Learning to Make Marriage Real

Barely a year ago, I saw Jeremy. We met at dinner, an informal gathering of alumni from a small college we'd attended almost a decade earlier. Throughout the evening, we found each other again and again. I loved his easy laugh. He liked my smile. It was obvious we were both interested. We were the last to leave. A week later, he asked me out. Nine months later, I walked down the aisle and pledged my lifelong love and faithfulness to Jeremy.

I knew marriage would bring change, but change even when expected can still be surprising and unfamiliar. We are different; our personalities echo quite opposite voices. I am invigorated by time with people; he leaves a new group dazed and overwhelmed. I can't get enough time with him; he needs autonomy in order to feel more like himself. I love to detail my day over the phone; he calls with a specific purpose in mind, often to relay information.

The paradox is obvious yet quite mysterious. At times, when we're talking, I feel so understood like he really gets me. The way we interact makes us feel as if we were cut from the same cloth. Then, a small shift in tone, my eyes water, and he says the unthinkable, You cry a lot. Suddenly, I am alone and want to be! How could one statement instantly distance us and leave me blankly starring at the same person that, only moments before, I had been savoring? But to my husband, tears represent devastation or catastrophe. My moist cheeks and brimming tears frighten and confuse him.

Even unwrapping our wedding gifts was an eye-opening experience for me. Jeremy and I returned home from our honeymoon to a living room overflowing with presents. It was unlike anything we had seen before, and I was ecstatic! It took us days to get through this generous bounty: towels, dishes, linens and more. It warmed our hearts to realize that each gift had been hand-selected by friends and family. By day two, we'd established a pattern. Jeremy would unwrap. I would squeal with delight and record the gift information. He would organize the pile and return with a new present. Finally, we unwrapped the paper shredder, followed by the power drill, then a chrome wastebasket. Now it was Jeremy's turn to smile.

It hit me that the entire ritual of wedding gifts is more for the wife. In jest, my sweet husband picked up his three gifts and said, Well, at least I got three things. We both laughed. The dishes that stocked the cabinet or the platters we would use for company mattered little to him, but he knew it mattered to me. Jeremy playing along, even participating in the unwrapping, proved to me he was invested and trying. He is learning how to better love me, and I am learning what a paper shredder can mean to him.

Marriage is transforming, and love even more powerful. I am surprised by the intense desire to help and, yes, even serve my husband. Serving Jeremy eases his load, increases his energy and simply tells him he matters. I don't wash his clothes so that he will wash my car. It's not bartering. I don't get up at 5 a.m. because I actually enjoy putting deli meat on whole wheat bread at the crack of dawn; I do it because I want to do it for Jeremy. Serving him in the routine of life is actually an expression of my love. I've heard countless times that it is the little things that can tear a marriage apart. I shouldn't be surprised, then, that it is all of the little things (ham on whole wheat, for instance) that make a difference.

I love that after so many years of waiting to wake up next to my husband, I now do. I don't get tired of this man, despite the warnings that someday I will. Waiting for my husband wasn't passive; it was active. I prepared, anticipated and hoped. My life didn't begin when I met Jeremy. I already had a life, a life I was readying and expecting to share with another. I couldn't wait for a husband to complete me. He would be my complement, and I his. I knew God could fulfill me; it wasn't going to be my husband's job to meet my every need. Daily, I made choices to create a life that another would want to become a part of and had the faith that one day, a husband would join that life. When you have longed and hoped for someone for such a long time and he's finally here and real, the joy in having your heart's desire doesn't soon diminish. Our lives are now intertwined. We read, play, laugh and work out together.

When we constantly invest in each other, our love is abundant. However, when love and attention are lopsided, we both suffer. If I'm sacrificing and Jeremy doesn't notice, I naturally feel entitled to point it out to him. This helps very little. I'm learning to use honest words to tell him how I feel and I'm learning not to expect him to read my mind. With that approach, he tends to respond to what I am saying. We both want our marriage to succeed, be filled with joy and grow. In this goal, we are intentional and dedicated. Our marriage was a decision of our wills, with the willingness to love in the ordinary dailies of life and not just the grand events.

We are both becoming more teachable. Humbling, yes. But if I want to learn to love my husband the way he needs and not the way I think he needs, I first have to listen. Listening requires me to hear his words and trust what he is saying. Believing we each want the best for each other is crucial.

Love is now real to me. It is real on a dreary Wednesday afternoon when my tired husband returns from work with a desire to hit the gym or just lie down for a few minutes. Instead, he has a gift tucked under his arm: the book I've been wanting. The way he hands it to me seems so natural. I smile, and soon I'm lost in new pages, completely content in knowing that I'm worth the effort. He makes his way toward the dresser, wanting to get out of the day's clothes and into something more relaxing. There, he finds clean smelling shirts. Folded and arranged in a way familiar to him. This is real love.

There is a delicate balance to the transitioning that takes place in a new marriage. Both mystery and hard work are part of the transition. It has been almost a year since Jeremy entered my life. His laugh still comes easily but now I find it even more engaging. It is layered with the beginnings of a marriage. Our marriage. The start of our story.

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