My bride and I celebrated thirty years of marriage this week! We are grateful for God’s grace toward us in our marriage and family.

We recently reflected on how much we’ve learned along the way, and gathered some of our top lessons, both fun and challenging.

What has the Lord shown you through your marriage or marriages around you? 

1. Two firstborns are both always right, differently.  

Stacy and I are both firstborns. Dr. Kevin Leman’s Birth Order Book helped us understand ourselves and our kids a little better. We are both assertive and competitive, but we see the world and nearly every situation differently, which could be a recipe for trouble. Typically, we’re both right in some way. We practice appreciating the other’s perspective.  

2. Sharing core values about faith and family is necessary to help navigate challenges.  

We manage money differently – very differently.  

We do household chores differently.  

She likes the beach. I like the mountains. 

I could go on about the points of friction in our marriage. BUT we’re committed. For life. No matter what. 

The foundation of our faith is the cornerstone we build our marriage on. As a result, we often have to say to each other, “I love you even in this storm.” In God’s goodness, many adventures come out of our differences! 

3. Marriage spans many “seasons,” and some are more challenging than others.  

Our DINK (double income, no kids) season had lots of margin. Then we became a single-income family with three kids. Following that came four kids eating like an army (think six gallons of milk per week) on a single ministry income. There were sports seasons, learning-to-drive seasons, and launching seasons, and now we’re approaching the empty nest season. Each season has its challenges and rewards. Recognizing that seasons change helps us anticipate adjustments and extend grace to each other. 

4. Remind each other to delight in each season of marriage and parenting.  

In light of the truth noted above, we have reminded each other to delight in every season. Every one contains something to complain about – like dirty diapers, and something to delight in – like the amazing discoveries those toddlers are making. We can choose to complain about the time and money costs of sports and other activities, or we can delight in the lessons learned and memories made. You get the idea. When you open your mouth to complain, look for the delights instead. We work to choose the attitude of adventure and opportunity and look for how God is growing us through each season. 

5. You marry your spouse’s family.  

Stacy and I consider ourselves deeply blessed in this regard. We love each other’s families and have enjoyed spending time with each other. Even more important is that we know our parents pray daily and faithfully for our kids and us. This is huge! It’s important to talk to your children about this and for them to understand that the family system they marry into can help or harm their marriage. 

6. Two independent people have to learn how to give and receive help. 

Independence goes beyond and runs deeper than the birth order revelation above. We’ve both had to learn to depend on each other and ask for help. I’m probably more independent-minded than Stacy. I want to be self-sufficient, but that’s a dangerous posture in marriage. Stacy is so gracious and patient with me in this regard. My typical mode is to say “yes” too much, and I have to ask her to help me out of “man jams.” 

7. Your “hang out” friends change with the seasons.  

It’s been fascinating to see how our friend groups have changed over each season of marriage. We’ve been blessed to have good friends at every stage. Life changes when you have kids, so your friends change. Later you begin to settle in with friends whose parenting and lifestyle choices are compatible with your own. Throughout the constant flux, we must continue to do life in community. We are thankful for the individuals, couples, and families who have walked closely with us over the years.  

8. After God, your spouse is the priority before all others. 

I heard Patrick Morley share this maxim some years ago, and I’ve tried to hold it tightly and share it with others. You’ll be off to a great start if your vertical relationship with Father God is in order and your relationship with your wife (or husband) takes priority over all other human relationships. 

It’s easy to let the needs and wants of your kids to become more important than your marriage. We’ve been in seasons when our children, ministry (for me), or other obligations have pushed Stacy out of this place of importance. Be aware of this trap!  

Bonus Point: As your kids get older, be aware that they will intentionally or unintentionally force themselves between you and your spouse. There have been times when I’ve had to tell my boys, rather forcefully, “She is your mother, but she is first my wife, and you will treat her with respect and honor!” 

9. Family meals are a BIG deal! 

Stacy and I are blessed that we both come from families where family meals were the norm. We each sat down for dinner with our families growing up, so it was natural for us to make this a priority for our family. Family time around the table is the daily forum in which we offered prayers, shared news, laughed at jokes, told stories, discussed history, evaluated cultural events, read Bible passages, debated challenging issues, and lived life together. I am so grateful for Stacy’s unfailing attention to this critical aspect of our family legacy.  

10. Love God First 

Each of our individual relationships with Christ is THE critical issue in marriage. Stacy and I are thankful that we knew Jesus before we knew each other. Our spiritual formation was well underway before we started our journey together. We actually met while serving as summer missionaries at a Christian camp in the mountains of Virginia. Even so, we recognize that everyone’s story is different. Having this background may not be your experience, but the principle still applies to your marriage now. You must pay attention to your relationship with Jesus Christ and seek to live for him first. When we work diligently at this initiative, many other aspects of marriage begin to fall into place.  

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19