The 1 Thing I Want to Learn in the Next 24 Years of Marriage

by | Dec 21, 2015 | Uncategorized | 16 comments

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What I Want to Learn from Marriage: Anniversary reflections after 24 years together

I’ve had 24 wonderful years with my husband as of today–24 years to learn from marriage so much more about myself.

And today I thought I’d share some anniversary reflections.

24 is kind of a funny number for me because I use it a lot when speaking. When I give my Girl Talk presentation, I always say something like this:

Everyone thinks the best years for sex are the honeymoon years. But according to my surveys for The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, it’s not those first few years that bring fireworks. It’s years 16-24. You’ve had a decade or so together, the baby years are over, you’re finally getting some sleep again–and now you’re comfortable with each other that you can just have fun.

Of course, I’m almost at year 24 right now, and I’m getting a little nervous.

And so here I am today, celebrating 24 years of marriage.

Anniversary Reflections after 24 years together

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My husband and I were so young when we got married. We didn’t know what the future would bring.

What I Want to Learn in the next 24 Years of Marriage

We didn’t know what children we would have–or whether we would have kids.

04OttawaFamily

We didn’t know where we’d live, what jobs we’d have–anything. We only had each other.

Keith Sheila Becca 13

But here’s the biggest lesson that I’ve been learning over the last three to five years, the struggle that I included  a lot in my newest book, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: ultimately Keith isn’t me. He doesn’t completely understand me, and he never will. And I need to stop mourning for something I was never meant to have.

What I’ve been realizing lately is the beauty of separateness.

I’m making it sound like I have a bad husband, and that’s not what I mean at all. I think, instead, that my expectations, even after 24 years of marriage, are still flawed, and I’m still a work in progress.

At some level, I think I assumed that the longer we were together, the more ME Keith would become. The more he would instinctively just love me and accept all my foibles, even my bad ones (and I have lots). The more he would think like me, share all my opinions, and want to do exactly the same things.

Alaska 2 of us

True love, I have been led to believe, meant that he would see things always my way, because to totally love me and accept me somehow involved becoming just like me.

The more I write this the more silly I know it sounds. And it’s not as if I consciously think these things. But I notice that the times that I feel lonely or distant in our marriage is when Keith has somehow disappointed me because he didn’t understand something–and therefore I felt unloved.

It hardly ever occurs to me in those moments that if I’m feeling unloved because he didn’t understand me, then it’s also highly likely that I didn’t understand him. But getting out of these funks and learning to think differently is a lot of what I wrote about in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage.

I had to start thinking differently.

I have a great marriage and an awesome husband. We have so much fun together.

Keith Sheila Dunns

But no two people will ever think exactly the same way. And when other things start bugging me–those triggers for loneliness or anxiety that are completely separate from us–I have a tendency to transfer my angst on Keith, and blame him for it.

I think we all do that.

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentHere’s an incident I wrote about in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage:

While Keith was away on call, I began chewing on an old hurt. I suffered many rejections as a child and teenager, but when I met my husband, I thought that finally I had a man who would love me completely just for being me. So I was shocked when cold feet caused him to call off our initial engagement. Thankfully the estrangement wasn’t long, but that rejection pierced me. When I walked through a season recently when it seemed as if fellow committee members and church friends and blog readers were all disappointed in me, those feelings of rejection came flooding back. And with it came the reminder of my husband’s long ago rejection of me.

And so when Keith’s long bout of hospital calls was over, I finally had an audience to vent these feelings. But it’s rarely a good idea to stay up talking about deep issues when you’re tired; you just blow things out of proportion. And I didn’t just blow them up. I stuck them in a cannon, fired at Keith’s weakest points, and came pretty close to cheering when I hit the mark.

Then Keith said something really important. “I just need to know that us matters more than you.” He wasn’t saying that I didn’t matter; he wasn’t even saying that his feelings mattered more than mine. He was reminding me that we are on the same side, and that I should fight for that unity, even when my feelings were hurt.

My husband is a very smart man. He knew that we would never feel unity if we were always focusing on our own hurts.

I think that’s God’s heart for us, too. He’s not on my side; He’s on his own side—and his desire for my husband and me is to be “one flesh.” When we fixate on our own broken hearts, and believe that God’s main desire is to take those hurts away, then we’re not treating God like the Master of the Universe. We’re treating him like our own little personal Aladdin, ready to do our bidding.

I just need to know that “us” matters more than “me”.

That’s profound. I shared a lot about that journey in my book; it’s kind of vulnerable to admit that, even after writing this blog for 7 years and writing books for 12, I still have issues. I’m not perfect.

But I’m not. And it seems like the longer I’m married, the more I can learn from marriage, and the more God wants me to learn from marriage.

He wants to use marriage to refine me, and to get my eyes off of me.

Keith Sheila FL

Around my tenth anniversary I wrote about how Keith and I were becoming “Made for each other“. It’s still one of my favourite columns. By being married, we change. It’s not that he becomes me or that I become him, but that we become something else entirely that fits together so well.

Keith Sheila Wawa

By wanting Keith to fix everything for me, to think just like me, to be me–I’m really nurturing my old insecurities that I’m somehow not good enough, born out of lots of childhood rejection. Yet God didn’t put my husband on this earth to become me with all my foibles. Being truly accepted and loved doesn’t mean that he doesn’t see your foibles or that they don’t bother him.

Being truly accepted and loved means that he sees ME–all of me–and chooses to stay.

Keith and Sheila winter

He chooses, everyday, to love me with such abandon that I am truly a blessed woman.

