One Big, Unexpected Thing I Just Learned on Marriage
My son and I come up with a new game every week. The other day, we stumbled upon another one.
He has become fascinated with my wedding ring.
For a while, he was okay to simply look at it on my hand and name it for me, in case I had forgotten. “Ring! Ring!” He says, over and over again. But pretty soon, he figured out I could remove it. And now he always wants to hold it for himself.
It’s a heavy thing. Perhaps it’s heavier than I was initially prepared for. It’s made of tungsten, and it’s thick. If I were big on dishonouring people with a backhand after an impasse, this ring would make my hand into a weapon.
He fiddles with it for a few moments, and tries to bury it in his palm somehow. Then he tries to put it in his mouth. When Avai realizes I won’t allow this, he comes up with our new game: he tries to place my ring back on its correct finger.
After a few tries, the ring finds its home in the small crease on my fourth finger. He smiles because he knows he got it right, and I praise him. Then he yells, “ring! Ring!” because it’s time to play again.
And then it hit me.
I don’t just wear this ring for me. I wear this ring for him, too.
He needs to know which finger this ring belongs to. It needs to symbolize something for me, but also for him.
My Dad performed the marriage ceremony for Leisha and I just over seven years ago. I remember him saying the fairly standard line when we exchanged our rings–something about how they are a “reminder” of the covenant we’ve made.
To be honest, my ring rarely reminds me of anything other than how heavy it is. Most of the time, I just forget it’s on my hand.
But as my son keeps demanding to see it, I’m compelled to reflect on what it truly means. To him, at this stage, it’s just a strange heavy toy stuck on Dad’s hand. But one day, the ring will hold as much significance for him as it does for me.
Will it symbolize some archaic ceremony that happened before he was born? Will it seem meaningless to him, because his parents didn’t show him what a healthy marriage looked like? Will the ring stand for heated arguments without resolve? Will it stay as a superficial piece of jewelry, or will it mean something more?
Marriage requires sacrifice in order for the commitment to be meaningful. This sacrifice isn’t a one-time payment, either. It’s an ongoing invitation. A commitment to keep pushing all your chips into the centre of the table.
Just when you want to start coasting, or phoning it in, the stakes get raised. It becomes harder to find connection–even when life is going well–and you start taking one another for granted. It becomes more and more tempting to let the unresolved conflicts lie fallow. It becomes easier to turn the television on and pretend to be roommates.
Most marriages don’t just blow up from within out of the blue. They almost always atrophy first.
Before you decide a relationship isn’t worth preserving, you must decide the relationship isn’t worth prioritizing. Before the property is condemned, the construction project stops.
The choice to put connection first–in marriage, and in all important relationships–is a daily one.
Leisha and I have an amazing relationship. I’ve grown up, and become a better man, because of her love for me. I really feel indebted to her, I must confess. Her patience, and her kindness, have helped me mature in so many measurable ways. If you were to take my poll on the street, I’d be happy to report I have a “good marriage”.
But as my son played with my heavy ring and tried to put it on his own thumb, pretending to be me, I realized something. A good marriage just isn’t good enough.
We’re pretty good at resolving conflict, but we could do better. And we have fun around the house, and we do a lot of laughing together–but there is always room for more joy! I’ve become less self-conscious because of my wife’s open heart (and quick wit.) She gives us Shram boys permission to dance around the kitchen–my son is already much smoother than I am–but there is still so much dancing left to do! This isn’t always hard work, but it will always be important.
I simply cannot afford to let this ring be defined by accident.
I know how to listen to Leisha. But there is so much more she deserves to say. I want to be the man who can draw it out of her heart, because I spent years working on the skill. I know her meal preferences pretty well, but I’m going to have to work on my cooking skills if I want to make her a home meal she doesn’t have to power through!
Here's the biggest one for me: she is a genius at anticipating my needs. Without asking, so many little things have already been done for me. At first, her knack for this intimidated me, so I just chalked it up to a difference in personality. “If you want my help with something, just ask for it!” I’d say. I was perfectly justified, if you asked me. We could've settled there, and only her and I would know the difference. But if she knows how to love me by meeting my needs before I ask her for it–couldn’t I learn how to love her in the same way she knows how to love me?
Sometimes, working on this marriage project is incredibly easy. Other times, it takes a great deal of focus and intent. I’m realizing that, before I am anything else, I am called to be a better and better husband. Now that we’re expecting our second child, between work schedules and family commitments, it has to be the role I put first.
Neglect won’t help us build a home. But if my children can see how I’ve given Leisha my best, they can grow up inside of our love. Our sacrifices create the space they inhabit.
I’m simply going to prepare a place for them.
One day, my son will attend a wedding where he’ll be old enough to understand what some of these symbols mean. But I hope he understands the mystery of what my ring signifies long before we get to that point. I hope the ring stands for good conversation, and laughter, and peaceful disagreements, and pillow forts in the living room, and a mom and dad who kiss each other in public, and dance in the kitchen. I hope it stands for all the best things in our family. All the things he gets to take for granted, because he’s just our kid. Things we’ve had to work at in order to keep them alive in our home.
When the pastor says the same thing my Dad did, about how the ring helps us “remember”, I hope my kids will have plenty to remember already–long before they build a home for themselves.