15 Years and Counting. The Surprising Secrets of a Happy Marriage.

MY husband and I are celebrating 15 years of marriage this week! That’s nothing to sneeze at since there’s a divorce every 13 seconds in America and 41% of first marriages end in divorce. And when you consider the average first marriage ends in eight years, finding any marriage of 15 years is like spotting a unicorn—never mind a happy marriage!We’re by no means experts. We’ve certainly had our share of trials, but there are certain truths that come up whenever we talk with other couples. Truths we wish someone would’ve told us before we walked down the aisle. Ones I share with any woman considering tying the knot, because what she believes about marriage changes everything.

I DIDN’T SIGN UP, TO GIVE UP

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I said, “Yes.” Despite the groundwork put in before I met my husband, marriage quickly became more than I bargained for when we brought our first child home from the hospital, on our first anniversary!

What about my plan to launch into the career I prayed, scrapped, and trained for, for years? But with a husband in the military and a baby on the way, I chose putting my husband and family first.

No one told me marriage is a constant dying to self.

I know, you didn’t want to hear that in a “selfie” world. It’s easier to think of marriage like a piñata filled with goodies for your enjoyment. You’re so excited about what you gain, you never consider what you’ll need to give up.

Marriage involves letting go of some dreams, attitudes, and mindsets you once held dear while enjoying the love, romance, and companionship of a man, who if you chose well, loves you, all of you. And while sacrifice goes both ways, they’re not equal in scope or magnitude.

My husband gave up our combined income potential when he agreed I would stay home, but I’m the one who gave up the medical career.

HOLD YOUR PLANS LOOSELY

Some plans you’ll put on hold for a season and some morph into something else, like my writing career. The point is, marriage isn’t about you, it’s about giving. That includes what you both give up to make the marriage work.

Marriage isn't about you, it's about giving. And sometimes, what you give up.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY HUSBAND?

Here’s a secret most marrieds won’t admit: they were a mess when they got married.

My husband and I looked great on the outside: professional and accomplished. The personal work and extensive pre-marital counseling served us well, but we still had some “issues.”

No more than any typical couple, just the wounds, insecurities, and failures we’d spent our whole lives trying to keep from the public eye. Some issues we thought we’d dealt with, others we didn’t even know existed.

But when we said, “I do,” we stopped holding our stomachs in. We let it all hang out like you do when you take off your favorite smoothing undergarment. We hadn’t even finished check-in at our honeymoon resort before I looked at my handsome man and thought, “Who are you and WHAT have you done with my husband?!”

Every married couple experiences that reality jolt, because there’s no way around it. You saw each other’s best before marriage—but it wasn’t the whole story. Married life gets real, quick, and forces you to do the same. You can’t show the best version of yourself all the time, because you’re messy, by nature. We all are.

When asked, 45% of divorcing couples cited “unrealistic expectations” as a contributor to their divorce. Don’t let that be you. Whether you knew it or not, you said “I do” to everything in his piñata. Don’t expect perfection you can’t return in kind.

OH, MY EYES

So, what do you do when you discover his issues? You can’t go back and “unsee” what you’ve seen. You must decide. Will you keep your word, love him for better or worse, and deal with the issues head on? Or are you going to throw in the towel?

Here’s the thing. You can divorce him, but the next guy will be just as messy, just with a different set of issues.

Your marriage can be just as green as the next person's. Just put in the work for it.

The only reason the grass (another man) looks greener, is he cropped all the brown grass out of the picture—temporarily! So, you may as well put in the work and have the lush green grass you want at home.

I’VE HAD IT

I’ll tell you something else another married Christian woman won’t readily admit: I considered leaving my husband. To cry foul, say uncle, and walk right out! And if our marriage only involved the two of us, it would have been a serious possibility. But our marriage always had a third-party. No, not our children—Jesus. He brought us together and keeps us together.

Our marriage begins a turning point in our families, starting a new legacy for generations to come.

Your marriage needs a purpose bigger than the two of you, because good looks and a nice smile won’t cut it for long. What do you accomplish together that’s more than you could apart? Focusing on the big picture puts your marriage in perspective.

FIX IT JESUS

Those words I uttered at the altar weren’t just to my husband. I made a commitment to Jesus too, and He made one to me. That a three-strand cord is not easily broken (Eccl 4:12, NIV) and if I kept Him first, He’d be the tie that binds us together. And. God. Is. Faithful.

The kind you wish somebody would have share with you before you walked down the aisle. Don't keep these secret to yourself. Us girlfriends need to look out for each other.

15 YEARS AND COUNTING

All these years later, I’m smiling. I’m happily married to my love, my best friend. He loves the mess out of me, and I, him. And none of it comes easy.

We put the time, energy and attention into loving each other better each year because we love Jesus, more than we love each other.

As much as we try to avoid it, we let each other down. Mere mortals are perfectly imperfect. And I’m guaranteed disappointment if I depend on my husband to make me feel happy, secure or special. It’s not fair to either one of us.

When you get a good one, hold tight, and go the distance. Marriage still works.

Here’s the bottom line: we are not each other’s everything. Jesus is. Marriage is most gratifying when we keep Jesus at the center. And we’re counting on Him to see us through many more years of marital bliss!

So, what are my secrets to a happy marriage?

1. Commit to the man, not some marriage ideal. Be prepared to give for the good of your marriage.
2. Both of you have unresolved issues. Don’t run from them. Help each other navigate them.
3. No one’s marriage is perfect. So, make the most of yours.
4. Stay focused on the big picture. The larger purpose your marriage serves.
5. You are not each other’s source, you never could be. Your ultimate fulfillment is found in your relationship with Jesus Christ.


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VANESSA A. HARRIS is an inspirational content creator and the author of DADDY’s Girl Forever and its devotional.  She’s a physician turned stay at home mom, who’s never lost her NY wit.  She needs it for the three inventive children she raises in Texas with her husband, Mark.

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