A while back Shamus and I received an email from young Christian, geek gentleman seeking Godly council on seeking a mate. That email ended up in an email account that I “lost” when I upgraded my computer to Mint from Ubuntu. Shamus looked over my answers and gave them a thumbs up but never got around to sharing his own answers (it has been a super busy couple of months.) Today another young male geek friend asked for advice on marriage and it reminded me of the questions we received from this young man trying to figure out what to be looking for in a wife. I think my answers apply to both, especially as I have found myself repeating several of them in the last months in other places. So here you go, my advice, after 16 years of marriage and 21 years of knowing each other as a couple of geeks and Christians all rolled in to one.
1) Has your relationship always been built on a strong Christian foundation, or were there some struggles in the beginning? I know that you mentioned you and Shamus argued a lot about the Bible
and God. What kinds of things were deal-breakers for you both? How did you reconcile those differences? What do you still both disagree on to this day?
When we were dating I was Roman Catholic– a strong, determined, deep in the culture Roman Catholic. Shamus was a non-practicing Christian. I was actively seeking and gradually God brought me around through my study of the Roman Catholic Bible (slightly different– more books, but I had been taught had all the RC traditions within so when I looked and the Bible said the opposite of what I had been taught it lead to a crisis of faith.) A week or so after we were married I was baptized by dunking (rather than the dipping I had received as a child) and started diving in to the Bible wholeheartedly. At that time Shamus just kind of came along for the ride (he was working things out internally but I wasn’t seeing any changes so didn’t even know at the time.) . I was zealous and growing leaps and bounds every day and determined to learn all I could about this new thing. I was sharing all I was learning and at that time Shamus was happy to just sit back and watch. I am sure there were many things we disagreed on but he saw fit to keep his mouth shut except for in the things he felt were important. Shamus has been blessed with the gift of discernment for a very long time and in this, he knew it was best to keep out of it and let me grow. Later he went through his own growth spurts and yes, there are some things we are not in wholehearted agreement on, I am sure.
We have studied in different ways completely (I have read straight through multiple times and have a special heart for the Old Testament while Shamus has done in depth study via audio Bible of the New Testament so that combined with what the Holy Spirit has spoken to each of us colors our perceptions.) Instead of focusing on those things when one of us comes up with something we see differently we wait and pray and very seldom discuss except in a conversational tone. No point in arguing– in the end the Lord usually opens our eyes and shows us that we have both just been seeing the area from a different angle and that we actually are pretty much agreed.
2) I know that this question is cliche, but I still need to ask it. What would you tell yourselves before you got married, if you could? “Hey younger Shamus, don’t forget to pick up your socks”
I would tell myself to stop whining and complaining, to focus on the positive, to start changing myself instead of trying to change him. In fact just the other day I gave similar advice to a young woman who was asking about marriage and how people can stay in love for so long. My answer to her was the same: Recognizing that only God can change another person– you WILL NOT change them and if you attempt it they WILL resent it. Instead focus on becoming the very best person God has for you to be, follow His direction, pray for wisdom, pray for discernment, seek Him and He will work it out. Also, we all bring baggage into our relationships–our perceptions are colored by them. We have to recognize this and find out what the other person MEANT, not just how we perceived it. Nearly all the marriage problems we have had have come down to communication and perception. And talking to another lady married for the same amount of time to a completely different type of person, she said the same exact thing. So communication and perception- praying for wisdom before opening your mouth. That would be a huge thing I would tell myself (I was NOT wise, at all, so I really needed to pray for wisdom.)
(On a side note, Shamus STILL leaves his socks on the floor but now I understand why– so they can dry and he can put them back on because they got wet.:D)
3) Heather, where do you draw the line between supporting your husband’s passions, and pushing him to be more “grown up”? Some of the “Christian girls” I meet make it clear that this whole nerd thing is just a phase, and they aim to change that. Needless to say I don’t often go on a second date with those. But what qualities should I look for in a woman who can be both supportive of my passions, and still call me out if I’m being a child and playing video games all day?
Hmmm, I think comes back to this “not trying to change the other person” problem. This is something we females are excellent at attempting. Every fairy-tale, every princess, every romance– all come down to trying to change the other person instead of being happy with them as they are and with who you are.
I DID try to change him in this regard (I have a post brewing about that, about valuing another person’s interests because they have value to that other person.) Even though I knew when dating Shamus that he could spend 9 hours programming while I looked on, that he would stay up all night playing a video game without blinking an eye, it made me angry once we were married and had kids. I tried to force him to go out with me even when he had a brand new game or the programming bug had hit. Thankfully Shamus is strong in his passions and refuses to let others stand in the way of them and only gave in very occasionally. Those things that I did not value, that I thought were useless, those very
things lead to him being the person he is today, to the very jobs he does today. (It’s almost as if God knew what He was doing when He designed Shamus. ;P)
Now I recognize that playing video games all day can lead to great things and can’t imagine asking him not to or calling it childish. In fact, I, when I have time, like to play video games all day as well. It is a family activity for us, one that we all value and enjoy, and the growth and learning that has come out of it is one that I would not trade for anything.
