I’ve said this before, I am pretty sure. There are times where I feel like I do a disservice to my children. Mostly due to Mark, we’ve been able to make marriage look like a very easy relationship. I say “Mostly Mark” because I can be lazy and feisty and crabby, but Mark’s number one goal in life has been to make his wife happy. This has meant more children than he though he’d like to have (in retrospect, he is thrilled he has each and every one of them.) It has meant going on a cruise when he’d rather pay off a vehicle or put in a deck. It meant being willing to look into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when really he found much joy in his own religion. (In retrospect, he is thrilled about his conversion, and if asked he would tell you that it was a decision done with much prayer, study, and pondering, not because of some cute (in his opinion) girl who was interested in him.) And multiple other things throughout our marriage. I am sure if Mark was asked, he’d be the first to say that I too have given up things for him, but let’s face it. This is MY blog, and if I want to make it an Ode to Mark, I will!
I took most of it for granted, or at least relied on it as “typical” until after I had Alisabeth and my doctor and I were discussing birth control. We spoke of permanent measures, and I said I just wasn’t sure what I wanted for the future. She replied, “Well, you are lucky. You have a husband who wants you to be happy, and is willing to do anything to make that happen. Not every woman is treated with such tender loving care.” My thoughts on family planning were lost to me, as I realized and focused on what she had said. That Mark is, and always has been, about making me happy, if he can. And that others recognized and appreciated that in him, as it was a priority in his life. I realized that day how truly lucky I was to have found him, and have him in my life.
It was at that time that I realized that perhaps I’d been a little selfish. Not in a “give me another child…change religions for me” way (we’ve actually gotten quite good at family planning and rarely had “accidents” after the getting the hang of it!) But rather, while he’d made MY happiness paramount, perhaps I didn’t put equal energy into making his happiness MY goal. I read a book on the 5 Love Languages. It talks about how each of us best likes to give love, and receive love. We each took the test, though I was pretty sure how it would turn out. Sure enough, I like Words of Affirmation best. I don’t need flowers or jewelry, I just want to hear, “Thank you for doing the dishes!” On the other hand, Mark is an equal mix of “Quality Time” and “Physical Touch”. Two things that are fairly hard to accomplish when you have a large, busy family. But knowing how hard Mark worked to make me happy, I knew that I needed to put his happiness first as well. And really, it doesn’t take much. A date night once a week can do wonders. Making sure the kids get to bed on time so that we have a couple of hours in the evening together helps sustain closeness. Here we are, over 17 years married, and more in love than ever. We have our disagreements, we have our arguments, but we’ve never had a fight. He’s never raised a hand to me, nor his voice. He has never, NEVER said a negative thing to me. In 17 years, I’ve gained some gray hair, wrinkles, weight, stretch marks, and he always treats me like I am the most beautiful person he knows. And he treats all people with the same respect. I remember years ago driving down the street one day laughing and saying, “Nice pants” to someone walking down the sidewalk. (I didn’t literally say this to them, just in the car to Mark.) He turned to me and said, “Jen, that isn’t nice.” He taught me that day about kindness, and I was changed and bettered because of him. I’m not perfect, I still slip, but I do try harder to be as kind as he is.
So, today is Valentine’s Day. I woke up, and went and nursed the baby. Mark kissed me and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day” and left for work. A few minutes later, I had to use the bathroom, so I went in and found this:
Inside the card was a love letter. Mark knows how much I love letters like this. Inside the purple hearts; chocolate. I shared the chocolate with the children, I kept the letter to myself. It’s wonderful to know he loves me. He cherishes me. That I am everything to him, and always will be. During the past couple of years, no less than 10 people I know have been cheated on in their marriages. This breaks my heart. I wish people would stop being so selfish, stop giving up so easily, stop making excuses or justifying bad behavior.
I found a yummy recipe on Pinterest for Filet Mignon. (Recipe and instructions HERE.) I had asked Mark what he wanted for Valentine’s Day, and he said “A quiet dinner alone!” So I had Ethan make supper for the kids early, had Gabby do her dishes early, fed them and sent them downstairs to watch a movie. Then I cooked, set the table, lit a candle, and for a blissful hour we just talked, held hands, kissed. It was lovely. Do you know what was even more lovely? That we started the dinner with a prayer of thanksgiving for all that we’d been blessed with. Mark offered it, and my heart swelled in gratitude for this honorable, kind, Godly, and loving man.
So on this Valentine’s Day, I want to talk About Love, to my children. To give them a few hints and tips as they head towards their years of dating and finding that “perfect” someone.
I want you to know how much I love you. I never knew how strong that love would be until the day my first baby was placed in my arms. And each baby since then has only magnified my feelings. You own such a large portion of my heart. Many of the things I do, I do for each of you. I know I have my quirks, and I tell bad jokes, and I take too many photographs. I know I can be embarrassing. I am human, after all. I hope one day, each of you have a child placed in your arms, and you are gifted with a love so overwhelming, it takes your breath away. (The kind of love that makes you cry when your child performs in a play or a concert. The kind of love that makes you cry when you picture your child growing up and leaving…even if it’s years away. I’m sure you know what I mean!) I hope with that love, comes the love of a good spouse. I want you to know, I have been blessed by having your father in my life. I have never met a kinder, more loving, more respectful man in my life. If you can come even close to the joy I have every day with him, you are lucky.
