Thoughts on Marriage, sixteen years in.


When Aaron asked me to marry him, he did it three times. (I wrote about the first time here.) He says he wanted to give me lots of opportunities to back out. The third time came after a period where I kept making plans for the next year, assuming that he would just tag along with me in my life. When I finally asked him why he didn’t seem all that excited about the plans that I was making for both of us he said something to the effect of, “You realize that if we’re married we’re going to make plans together, right? And I might not want to do the same things you want to do.”

It shocked me into tears, which is rather embarrassing to think about, that I didn’t understand that 17 years ago. After we talked about it a while he asked me again.

“So, now that you understand what it is I’m asking of you, will you marry me?”

I told him I needed time to think about it, and asked for 24 hours before I gave an answer.



It’s our sixteenth wedding anniversary today. Sixteen was the last anniversary my parents celebrated before their separation and divorce so it feels significant to have made it this far and not be looking for a way out.

Back when I first chose marriage a way out was actually something I made sure to not give myself. One of the reasons I told Aaron I needed time to think was because if I had said yes right away, without careful consideration, that would have left me a back door, an excuse that would let me off the hook if I tried this marriage thing and decided it wasn’t for me after all. “I didn’t realize what I said yes to. I didn’t take time to think.”

Before we were engaged. 1999

I really wasn’t sure I wanted to get married at all. Not when the reality of it was staring me in the face. The idea of having to make choices with another person, to compromise, to do something I might not want to do because my husband wanted to, these were all uncomfortable, but that last bit was downright terrifying. It meant trusting another person to make choices that affected my own well being, trusting him to make choices that were good for both of us.

I knew from experience just how messy it can be, how much power you give another person to hurt you when you give yourself to them, body and soul. I’d seen the hurt that my parents caused each other in their marriage. I knew what a weak position a married woman can find herself in, with children, dependent on a man, a flawed human like herself.

In truth, I think anyone who actually knows what marriage involves will find it terrifying. I’m not sure many people would get married if they knew beforehand what it would cost them.


But, the beautiful moments are breathtaking. The possibilities for unspeakable joy are endless. But I don’t think marriage is good because it makes you happy. Marriage is good because it will break you down and refine you, showing you the ugliest most selfish bits of your heart, all your worst fears, and demand that you deal with them. The only way through is to grow up, become less selfish, less insecure, and ultimately think of yourself less and less, if at all. It’s good that it’s a relationship that is hard to end, that begins with a promise you make that you want to keep, because without that you might run away from the refining crucible that marriage is before you can be truly refined. You may run away when you’re hurt, or when you’re afraid to let your spouse see the ugly things you are ashamed of and try to keep hidden.


 It’s that promise that keeps you there, keeps you apologizing when you were wrong, and controlling yourself when you are angry, and learning not to assume the worst in each other in every word and action. Because you promised, you keep trying, and you get beyond your hurt and your fear and your anger and your feelings, you get over yourself, and you learn to love. You learn to act out of love, rather than fear. You learn to forgive, and let it go. You learn to give thanks for the beauty, for the one you walk with day by day, you learn to speak truthfully of your own heart without fear of being rejected.


These are the things that marriage can do for you. That marriage did for me.

Doing a Charis event. 2012

 Who you marry does matter, a lot. I’m certain I married up. But what matters most is that they are as committed to staying in this relationship as you are. You must both be people who work to keep your promises. You must have the character to chose to love, even when you are angry, or hurt, or stressed. You have to both keep coming back, because you promised. Love isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice. And the more you chose love, the easier it gets. Forgiveness isn’t a feeling either. The more often you chose to say the words, “I forgive you” the easier it becomes to forgive. The more often you choose to be thankful, the more thankful you become and the more beauty you will see.


 Some years might suck. Some decades might suck. So why do it?


Twenty four hours later when Aaron showed up at my door again, I still didn’t have an answer. I had made pro con lists, I had prayed, I had asked the counsel of friends.


I had asked myself all the questions. Do I trust him? Do we want compatible things in life? Do I love him for who he is now, not who he could be? The answer was always yes, but I still didn’t know.

We went for a walk and I tried to put it off on God. You know, if God told me to marry him then I’d say yes without hesitation. I didn’t realize at the time that that was another back door. If I didn’t choose, and God did for me, then I could blame God for everything if this relationship went south. Personal responsibility for my choices was not something I was very good at.

So Aaron asked if I wanted his opinion. I did.

He said, “I think God is asking, ‘What do you want Carrien? Who do you want to be?’ If you choose to get married, God will love you and bless you and be with you. If you choose to stay single God still will love you and bless you and be with you. What do you want?”

Can I tell you that the ugly cry is not the most attractive thing to do during a marriage proposal? His words terrified me. I felt like I was standing on the edge of a precipice in a whirlwind as I realized no one was going to tell me what to do in this situation. I had to choose, and I’d have no one to blame but myself if I didn’t like the results of my choice. I cried for a long time, 5 or 10 minutes I suppose.

When the storm had passed only one thought remained. I truly believed, and still do, that what matters most in life is how well we love God, and love other people. So I asked myself if marrying this incredibly patient man standing in front of me would in any way hinder my ability to do those two things.

I reasoned that getting married would give me more, not less opportunities to love people well, and with that, I said yes, for the third and final time and “I do” six months later.


Though I can think of many other opportunities one might have that would build strength, character, and your capacity to forgive and love another person outside of marriage, I know marriage is a pretty efficient way to go about it.


It’s hard work. But the work pays off. There is nothing quite like knowing that you have hidden nothing from this person, they know all of your flaws and triumphs, and weaknesses, and they still choose to do life with you and love you, all these many years later.


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