Lord willing, we will complete our eighth year of marriage in May. In our first year of marriage we used to awe at people who were married longer that seven years. If we can make it to seven, I believe that God can sustain and bless any marriage to thrive to this point (especially considering our first year). Our first year of marriage to put it nicely was a year of growth; to put it realistically it was rough. One of my recent marriage revelations likely attributed to many of those problems. ‘Things you wish you would have known…’ Unmet expectations, especially ones that are not appropriately communicated, are a big reason why marriages fail. Johnna and I strongly advise pre-marital counseling, potentially multiple of them, at any point in the dating relationship or courtship. Pre-marital counseling, loving parents, an engaged ‘mentor couple,’ and the Bible will help reveal some of the expectations that can cause conflict in your marriage. All of us have them and most are not aware what they even are. Check out our list of books and materials that have been very beneficial to our marriage.
On Saturday, Johnna and I went shopping because I will no longer be wearing a uniform; thus, I have to prepare for business casual attire weekly. I see the uniform as freedom because it frees my mind to think about other, more important things, rather than thinking “What do I need to wear today, that I didn’t wear two days ago, that is also functional and professional?” I told my new supervisor that I would love for him to institute a uniform in the office. I don’t think he took my request seriously at all. Too soon? Nonetheless, I want bang for one’s buck, simple attire that I can wear multiple days in a row without the ability to mess up any dress coordination. My thoughts… Men’s Wearhouse.
We loaded the van and went there first. As we arrived, two were sleeping, so I went in with the following advice, “Just see what you like and then we will go to Ross or Marshalls to find a better deal.” I took that mission and was determined to succeed. I went in, tried everything on (I am new but not a rookie), got my three interchangeable outfits – socks, dress pants, collard shirts for summer and winter – and left the store feeling like a winner. I had a coupon and half of my items were from the clearance racks so I knew Johnna would be proud of that. I told the store manager to hold my outfits for my wife to have final approval. “We will be back before lunch,” I explained. I walked out thinking that the shopping is done, the mission is accomplished, and we could now go home. No need to visit Ross or Marshalls, I am saving us time and money.
I returned to the car and the family was in a bit of disarray. “What took so long?” Johnna says, not upset, but a little perturbed. I learned to tell the difference approximately year five into marriage. I thought, “What do you mean, you can’t rush greatness?” What I really said, “What do you mean? I did exactly what you asked. I tried everything on, got everything we need, all we need to do now is purchase.” Johnna was a little bothered, “No, I just told you to look and see what you like,” as she spins us around to head to her stores. As we discuss my ‘style’ and my ‘accomplishment’ we get the anxious kids outside and head to Ross.
Whenever we shop we need two shopping carts because of our small kids. Our youngest will go in a carrier; the next two will be constrained in the cart, one pushed by Mom, the other cart juggled between the two older boys and myself. Our girl, who is in the middle (B, B, G, B, B) is literally the center of attention, looked at me with her googally eyes and says in her cuddly voice, “Dad I want to get out.” Only Johnna has the determination, will, and self-control to resist such angelic petitions. So the boys and I pushed an empty cart while they all hid in between the clothing racks. We guarantee to provide free entertainment to the by standing shopper.
Johnna and I rejected each others’ clothing choices until I laid down the ultimatum, “Am I dressing me or are you dressing me? If I am dressing me, then I have picked out my plain, simple, and interchangeable clothing wear. If you want to dress me then I will wear what you like, but going to work in polka dots and patterned shirts is not sustainable. Are you picking my outfit everyday?” It would be easy if our styles and choices aligned, or as my mom likes to say, “If you would just listen to your wife son.” Johnna tried not to squash my manhood, agreed and decided to add stylist to her long list of duties and accomplishments. I tried on whatever she picked out with very little objection, except a few tops that all of America would agree are inappropriate for my personality. She encourages me to be a “Classic Man,” where I am actually a “Simple Man” — minus the twang and multiply the diversity.
We head back to MW after successful shopping in Ross and Marshalls. It was almost lunch, so time was limited before the point-of-no-return, mental-breakdown of all the babies (if you have kids you know what I am talking about). We did our patented drive by. The one where you have too many kids and only one parent will go in quick because it takes you 15+ minutes to load and unload. As we drove I said, “This should be quick. Speak with Ed; he has all my stuff laid out. Take my card, coupon and come right back out.” As soon as I park the van I see Johnna return with no bags.
To say the least, she didn’t like anything I picked out. She attempted to explain why she refused to purchase any of them, but what I remember hearing was, “Those clothes were awful and expensive. That is what old … Grandpa men wear.” At this point in the conversation I paused to appreciate where God has brought us. Money, hungry kids, mis-communicated expectations, and three hours of shopping was definitely a recipe for an argument or disaster. However, in that moment we talked through it.
After seven years, we are more comfortable telling each other where we have been hurt, what we didn’t like, owning our responsibility in the hurt of the other, and coming back to our bottom line, Jesus. When grace abounds and you are joined together for reasons beyond yourself; love, sacrifice, and forgiveness can occur. The problem I had going into marriage was expecting us to be ‘soulmates.’ As we observe couples that appear to be soulmates, they are really inspiring. However, most of these couples have been married for 20+ years. I always wanted us to operate on that level at day 20. If you have found your soulmate at year one, more power to you. For the rest of us, I want to encourage you to make room for growing pains. Be careful when judging other marriages to your own and holding those expectations on your spouse. All of us do it and it is often unavoidable as most people marry someone like their Mom or Dad. Be prepared to teach your spouse how to be your soulmate and in due time, you will both grow towards oneness.
P.S. As I am writing this, my breakfast casserole is baking and Johnna is ironing the outfits she has so purposely planned for my workweek. She made sure to tell me they are coordinated with the weather and what they should convey to my coworkers for each day. I wonder how long this will last and if I’ll ever get the green light to dress like a Grandpa. She has already delegated more of her work so maybe we can sustain this battle rhythm. Time will tell.