I know we make marriage look easy. We argue on occasion, but you’ve never seen a fight. You’ve never seen him unkind to me. You’ve seen us cry, and laugh, and talk, and pray together. Marriages aren’t always this easy. Finding the right person can be scary, and hard. It may not happen in the time frame you want. You will probably have to grow and change and compromise so that you too can be the right person for someone else. Marriage, above all else, is a verb. It is an action word. It takes work to sustain. It has hills and valleys, good times and bad. It has imperfections and quirks you have to get around. As it ages, it has plateaus that you plod through. It can be a joy, and a sorrow in your life. But it is NOT a crap-shoot. It’s not all about getting lucky, or hoping for the best. There are things you can do, and things you can look for, that will get you started on the right foot.
1. A marriage vow is a covenant. You’re not saying, “Sure, I’ll marry you, as long as you make lots of money, and we only have happy times. As long as something prettier doesn’t come along. As long as I’m happy, as long as you keep my interest. No, dear children, you are standing before God saying, “I want to be with this person for the rest of my life. I am willing do work hard to get past the bad times, or even the mundane times. I understand that there are lots of beautiful people in the world, but I am willing to give my heart to one person for eternity. I know what we see on TV and the movies, or in books is fantasy…that to have a Happily Ever After *I* need to work on my part of the equation, and encourage my spouse when they work on theirs. I know that devastating things could happen to us, but through God I can feel peace and contentment.
2. Learn to communicate. Let your spouse say what is on his/her mind. Repeat it back so that it can be confirmed that you understand correctly. Explain your position without being defensive. Be willing to compromise. It’s okay if he wants to go hunting, and it’s okay if she wants a girls night out. And don’t forget, you are BOTH the parent. Dad’s don’t “babysit”. They don’t get to go bowling until they make use their wives don’t also have plans. One person’s agenda isn’t more important than the other’s. Dad’s can change diapers just as well as mom’s. And if mom has been up all night nursing, they darn well better be helping out in other ways! And one other little known fact, women can mow the lawn and men can scrub toilets. Don’t believe them if they say they can’t! Turn to your spouse when you are hurting, sad, lonely, or angry. Don’t seek other relationships to fill a void. Friends when you are married are fine, and fill a special need, but they should not replace marital relationships. Also, Dad and I agreed that we wouldn’t share personal information that would hurt or embarrass each other with friends, or on social media like Facebook or email lists. Marriage should be a sanctuary and trusting place. Oh, and in our marriage, it takes two “yeses” for something to be approved. If one of us says “no” the other doesn’t have the votes. This is were compromise comes in. Oh yes, learning to compromise is a huge thing. This means, you may have to back down sometimes. It’s okay! It’s even good for you!
3. Learn what actions or words make your spouse feel loved. If sweeping the floor makes them happier than new earrings, then all the better that you save some money and make her happy. If they’d rather hear, “Thanks for working so hard for our family each day” over a pair of football tickets, don’t be afraid to say it. And often! Over the years, as our outward beauty diminishes, the words become even more important than you can imagine. Reflect often on the feelings you had when you first met, first married. They hormone present when you fall in love…it’s beautiful. But it doesn’t hang around like that all the time. You NEED too look deeper, to learn to convert your love to one that is…different. Stronger, surer, deeper.
4. Get to know your significant other. How does he treat his mom, or his sisters? How does he use his credit cards, or feel about debt? What is his work ethic like? Does he mind hard work, or does he complain about it? Does he spend a lot of time on the computer, or in front of the video games? Is your happiness important to him? How does she feel about splitting housework? Will you exchange gifts at Christmas? Do you expect a Mother’s Day present? Will she be supportive during hard times? Is she willing to be thrifty when need-be? Where will you spend the holidays? (And will they let their mother-in-law come to the birth of her grand-babies? This one is especially important!) How do they treat others? Are they genuinely kind to those around them? Are they respectful? Are they prayerful? Is God as important in their life as it is in yours? If you have strong opinions about breastfeeding, homeschooling, circumcision, spanking, crying it out, etc. please feel free to share those opinions early in your relationship. No question is too small. The little insignificant things when you are dating often become the BIG things later on. “Isn’t cute how he leaves his clothes in a pile the same way every day!” isn’t so cute years later. When your Dad and I started dating, I loved that he was quiet, and shy, and laid back. Years later I hated that it was like pulling teeth to have a conversation that didn’t revolve around fishing or hunting, and it bothered me that he wasn’t driven to promotions or high places in his employment. He had to learn to converse about topics that interested me, and I had to learn that he was happy making enough to bring joy to our family and had no interest in power.
5. Forgiveness. People are human. Sometimes they fail. Often they make mistakes. Everyday, in fact. There will be times he forgets his filter and says something stupid. There will be times she is hurting on the inside, and takes it out on you verbally. You NEED to learn to say, “I’m sorry” and “Please, forgive me. I’ll try better.” And even, “I was wrong.” (I know, gulp!) You also need to learn to accept those statements. Move on, and try harder. Don’t hold those things over their heads for years. Don’t use them to manipulate them into doing things for you. And remember, the person you married at (xx) age will not be the same person 5, 10, 15+ years later. People change and evolve. Not just their bodies, but their personalities, their wisdom, their actions. I pray that their integrity is a North Star in your life, always constant, always there for you.
These things aren’t guarantees. I wish I could save you from any heartbreak or loss. I wish I could guarantee your marriage will be as joyful as mine. I hope the three big A’s never happen to any of you: abuse, adultery, addiction. I pray it doesn’t. I hope by being observant, by being wise, and especially by being prayerful (and living a moral life so that the Holy Ghost can guide you towards the path you belong on) can help you achieve a love a wonderful as the one I have with Daddy. I’d also like to remind you, that the above qualities that are important to find in a spouse, they are also important to BE. I hope I am instilling them in you. I hope you find them natural and logical. I love you all so much! My hopes for your futures are bright and passionate!