On the other hand I have also learned that it is okay to let him know that I have barely seen him in a few days and that I am starting to feel unloved (if you get a chance and haven’t already, read The 5 Love Languages”. It has been a huge help in our marriage in understanding how each of us gives and receives love and how we perceive it. I am a “acts of service” and “spend time with me” person, Shamus is an “encouragement” and “physical touch” person. This made our early marriage life horrible as we kept trying to show love and get love in our own love languages and nothing was working.
Qualities? I would say valuing what others value because the others value it and not showing contempt for what you value. Those are killers in a relationship, regardless of the passions/interests involved. As I have discussed with my kids repeatedly– if someone can’t respect what you love regardless of what it is and how they feel about it then they are not going to respect you. Of course that goes the other direction as well, if you don’t respect HER interests then same thing goes. Either you will end up trying to change to make them happy (and likely will fail horribly and make yourself miserable) or you will spend you time fighting and miserable. Either way that is not how God designed marriage
to be. God is love, all the law comes down to love God and love others, where is love in contempt, whining, complaining, arguing, disrespecting others? It isn’t. That is not God’s way, nor is it God’s plan for us in our relationships.
So valuing others, having respect for other’s interests, not whining, complaining, putting down those interests, but honest when need time. Someone seeking God with all her heart and genuinely trying to get at the truth, not just trying to fit what Christian culture says a Godly woman looks like (my goodness do they have that one whacked out), those would be good qualities.
4) Do either of you attend a church? Or do you participate in a family bible study? How does your family pursue God?
The whole church thing was a huge point of contention for a long time (RC-me meant not going to church was a sin). God changed my heart on that and now has opened my eyes to corporate worship not = “the church”. The church is God’s people, wherever they are and wherever we find them, not a physical place. Physical place is fine if you want it or need it and don’t have natural fellowship with other Christians but is not necessary to growth. In our case it was only after we left the physical church (Baptist then Christian and Missionary Alliance) that God started really growing us individually and as a family.
We celebrate Saturday Sabbath (not all the trappings, just take a day of rest as a family) and try to at least have a time of listening to God’s word together then. We often will spontaneously do so at other times as well. We listen to the Bible, pause and discuss as anyone has questions or a revelation, then move on. We pray together regularly and with whoever is available anytime we feel the need– which is often, multiple times a day most days. We keep Bibles open in different rooms including the bathroom so it is always open and ready for reading. We discuss what God is doing in our lives all the time. He is a regular part of every day.
That said we do not do formal “bible study”. In general neither Shamus nor I finds reading what someone else says about God’s word, aside from information on original culture and meaning of words, is very helpful. There are very few authors that I have found helpful in my personal walk (Seth Barnes and John Eldredge as well as Elisabeth Eliot and Oswald Chambers being the few that I go back to.) Mostly I prefer to focus on God’s word and see what He shows me through the Spirit. Shamus is the same way. On the other hand there have been some excellent Christian books on relationships that have helped including “The Five Love Languages”, “Captivating”, and “Men are Like Waffles, Women are like Spaghetti”.
5) Biggest struggles? Another cliche question, but it is different from couple to couple.
Personality + baggage + love language= issues, definitely. The combination of my neediness (thanks to baggage from childhood and family relationship issues) and Shamus’ natural fear of failure and rejection (also baggage related) mixed with me being more extroverted than he and wanting to fix everything and him feeling I was telling him he had failed every time I tried to fix things, mixed up with our very opposite love languages made things extra complicated. Throw in a complete lack of financial wisdom on both of our parts, a very needy, very extroverted oldest child with health issues, our own health issues, and were it not for God’s grace it would have been a recipe for disaster. Instead God used it all to grow us up and change us and once we got over our idiocy bring us to a new place in our marriage that we never would have imagined possible in the first half (I would say the huge explosion that could have lead to our downfall but instead brought
about a renewed marriage was 8 years ago, so now half or marriage away and the second half has been amazing.) Yes, marriage is still work but we complete each other, hold each other up, encourage and help each other grow in the direction God is leading. I can’t imagine life without Shamus and I know he feels the same way about me.
6) Another other advice for a young padawan?
Seek God first. Focus on being the very best He has for you. Focus on hearing His voice (it can be awfully quiet at times), get to know Him through His Word and be open to where He leads, let Him show you His love– learn to see it in all the ways He reveals it.
Get to know yourself. Recognize your own struggles, sin areas, love language, and personality type (Myers-Briggs/Keirsey Temperament sorter is very helpful.) Look at your relationships, learn to be the best friend you can be.
Don’t go searching for someone to complete you, instead let God complete you. When the time is right He will bring the right person into your life, someone who will respect you for who you are without trying to change you, someone you can love as she is.
And once you are in a relationship recognize that love isn’t just a feeling. It takes hard work to maintain a relationship and sometimes you will NOT feel loving. Sometimes you will fall madly in love all over again but sometimes? Not. At. All. Sometimes she will make you crazy. Sometimes you will make her crazy. Push through and keep choosing to love her. Keep praying that God would change the stuff that needs change in you and keep choosing to love anyway. You WILL get through it. God will help you. You can do it. God bless you.