The Moment Our Marriage Became Better

Five years married. I’m still processing that my husband and I have been married for 60 months, 1,825 days… however you want to break it down. Granted, we’ve been together almost a total 10 years.

Still – knowing my husband is about to be 28-years-old and that I met him when I was 18 makes me feel like time should take a breather on the sidelines for a minute. Chill, Time – this isn’t a race.

Yes, I hear it only gets worse.

Matt and I have always had much in common. We shared the same major and minor in college. We are both natural communicators and leaders who are passionate, expressive and competitive.

Our relationship blossomed from an intertwined love for LSU, history, our families, and Italian food. Over time that grew to jointly include dogs (him not a fan at first), Disney, Patriots football (not for me in the beginning) and Marvel movies.

Like any long-standing relationship, there’s also been a healthy presence of differences. Matt is an introvert with extrovert tendencies. I’m an extrovert… with very extrovert tendencies.

Matt is a strategist and builder with strengths in administration and structure. On the other end of the leadership spectrum, I’m an altruist and shepherd who guides from strengths of inspiration and insight. (Fancy ways of saying he likes working with ideas, and I enjoy working with people.)

After five years married, I can speak of our differences with thankfulness and appreciation.

Unfortunately, hindsight reminds me that this wasn’t always the case. I can certainly recall when our personalities and internal make-up worked against each other and not for one another.

More than just learning how to share toothpaste and schedules in the newlywed years, ministry brought on the additional adventure of learning how to serve together, lead together – basically, how to even work together outside of our family unit.

While some of the tiffs of the early years were from normal newlywed difficulties, I can also see how it was stacked with unhealthy responses birthed out of jealousy and rivalry. The attributes we admired most about each other were also the characteristics that drove us apart the farthest.

I won’t generalize and say that this is an issue for all couples in ministry. It really isn’t something everyone encounters. I would argue though that it happens more than talked about, especially in the marriages of strong leaders with shared, similar gifts. (i.e. Imagine in any business capacity working with the same person you live with, both having the same roles that oversee similar departments…)

At one time I thought, “This is just what marriage looks like. Everyone argues. Everyone struggles.” There’s some truth in in that – but that’s also a copout.

With some intentional effort and tools, I remember when the competitiveness wasn’t so evident. I remember when I was proud and not envious of my husband. I remember the season when our marriage became better.

Still growing in these areas every day that passes, here’s how it all started to change in our relationship, our friendship, and our ministry:

We stopped operating in the ministry roles defined for us. 

Just as the world is pushy about defining what certain roles look like, even ministers and Christians (yes, because we’re people too) can unintentionally invade the minds of others and stereotype what ministry roles are supposed to look like.

Though not outright said to us as bluntly as I’m writing here, there were several typecasts set before us that we had to overcome.

Just to list a few:

  • A pastor’s time should mostly be filled with sermon prep.
  • A youth pastor should be proficient organizing social media and large-scale events.
  • A ministry team (husband and wife) should have one main role and one support role, usually a communicator and their admin.

There are great examples/couples that embody these statements with excellence. For us though, they brought frustration.

Though an excellent communicator, Matt is much more productive in his leadership when he doesn’t have to prep for an upcoming message. Though capable, I became a better pastor when not worrying about our social media presence.

Collectively, we take the approach as a ministry team to both lead but also both support.

For too many years, we boxed in our ministry and marriage functionality to the norm of what others typically expected. This halted the day we served from the strengths God built inside of us.

We built confidence in our individuality.

Our individual gifts weren’t always so clearly seen and defined. Again – operating from the roles built for us meant much time was wasted trying to turn our weaknesses and frustrations into strengths and passions. It’s honestly an exhausting and futile process that leads to a life without fulfillment.

Thanks to some leadership tools in our toolbox, our marriage flourished as we became more aware of what made each of us unique and strong individually.

Instead of replicating each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we came to a point of seeing where the dots connected. If I could naturally lead in my strength, then it covered Matt’s weaknesses – and vice versa.

Talk about taking the pressure off. So easy to understand yet not always applied, the moment we each identified and operated in our God-given individuality was exactly what finally helped us work together as a team.

These are the tools of self-awareness that brought collective understanding to the marriage team God put together in us.

Concerning personality, strengths, weaknesses: 16personalities.com, enneagraminstitute.com.

Concerning marriage, love, communication styles: The 5 Love Languages.

We yield to each other’s strengths.

Speaking, writing, teaching, and leadership opportunities – these are the openings Matt and I have shared in common concerning ministry invites outside of our local church.

At first, an extension to one of us felt like a rejection to the other. In essence, if they got invited to speak, write, (insert in whatever) then that means the other person was the lesser of the two.

How do you find yourself happy for your spouse when their opportunity appears as missed one for yourself?

Most of the time we solved this by tag-team preaching, sharing blog schedules and asking if the other could be involved in the project as well. These were just flimsy Band-Aids on a deep, gushing wound.

Now in recognizing who we were built to be, we can pass on opportunities and support each other proudly when approached because we only say yes to openings that deal with our purpose and spiritual gifts.

At first, Matt would gladly decline speaking opportunities and suggest them asking me because it’s what I was built to do. It’s been fun to follow his example on a few projects of building systems and say, “You know, Matt is much better at that than I am. I think you should approach him rather than me.”

That doesn’t mean I don’t vision cast, build or administrate. This also doesn’t mean Matt doesn’t teach or communicate when asked.

Our answers and yielding solely depends on the situation, the content – and the honest answer of who truly would be best suited for what God is wanting to do in that moment.

We learn from each other’s strengths.

Yes – for quite some time the yielding process was based on the question, “Who would be better fit for this?”

To defer anything to one another though in the long run prolongs leadership development and truly is just rooted out of laziness. It’s essentially saying to not just the opportunities but also to the the things in life we don’t want to do – “I don’t have to worry about this or deal with it because it’s just what you do.”

That’s not yielding. Those are excuses.

I’ve literally scheduled time with Matt and have said, “Show me how to do what you do.” This applies even down to calendar planning, meeting agendas, etc. because I find him brilliant and proficient in all things concerning organization.

I promise it goes both ways. Matt doesn’t preach a message that I don’t look at and tweak. I have a voice in his pastoral decisions and thought processes. We’re the first to read each other’s blogs and buffer each other’s ideas.

I find it hilarious now how this all came full circle. I can build systems and not drop the ball with problem-solving functions not because I’m imitating my husband – but rather because I learned from him. And he’s learned from me. We’ve learned from each other, and we’re better for it.

We didn’t get to this place over night, and we surely have much to learn moving toward the next big milestone of 10 years of marriage.

With these lessons learned continuing to remain in place, my hunch is only good can be built on the foundation. Not just for us, but for any couple willing to venture through these perspective changes as well.