Forty years ago, I had on the biggest hat-vale thing you've ever seen. With about a million buttons down the back of my high-necked, Victorian-style wedding gown, I walked down the aisle toward my soon-to-be husband. He was dressed all in white, and his smile took my breath away. Finally, after years of waiting, I would be his bride.
A Little Backstory
Steve and I met while I was in high school. Returning home from college, Steve attended the church where I went to a Christian school. I remember the crush I had on the older guy who was "fresh meat" in the single-adults department. The twenty-something girls had eyes for the new guy, but I was too young for Steve to notice me.
For a time, I didn't see Steve at all. But one night when I arrived at a gymnasium where I would cheer for our basketball team, I saw Steve's 1969 Mustang Mach 1. Undoubtedly it was Steve's car. My heart skipped a beat knowing I'd see the man who my heart longed for.
At the moment I walked into the gymnasium, Steve was running toward me to do a layup. He was playing on the alumni team for his high school's alma mater. In a moment, our eyes met. Steve gave me a little wink and then ran down the court to continue the game.
He saw me. I'm sure he saw me. He will come and talk to me after the game, I thought to myself.
When Steve exited the locker room, I was rehearsing what clever thing I would say to him. But then, he reached out and took the arm of a young woman who he escorted up the bleachers. I watched sorrowfully while he introduced her to his high school friends.
Looking down at my young cheerleader self, I thought, That's it. He will never notice me. I'm just too young and he has found someone else.
But through a super fun turn of events, our paths would cross again—when God's time was right for our lives to connect. For more details, you can watch Steve and me telling our real-life romance story.
At our wedding, we recited the vows we had written and enjoyed the sweetest day with family and friends. Then Steve swept me away for a wonderful month-long honeymoon exploring the national parks.
When the Honeymoon Is Over
After the honeymoon, we settled into married life. However, it soon became apparent that I was ill-prepared to be the wife I longed to be, the wife I meant to be as I sauntered down that aisle in my enormous white hat. Maybe you can relate?
Steve and I both worked full-time. Which meant I came home every night to make dinner and wash his dirty work clothes. I remember being so incredibly tired and irritated. One day, I was in the kitchen chiseling ice from inside the freezer that I was attempting to defrost. (This was back in the olden days—in the 1900s—when only expensive refrigerators had self-defrosting capabilities.)
Steve was out in the garage working on our car. His brother had come over to help. They were laughing and having a wonderful time. The more I heard their laughs, the harder I chiseled at the ice. And the more I chiseled the more I grew resentful that being a wife, for me, meant working hard and not having much fun.
Soon my tears began to flow. I did not like the wife I was becoming. I had vowed to be Steve's best friend, his cheerleader, his lover, and confidant. Yet, here I was offended by the very man I adored. And this realization scared me.
My family heritage is a long line of broken marriages. Most of the marriages fell apart because of built-up resentment over unmet expectations. Even though I vowed not to be a wife who kept record of my husband's wrongs, I had fallen into the familiar trap of doing just that.
I Needed Help
I knew I needed help. But where would I turn? Since Titus 2 invites older women to teach the younger how to love their husbands, I determined to find some Titus 2 friends from whom I could learn. I decided the best place to find a mentor was in our church family. Working with the youth group afforded us opportunities to observe the marriages of the parents of our teens.
I watched for the couple who sat closely in church, who held hands walking to their cars, and couples who laughed together, genuinely appearing to enjoy each other's company. Then, Steve and I cultivated friendships with those couples. They were welcoming, genuine and seemed to enjoy answering our questions about marriage and family. The Bible says, "Iron sharpens iron." And God clearly honed our lives as we lived in relationship with these godly couples.
To this day, I am certain that our friendships with those older couples are what God used to transform our relationship into a marriage of no regrets. So what did we learn from those couples? In our book, The Marriage Mentor, you'll find marriage secrets we learned from happy couples. Let's unpack some, shall we?
