Be intentional in celebrations.
It has been more than 2 weeks since our wedding anniversary but the memories of that day still lingers and give strength to survive the drudgery of every day living. Last week at work, we were having a school session (via Zoom) with some youth who are experiencing challenging home situations. One tool which we equipped them is to recall good memories they had with their family. Recall to reminisce. Reminisce to be thankful of a happy shared past. Being thankful helps one to alleviate current pains and lift one's spirits. (Try googling: effects of being grateful.)
Happy memories need effort to create. To celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary, we made the follow efforts.
Effort 1: Take leave and informed everyone at office that we will be unavailable.
Effort 2: Order tasty breakfast and set it up nicely in the balcony.
Effort 3: Dress up even though we are at home.
Effort 4: Set up the home to take photos to commemorate the day.
Effort 5: Write cards. (Write in the middle of the night and put beside glasses as surprise.)
Effort 6: Buy flowers. (And hide them in the toilet all night in order to flash them out at the right timing.)
Effort 7: Cook noodles for another when the person is hungry.
Effort 8: Go out for a walk.
Effort 9: Prepare reflection questions to review the marriage.
Effort 10: Review the marriage and plan forward adjustments.
Effort 11: Order our favourite type of food (seafood) and eat till food coma happens.
Effort 12: Make a 1 minute video to reminisce our history together.
Recently I saw an online video on a couple sharing about their divorce. Every divorce is painful because two joined lives are now tearing apart. For this particular couple, I especially felt that it was a pity. It seemed like they found each other really suitable and have such implicit trust in each other but have decided to part because there is no more spark. Frankly, you live with anyone over a long period of time, sparks will wear off. We see the ugliest side, the darkest side and sometimes the smelliest side --- all the undesirable aspects of the person. So to counter, we need to intentionally create beautiful shared memories together so that it balances us internally.
In addition, if we can adjust our mindset to see the privilege of journeying with someone to make one's ugly side less ugly, one's dark side less dark and one's smelly side less smelly, we would share a bond that is quite difficult for any third party to intrude. Well, let's face it, not many people will be willing to take my sh*t and true love sticks around even when things are sh*tty. So in my opinion, good marriages evolve beyond a romantic and sparkly phase, it moves into kinship, it moves into a phase of "I can't live without you".
That being said, the youth girl inside me still dreams of Prince Charming sweeping me off my feet. Hence, periodically, we still need to create sparks. Even silly things like dressing up and taking beautiful photos together in our own house, adds a little fun to all the mundanity of ordinary life. My dad says "情趣是把无聊当有趣!" (Fun or romance is amusing yourself with 'bo liao' [silly] stuff.) So, do many silly things together. Let's keep our brilliance at work and be silly with each other =)
Asher, my husband, always say, all the romantic movies and dramas have 2 elements which makes romance possible everyday. First, one party is rich, eliminating the need for work and responsibilities. Second, the movie or drama usually ends at the sparkly moment. No one screens a sequel of living together after a longer period of time, dealing with daily operations and mundanity which is probably our daily reality. Therefore, to learn from movies and dramas, we create the sparkly moments for ourselves and keep the sparks going. Let's accept the fact that we long for sparks. Let's also accept that sparks will wear off. Let's learn that sparks can be re-created again and again =) Jiayou everyone!
On Tuesday, 2 June 2020, my husband, Asher, and I celebrated our 8th Wedding Anniversary. Including dating days, we have journeyed 19 years together. It is a pain to walk through immature youth and young adults days but such a privilege and joy to witness each other's growth into who God has designed us to be, both individually and as a couple. We are really unfolding our wedding bible verse 'He has made all things beautiful in His time.' (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
In the last 2 years, we have quarrelled more frequently and more intensely yet journeyed deeper into each other. We celebrated internal victories more than we cheered for external successes of achievements. As trust grew, we begin navigating each other's darker sides and childhood hurts and venture into overcoming them. We started adjusting ourselves to Godly values which often "fought" with our habitual selves. Yet, as we free ourselves from ugly past and selves, we step into a realm of happiness beyond words could describe. A feeling of heaven. All these were possible because we knew we always have each other no matter how much we fight with each other. The quality of a marriage is not in how much sparks are flying or how passionate we feel for each other. The quality of a marriage is in how we fight and how we recover from fights.
Some boundaries we try to keep when we fight.
1. Do not attack personally. "You are so ...." "You always...." This becomes personal. Instead, phrase as "When you ...., I feel..."
2. Do not mention 'divorce' or 'breakup' unless you really mean it. (Sometimes in the heat of the moment, we may really feel so. So just keep quiet and don't say it. Only use these words in calmness to ensure that we really mean it.)
3. Allow time-out. (When one party needs to cool down, give the person time.)
4. Finish the fight. (Do not go on cold war, or sweep things under the carpet. Talk everything out, all the emotions, all the thoughts. Don't keep it in. They will roll forward and accumulate interest. Then when it is payback time, the debt could be huge. Finally, discuss adjustments needed to move forward positively.)
