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16 years

Elise and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary last week. I took the time to reflect on our marriage and how we have experienced life together during those years.

There were some big surprises when we were married. I expected us to live fairy tale lives. I am not sure why I thought this, but expect most of it has to do with Elise and my perception of the lives around us. That’s just sort of how things happened. This was the typical story:

Get married, have kids, raise a family, have a great job, go on vacations, have the same friends and new ones, and live happily ever after. That is what everyone did, right?

It didn’t take very long to realize this wasn’t the way it was going to work. The realities of life set in quickly and to stay. In the first 6 years we were broke a lot, surrounded by difficult relationships, I left the job I had pursued with all my might, often had conflict between Elise and I, and generally just had difficulty “getting on the same page” in life.

This was not the fairy tale we had expected.

Another shocker for me was when we were married and I realized we were not always going to see eye to eye about things. In fact, even on our honeymoon Elise and I were in conflict. It was not major, but it was enough for me to realize that it was going to be a bumpy road, not the smooth one that I had seen in the future.

I grew up in a home where conflict was not exposed. It was hidden or addressed in unhealthy ways – like sending letters back and forth instead of having face to face conversations. Usually this tactic was some variety of “throw a dagger at someone and then run and hide”. Elise grew up in a home where conflict was usually out in the open and in your face. Although it was exposed, it probably still was not always the healthiest. It didn’t take too long to adopt her families style of dealing with conflict, but while it was more in the open we didn’t always get to resolution very well..

On the flipside, even with these dynamics, there have been an amazing amount of things that have floored me in a positive way.

The first has been how incredibly intimate Elise and I have become. This intimacy has been an incredible experience and one that I would not trade for anything this side of eternity. Of course, before we were married, I would have stated the standard lines and ideas about being married and how intimate we would be (the two shall be one, a chord of three strands, blah, blah, blah) but the reality of experiencing this intimacy has been far more than I could have ever even imagined. This is truly God’s greatest gift to me in marriage. To be known and accepted and to know and accept has been a consistent joy in my life.

All the words in the world could not adequately describe the mystery of this intimacy and unity.

It has not been easy. In many ways it has been the hardest work Elise and I have ever had to do. But whatever pain and whatever work has gone into pursuing each other and allowing ourselves to be pursued has paid off as much as any earthly endeavor we have undertaken.

Another surprise has been the extent to which Elise and I have tracked together as we have sought to become more and more like Jesus. This has been a tremendous encouragement for both of us. We turn, and find each other being taught similar things. Sometimes I am a little further down the path of that journey, often she is trailblazing new paths, but in either case we are frequently reaching certain summits and milestones, going through valleys, and seeing landmarks at the same time together, side by side.

But maybe the most thrilling discovery over the last 16 years has been how all of the ingredients above have brought us closer and closer together in unison.

You see, if the fairy tale life we expected had come to fruition we never would have grown closer to each other. If conflict had not been allowed to shape us and expose hidden desires and parts of who we are, we would never experience the intimacy we enjoy now. In fact we would have stifled the very lives we would have both claimed we wanted when we started out. If we had lived life on the surface I am certain that we would not feel the unity that we feel together and before God that we experience now.

I had a friend describe two ways that couples often choose to relate with a lake metaphor. There are some people that tip toe around the edge of the water at the lake. They dip their toes in and walk in up to their knees gradually. They are cautious and make sure they don’t expose themselves to the danger that could lie beneath the surface of the water. They are afraid of going too far from the shore or dipping beneath the surface.

On the other hand, there are couples that jump into the lake and explore the depths. They drink from the deep waters that are below the surface. They are often startled by the temperature of the water. Sometimes the waves and wind mount a surprise coup that brings fear. They can’t be sure that when they go under everything will be fine when they surface again. In fact, there is always a chance that they won’t even get back to the surface again.

This is the kind of couple Elise and have chosen to be. Not that we have mastered anything, and we still stumble a lot, but we keep trying to explore the depths of each other and who we are as followers of Jesus.

There is something about knowing and being known that is inherently Godlike. He wants to know us, and wants us to know him. When you want to know and be known, it is going to be messy. It is going to be hard. But I would not trade this life with Elise for anything and the rewards on this side of eternity are ever increasing in their value. Not always on the surface but certainly in the deep waters that lie beneath. This is where the action really is.

Go and explore the depths of the deep. Love and be loved. Know and be known.

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I am the CEO of Blue Ocean Ideas, a creative agency in Baltimore, Maryland. My job is to clarify the strategy and take care of my team. I am married to the beautiful Elise Rittler and we have four great kids. When I’m not at Blue Ocean Ideas or with my family I am riding a bike, running, playing ultimate frisbee, eating, or sleeping. There is a little more about me here.

2 Responses to “16 years”

By Martha - 30 June 2008

Thanks for sharing this Greg. It encouraged me. Somehow I stumbled onto it – I think a facebook link? Thanks for your openness.

By Karen - 12 May 2009

It is amazing to me to think of someone whom is my age and has been married for sixteen years. And the fact that you are happily married as well. There aren’t too many people that can say they have been married for sixteen years. I’ve thought of my sister as being one of those rare couples. She has been happily married for nineteen years. It feels like it was only a couple of years ago that we were in high school.

I think it is great that you can share the snapshot of how you have made your marriage work. And the word ‘work’ is exactly what I mean. Most people don’t realize that a relationship with your life partner takes work.

You should write a book/guide on how you have not only made your marriage work but how the two of you have grown together and are happy not just familiar with each other.

You write very well. I’ve enjoyed reading your blogs. Reading/hearing about relationships absolutely fascinates me. I myself have never been married and do not have any children. But have enjoyed having different relationships with different people over the years.

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