Yesterday was my last day in my twenties. As strange as it seems to let go of this decade (already?!), I am looking forward to my thirties and what the future holds.
This has been a wonderful, frustrating, identity shaping, and tear-jerker of a decade. As I approach thirty, I’m choosing to believe the best is yet to come. Looking back, here are some of the most important lessons I learned in my twenties.
1. You have issues. Start dealing with them. We all have wounds from childhood and past relationships. The sooner you admit this and start working towards healing and wholeness, the more you will have to offer the world.
2. City life as a 20-something is a blast. I finished college in Philly, lived five minutes outside of downtown Knoxville while working my first real job out of school, and spent the last five years living in Hoboken. With endless opportunities for entertainment, food, and culture right outside my door, it would have been had to imagine living this decade of my life anywhere else.
3. God is listening and speaks to us. For years I threw my prayers in God’s direction, and walked away hoping God would later hunt me down and give me an answer. Over the last decade I’ve learned that there is greater value in being silent before God than talking God’s ear off.
4. Heartbreak is inevitable, but can be worth it. It’s pretty much a guarantee that if you fall in love in your 20’s, you’re also likely to have your heart shattered. Still, taking a big leap for love to find out if its worth it (even if its not) can lead to learning your most important lessons.
5. You probably won’t land your dream job. Most of us in our twenties think we will have “arrived” in our careers by now… even though we’ve been working for less than a decade. There are a lucky few of us who have, but the good news is the majority are still figuring out what’s next.
This is the first time I have attempted to tell the whole of my story in one sitting.
While I tell you bits and pieces on a regular basis, I have never attempted to structure it and make it fit into something less than a ten minute telling. I love narrative. I love details, understanding a character’s motivation, and a good story arc. I love the conflict and the triumph. I am also personally far more comfortable with thoughtfully chosen written words than grasping the right ones as they are rolling off my tongue.
Last fall I attended both the Storyline Conference and a church retreat for Dinner Group leaders where we walked through the basics of telling our story. Since then I have sensed an internal nudge that it was time to tell this particular thread of my story to my church community through the medium of video. I recently filmed it for the current series we are in at Hoboken Grace, Chemistry: The Elements of a Lasting Relationship.
It is always intimidating to share the innermost parts of yourself, but I hope that in hearing it, you are encouraged in some way. My story is proof that God can take the most painful heart breaks and use them for His beautiful purposes.
“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror,
the person who shows you everything that is holding you back,
the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Most of us have a list of qualities we want in a mate.
… makes me laugh.
… enjoys being active.
… wants children someday.
We tend to focus on what we think would best compliment us, our lifestyle, and our values. We want someone who fully accepts and loves us as we are and is endlessly supportive. Sometimes what we are aiming for is to fall in love with someone who exemplifies our own best qualities. We want to be with a person who ultimately makes us happy.
Beyond that, hopeless romantic types do not just want your average, run-of-the-mill marriage. We require all of the above and more – the stuff of epic love stories. We want passion and fireworks. It is our deepest desire that we find the one person on the planet who understands and sees us more clearly than anyone else. Only then will we be satisfied. We want what is often understood to be a “soul mate.”
I did not marry my soul mate.
I picked the other kind of marriage – a mirror marriage. I chose to marry someone who is largely my opposite. I did not choose it blindly. After many years of hunting for a perfect match, I decided that I would rather be with someone with shared values and life goals. I knew that aligning my life with Nick’s would ultimately make me a better, more well-rounded person and that we would have a lot of fun along the way.
I had some idea of what I was getting into when we got married, but 1459 days in, I am still finding myself surprised, frustrated, and delighted at our differences. Just look at our Myers-Briggs personality profiles: I am an ENFP, the Inspirer. Nick is an ESTJ, the Guardian. I am a dreamer, he is a planner. Our largest common denominator is our “E” – our shared love and need for people. In almost every area of my life, being married to Nick pushes my buttons and forces me to think about things differently.
If there is anything I have learned in four years of marriage, it is that this relationship is the most challenging and refining thing I have ever participated in.
So how do you navigate a mirror marriage?
Re-adjust your Expectations
We all come into relationships with a set of rules, whether spoken or unspoken. If you do this, then I will do that. If you say that, then I will respond in this way. I have always done this task a certain way, and therefore it is the right way to do it. Failing to talk about your expectations early on and then revisit them on a regular basis is a recipe for disaster. After years of being together, we develop habits and patterns, some of which are helpful and good and others that are destructive. Talking about our expectations is not always fun, but it is necessary for the health of your marriage.
How many times have we heard it said that you can not read your spouse’s mind? As annoyingly simple as it seems, it is true. Most of us carry with us assumptions we have not bothered to voice to the one we love. It never fails to surprise me when Nick and I finally sit down to talk through something and we realize we have been misunderstanding each other for weeks, months, or even years. I am a notorious “stuffer” – if I am mad or hurt about something, I am likely to sit and stew on it in private for far too long before bringing the issue out into the open to be dealt with. When I choose to hold onto something silently, I am robbing from us the opportunity to work through the situation and be reconciled so we can move forward.
Prioritize your Marriage
After years of navigating the ebb and flow of marriage, you begin to get comfortable. The daily demands of life, work, family, and friends will add up quickly. You begin to function as merely co-pilots headed in the same direction, working to accomplish life’s tasks together. While its important to work as a team, there has to be another layer to your relationship. Setting aside intentional time on a regular basis to be together, focused on each other is crucial. Find out how your partner is really doing. Spend time listening and connecting on a deeper level. If we are not careful to practice this, it is amazing how much time can pass between these instances and we begin to realize we have no idea how the other person is really doing or if they feel loved.
Embrace the Romance
Married couples need to pursue each other in the same way they did while they were dating. Romance requires careful study of our spouse, planning, and creativity. It does not always come easy. We have to go out of our way to make the time and atmosphere to remind us why we fell in love in the first place. When Nick plans a date from start to finish with me in mind, I swoon. The loving thing is to do the same in return.
After four years of marriage, I am still learning many of the lessons I began learning in year one. Clearly, we are never going to arrive. The most beautiful marriages are a lifelong learning experience where you continually discover new things about who your spouse was, is, and is becoming. Though we may not have started out as soul mates, it is up to both of us to look in the mirror of our relationship, change, and grow together.
What are the most important lessons you have learned while being married or in a long-term relationship? What would you say makes a strong marriage?