1. Have Realistic Expectations
In over 30 years of ministry, Steve and I have counseled countless married couples. During our six-week premarital counseling sessions, we warn engaged couples of the danger of growing offended over unmet expectations. We reason with couples to consider how often the thing they'll become offended about may not at all be the issue.
For example, when Steve would trim his mustache close to the mirror, and the trimmings would fall behind the faucet after I just cleaned the bathroom, I interpreted his actions to say, "I don't care how hard you work to keep the house clean. Do it again, Sister."
But it wasn't until I rationally explained to Steve how his actions made me feel that he was given the opportunity to change his habit.
And when Steve explained to me how my overspending made him feel like I didn't care how hard he worked to keep us within budget, I had an opportunity to hear his heart and adjust my ways.
Remind yourself that you and your spouse are both imperfect people in need of grace-filled love. As much as you hope your spouse will believe the best about you and cover with love when you don't measure up to their expectations, offer this same kind of grace to your love. Let it begin with you, my friend.
2. Your Spouse Is Not Like You
How do you respond to conflict? Depending upon your upbringing, you likely respond by either fight or flight. For me, I'm a middle child. When my siblings fought, I attempted to become invisible. To this day, I recoil at conflict. Maybe you can relate? If flight is your manner, but your spouse is a fighter, it can be a recipe for disaster.
If you're a fighter, and your spouse isn't, although it's tempting to follow them out of the room badgering them to listen, you would be wise to consider how their way is not wrong, it's just not like yours.
While a fighter may feel abandoned by a spouse in flight, if you consider ahead of time their way of managing conflict, you can learn to allow them the time they need to process your heated words. And if they're not willing to talk at all, because they've grown up stuffing their words to avoid conflict, it may be time to get a third party to help you talk through some unresolved conflicts. This is where a godly mentor is most valuable to a couple.
Unity does not mean you have to see eye to eye on all issues of life. In his book, What Did You Expect, author Paul David Tripp says:
"Unity in marriage is not the result of sameness…. God has designed that you will be married to someone different from you. Unity is, rather, the result of what husband and wife do in the face of inevitable differences….The more you look at your spouse and see the imprint of God's fingers … the more you will be able to resist the temptation to try to remake him in your own image …The more you see Devine beauty … in the differences between you, the less you will be irritated by them."
When you celebrate God's imprint upon your spouse, you will be prepared to implement the next insight I learned from happy couples:
3. Think the Best About Your Spouse
The way you fell in love with your spouse was all in your mind. Seriously, you thought about all the stuff you love about them. You considered their smile, their laugh, and rehearsed sweet memories of the last time you were together.
First Corinthians 13:7 says, "Love bares all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
Believes all things means to "believe the best about." Genuine love chooses to believe the best about others. And God can give you the strength to love like that.
Falling out of love also happens in your mind. Remember my story of when our eyes met when Steve played basketball? I don't ever want to forget that story, because it reminds me of how much I longed for Steve to love me. I'm sure, if you try, you can recall your own magical moments too.
Sadly, rather than recalling their love stories, many couples spend years keeping record of wrongs, to one day be without loving feelings toward their spouse. When this happens, it's dangerous because it gives Satan a foothold to deceive and destroy a marriage, a family, and the couple's testimony for Christ.
If you've developed habits of thinking on what is wrong, it won't be easy to habitually believe the best—while driving out negative thoughts. But remember, God is interested in helping you love your spouse. So, begin by asking for His help.
James 4:2 says, "You have not because you ask not." So, ask. Daily. Hourly. Moment by moment. Ask God to help you think on whatever is good, right, and honorable about your spouse. (See Philippians 4:8-9.)
4. Be Kind One to Another
Are you kind? I don't mean are you nice to the mailman. It's easy to be kind to people you see in passing. But in general, do you have a kind disposition toward your spouse and family? Maybe a better question is: Does your spouse think you're kind?
I remember a season when I was not kind. I've heard it called "the unfriendly years" for women in their thirties. The year I turned 29 I had our third child. We had been living in a small cottage in the middle of nowhere during my husband's season of, "Hey babe, let's sell everything, be debt-free and live in a tiny house."
