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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

The Hardest Thing About Marriage

I can remember getting an odd question in our first year of marriage.

It came from a man older than me who was discerning whether to pursue a significant relationship in his life. He asked me, “What is the hardest thing about being married?”

My answer was this: the hardest thing about marriage is living with the knowledge that I will not be able to love my wife perfectly. I am only human and have limitations and I’m forgetful on top of it all. (And sometimes stubborn, but that’s my fault.) I know there will be times when I will hurt her—even though I don’t mean to—just because our personalities are different.

I don’t think that was the answer he was expecting, judging by his look and silence. I think he expected me to say something about doing the dishes or snoring.

I recall wondering if I was naïve in my answer, if it was the answer of a young newlywed still glowing from the honeymoon. I remember wondering if I might have a different reply after 10 or 15 years of marriage.

Well, it has been 14 years of marriage as of this week and I’ve come to the conclusion that I was not naïve in my response. Even then, I could see that this marriage would be a very human experience. The only difference now is that I can see all the ways that I am imperfect—back then, I had only an inkling.

(…sorry, brief interruption while writing to clean up Lucy after she vomited in bed tonight—no joke… back now…)

It is a great sadness to me that I cannot be perfect for Stacey. I dearly want to be able to meet all of her needs without any prompting. I think I give it an honest effort each and every day—I’m not trying to skinny out of anything—it is just that we are very different people, and we have very different tendencies and needs. There are bound to be times when those tendencies and needs are at odds with one another.

What could be worse than hurting the one I love the most when I am totally at fault, and at the same time totally blind? The only thing to do in those moments is to pick up the pieces and keep trying. Times like that make it easy to stay humble.

Moments of real joy, as Stacey wrote last week, are true gifts in this light, true grace. There are just as many factors at play here that could make us bitter and cold as that could make us laugh. After 14 years of marriage, how is it that we could spent last Thursday night robot-dancing in our kitchen to German pop music?

Love is the answer. The gift of the struggle is the ability to choose to love. The fact that it doesn’t come easy means that I am free to decide to give everything of myself to Stacey. Even if it isn’t enough, every day I choose to give her everything.

I can see in her that she makes that same commitment to me, and for both of us it has been nothing short of transfiguring.