About a year ago, Scott took care of the girls for two days and I flew to Philadelphia for my friend’s wedding. Of our group of five best girl friends from high school, I was the first married and the other girls came and supported me on my big day. Eight years had come and gone and another one of us was getting married so I wasn’t going to miss it if I could possibly help it.
High school graduation
On the day of my wedding
Did I mention I was nearly 37 weeks pregnant when my friend got married? I went anyway and I’m so glad I did.
This was taken a week after I got back from Philly! I was pretty pregnant.
I flew into Philadelphia, took a train and two buses and arrived at my friend’s house for the night-before party. It was pretty strange to spend a whole day on my own in a big city, figuring out public transportation and just being… alone. After being a mom of babies and toddlers for nearly 5 years, (and a wife for 8) making choices based purely on my own desires took some getting used to. It was great to get outside of my comfort zone and spend some time exploring the city and pondering life.
At one point at the party, I was chatting with several old friends. One was accompanied by her boyfriend and she asked me what my best advice would be to someone considering marriage (or something along those lines).
Honestly, nearly all of my friends in Columbus were married at that point so it had been a long time since I’d contemplated the dating scene or the selection of a spouse. My friend seemed to be in earnest so I looked her right in the eye and said,
Marriage requires sacrifice.
Another friend standing nearby quickly interjected, “You mean compromise.” (Incidentally, this particular friend was not married and didn’t seem particularly interested in marriage.)
I considered what she said, and replied, “No, that’s part of a happy marriage as well. But I am talking about sacrifice. Compromise might look like ‘I’ll do the dishes tonight if you do the dishes tomorrow night.’ Sacrifice looks like, ‘I may do the dishes every night for a whole year* and not expect you to reciprocate. I’m doing it because I love you and I’m happy to help you this way.’
My “compromise” friend had a visceral reaction to my response. I could tell she was getting all indignant about the idea of a woman doing all the dishes just to make her husband happy. But my theory is that in order to have a successful marriage, you have to put your pride on the shelf.
Selfishness gets left at the door and the beautiful thing is, you actually end up happier and more content when you think less about your own wants and needs and more about the other person’s. Compromise asks “how can I get you to agree and still have things my way as much as possible?” Sacrifice says that you are willing to walk THEIR way, hand in hand.
2004, during our engagement
As I tried to articulate to my single friends, my husband’s happiness should be near the top of my priority list. Because I love him, I would move heaven and earth for him. I would certainly wash all the dishes if that brought a smile to his face.
Here’s the kicker though: Doing so should also bring a smile to MY face. There are definitely times when sacrifices require… well.. sacrifice on my part. But there are many times in a good marriage where it is truly a pleasure to give something or give up something because you know doing so will bring your spouse happiness.
If I’m having a hard time with something I know I should do for my husband, all it takes is a quick mental review of some of the hundreds of things he has willingly sacrificed for me and for our family before I’m much more willing to do what needs to be done.
I still chuckle thinking back to our first year of marriage and what I learned while folding laundry. Scott likes his socks folded a certain way: in thirds. I grew up just folding over the tops, so that’s how I was doing all our socks. As I recall, he politely requested that his be folded in thirds, and I promptly got huffy and full of what I considered at the time to be righteous indignation.
Here I was, already doing HIS laundry and now he wanted to be particular about his socks?! Who cares how socks are folded?!
For a while, I would just fold down the top anyway and he’d quietly fold his own socks in thirds later.
This, I’m amused to recall, drove me batty. I was convinced I was married to a stubborn crazy person.
Had we not made a commitment before marriage to only speak positively about each other to other people, I’m sure my friends would have heard an earful about my impossible husband and his rigid approach to laundry.
I don’t recall when I had a change of heart… but it might have been on one of the days when Scott had woken up early yet again to clear the snow off our car for me because he knows my hands get cold super easily. Whatever the reason, on this particular day I was once again folding socks and I thought, “Who cares how socks are folded? My husband does. And I don’t.” And since that day, I’ve folded his in thirds. Easy peasy.
(When my five year old started folding our laundry, I taught her how her daddy likes his socks folded and she was excited. “Now I can make Daddy happy with nice socks!” She’s a wise one.)
A shortcut to marital harmony
A similar scenario was played out in many different ways during our first year of marriage, and periodically since then. In the beginning, we’d sometimes have loooooonnnnng conversations as we tried to “compromise” on things we both had opinions about.
Now we spend our talking time on more fruitful subjects.
When our opinions differ on something, we cut to the chase. “This is a 9 for me” I’ll say, meaning it’s pretty darn important and ranks highly for me on the 0-10 Scale of Importance we use. “Meh,” he’ll say, “It’s a 3 for me.” Done deal. He cheerfully goes along with my way even if he would have chosen differently if left to his own devices.
A little wisdom earned through lots of failure
Since that one brief conversation with my friends, I’ve been thinking a lot about sacrifice and how it’s been key to my marriage and my happiness. I’ve seen in hindsight how my hesitancy to sacrifice has caused unnecessary heartache and conflict. I have reflected on occasions when one or both of us has sacrificed greatly for the other and it’s been crucial in getting us through difficult times.
And it must be said, if you haven’t learned to find joy in sacrificing for those you love before having children, you’re in for a crash course the first time you’d like a solid night’s sleep after welcoming a baby to your family.
If I get asked a similar question about keys to a successful marriage again, or perhaps what to look for in a future spouse, I’d answer:
Marry a hard-worker. Marry someone who loves you and shows you that love by sacrificing for your happiness. Marry someone who you communicate well with. And if possible, marry someone who makes you laugh.
And in case you’re wondering, my husband was the one who pretty much washed every dish for a year for me when I was pregnant because he knows dishes are my nemesis.
Marrying this man was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Neither of us are perfect but there’s no one I’d rather walk with through life.
Here we are, walking out of our reception and completely oblivious that the coming months would bring sock folding woes. We were clueless then (and still are today) about the legitimate sorrows and triumphs the years to come will bring, but I’m glad we’ll face them together.