Marriage is as One Long Conversation

The old philosopher said, "Marriage is as one long conversation. When marrying you should ask yourself this question: do you believe you are going to enjoy talking with this woman into your old age? Everything else in a marriage is transitory, but most of the time you're together will be devoted to conversation.” The old philosopher was right, but as with all bits of rightness, it ought to be understood in its place. 

I have always known marriage was not an easy conversation. I am of Scotch-Irish descent; men in my family love their beer and asserting opinions, and as for the women, there's a demure outside but on the inside it's all fire and spit. Most conversations were spent seeing who could talk the loudest the longest without throwing the first punch—even if the punch was merely metaphorical.

When I began to grow outside the incubator of family alone, I saw the long conversation of marriage through a different lens. These marriages were built on the scaffolding of details: who is supposed to be where and when and how, who needs to be picked up, what's for dinner, what should we do about this child or that one. There was an ordinariness to the conversations of marriage, unaccompanied by emotive, defensive jabs at the other. It seemed simplistic. I know now it's because I was not in the middle of those marriages as I was in the middle of the marriages in my family, and when we are in the middle of something all our own, we see all its inconsistencies and broken-places.

As I stepped into adulthood and was able to see my skewed perspective of childhood and adolescence both, I began to see marriage was a long conversation, but the tone of voice could change it from a pleasant one to a violent one. Armed with this newfound knowledge of tone, intention, nuance, and even love, I began to assume all the long conversations of marriage could be blissful. A constant sharing of ideas and delights and hurts and confusions, a true partnership. Whenever I thought of being married it was the long conversation I looked forward to most. 

Marriage has been that for me and Nate. The cusp of our friendship was on deep conversation, leading to dates full of long, easy talks, quiet pauses, intentional listening, and slow responses. This was the long conversation of marriage I wanted, I could see that clearly from our first date. 

The long conversations become subject to the tyranny of the urgent, though, as most things can. A few weeks ago there were twelve decisions that needed to be made and seven of them required quick conversations but the other five required depth, time, focus, and charity. We were short on all of that, though, and so if the conversations were going to be had, they were going to be had on the surface, quickly, while we multi-tasked, and were short with one another. As with most conversations built on bedrocks like that, we needed to repent later to one another. 

The urgent doesn't let up, though, does it? There is always someone who needs an answer or thinks they need an answer, or wants one. There is always something that must be signed up for or paid or responded to or agreed upon. There is always something left unfinished, unsaid, unsealed. I have learned to say to others, "I want to talk to Nate about that first," but the when of talking sometimes comes slowly or is mingled among the other conversations, never finished.

Nate and I practice (and by practice, I mean we are very unproficient at this and must practice) the discipline of saying "No," to ourselves, our minds, our friends, and the tyranny of the urgent. If, in saying no, we find ourselves disappointed or others disappointed by our lack of a quick answer—this is the discipline of the practice. This is the sacrifice, the hurt, the pain. This is where we admit to ourselves and to others that we are not God, as much as we sometimes think we would like to be. 

I think about Jesus in John 16. He says to his disciples and friends, "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you." I think about how often we fill conversation simply because we do not want to feel the lack of the incarnate Christ and we do not want to wait for the Holy Spirit to do what only he can do. We are uncomfortable with the long silences, afraid the Spirit will not do what He does: move. 

Yesterday morning, in the early hours of our day of rest, Nate mentioned some conversations we've left unfinished this week, answers others expect. And then he said this: I want to pray about these things, ask the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom, humility, and a direction, even more than we simply talk about them. And then, for the rest of the day, we didn't talk about things we could not solve on that day. We left space for the Spirit to enter in, give peace or withhold it. 

Marriage is one long conversation, but it is not, primarily, a conversation between two, but three. If we find the conversation to be focused on just two, it may go the brawling way of my family, or it may go the stoic way of my checklisting friends. But, I think, if we move ourselves away from one another for a moment, stop talking and begin listening, not primarily to one another but to the Holy Spirit, we may find that conversation more robust, full, and gentle than we could have imagined before. We may leave more things unfinished, more things unsaid, more events unattended, and more lists unchecked, but I do not think we will leave less full. 

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If you're married today, what might it look like to still the conversation—even about the rudimentary things or the things that seem pressing and necessary—and begin to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in this longest conversation of your life? 

If you're not married today, what might it look like to trust the Spirit is still at work in all the seeming silences of your life? In the lonely places where you long for conversation, how can you exercise listening to the Helper, learning from him, and obeying him as he perhaps prepares you for the long conversation of earthly marriage and definitely prepares you for the long conversation of eternity? 

Making New Friends, Keeping Old Ones // Challenges for the newly married

Wilbert-166

This is part of a series I'm doing this week on challenges for the newly married

Before I got married, I'd get questions from my single sisters often that went something like this, "My friend recently got married and now it seems like she has no time for me! What do I do?" My answer was always along the lines of, "If you value the friendship, and I hope you do, recognize the massive life change she is undergoing, and be patient. There will come a time, sooner than she thinks, that she realizes this wonderful, amazing man she's knit herself to for life, doesn't fill every need when it comes to relationships. She needs female friendship, and she will want it again soon, and hopefully if your friendship before marriage was the sort that there was an equal give and take, she will want it with you soon." I know it feels a bit like rainy-day friendship, but true friendship will weather that torrential storm. I hope my friends have the same grace for me.

