15 Marriage Lessons: A Year by Year List (Part 1)

In honor of nearly 15 years of marriage, I'm sharing a series of "15 reflections" taking different forms. You can read the first list here (15 Things You Might Not Care to Know About Our Dating Years). Today (and tomorrow), I'm sharing 15 Marriage Lessons from our 15 years of marriage. Enjoy.


Lesson 1 (2000)Individual, pre-marriage histories create a common, post-marriage narrative.

In August of 2000, we packed our worldly possessions in a tiny car and said goodbye to Tulsa. The road was fire-hot, and by Fayetteville, the thin-treaded tire on the passenger side melted and peeled. The spare tire sat under a mound of boxes and books, and as we unloaded on the side of the road, Amber ran across a treasured High School companion--an old book of poetry with a worn binding. She opened it as I removed the spare tire from the wheel well, and said with near delight, "oh look! Some seeds!"

"Seeds?" I asked.

She squinted her eyes, pinched her thumb and forefinger together, put them to her lips and took a false drag.

"Oh," I said, and then felt the rising tide of panic. "Throw that junk out before a Cop pulls over to help us change a flat! I don't want to go to jail for possession!"

Amber just laughed and brushed the inside of the spine clean.

It is true: the fruit of single-living always leaves behind a seed or two.

Lesson 2 (2001): Survival of the fittest doesn't just apply to spawning salmon.

Fed up with ministry, Amber and I ran kicking and screaming from the church. I'm not sure how we made it. All I can figure is that old Mr. Darwin was on to something. Survival of the fittest doesn't just apply to spawning salmon and Galapagos lizards.

(Just a note to those struggling in the early throws of marriage: you are tougher than you think.)  

Lesson 3 (2002)A jitterbug marriage is a thing worth shooting for.

The Mouk family (the folks on my mother's side) are a good lot, a lot that knows how to celebrate in style. My grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer that year, and she'd determined to make the most of her remaining time. At our Christmas gathering, Carol Mouk declared that she would like to dance he jitterbug with my grandfather. He turned on some old-timey jazz, and the two took center-stage in the middle of the large family room. He was a decent jitterbugger; she was better. They danced and laughed like they were twenty, and the family watched in both amazement and envy.

I don't know a thing about dancing the jitterbug, but I aim to dance the "running man" with Amber in our seventies (which means I have to learn it).

Lesson 4 (2003): Your spouse shouldn't have to say, "I'm an affair waiting to happen," to get your attention.

Chances are, if your spouse comes to you and says, "I'm an affair waiting to happen," you missed some previous non-verbal cues of your growing disconnection. I heard that once, and once was enough. These days, Amber and I take to examining the depth of our connection on a regular basis; if something is off, we try to remedy it before it festers and turns into a regretful prophecy.

Lesson 5 (2004): On vacation, it's a good idea to know the lay of the land; it's a better idea to know the local beach rules.

During our fifth year of marriage, we took our first family vacation to sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida. As the fates would have it, Amber was five months pregnant, and feeling a bit beached herself (if you know what I mean). We made our way to two ocean-side chairs, and as we sat, Amber lamented her growing belly, commented that she didn't feel very sexy. I did my best to reassure her, and right as I was in the middle of my best "come on baby, you're beautiful just the way you are" spiel, a buxom woman exploded up from the ocean surf, and began running to the lawn chair beside us. As it turns out, bikini tops are optional on certain Fort Lauderdalian beaches, and this woman was taking full advantage of her American freedoms. Amber turned to me, chin quivering and said in some amalgam of desperate plea and angry growl, "you'd better not look, or you'll wish you didn't have eyes."

Lesson 6 (2005): Neither church nor baby will fix a marriage, but both can bring fresh centering.

We'd endured a nasty spell with ministry, moved into a tiny Love Shack with inadequate heating and cooling, been through the searching-through-the-couch-cussions-for-pizza-money spell, and endured the disconnection of too many grad-school nights in the library. Looking back on it, our marriage was held together by little more than secondhand Scotch tape.