And he doesn’t need to become me. By loving me, despite everything, he pushes me to become a better version of me. A version that isn’t as insecure, that isn’t as self-focused, that isn’t as obsessed with always being right

I wrote earlier this year that my marriage has been a real force for healing in my life, and it has.

Marriage as a source of healing--what I've learned for 24 years of marriage

But God is not done with me! He never is. And I hope and pray that over the next 24 years I will take Keith’s words even more to heart. I will remember that “us” matters more than “me”. I will stop expecting him to think like me, agree with me, and always know what I need. That’s not a picture of love; that’s a picture of narcissism–of wanting to love someone who is simply an extension of myself.

I want instead to glory in our separateness: the fact that God made us different, and yet we stay together willingly and with joy, even in the difficult times. That’s something beautiful, and I hope, one day, I may understand it at an even deeper level.

And today, I’m going to celebrate.

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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16 Comments

  1. J-Mom

    This is a nice post. I’m into my 9th year of marriage. I’ve just recently realized that we are able to do things separately without feeling apart, like streaming DVDs we each like on our own. I think this is a sign of relationship maturity.

    Reply
  2. Mary Newman

    I like the reminder that “us is more important than me”. Man I get far too selfish sometimes and I like the way you phrased that! Happy anniversary!

    Reply
  3. Wendy Clark

    Oh Sheila! I have been married for 21 years and am just know realizing this. It seems to be a lesson I need to learn over and over though, but each lesson draws us closer. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Emily

    Happy Anniversary!

    We’re about to celebrate 19 years. It’s amazing how the time goes.

    I like your husband’s line about “need to know that US is more important that either one of us.” When I remember that, and act that way, it’s not just better for my husband – it’s better for me, too!

    Reply
  5. Stephanie

    Loved this post – a lot of truth here I needed to hear. We are celebrating 25 years of marriage with a cruise in January. I’ve been loving seeing your cruise pictures!

    Reply
  6. RosaZ

    Thank you for this post, Sheila! I’ve been following you for a long time and relate so much to your story. I also had a childhood they was marked by rejection, hurt and insecurity and have found so much healing in my marriage. We hit 20 years next spring, and it is truly SO incredible. But, he’s not me, and I’m still broken in ways, and my insecurities still rear their heads. And so do his. But decades of truly doing the work to build a strong a healthy marriage has been worth every tear and frustration. Thank you for shining a light and fighting the good fight.

    Reply
  7. Dawn

    Best post yet, Sheila! It was sincere and touched my heart. I had a rough childhood and was left with insecurities that caused me to have unrealistic expectations of marriage and what my husband should provide. We’ve been through a lot over the last 27 years but I am growing and healing, and we are still together, growing stronger each day. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  8. P

    Sheila,
    My wife and I will have been married 41 years at the end of this month.
    I can assure you that marriage gets better and better as time goes by.
    Of course I married the most wonderful woman in the world and she just keeps on getting more wonderful. We are more in love than ever. An extra bonus is that love making gets more exciting too!

    Reply
  9. Laura

    Very good post–thank you! And love all the pictures! <3 🙂

    Reply
  10. Karen @ Living Unabridged

    Fantastic post, Sheila. We’ve been married 16 years and I think this lesson (Us not Me, or You) is finally starting to sink in. Or, at least, I’m trying to let it sink in. 😉

    Happy Anniversary to you both and blessings on the upcoming year!

    Reply
  11. Elaine

    Wow! That was one of your best posts! I’ve realized that when I expect my husband to be able to completely relate to me in every way, I’m actually asking him to take the place of God in my life. Realistically, only my Creator can understand EVERYTHING about me — even better than I can understand myself. I think our cultural ideas of romance lead us to expect that the “perfect” partner will be, as you said, an extension of ourselves. When that doesn’t happen, we assume that we haven’t met that ultimate “soulmate” and we feel cheated. I wish I knew how to raise my daughters to understand that although God certainly designed us to be fulfilled by marriage, He never intended marriage to replace the perfect understanding that only a relationship with Him can offer to us.
    P.S. Married 9 years and really appreciating the support and help that I’ve found through your blog. It’s meant a lot to me and made a difference in my marriage!

    Reply
  12. Esther Littlefield

    I love this! It is so true, we often want our spouse to understand everything about us and meet our every need. This is not realistic or fair to them. And I love your point about your husband reminding you that “us” is more important than “me.” One of the best pieces of marriage advice that my husband and I got a few years ago was at a marriage retreat, and the couple gave the analogy of tennis – they said, “make sure you stay on the same side of the net.” The idea is that we are playing doubles – us vs. the problem, not me vs. him. Whenever we face an argument of some sort, it’s good to remind ourselves of what the problem is instead of attacking each other.

    Reply
  13. Erin

    I hope it keeps getting better. We are at 11 years and the past 4 have gone downhill to the point I wish I’d never gotten married. There is no friendship and no feelings on my part at least. We are pleasant, we parent well and we have good sex. That’s it. No shared interests and when we try there is just no chemistry. No sense of the “oh you too?” or easy banter that you want from friendship. I feel hopeless.

    Reply
  14. Kelly

    Thanks for sharing Sheila! Happy (belated) Anniversary to you and Keith!

    I’m in year 17 of marriage(17th wedding Anniversary is in May) I’d say this last year 2015 was the hardest on our marriage. and I agree “us” matters more than “me”.

    Reply
  15. Jane

    Your blog and information means the most of any person, because you have a Christian perspective and you have struggled and overcome. Remember there are many of us hurting wives out here who have truly needed your wisdom.

    Reply
    • Sheila

      Thank you, Jane!

      Reply

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