Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ode to My Wedding Dress and Other Thoughts on Marriage

My brother married his sweetheart on Saturday. It was such a happy day! We love welcoming new members into the family, and since Heather was good friends with three of my brothers during high school (they were all in the band together), she's felt like part of the family for a long time. My brother was beaming all day long, and she was absolutely beautiful.

She didn't need help to be as lovely as she was, but I still like to think that I contributed, because she wore my dress :)
I have to say, I loved my dress when I wore it, and I LOVED seeing my dress worn and loved again. Seriously, I was ridiculously tickled that Heather wanted to wear it.

I was never one who was wedding-giddy until I got married. My wedding day seemed almost perfect to me then, and still seems almost perfect in my memory. Even better, in my mind that wedding day (and dress and everything that went with that day) represents the wonderful marriage that has come after it. It will be seven years for us this July. I am grateful for my sweetheart and the life we have built together.

Marriage has been the best thing to happen in my adult life, more than my degrees, my experiences abroad, my work experience. Marriage to Dave has been so absolutely amazing because:

  • I have had someone to support me through the difficult path-finding decisions of adulthood.
  • I have had someone to push me to pursue dreams I might not have had courage to otherwise.
  • I have had a best friend to plan with, talk about my good days and my bad days with, to have thought-provoking conversations with about topics that are sometimes too controversial to talk comfortably with others about, to travel with, to giggle with and make endless inside jokes with. Turns out, having your best friend be your partner throughout life is pretty awesome!
  • We have had two beautiful daughters together. There's nothing - absolutely nothing - that can compare to that. And they need their Dad around, to rough-house with, to bike ride with, to start saving for their college educations for them (and for lots of other moments that are hard to put into words). I love David as a dad. 

When LDS couples are married in sacred temples, we don't stand side-by-side, we kneel across from each other and hold hands across an altar, with our loved ones sitting all around us. David and I, like Jordan and Heather, were married in a room very like this one:

It is a beautiful and simple ceremony where husband and wife make binding promises to each other and the Lord. We believe that in these rooms, husband and wife are married for eternity. Witnessing my brother's ceremony was a powerful reminder to me of the promises I made to Dave almost seven years ago and the blessings that can come to our family if we make our marriage a top priority in our lives.

I appreciated the counsel that the sealer gave to Jordan and Heather before the ceremony began. He reminded them that we are to love our spouse unconditionally. It seems obvious, but I was struck by that. So often we talk about the unconditional love that a young child or a pet gives in their innocence. Marriage is an incredibly vulnerable thing because no other person gets to know our weaknesses so well, yet we have to trust that our spouse will love us wholly anyway. Even though I know Dave's weaknesses better than anyone else on earth (except maybe his mother), my love for Dave should be just as unconditional as the love Madelyn gives him. It was a striking thought.

Another reminder the sealer gave was based on Genesis 2:24: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife." The sealer reminded us that our duty is to leave not just father and mother, but to "leave" everything that we might be tempted to put above our spouse, whether it's profession, entertainment, friends, etc. I can think of a lot of things I sometimes put above my spouse: worrying about the dirty dishes instead of giving my full attention to my husband's report about his day at work, for example. I mean, the dishes have to get done sometime too, but are they really more important than letting my husband know how important he and his concerns are to me? Especially if I'm supposed to be investing in an eternity with my husband...

It didn't even occur to me to take pictures of just David and me at the wedding on Saturday.
This picture is from Ryan's wedding several years ago. 

When Dave and I were dating, my mom commented to me, "Marriage requires a lot of faith. If we knew how much faith it required, none of us would ever get married!" I think she was mostly joking when she said it, but there is certainly an element of truth to the phrase! Dave and I have learned some things in the last 7 years. On the Thursday night before Jordan's wedding, the family was gathered around together and he asked us for pieces of advice. Dave and I gave the most advice - ha! I assume there is a lot more for us to learn about marriage as we go through the decades, but here are the things we advised for now (NOTE: This isn't actually meant to be an end-all-be-all list. These were just the things Dave and I came up with on the spot, from our own experiences):

- (Me) "Understand that your marriage won't look exactly like you imagine it before you get married. Know that some of your expectations just won't happen." Of course, that's a little bit of a downer just before your wedding, so Jordan wanted to know what I meant by that, or if we had an example.

My typical example is the going-to-bed routine. Before I got married, I somehow just envisioned us ending our day together, finishing up our evening projects at the same time, heading in to brush our teeth while chatting about the day, saying our evening prayer and climbing into bed together before turning out the light. I have no idea how that assumption came to live so determinedly in my head, because my mom almost always goes to bed before my dad I think, but nonetheless, this was how I pictured it.

Sharing our nighttime routine was something I looked forward to. I was startled, and not in a good way, when I realized Dave had no such vision. He 1) doesn't need nearly as much sleep as I do, and 2) looked forward to some alone time to recharge his batteries every night. Not long into our marriage, I found myself alone in bed many evenings. It was something I had a really hard time accepting, and I was sometimes just a little, and sometimes a lot, resentful. We talked over my issue, but I couldn't really expect Dave to sacrifice all of his evening hours alone for the rest of his life.