I loved Steve. And I loved his dream. So, this born in Los Angeles, city girl packed it up and moved into a one-bedroom house 45 minutes from the nearest town. Our two children slept in the only bedroom while Steve and I slept on the sofa bed. And did I mention we had no power? Nope. None. Zip. Zilch. We had a generator. But gas was expensive, so we used it sparingly.
I'm laughing now, but back then I was a mess. I spent the entire pregnancy of our third child on the sofa bed. And after she was born, I had postpartum that turned to PMS. I was not kind.
I explained to Steve, "Imagine if you're a werewolf and every full moon you're gonna turn into a werewolf and eat your young…. That's PMS!"
That word picture helped Steve realize just how much I was struggling. It helped just knowing he understood. But I still had a choice to make. I could either allow myself to unleash my hormonal swings on my family, or I could ask God to help me respond with kindness—even when I felt unkind.
I asked Steve for help. I asked God for help. I reached out to older mentors for help. But in the end, I disciplined myself to go into my room and be quiet when I felt undone. I pleaded with the Lord, and I kept my tongue from saying hurtful words to my family.
That season humbled me. But guess what? The Bible says, "We comfort those with the comfort that we ourselves have been comforted." And God has granted me countless opportunities to encourage women plagued with hormonal imbalances. Here's a podcast where, as a guest, I shared: Balancing Hormones and the Kindness of God.
Let's look at one more insight I learned from happy couples:
5. Love Christ More Than You Love Your Spouse
When the religious leaders asked Jesus what was the priority of life, He responded, "You must love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30).
The second command Jesus gave is to, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
So, here's the key to loving your spouse well. Let it begin with you. Learn to love God with your whole being. God knows that until we love Him with all that we are, we cannot love others with His selfless love. So, rather than trying harder to love your spouse, grow your love for God first.
Loving God deeply comes from knowing Him well. The way to know God's character is through the pages of scripture. It takes discipline to go through the Bible discovering all the ways God reveals His character. But as you do, your love for Him will deepen, and then His selfless, forgiving, sacrificial love will be a natural outpouring from your heart onto your spouse.
Forty years ago, this blushing bride had dreams of the wife she longed to be. When life's pressures began to undermine my marriage, I looked for help in godly mentors. Looking back, I am confident the relationships with those godly couples were the turning point in our marriage. And I believe if you consider these insights, and apply their principles, you too will learn the secret to a lifelong love and a marriage without regrets. Soli Deo Gloria!
Listen to Rhonda Stoppe on the daily broadcast.
Part 1: Ecclesiastes 9:9 says, "Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of your life." That’s easier said than done! On today’s edition of Family Talk, Rhonda Stoppe (pronounced STOP-ee), Christian author of The Marriage Mentor: Becoming the Couple You Long to Be, explains how things can go wrong. For example, unmet expectations can breed resentment and unforgiveness. She urges husbands and wives to seek God’s affirmation first and spend time with older married couples who can provide godly mentorship.
Part 2: As children, we often listened to fairy tales in which it was Prince Charming’s job to sweep the heroine off her feet and "live happily ever after." But what happens if the prince fails? On today’s edition of Family Talk, Rhonda Stoppe (pronounced STOP-ee), Christian author of The Marriage Mentor, says the key to a successful marriage is to find your worth in Christ first. Our prayer should echo Psalm 139. "Search me, O God, and know my heart. Know my anxious thoughts and see if there's any wicked way in me."
Learn More about the Guest
Rhonda Stoppe is an author, speaker and the founder of No Regrets Woman, a ministry dedicated to helping women live life with no regrets in a way that honors God and His design for them. She connects biblical principles to everyday decisions, and shows how to influence the next generation by raising children with integrity. Rhonda ministers alongside her husband, Steve, who pastors First Baptist Church of Patterson, California. They have four grown children and 13 grandchildren. Learn more about her at NoRegretsWoman.com.