I was in Pak’n’Save this afternoon, saving money apparently whilst buying a range of essential household items. At the checkout a woman perhaps in her 50s was admiring the wedding and engagement rings of the checkout worker. In the midst of the compliments both women commented, I presume about the institution of marriage, “you don’t see that kind of commitment these days.”
Which is a load of rubbish, but speaks volumes to the cynicism people feel about the chances of survival of those institutions that require us to think of something other than the individual: volunteering; community; marae; school; sports; church; marriage.
On 5 February 2015, my wife and I celebrated 15 years of marriage. We married at 24, having been together the five years previously. Our vows were from the first chapter of Ruth, a book of the First Testament:
Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.
We’d both recently made a faith decision to follow Christ and the words seemed to express both in word and intent what we wanted to say about our relationship. Like 21sts, that was the start of a wedding season. Since that season of hope we have seen some relationships break that we thought were solid and some relationships grow stronger that seemed weak at the time. That has assured me that there is no recipe for a successful marriage; but there are some strategies and positions we have developed that have kept us together and in love:
- It’s all in or not at all: finances, your career decisions, where you live, who you are friends with and so on are all decisions we make together and we share with each other. We’ve never ring-fenced parts of our lives and said “this is mine to do with as I will.”
- we’re the team and we stand together: no-one comes between us, not our children, not our friends, not our family. Of course we disagree about stuff and strategies, but not in front of others and we never side with others against each other.
- we share work: there’s no job that my wife does that I can’t or won’t do and vice versa. Gender roles are rubbish in relationships; we both cook, mowing the lawns, weed the gardens, do repairs, vacuum, do the washing. However, I still forget to do the bathroom most of the time [sorry].
- we share the parenting and try to step in when it’s hard: children are wonderful and yet the most difficult responsibility I’ll ever have. Neither of us is the primary caregiver; we’re a parenting team, and when it is stressful we try and reach out to take the other’s load.
- love is a choice: after your first couple of years the hormones you thought were love are drained away. That’s the point at which you have to choose love. We’ve done this by being reasonably consistent with working on our marriage: we have date nights every week; we give each other a sabbath once a month; we read marriage books and do exercises on occasion; we speak kindly and lovingly to each other with compliments and admiration.
- sex is part of a healthy relationship: I don’t think there’s a right way to be a sexual being (clear consent being the obvious caveat), but I think it’s worth putting time and effort into learning to about yourself and your partner. Feeling desirable, attractive and being passionate about your partner are not nice-to-haves; a free, unencumbered, loving sexual connection with your opposite half is as close to wholeness and God as you are going to come in this life.
I don’t believe there is one person for you who has been picked by God; I do know that the night before I met my wife I was out drinking at that crappy Irish pub that was then opposite the Christchurch casino when my friend said to me, out of the blue, “tomorrow you’re going to meet your wife.” I don’t believe everyone needs a relationship to complete them; I know that being in this marriage has mended my brokenness in a way I suspect I couldn’t have done alone.
My wife is my friend; she is my honest critic.
My wife is indulgent; she will not accept me being less than great.
My wife is a serious person; she laughs at my jokes more than most people.
My wife is powerful; she is sensitive and soft.
My wife has a steely intelligence; she seems to have no interest in science fiction.
My wife is responsible; she trusts me enough to let me be irresponsible.
My wife is beautiful; she is not an object for others to admire.
My wife wants to make beautiful, welcoming home; she is comfortable in mess.
My wife is Pākehā; she spends every day in te ao Māori.
My wife is more than I ever deserved; she is everything I deserved because I am a good person.
I love you Jo. Thanks for a wonderful 15 years.