Editor’s Note: As her daughters began their married lives, Barbara Rainey wanted to share some of the lessons she learned throughout her own marriage as well as those gleaned from years of ministry to couples. In these heartfelt, insightful letters that eventually evolved into the book Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife, she answers the tough questions and addresses the realities of marriage. Enjoy this excerpt from the book and visit TheArtofBeingaWife.com for more information.
Honestly, we did great for the first few months—we were all about life together and thought our differences added a spark to our lives. Now we both seem to be withdrawing, staking ground for ourselves rather than growing together. How did you and Dad embrace your differences rather than let them pull you apart?
Here’s my story, and a little background to help set the stage. I think you’ll see I’ve been there, too.
One of my early dates with Dennis was on a warm Saturday afternoon in June. He picked me up in his light blue Chevy Impala and drove us out in the country for fishing and a picnic. Dennis grew up with a fishing pole as an extension of his arm.
Fishing was just the beginning of many adventures in a whole new world that opened before me when I accepted this young man’s proposal of marriage. The new experiences after I said “I do” kept me wide-eyed with wonder for many of those early years.
Like Alice who fell through the rabbit hole and woke up in a world that was familiar but oh-so-different, I found myself not just seeing trees, but sleeping under them; not just looking up at snow-covered mountains, but also flying down them with long skinny things strapped to my boots; not just admiring bubbling streams, but learning the names of the fish that swam within the waters and would hopefully end up on the line of my new husband’s fly rod. I even learned to help cook a fair number of dead fish over a fire at our many campsites.
Dennis wasn’t just different. His recipe for life was positively foreign. We were like oil and water, constantly separating in our jar. We cannot be more different. (Notice I switched to present tense!)
I remember Dennis would get an idea and be off and running. I, on the other hand, was used to thinking things through and evaluating what to do before acting. Often, during our first year of marriage, I felt left in the dust.
Dennis was expressive and was always asking questions, I tended to be quiet and cautious, thinking about what I wanted to say before I said it. I felt overexposed.
And then there was money. Dennis wanted to spend money on fishing. I wanted to spend money on furniture. We had a combined income, but how did we determine who spent what? I felt it unfair that he freely spent what he wanted when he wanted without consulting me. I felt confused.
It sounds like you are facing something similar. Adjustments are awkward. And the early years of marriage are full of adjustments—always more than any couple ever anticipates! As our family friend Lincoln discovered when her new husband wanted to debate everything! He has a quick, active intellect and loved playing the devil’s advocate and challenging her thinking. She felt defensive and on trial. And then he couldn’t understand why she couldn’t act fine and snuggle up on the couch after they finished “talking!” He also could not understand why she, from a family of four girls, expected to go shopping at the beginning of each season for a few new additions to her wardrobe.
The unique, fresh traits that attracted us to our spouses while dating will become tiresome or irritating after years, or even just months, of marriage. When I encounter these clashes, I have learned I have choices. Do I communicate disdain for a trait I feel is flawed? Will I withdraw to avoid dealing with it? Should I try to change him? Do we talk about it? The challenge of mixing the ingredients of his personality and mine was just beginning in those early years.
Endless possibilities for creativity
When you went to culinary school, Rebecca, I was fascinated to learn from you the endless possibilities for creativity in cooking. You taught me that we eat with our eyes first (presentation is important), and that there are great subtleties of flavor in different salts, vinegars, and olive oils. You taught me that when baking, salt balances the sweet ingredients and cause their flavors to come alive. Even the freshness of cream, butter, and Parmesan cheese is enhanced with salt. I had no idea.
It reminds me of Jesus saying, “You are the salt of the earth.” Which raises these questions: “Does my husband’s life taste better with me in it?” “Is the salt of my life overpowering, or just enough to enhance the sweetness in our union?” “Will I allow his unique version of salt to bring out a better flavor in me?”
Differences. The first and most lasting surprise in marriage. It was easy in the beginning—accepting and enjoying the differences that attracted us to each other. But now, the everyday clash of those differences must be met with a decision to once again accept the other person as God’s gift to you. You were confident when you were engaged that he was perfect for you, right? So now it’s time to ask God to help you see him as you once did. He will mellow over time, but until then, choose to believe that his differences are for your good. And yours are good for him, too.
- Each marriage brings unique ingredients unlike any other couple’s combination. Every union is a one-of-a kind creation.
- Differences are good and normal. Welcome them.
- Feeling surprised by them is normal, too; relax in the process.
- How you respond is totally in your control.
More to come,