When I Googled “romance in movies” as research for this post, I quickly discovered dozens of images of on-screen couples staring into one another’s eyes with longing, perhaps in an embrace, preparing to kiss.
I suppose it’s no surprise that as a child and teenager, images like those quietly informed my ideas about the benefits of marriage. Though I certainly knew that marriage was far more than two lovers gazing passionately at one another, I thought that would be the best part.
Three years into my own marriage, I believe otherwise. The best of marriage happens not when my husband and I are looking at each other, but when we’re facing the same direction.
The couch, the porch and the car
I don’t put much stock in clichéd gender stereotypes, yet my experience with my husband has taught me two key things. First, men and women communicate differently. Second, and more importantly, we communicate best when we’re side by side.
Anne Bogel, one of my favorite bloggers, explains it this way: “When women chat, we like to sit face-to-face and look into each other’s eyes. But men have a much easier time being honest and open with you when you’re both facing the same direction.”
Too often, I want to make my relationship with my husband into the image of my relationships with my girlfriends. I expect that we can sit down over coffee and pour our hearts out to each other. Yet in our almost seven years of friendship, dating, engagement and marriage, the best conversations have come when we have relaxed on the couch together after watching a TV show, lingered over drinks on our front porch, and sat in the car on road trips.
Now, these scenarios may sound romantic, and in some ways they are. But as we’ve settled into our routines and habits, my selfishness and my agenda have crept in. Oftentimes, I want to hurry along and do something productive instead of simply being together and creating space for conversation.
My husband and I certainly don’t have a deep, heartfelt conversation every time we’re side by side. However, when there’s something we need to talk about, I look for opportunities to be together facing the same direction.
More than talking
The importance of facing the same direction when communicating reveals a larger truth about marriage. As our communication works best when we’re facing the same direction, so does our marriage as a whole. Our marriage is the most beautiful, satisfying and life-giving (to ourselves and others) when we are looking at the same future, whether that pertains to our finances, vacation decisions, church life, home renovation projects, etc.
But there’s a problem. We’re sinful creatures. Too often, I’m looking at my own selfish desires and needs, considering the ways I can get what I want. The pastor who married us often reminded our college Bible study that marriage is either ministry or manipulation. It’s easy for me to err on the manipulation side. I figure out ways to maneuver around or through my husband to simply get what I want, be it buying a new rug, hosting an event or making decisions about our family’s future. I’m learning how to move toward him in love and humility to create a shared vision between us.
When one of us realizes that we’re looking opposite directions in life, we have a choice. We can dig our heels in the ground and demand the other see things from a certain perspective. Or we can stumble and stagger toward one another, meeting our new hopes, dreams, and fears, and casting a vision for the future.
The work of moving toward another is possible because our sight is focused further on the horizon. Beyond the decisions about cars, retirement, and church commitments, we see Jesus and our heavenly home. As we focus our vision on Him, we find ourselves — be it ever so slowly and painfully — coming into unity about what our life together should look like on our way to our home in heaven.
Wending homeward together
I suppose it’s not surprising that when one of my favorite heroines of literature, Jane Eyre, promises to marry her beloved, the scene does not end with two lovers facing one another in a passionate kiss and proclaiming their affections. Instead, they are seen shoulder-to-shoulder moving forward.
“I took [his] dear hand, held it a moment to my lips, then let it pass round my shoulder…We entered the wood, and wended homeward.”
As I find myself three years into marriage, I know the goodness, joy and beauty of marriage are not found in imitating the movie posters that portray lovers staring at one another. The glory of marriage is found in standing shoulder-to-shoulder with my spouse and walking together in life. We reach for the other’s hand as we wend and wander our way through the woods of this world, and continue our journey homeward with our eyes fixed, not on the other, but on Jesus.