Words of Wisdom from the Maid of Honor

Relationships can be tricky. They can be frustrating and even downright exhausting at times. There are techniques that will work for one couple that are not effective for the next. We are given a depiction through movies, songs, and social media that give a false expectation of relationships. Many of the sources from which we learn about relationships teach us that marriage is going to be sunshine, rainbows, and inexplicable happiness at every given moment on any given day. Sure, this might be how relationships feel at first, but the movies don’t often show us how to maintain a relationship or marriage after the initial euphoria of falling in love starts to wear away. How do we hold on to that spark? What if we can’t hold on to it? Can we create new sparks?

The part of a relationship that requires effort is often uncharted territory for individuals who have been in a relationship that has thus far seemed, well, effortless. We are taught and reminded so often how to fall in love and what that looks like, but we seem to get shortchanged on the information about the next 50 years of the relationship and what that looks like.

Finding the keys to healthy, functional, long-lasting relationships has been an interest of mine for quite some time. There is a ridiculous amount of research regarding best practices for healthy marriages and risk factors within a relationship. This research and information is very helpful and I do recommend taking a peek at it, but I have a different approach to this information. This approach involves a family wedding, numerous long-lasting marriages, and one brilliant maid of honor.

I recently was in a family wedding in which I witnessed one of the greatest maid of honor speeches I have ever heard. Some maids of honor decide to talk about fond memories, funny stories, or inside jokes, which can be amusing and give the crowd a good laugh…but not this maid of honor. This maid of honor created an opportunity for everyone attending the wedding to learn about how to maintain a healthy relationship and enrich a marriage.

Months previous to the wedding, this maid of honor approached every married couple attending the wedding that had been married for more than 20 years. She asked every couple two simple questions: How did you do it? What does it take to nurture and commit to a lifetime of marriage? The responses she collected were wise, honest, and helpful advice to any couple in the audience. The maid of honor provided the attendees with a list of advice she obtained from each couple and then allowed each couple to explain their bit of advice. The results of her research were both heartwarming and inspiring.

The first piece of advice was for those who were not yet in a relationship. This advice was to be honest about who you are and open about what you need in a relationship. This piece of information was to encourage each individual person to explore what values are most important and to identify aspects of their lives that they are not willing to compromise. Some of these values might include faith, family, aspirations…whatever it might be for you, it is important to know what you stand for as an individual. This bit of advice also suggested that people be honest about what they need from a partner. This may take some self-exploration, some trial and error, but in the end, it will allow you to be content with the knowledge that you stayed true to yourself and that your partner respects and appreciates the authentic you.

The next piece of advice was for those who were at the beginning of a relationship. This piece of advice was to always remember the things you love about your partner. The couple that gave this advice said that it is important to consciously record the aspects of the other person that drew you to them, that held your attraction, and that led you to love them. It is important to verbalize these attractive characteristics to your spouse and to remember these traits when you are upset. Even if the reasons you love your partner evolve over time, you will always be able to look back and say “this is why I first loved you.”

Piece of advice number three is related to loving fully. The next couple stated that you must let go of your ego in order to maintain a healthy marriage. They explained that there are going to be times in a marriage when you know (or feel as if you know) you are right. These situations make it easy for your ego to rear its ugly head and try to dictate the relationship. However, it is important to remind yourself in times such as these that your marriage is far more important than being right at this moment. You might win this fight, but you are losing a much bigger war. There are times when you will be right, and hopefully your spouse will allow you to be at times, but there will also be times when you are responsible as a partner to push your ego aside and prioritize your spouse, no matter who is “right” or “wrong” (1 Corinthians 13:4). This couple stated that there are still things they do not see eye to eye on, but instead of continuing to debate about it, they agree to disagree in order to respect and appreciate the other’s opinion.

The next bit of advice was pertaining to conflict resolution within marital dynamics. This piece of advice was about learning how to “fight clean.” Conflicts are going to happen; there’s no way around it. If conflicts are not happening at some point within the marriage, that’s a pretty good indication that one or both individuals are not being completely honest and open. It’s important to talk about what each person needs during an argument in order to have the most effective outcome possible. Some people need time alone to process and cool off. Some people want to talk about the issue right away and have a hard time waiting to talk about it later. It’s important to view disagreements as an obstacle that is in front of you and your spouse that you will overcome as a team, not an obstacle that is standing between you and your spouse that keeps you from each other.