5. Do not burn the bridge. (We will still need to see each other every day, so do not use overly harsh words only to regret. Words spoken cannot be taken back because hurts are caused. If we take effort with outsiders in phrasing our words, why should we not take effort with people whom we really care about.)
Some attitudes we upkeep when we fight.
1. No fight will affect our relationship. (We always remind each other in the midst of the fight that this does not affect the relationship. Sometimes the anger is not at each other, it is an outburst from personal internal frustration from else where. Sometimes, it is at each other, but emotions do pass. Sometimes, it is irritation from different lifestyle habits but we can always make adjustments. Having in mind the permanence of the relationship gives security internally and prevents us from being overly harsh with each other.)
2. We can always try again tomorrow. (This is something I really appreciate about Asher. He always has an attitude of "Today I failed. Ok, then I try to be better tomorrow." His attitude has shaped my attitude. Sometimes, I become fixated on failures. Now, I learned the beauty of picking ourselves up and trying again. This not only moves but builds us forward. So trying again tomorrow, is not about doing the same thing but expecting a different result. It is learning from the quarrel and adjusting to improve our situation. This gives value to the quarrel. It builds than tears the relationship.)
3. It is often not about right or wrong but a matter of preference. (We realised that in most daily affairs, there is no right or wrong but a matter of personal preference. So instead of arguing who is right, we need to ask ourselves how much do I want to accommodate. To be honest, I am thankful for Asher because he is the more easy-going one; he accommodates to me more than I accommodate to him.)
4. We can always get help. (When things get bad and we feel helpless, seek help. At some point in our relationship, we have gone to professional counsellors for help and it assisted us in navigating the situation. Other times, we have requested trusted older folks to help us mediate. These helps have aided us to see things from different perspectives and given us useful tools to manage our situation.)
5. We always have God as our mediator. (Always pray and ask God for help and guidance. Something interesting all through 20 years. Whenever we reach stalemate on a decision, we would give it time and consult God. After some time of prayer, one of us will move and we would be inclined towards one decision than the other. It is amazing! In recent years, we seem to have lesser stalemate moments. We have been able to read each other's mind without even discussing! Perhaps we have become soul mates! We always believe that soulmates are developed not found; we grow to become soulmates.)
When we can resolve quarrels and find positive way forward, then even quarrels do not feel like hell. They just become stepping stones towards us arriving at "heaven".
Besides managing fights, creating positive emotional bank account in each other is important for us. Each time we do something nice for the other person, we deposit into the person's emotional bank account. Not every action carries the same value, so do what creates the highest value. How do we know what action will maximise joy in the other person? For dense person like me, I just ask directly. I once asked Asher, "If I only have 2 hours to do something for you, what would bring you the highest utility? Clean the house, cook for you, write a letter to you etc." So since, whenever I see Asher stressed, I try to cook for him. I don't want to waste energy doing a lot for him that does not really bring him much joy. Similarly, he knows that I enjoy services. So he buys food, chauffeurs me, washes the dishes etc. Actually, I love every type of love expressions (service, quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, touch), who doesn't? So we try to give a little of everything, but when we have limited energy, then choose what would bring greatest joy. With a healthy emotional bank account, it serves as a cushion during painful moments. In another words, there is "money" in the account for you to "withdraw".
When I was fifteen years old, a pastor shared with me that in marriage, feeling of love is not key but kindness and forgiveness. After 8 years, I testify that it is true. A little more kindness to build our emotional banks, a little more forgiveness to tide us through storms. There is no obstacle we cannot cross as long as we are willing and patient. There is no lost spark we cannot rebuild as long as we are willing and intentional. Everything is possible as long as we still have breath. So let's not wait till it's too late to extend a little kindness and a little forgiveness to each other. Asher and I are still stumbling forward. There are days we cannot and failed. It's ok, tomorrow we try again =)
Asher wrote in his card this year "God has used our marriage over the past 8 years to help other young couples and I believe this might be one of the ministry we as a couple are called to advance His kingdom." I am not too sure if we are advancing God's kingdom through our marriage. But I realised not only joy, even wounds can be gifts for our lives and others'. Our lives cannot be without wounds. While I am not excited about having them, I am exhilarated to see tears turn to joy and become balms for fellow strugglers. Recalling the pastor's message during our wedding: Managing a marriage is like cycling. No mater what has happened, you just keep stepping on the pedals and look ahead. If you keep turning your head to look back, you will lose your balance. Hence, the ending thought of this year's wedding anniversary is "Looking forward together always." Such joy, such comfort to be able to do so. My marriage has helped me appreciate more deeply the *redemptive love of God. How our mistakes can be forgiven and we can always have second chances as long as we are willing and we keep trying.
Oh my! I have written so much. Sorry that you have to read such a long blog. Thank you for celebrating with us by allowing us to share our anniversary reflections with you. May this encourages you to build a piece of heaven on earth =)
Because Jesus died on the cross for our sins, our sins do not bear a permanent mark. Our sins are redeemed. We have a chance to start again with God, with each other and ourselves. This is redemptive love.