My husband and I just celebrated our eleventh anniversary and thirteen years together. Proving we truly are a longterm married couple, we celebrated by cleaning the garage.
Neither Joseph nor I had been married before and we were both well beyond ever being a young bride and groom. My family had long since decided I would be an old maid who never married.
Just to set the record straight, I had been proposed to four times prior. Despite feeling strongly for each of the guys who asked, I didn’t see myself being married forever to any of them.
So I held out.
Eventually I moved from New England out to the Pacific Northwest where I took up sea kayaking and a year later learned to whitewater kayak. Before I met my husband I boated lots of rivers with friends.
One day I drove out to the river below beautiful Snoqualmie Falls with my little red boat tied on top of the car. I had heard some folks I didn’t know might be boating there that day and thought I’d tag along.
I pulled into the turnoff and saw a nice looking guy in a wetsuit taking a boat off his truck. I distinctly remember hearing a voice in my head say, “Pay attention. This is important.”
No, that doesn’t happen a lot so it did get my attention.
Joseph said when he turned and saw me just then he got goosebumps.
I pulled up next to him and asked if he was one of the guys whose names I’d heard. He said no. (We joke that I got that one “no” out of the way early because he’s said, “yes, yes, yes,” ever since.)
So we boated the river down from the falls. We had a good time and over the next few months we became boating buddies and kayaked many rivers together.
A kayaker with any level of proficiency knows you can stay underwater a lot longer than you think, but there are also moments when it is downright scary counting out how many more seconds of air are left in your lungs.
So when I’d be upside down and flailing away at that far end of my air range, a moment when you truly do feel all alone and scared, I’d suddenly see the bottom of Joseph’s boat plowing through the white water toward me. He always miraculously showed up next to me in the rapids, offering the prow of his boat for me to pull myself upright. Every time, in case I needed help.
Seeing Joseph’s wooden paddle knifing through the white toward me was like seeing the cavalry coming! Sometimes I uprighted myself easily enough but other times I felt relief and gratefulness that he watched out for me.
I’d been in relationships before and I can’t say I ever felt that my partners in times of stress or danger would put my well-being first.
Being with Joseph was a new experience. I knew I could push myself and explore more the expanse of my skills because I had someone “watching my back.”
The more rivers we boated together, the more I realized how much I could depend on Joseph when I needed to. He had a knack for scoping out the situation and putting himself in the right place at just the moment I might need help.
Months later when we started dating we knew each other pretty well. We knew how we each acted under stress and what we were likely to do when we had to make split second decisions that would help or hinder the other.
And forget vanity — he’d already seen me soaking wet, wearing googly-eyed goggles, my hair in a rat’s tail of a wet braid, no makeup, and decidedly unpretentious while I flailed in rough water. From my side I also knew he was dependable, caring, responsible, kind and trustworthy.
So of course we hit it off, but even with all that going for us, there was something more that had to come out of us. Here’s the moment that did it.
On our third date we were driving back from a boating and hiking outing in the mountains. We were at that critical time where you decide if you’re going to pursue a relationship or go back to being friends.
I was playing it safe and, believe it or not, I actually said I wasn’t really looking for a relationship. (What I really meant was that I wasn’t looking for a relationship that wasn’t real and true, but I didn’t know how to say that.)
We drove alongside a mountain lit gold by the sun — I remember staring at the bright color — and then my husband said the words that forever changed my life. He said, “I don’t want to be in a relationship unless God is a part of it.”
In that moment my heart melted. Even though I didn’t know it, I must have been waiting years to hear those words because I knew right then and there that this was the man I would spend the rest of my life with.
That’s how it worked out, too, from that moment on. We got engaged the following spring and married exactly two years after our first date.
When we married we came up with something that people in successful marriages probably already know, but somehow we discovered it ourselves. We committed ourselves to a marriage of three beings: Joseph, me, and the marriage, which is another way of saying we have a God-ness in our relationship.
This has made all the difference in the world to us and I’ll share one of the things where this idea fuels the strength of our marriage.
When we argue or think about our future or work on making decisions about most anything, we, like most normal couples, always offer up why we each think each of our opinions ought to be the path we take.
We can both be pretty persuasive — or stubborn — and that’s when we reach our impasse. I’m sure all of you in relationships know where this point is. On average it takes us about 15 minutes to get there.
At that point one of us suddenly remembers the key question and asks it: “What would be best for the marriage?”
At least 99 out of 100 times the answer to that question isn’t even related to either of our opinions. When we answer that question — and the answer is remarkably obvious as soon as we ask — we roll our eyes and do the sheepish thing because there’s no way getting around that the answer to that question is the right one.
Maybe over the next few decades we’ll get to where we can forego our off-center opinions and jump right to asking the right question at the beginning. One can only hope.
In the meantime, if this little piece of advice helps anyone, I’d sure be pleased. It’s been good for us and has helped make our marriage one of the happiest ones I know.
Be well and treat each other with the kindness we all deserve.