The couple that gave this piece of advice used their marriage as an example. The wife needed space during conflict in order to organize her thoughts and feelings and to identify the key point she was trying to get across to her husband. The husband felt the need to discuss the conflict right away and wanted an immediate answer so that they could go back to “normal.” They eventually came to a compromise. When conflict became too overwhelming, they used a safety word (a word they both agreed upon that someone would say as a warning sign that they needed to take a break from their discussion and come back to the conflict later). They would then spend a couple hours doing things they needed to in order to calm down or figure out what they wanted to say, come back together after that time period, and discuss the conflict again before they would go to bed. This way, the wife got her space to organize her thoughts, but the husband also had peace of mind knowing that they would come back to the discussion before the day was over.

Next, a couple gave the advice of always aiming to do things in your marriage with good intentions for the other person and to assume the other person had a good intention for you, even if it did not feel that way. Let’s use another example for this. Let’s say that a wife wanted to make dinner for her husband because she knows he loves her homemade meals. She tells her husband this and is so excited to make a delicious meal for them to share. However, the husband thinks, “My wife works so hard. I will surprise her by picking up some food tonight so that she does not have to cook and we can spend more time together tonight.” Let’s pause. Both are good intentions, right? Both husband and wife want to do something nice for each other because they appreciate the hard work from the other person and would like to spend time together. Let’s continue. The husband comes home after work with a bunch of their favorite foods from their favorite local restaurant, and he is beaming with excitement as he thinks that his wife will be so happy and grateful. However, as the husband walks through the front door with an armful of food, the wife cannot contain her disappointment. The wife starts to wonder why he would go get food when she told him she was going to make a nice dinner. Was he not listening to me? Does he not actually like my cooking? Did he make other plans tonight? The wife tells her husband how disappointed she is that he went and got food when she was just about to start making dinner. The husband is now also disappointed and confused. Does she not see that I left work early for this? Doesn’t she want to spend more time with me tonight?

Let’s take a look at what happened here. This couple woke up this morning with good intentions for each other: they can check that box. However, when things did not turn out the way they planned, they did not assume the good intentions from the other person. Both parties wanted to do good by the other person, but sometimes the unseen (intentions, perspectives, etc.) can get in the way of seeing the good in our spouse.

The last piece of advice was given by a couple who had been married for 60 years. As you can imagine, everyone was listening intently to what this couple had to say. The couple started by agreeing with all of the advice previously given and encouraged everyone to take all of these words of wisdom to heart. This couple made a simple statement that has many examples and meanings: at the end of the day, you just need to be a team. In the game of life, there are going to be times when your spouse disappoints you, makes you feel sad, makes you feel angry…but you have to make sure you are keeping in mind that your spouse is not an opponent. You are both wearing the same jersey and playing for the same team. There may be times when your spouse feels like an opponent, and there may even be times when it feels like you and your spouse are not even playing the same game. These are the times when it is important to pause and take the time to figure out how to put the right jersey back on.

When you are in a marriage, you are not just putting forth the time and energy for yourself anymore. You are working your hardest in order to better your marriage and your unity with Christ. There will be times when you get frustrated and want to walk off the court. There will be times when you need to call a time out. There will be many, many times when you need to look to the coach (our Savior) and ask for guidance and patience…but at the end of the day, it is so important that you are proud of the jersey you are wearing and the teammate you have for life.

Relationships can be tricky. There will be times they feel completely effortless and times they feel impossible. No matter what stage of commitment you are at—whether you are single, in a new relationship, were recently married, or have been married for years and years—it is crucial to remember that it is never to early or too late to start building up the type of relationship Christ envisions for you. No relationship is perfect, as nothing on this earth is. God gives us trials, and he gives us hardship, but it is trudging through these valleys that allows us to appreciate standing on top of the mountain, hand in hand.

Above all, when God hands you a jersey and a teammate, do everything in your power to work for the good of the unit and to stay proud of the jersey you wear. Maintain good intentions for your partner, and assume your partner does the same for you. When conflict arises, “fight clean” and find a way to overcome the conflict with open hearts and healing words. Remind yourself of who you are, what you need, who your spouse is, and why you love them. These reminders will be helpful to carry you through the difficult times.

Some of these bits of advice may be more helpful than others, as no two relationships are exactly alike. So take what you need, and if it is helpful, do not thank me, thank the brilliant maid of honor.