When my husband and I first watched our wedding video it warmed my heart to relive one of the very best days of our lives. But I also had a lot of criticism for myself– mostly trivial things like the way my hair was pinned in one spot or how I wish I’d prepared a proper exit speech. But watching the video with my children a couple of weeks ago on our sixth anniversary, I felt no need to criticize. I felt none of that typical cringey feeling we get when we look too closely at our past selves. I only felt joy and, most of all, gratitude.
I’ve heard that the most difficult time of marriage tends to be between years four and seven. Most theories blame a decline in honeymoon feelings or the stressful aspects of children, careers, and life in general. But, at least in marriages with a good baseline relationship of mutual respect and love, I think it’s simpler than that. Some people say that marriage is like a mirror. Well, it’s difficult to look in a mirror for that long. You’re going to find some things you don’t like.
So what’s the solution? You can blame the mirror. You can blame the person holding the mirror. You can close your eyes, turn away, sink into self-pity. You can be delusional about what’s really there. You can do all sorts of things when you don’t like what you see in the mirror.
Or you can look right into it. And say, no, I’m not perfect. I’m very, very flawed. But my spouse loves me. He loves me even though he sees me BETTER than I can see myself in the mirror. He loves me, and that’s incredible.
Our culture has so many references to “self-love.” “If you never learn to love yourself, you’ll never learn to love anyone else,” we’re told. We’re told to figure ourselves out first. To spend time on ourselves first. To “find” ourselves first. And I’m absolutely not saying that people don’t need to have time alone or that everyone is supposed to get married or that developing individual interests isn’t important in relationships. But sometimes the only way we can really learn to appreciate and accept who we are is by allowing someone else to do so. Sometimes the only way we can fully become ourselves is by getting out of ourselves. Sometimes the only honest mirror is the one held up by someone who loves us.
Marriage is difficult not only because it requires you to accept another person and all their flaws but because it requires that you accept yourself and all your own flaws. It requires an incredible amount of humility. But if you’re willing to stand your ground and look in that mirror, straight on, you’ll find something miraculous happening.
Marriage has taught me to forgive myself. Marriage has taught me that not forgiving myself is not some sort of martyrdom. It is, in fact, pride. Marriage has taught me to be grateful for the gift of myself. To be grateful for all the talents and virtues that come easily and for all the talents and virtues that do not come easily. Marriage has taught me to be grateful for my faults and the way they humble me and, especially, the way that I’m loved in spite of them. Marriage has taught me to stop holding myself on a pedestal. To stop treating self-actualization as the ultimate goal in life. Marriage has reminded me that Heaven is not a kingdom of many strong and powerful individual gods and goddesses, all self-perfected. Heaven is a kingdom of the little ones. Heaven is a kingdom for the weak, the ugly, the broken— but all of whom have taken on the cloak of humility and allowed it to lift and exalt them. I look in the mirror and see that I cannot reach that Kingdom alone. It sometimes hurts to realize that. But that’s why I have someone to carry me.