Unfortunately, I have no good advice about how to get over broken assumptions. It happened very neatly for me when I went to Cambridge alone and missed my husband terribly. When I came back ten months later, I was so happy to have any nights with my husband that I didn't mind the ones when he came to bed later than I. I definitely don't recommend that cure though, so the only thing I could suggest to Jordan was to realize that things won't be exactly like you think or hope they will be, and maybe by acknowledging that beforehand, one might be better equipped to deal with broken expectations more easily.

- (Dave) "Since married couples tend to become more like each other the longer they are married, try to pick up each other's strengths, not each other's weaknesses." Dave and I are sometimes amazed by how similar we are becoming. There are so many times when we are thinking the same things and saying the same things. Sometimes we can't even pinpoint who started a phrase or habit because it is now so ingrained in both of us. We have noticed, unfortunately, that it is easier (at least for us) to pick up each other's bad habits. It takes more effort to learn from and imitate the strengths of our spouse, but we recognize how much better we would both be, and how much stronger our relationship would be together, if we made a real effort to copy the good traits and learn from the good habits.

-  (Me) "You are a couple now, you need to act as a couple, not an individual." This was a valuable piece of advice we received from our Bishop soon before we got married. He reminded us that we'd been so used to being independent that it would be an adjustment to act with your spouse always, but testified of this principle's importance. He gave one trivial, but still relevant, example: If your mom asks if the two of you can come to dinner, don't say "yes, we will be there." Instead, say, "sounds like fun. Let me check with Dave and we'll let you know."

- (Dave then chimed in to add) "Then don't blame. Take responsibility for a decision together as a couple." If, using the example above, I had decided I didn't want to go to my in-laws' house for dinner for whatever reason, the response that Dave would give to his mother would be something like, "Amy and I talked about it and we aren't going to be able to come to dinner that evening" instead of "Amy doesn't want to come." In other words, no throwing your spouse under the bus! (Obviously, if Dave can't participate in something because of work or church responsibilities, that reason can be given safely. It's the emotional decisions that need to be protected I think).

- (Both of us) "Spend time together." This is our biggest piece of advice. We got married during a busy time in our lives. We were both in the final years of our undergraduate degrees. We were working and going to school and our schedules didn't necessarily coincide. We found out pretty quickly that there was sometimes a drastic difference in how well we got along depending on how much we had seen each other and spent time with each other lately. I don't think life ever gets less busy, so this is something we try to remember. When we make an effort to spend time together, doing fun things, making memories, or even just time enough to talk over our days together, we are happier with each other. Without that time we get too sucked into our individual lives and we start forgetting how much we actually like being with the other person.

- (Mom, but I am totally on board) "Forgive quickly and easily." A Catholic blogger (Haley from CarrotsForMichaelmas.com) wrote some thoughts about forgiveness in marriage that resonated with me. I'm going to quote her here and add my own emphasis in italics:
You will say and do things that deeply hurt your spouse. He will say and do things that deeply hurt you. Forgive. Completely. Never bring it up again. It sounds easy enough, but when the day comes that you find yourself truly hurt, you will want your spouse to suffer for what they did. Forgiveness will be hard in coming. But, if you cannot forgive and forget you will poison your marriage. This lesson was especially hard for me to learn. Still trying to protect my personal rights and be sure that my feelings and needs were never belittled or trampled upon, I made sure that I never forgot the slightest wrong, not to mention the times when I was truly wounded. Our culture is so individualistic and constantly urges us: 'Stand up for Yourself! Put Yourself First! You Deserve Perfection!' True forgiveness is a revolutionary idea for us. I had a hard time breaking the thought pattern that by forgiving and moving on I was in some way compromising my own self-respect. What a lie. When I finally wanted to forgive I discovered I didn’t have much practice and it was hard. I also struggled with the humiliating realization that our marriage wasn’t perfect, that our love had fallen short. But, the devastation of that knowledge was followed by a new understanding of what kind of God we serve and what kind of Grace flows from his love for us. Our Lord redeems what is broken. He heals the wounded. As we watched God fill our marriage with grace, remaking it into something better than we could have ever imagined, we were stunned by our inadequacy and the unfathomable ocean of God’s grace.
To forgive that easily, to just drop hurt and love unconditionally - I'm still working on it, but I already know how important it is. Forgive quickly and easily. And, with the Lord's help, completely.

After all these pieces of advice, my younger, unmarried brother wryly noted, "sounds like marriage is hard!" Well, it is hard, because relationships with other people are hard and this is a permanent and very intimate relationship. But for those same reasons it is also the most wonderful relationship on earth, different from any other and very, very precious. It is worth every ounce of effort.

So there you go. Mazal tov, Jordan and Heather. May your new adventure be as beautiful as your wedding day!