“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” - Galatians 5:22-23
“Wuv... twue wuv...” - the priest, The Princess Bride
This week, I celebrated 20 years of marriage with the wife of my youth. It’s a momentous occasion that we celebrated with kayaking, takeout Somsiri Thai food and a slice of carrot cake from Sweet Inspirations.
As we paddled over the gentle waves of McIntosh Lake outside Tenino and luxuriated over a quiet morning in an empty house (thanks, friends and family for taking our kids ... uh, I mean, giving our kids a warm welcome!) we talked about what we’ve learned and are still learning after two decades in the community of marriage.
Movies make it seem like there is one perfect match in the world, but we don’t see it that way.
“You’ll never find the perfect person, because there is no perfect person,” my wife Sarah said. “It’s about building a relationship with a perfect God, who can help you be forgiving when your spouse is not perfect, and be humble when you are not perfect yourself.”
We recalled perhaps the best advice we received before our wedding: Each spouse is going to have to give 70 or 80% in order to meet in the middle. There’s no such thing as a 50-50 split in a marriage.
“Partnership isn’t about passion or lust, it’s about fellowship with that person, trust and respect,” Sarah said. “You share so much with a partner. You need to have each other’s back and be one another’s No. 1 fan.”
We expressed gratitude for our individual and collective decision to forego sex before marriage, to abstain and delay that gratification until our wedding night. It helped keep our heads clear as we decided whether to commit our lives to each other and it gave us practice in the kind of delayed gratification necessary for a good life.
We talked about supporting one another through the inevitable ups and downs of life — sickness and health, wealth and poverty, and the daily decisions of choosing to renew affection and support for one another, as opposed to a downward spiral of pulling apart in animosity and anger.
“Sometimes you put your head down and work through it,” Sarah said. “But if certain lines are crossed as one person is on his or her walk and the other person is on theirs, such as sleeping with someone else or physically/mentally abusing that person or your children, those are things you can’t tolerate.”
Deep, enduring married love comes with conditions. Vows matter and showing respect for your partner is a baseline necessity. Without it a marriage will wither.
“The conditions going into this relationship were that we would be committed to one another when sick or poor, rich or healthy,” she said. “That you are the only person that I’ll be intimate with. That you will love and honor who I am, which means you’ll be respectful to my body and mind and to our children. There are conditions to it. People are all, ‘I love him, I love him!’ You can love him but still have boundaries and assert conditions on it, which is not at all the message we’re sending young children.”
We’re failing to say no to young people today. We’re not teaching them how to say no to themselves for their long-term well-being. Instead, our culture tells children to live to seek immediate gratification, that if it feels right it is right, that you can have what you want when you want it.
“Those are lies,” Sarah said, “lies that will set them up for failed relationship and sadness and trauma.”
We talked about the importance of good humor, of finding joy in the simple pleasures of life (for us, that’s things like holding hands as we take a walk together) and finding the bittersweet blessings in the hardships.
“My dad kept us together in large part because of his humor. We got through so much because, while my dad knew how to be serious, there was so much joy — joy and laughter and affection.”
And here’s some real talk.
“Maybe if a person isn’t familiar with the fruits of the spirit, if a person doesn’t have the fruits of the spirit, they aren’t ready for marriage. Maybe that’s what it boils down to,” Sarah said. “Stop wasting time trying to make sure that another person has it when you don’t.”
We ended the morning by looking ahead another 20 years, 40 years or more.
“Maybe true love isn’t instant,” my bride said. “Maybe true love is found at the end of the journey, not at the beginning. I think about these couples married 70 years and they die hours apart. They’ve gone through everything two people can go through in life together, and their souls just cannot be on earth without the other one.
“So this idea that you’ll find true love instantly with another person that you don’t know is a really sad myth, but if you stay with this journey you’re going to look over at the person that everyone else will see as wrinkly and old and decrepit and you’re going to see one of your life’s treasures — the person you just don’t want to leave and look forward to sharing every remaining moment with.”
The wife of my youth and the rest of my life wiped a tear from her eye and looked at me with the dark eyes I love.
“That must be one of God’s greatest blessings and rewards for a life well-lived.”
Brian and Sarah Mittge are raising their three children in a patch of forest south of Chehalis. Drop them a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.