In 2014, after being married for three days, I made a list of what I had learned about love.
Today, I have been married for almost 6 years, so I revisited that list, and see if there was anything to add (or subtract!). I think it holds up well, actually. I keep tweaking it, but the basics are there: love is a mysterious power, and if you let it, it will keep transforming you.
A seminary professor of mine, Tom Breidenthal, who is now the Episcopal Bishop of Southern Ohio, wrote a marvelous book called 'Christian Households', the subtitle of which is 'the Sanctification of Nearness', and from him I learned that so much of being a Christian is learning to be a neighbor, one who is 'nigh', or near, and that this matters in everything from our most intimate relationships to the ending of wars and disease. It has had a profound effect on my life, and my own relationships, and most certainly my marriage.
This is what I know:
*Marriage is not 'work'
People say this all the time - relationships are hard; marriage is work. I could not disagree more! It makes marriage sound like drudgery, and not like much fun. I think of marriage like I think of my prayer life - it is practice. I show up every day, I put time into it, sometimes it goes beautifully, sometimes it's a bit off. That's ok, I show up the next day, too. And the one after that. And most of the time, it is delightful. And easy. Because it's love.
* Listening is an act of love
This is the most important thing I have learned: to really listen to my beloved. It doesn't matter if I know what he is going to say, or I have heard the story before, or even if what he is saying is wrong or makes me upset. I try to just be present and receive his words. I can sort out my response later, if there is one. And when I talk, I always tell him, 'I just need you to listen to me,' and he does. Even when it is hard for him not to have an action plan.
* You don't really need to 'do' anything
We really want to fix things.
I have learned we don't really have to. Most of the time we don't even know how. If I say, 'I really need more time alone,' it's not an invitation for my partner to make a time schedule. It's just an expression of my feelings. Sometimes that's all I need. Sometimes, the feelings will lead me - and my partner - to make different decisions. But mostly we just talk about where we are at, and we go forward gently. Most things work themselves out.
'Consider the lilies of the field...' (Matthew 6:28)
* My beloved is innocent
When we are first in love, we see the other person with rose-colored glasses. They would never do anything to hurt us. But sometimes we can lose this feeling and suddenly think our most dear partner is whistling between his teeth just to annoy us! I don't believe this is true.
This person who adores me is just doing what he is doing, and if he is late for dinner, it is not because he is disrespectful, it is because he got caught up in something at work and he came home as soon as he could.
We have the power to frame how we perceive what others' are doing, and thus we have the power to frame it in a lens of love. If we really believe that the person we love most in the world is intentionally doing things to harm us emotionally, then that is a very serious conversation we need to have. If not, it changes so much to keep those rose-colored glasses on and to see that person as being motivated by the best of intentions.
* Opinions are not facts
They just aren't. There is no 'right' way to load a dishwasher. My husband loves the process, it is his profession (he is a 'process manager'!), and he has strong opinions about doing things with maximum efficiency. Me, not so much. But since I know he feels strongly about, say, which way the bowls go, I do it his way because it makes him happy. Not because it is 'right'. And he appreciates it all the more.
Some of the things I have learned about love are the tiniest things, the every day stuff of life. But I really believe that if we can learn to live in peace in our most mundane and intimate moments, we can learn to live in peace in our biggest and most fraught ones. And we follow a Lord who says things like, 'turn the other cheek' and 'go the extra mile', and to me it is as important to remember these things in the every day things as in the grand ones.