There are, I think, two main challenges for the newly married when it comes to friendships:

1. Keeping your own friends

This has been a real challenge for us. Partially affected by our two moves, but also because our individual friends were our own. We each have long histories with them. Now, in marriage, there are twice the amount of relationships to maintain and only one unit of us. We simply cannot maintain the double relational energy it takes to maintain all the friendships there are between the two of us—particularly because both of us have lived all over world and we met one another in our mid-late-thirties—that's a lot of friendships all over the place to try to maintain well. It's impossible for mere humans, and so we have had to step back from some friendships. It feels horrible to be the person on the other side of that equation, and I have been there dozens of times myself. It isn't meant to be mean, it is simply the limitations of our human-ness pressing up against the expectations of others. I cannot have long and rambling phone calls or text messages at 11pm anymore. I don't book tickets to a wedding halfway across the country anymore. I don't spend weeks away from home on road-trips anymore. Disappointing others will happen because I am saying "Yes" to my husband and home and "No" to many other things and people, and Nate is doing the same.

There are a few friends where our friendship has changed, but our friendship is maintained. The number is simply smaller than it ever has been before, and in some ways, some of those friendships have grown or diminished even since marriage. Things change. People change. Friendships change. It doesn't change the value of what was had before though, and if you're still single or newly married, I'd encourage you to not grow bitter or feel ashamed of this reality. Sometimes some friendships are only for a season.

2. Making new friends together

Before marriage I had this idea that married friendship looked a lot like two guy best friends and two girl best friends hanging out for all hours of the night. They had all sorts of inside jokes and there was a comfortable familiarity among all of them together that was the glue holding their friendship together. The truth is more like this: two or three of the four have great chemistry, and the other(s) is left feeling on the outside of something that seems very much like they should be inside it.

We all learn early on in life that not everyone has to be friends with everyone. There is a natural sort of chemistry to friendship, an attractiveness not based on physicality, but on camaraderie. Similar ways of joking or similar interests, alike histories or worldviews. These sort of things are present in every close friendship, and I've experienced them with both men and women alike. These are the sort of friendships where you can not see one another for a year and pick right back up where you left off. But when you have four people in the equation now, it becomes more complicated. Now you have four personalities at play, and all four are non-negotiable parts of this new relationship. It becomes very, very difficult to retain friendships in which your friend and your spouse, or you and their spouse, don't have that chemistry. It becomes a chore to spend time with them instead of a joy—and that is very difficult on a marriage. There's nothing inherently wrong with any one person here, or wrong with any one friendship, it is just not as natural as it once was, or not as natural as you'd like it to be in new friendships.

We have not learned this well together in our marriage, our closest friends are still the ones we had before marriage, and we have struggled to make new friends together. Part of that is, again, the two moves, but I think it's common in marriage and has only been exacerbated by the moves. I simply keep reminding myself that right now I am learning deep friendship with my husband—an opportunity we didn't have before marriage. But someday, we will have to learn to make friends together with other couples, and unless God blesses us with perfect chemistry with all parties, it will involve sacrifice on someone's part.

. . .

I thought it would be good to share a personal story of how someone is wrestling through this in the present. Below is a story from a friend of mine, Liana Hull, who got married a year ago. She is in her early twenties and I got the chance to sit across from her and hear more of her heart and story last month.

When my husband and I started dating, a friend of mine became bitter and jealous, ruining much of dating and being engaged for us. I let that jealousy and bitterness steal my joy and the situation became a constant source of worry on my part. After a few months of marriage and recovering from an emotionally tumultuous engagement season, I came to realize that I needed to just let her go. And it broke my heart. Losing such a close friend because of jealousy that I could not appease really, really broke me. A deep sadness took over my heart and mind and I struggled. For a few months, every day was hard. Choosing to feel joy in this season of life has been really difficult. Becoming verbal about my happiness has been surprisingly difficult in marriage as well, because I don't want to alienate further.

I would also add that having every relationship in my life change post-marriage (which is good and right), plus a deep insecurity that everything I do would cause someone to be jealous is lethal combination. It paralyzed me emotionally and I become very isolated. One of my pastors encouraged me to just pray "Lord, work in my life and work in [my friend's]" every time I thought of her and it helped me get my mind/heart beyond my own fears and paranoias about relationships in my life. Simple, genuine, regular prayers (I probably prayed that 15+ times in a day for a month or two) really changed the way I thought about our friendship, and all relationships in my life.

. . .

The challenge for the newly married of making new friends and keeping the old ones is a real one. Don't feel guilty for being unable to maintain all your old friendships or for struggling in making new friendships together. The other day I was close to tears with Nate saying how much I miss our friends and how I'm afraid we'll never be settled enough to have close community like that again, and he comforted me with the truth that we are being faithful and having open hands, and it can look different than it looked before and not be any less good. God actually doesn't promise any of us friendship in this world, but He does promise to put the lonely in families.

My prayer for us newly married sisters, is that instead of growing hard to the possibility, we would be made soft in the probability, that we would have hope like an anchor in the reality that Christ calls us His friends, even if no one else does.