I’ve had 24 wonderful years with my husband as of today–24 years to learn from marriage so much more about myself.

And today I thought I’d share some anniversary reflections.

24 is kind of a funny number for me because I use it a lot when speaking. When I give my Girl Talk presentation, I always say something like this:

Everyone thinks the best years for sex are the honeymoon years. But according to my surveys for The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, it’s not those first few years that bring fireworks. It’s years 16-24. You’ve had a decade or so together, the baby years are over, you’re finally getting some sleep again–and now you’re comfortable with each other that you can just have fun.

Of course, I’m almost at year 24 right now, and I’m getting a little nervous.

And so here I am today, celebrating 24 years of marriage.

My husband and I were so young when we got married. We didn’t know what the future would bring.

What I Want to Learn in the next 24 Years of Marriage

We didn’t know what children we would have–or whether we would have kids.

04OttawaFamily

We didn’t know where we’d live, what jobs we’d have–anything. We only had each other.

Keith Sheila Becca 13

But here’s the biggest lesson that I’ve been learning over the last three to five years, the struggle that I included  a lot in my newest book, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: ultimately Keith isn’t me. He doesn’t completely understand me, and he never will. And I need to stop mourning for something I was never meant to have.

What I’ve been realizing lately is the beauty of separateness.

I’m making it sound like I have a bad husband, and that’s not what I mean at all. I think, instead, that my expectations, even after 24 years of marriage, are still flawed, and I’m still a work in progress.

At some level, I think I assumed that the longer we were together, the more ME Keith would become. The more he would instinctively just love me and accept all my foibles, even my bad ones (and I have lots). The more he would think like me, share all my opinions, and want to do exactly the same things.

Alaska 2 of us

True love, I have been led to believe, meant that he would see things always my way, because to totally love me and accept me somehow involved becoming just like me.

The more I write this the more silly I know it sounds. And it’s not as if I consciously think these things. But I notice that the times that I feel lonely or distant in our marriage is when Keith has somehow disappointed me because he didn’t understand something–and therefore I felt unloved.

It hardly ever occurs to me in those moments that if I’m feeling unloved because he didn’t understand me, then it’s also highly likely that I didn’t understand him. But getting out of these funks and learning to think differently is a lot of what I wrote about in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage.

I had to start thinking differently.

I have a great marriage and an awesome husband. We have so much fun together.

Keith Sheila Dunns

But no two people will ever think exactly the same way. And when other things start bugging me–those triggers for loneliness or anxiety that are completely separate from us–I have a tendency to transfer my angst on Keith, and blame him for it.

I think we all do that.

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentHere’s an incident I wrote about in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage:

While Keith was away on call, I began chewing on an old hurt. I suffered many rejections as a child and teenager, but when I met my husband, I thought that finally I had a man who would love me completely just for being me. So I was shocked when cold feet caused him to call off our initial engagement. Thankfully the estrangement wasn’t long, but that rejection pierced me. When I walked through a season recently when it seemed as if fellow committee members and church friends and blog readers were all disappointed in me, those feelings of rejection came flooding back. And with it came the reminder of my husband’s long ago rejection of me.

And so when Keith’s long bout of hospital calls was over, I finally had an audience to vent these feelings. But it’s rarely a good idea to stay up talking about deep issues when you’re tired; you just blow things out of proportion. And I didn’t just blow them up. I stuck them in a cannon, fired at Keith’s weakest points, and came pretty close to cheering when I hit the mark.

Then Keith said something really important. “I just need to know that us matters more than you.” He wasn’t saying that I didn’t matter; he wasn’t even saying that his feelings mattered more than mine. He was reminding me that we are on the same side, and that I should fight for that unity, even when my feelings were hurt.

My husband is a very smart man. He knew that we would never feel unity if we were always focusing on our own hurts.

I think that’s God’s heart for us, too. He’s not on my side; He’s on his own side—and his desire for my husband and me is to be “one flesh.” When we fixate on our own broken hearts, and believe that God’s main desire is to take those hurts away, then we’re not treating God like the Master of the Universe. We’re treating him like our own little personal Aladdin, ready to do our bidding.

I just need to know that “us” matters more than “me”.

That’s profound. I shared a lot about that journey in my book; it’s kind of vulnerable to admit that, even after writing this blog for 7 years and writing books for 12, I still have issues. I’m not perfect.

But I’m not. And it seems like the longer I’m married, the more I can learn from marriage, and the more God wants me to learn from marriage.

He wants to use marriage to refine me, and to get my eyes off of me.

Keith Sheila FL

Around my tenth anniversary I wrote about how Keith and I were becoming “Made for each other“. It’s still one of my favourite columns. By being married, we change. It’s not that he becomes me or that I become him, but that we become something else entirely that fits together so well.

Keith Sheila Wawa

By wanting Keith to fix everything for me, to think just like me, to be me–I’m really nurturing my old insecurities that I’m somehow not good enough, born out of lots of childhood rejection. Yet God didn’t put my husband on this earth to become me with all my foibles. Being truly accepted and loved doesn’t mean that he doesn’t see your foibles or that they don’t bother him.

Being truly accepted and loved means that he sees ME–all of me–and chooses to stay.

Keith and Sheila winter

He chooses, everyday, to love me with such abandon that I am truly a blessed woman.

And he doesn’t need to become me. By loving me, despite everything, he pushes me to become a better version of me. A version that isn’t as insecure, that isn’t as self-focused, that isn’t as obsessed with always being right

I wrote earlier this year that my marriage has been a real force for healing in my life, and it has.

Marriage as a source of healing--what I've learned for 24 years of marriage

But God is not done with me! He never is. And I hope and pray that over the next 24 years I will take Keith’s words even more to heart. I will remember that “us” matters more than “me”. I will stop expecting him to think like me, agree with me, and always know what I need. That’s not a picture of love; that’s a picture of narcissism–of wanting to love someone who is simply an extension of myself.

I want instead to glory in our separateness: the fact that God made us different, and yet we stay together willingly and with joy, even in the difficult times. That’s something beautiful, and I hope, one day, I may understand it at an even deeper level.

And today, I’m going to celebrate.

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