When my husband Joseph and I tied the knot on this day 15 years ago, I had no idea what this day would look like. But here it is and I am glad for it. The good times have been amazing, and the hard times have been, tough. Looking back at what we have been through, here are 15 things I have learnt, thus far.
1) My marriage is a priority: There are so many things to juggle, good things which if we are not careful, can end up knocking the relationship off from the place it is supposed to be. Busy careers, two daughters to raise, organisations we are part of, extended families to support… the list goes on. These are important but I have learnt that we have to keep checking in with each other. This means spending quality time together regularly, doing small and big things to remind the other we love them, and making sacrifices when the need arises.
2) Positive role models are necessary: One of the couples I look up to, are my parents. They have been together for over 40 years now, and yet sometimes act like they have just fallen in love. They call each other boyfriend and girlfriend. They tease each other in our presence. They do almost everything including running their businesses, church ministry and much more together. They show us what marriage ought to be. Surrounding ourselves with couples like them reminds us of our commitment and shows that it is possible to walk this road happily.
3) Learning never ends: Attending marriage fellowships and seminars together is a great place to pick good ideas. One of my favourite such places is the Marrieds’ Cell attached to our church, University Community Fellowship. It’s a place where we can be open and honest with each other and other couples, listen to gentle but firm rebuke and learn simple but important things.
4) I need to be accountable to someone: There are some people in my life, especially my older brother Richard, and one of my closest friends Irene, who ask me quite regularly how my marriage is doing. They ask the hard questions, such as what I am doing to work on my weaknesses, or how far Joseph and I have gone on improving our physical, emotional and mental togetherness. They get me to reflect on where I could have gone wrong, and check to see if we have worked out the problem we had, the last time I spoke to them. They help keep me and my excesses in check. More importantly, they help me realise, I am not as perfect as I like to think, and they remind me often how Joseph is an amazing husband.
5) Joseph and I are different and that is that: Joseph is so spontaneous, sometimes he knocks the wind out of my sails, in a way that I would not have wanted. I on the other hand like to take my time planning. A couple of years ago, we sat in January to plan for the year. We decided to get a new car. I suggested we do this towards the end of the year; that would give us enough time to plan for the finances. We agreed to buy the car in August. By the time the day ended, Joseph had looked up the options online, reviewed the prices according to the budget we had and made the call to Ben, a family friend to help start the process of getting the car. Long story short, the car was with us in March. Let’s just say it took me months to get over that, and Joseph could not understand why seeing that we had managed to get a good car at a good price and did not have to wait seven months for it. But I have learnt that his spontaneity makes him the person he is, and my cautiousness makes me the person I am. Neither trait is bad in and of itself; we just need to learn how to make both work for the marriage.
6) Wealth acquired and invested as partners is beautiful: I say this cautiously, knowing many men and women have had their fingers badly burnt when they allowed their spouses to have some control over their finances. But where there is trust, open communication and honesty, it is a beautiful thing to sweat and work together to build something for yourselves. I know without Joseph’s ideas, or my nature that makes me want to save as much as possible, or his eye for a good deal, or my constant following up on investments made, we would not have what we do today.
7) You can work in the same business/organisation together: Another thing I say cautiously. Joseph and I have worked in the same company for 18 years now. Yes, 18. I cannot believe it myself. For the most part, we worked in different departments and everything was just fine. And then recently, we had to start working on some projects together. Like I said, Joseph is spontaneous, I am cautious. When he wants something done, he will push to get it done fast, but I shall take my time trying to get everyone on the same page. This creates for some arguments as you can imagine. It can get hairy. But not impossible. Knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, listening to understand the other and not win the argument, as well as appreciating each other’s previous successes, goes a long way in getting us work peaceably together.
8) Tough times are best used as learning moments: We have had some difficult times. Weeks when all the conversation we have is about the basic needs of the home. Times when I feel misunderstood. Times when he feels uncared for. The tough times will always come. But my experience has shown that they get easier to manage when we allow ourselves to reflect on them and pick lessons. After the issue has been resolved and the tension has dissipated, we have allowed ourselves the time to look back at what went wrong, how we reacted and what we should have done at all stages, in the best interests of each other. After that, we are better armed to deal with the next tough time.
9) The little things will always matter: During one of those tense times when we were not talking much, Joseph came home having shopped for a couple of items. Among those was a cup for me that had the words, “It’s time for some coffee and cookies”, as well as a bag of cookies. I love taking mild coffee. And cookies. So that went a long way in letting me know that even though we were not on good terms, I was still his personal person. Just like some mornings when I wake up a little earlier, to make him something extra to eat at work. Little things like those sometimes even do more than the bigger things.
10) Choose your battles wisely: “Will this matter two weeks, five months, or three years from now?” That is a quote I have paraphrased but it is something I have learnt to apply to my relationships especially my marriage. Some battles need to be fought, tactfully of course. But not all must be won. The punctual person that he is, Joseph has learnt to wait for me every single evening as he picks me from the office even when I delay him. The neat person that I am, I have learnt to help him gather his items together and put them away each night before we go to bed. Some things are not worth fighting over.
11) Grow together: We are different and have somewhat different dreams we want to achieve. But we know each other’s plans and thoughts. We read through each other’s proposals and letters to help improve them. We go along with each other to that event or attend that webinar where the other is speaking or presenting. We look at each other’s presentations to offer advice. We share in the joy when one of us wins something by taking the other out for a dinner. We share in each other’s sorrow, sitting side by side in bed, for hours, not talking but holding the other’s hand, after the death of a loved one. Doing life together helps us grow together.
12) Make your spouse one of the VIPs in your life: I have some people who are really close to me including high school friends, siblings, and former workmates. These people know me so well and we share a lot together. But Joseph is in this circle as well. He is my best friend and soul mate, a deliberate choice on my part. He has to know what is happening in my life, be the one of those I always seek advice from and the one I share everything and nothing with. The moment I stop doing that, he becomes ordinary in my life and that is a dangerous place for him to be in.
13) Remember the important days: These days do not have to be the usual celebrated days such as birthdays, wedding anniversaries etc., although those too are important. If the day you officially opened your business together was a big deal for you, always celebrate it. If the day you got back together after a big bad break up trumps many others, celebrate it. The point is to celebrate the things that give both of you joy and good memories. They are reminders of how far you have come.
14) To love is to forgive: One of my biggest flaws has been holding onto grudges. The day I realised doing so hurt not just him and myself, but in different ways, our children, our work and other things around us, was the day I understood I was not being a true Christian, and not loving him as I should. To forgive is to accept that Joseph is flesh and blood like me. It is to remember that he too forgives me. It is to let go of a burden on my back and chest and be free to love him like he deserves.
15) Have a song, your song: Well, this is perhaps not as important but it is cute. And sometimes cute does the magic. If you have a song you bond over, a quote you both love that melts the anger, or a prayer that connects you deeply, keep that and come back to it regularly. It is something only the two of you share the way you do and that is special.
Joseph and me? Our song is The Book of Love by Peter Gabriel. I think it is because one of the lines says, “You ought to give me wedding rings” and Joseph keeps proposing to me about three times a year.
How could I say no to him?