful love that comes from outside ourselves and yet connects us to each other all the more.