About the time we wondered whether or not we'd make it to our sixth anniversary, we found the joys of growing in a small and simple church and rearing a small and simple child. Rebuilding always starts in the smallest and simplest ways.

Lesson 7 (2006)If laughter is good medicine, then stealing bikes from the neighborhood boys is the prescription.

While entertaining friends, a group of neighborhood children decided to play the old game of "ding dong ditch." We had two sleeping babies, and when the doorbell rang Amber's face turned beet-red and steam screamed from her ears. She bolted out the door as one tiny eight-year old tried his best to mount his bike. Nervous, he floundered, and Amber was on him before he could get any momentum. In an effort to evade the wrath of the neighborhood mother, he ditched his bike and ran. Amber scooped up his two wheeler and yelled, "you can have your bike back when you bring your parents to my house!"

The bike sat in our foyer until the boys came back to apologize. We had a good roll over that one.


(To be continued! Join the mailing list to receive Part 2 in your inbox.)

15 Things You Might Not Care To Know About Our Dating Years, But Here You Are Anyway

Amber and I are approaching the Crystal Anniversary, and if I were the Birk-wearing, emu raising, New Age sort often found in these-here Ozarks, this might serve as a sort of mystical omen. And though we both have well-hidden inner hippies, we don’t believe in crystal omens. That being said, fifteen years of marriage is, I think, a sort of mystical miracle. Now before you get carried away and begin wishing us a Happy Anniversary! in the comments, allow me to be clear--our fifteen years does not run until November 13th. However, as a way to commemorate the seeming breath of time comprising these years, I’ve decided to write a series to celebrate our life together. In honor of Amber, I’m writing these pieces in list fashion. (Boy, does that woman love a list!) Today, I’m sharing 15 Things You Might Not Care To Know About Our Dating Years, But Here You Are Anyway. Is it a bit self-indulgent? Perhaps. Even so, enjoy.

1. A Good Drawl is a Terrible Thing to Waste.

When I first met Amber, she was wearing a purple bow in her hair, and informed me in the thickest southern drawl that she was from Alabama. I asked her whether she rooted for the Tide or the Tigers, and she quipped, “I don’t care about football.” Way to woo a man, eh? She was clearly in to me.

Later that day, Amber was walking down the hall with a girl whose underwear was sticking slightly out of the back of her jeans. I heard her quip, “hey girl, your drawers are creeping out the back of your breeches.”

The girl stopped, stood upright and said, “huh?”

Amber mustered her best mid-western accent and responded, “oh, I’m sorry; your un-der-ware is coming over the top of your blue jeans.”

2. We Christian Mingled to Jars of Clay Before Christian Mingling Was Dot Com.

We took our first date to a small Jars of Clay concert that was held in a neighboring university's theater in Conway, Arkansas. This is more than a little embarrassing to admit, but every time I hear the theme music for ChristianMingle.com, I could swear I'm back in that little theater.

You might ask why this is embarrassing. Come on... have you seen these commercials?

3. She Often Lies About Our First Kiss.

Amber recalls that I asked her whether I could kiss her after that first date. This is a lie. Let’s be honest; we were having deep and thought-provoking conversation when she jumped over the center-console of my too-tiny Mitsubishi Eclipse and laid one on me.

4. Turtle Cheesecake Can Relieve Sexual Tension

In the early days of dating, there was a good bit of pent-up physical tension. (Ahem.) I recently read, though, that chocolate consumption is addictive because it releases the same chemicals into the brain as certain acts of physical intimacy. (Ahem.) This must explain why we ate our weight in turtle cheesecake at the local coffee shop in those early days.

5. We Were a Part of a Cult, But Not the Kind That Drinks Kool-Aid.

Perhaps this heading is a bit misleading. For the sake of clarity, we attended a very rigid Church of Christ university that, to the best of my knowledge, had boxed God up and shelved him in the library somewhere between Robert Frost and Earnest Hemingway. I had begun an inter-denominational service in those days, one that boasted a few charismatics in attendance. Sure, there are other details, but evidently, when a handful of kids assemble to talk about the wild and unpredictable Holy Spirit at a cessationist school, that assembly gets labeled a cult.

6. She Wore Too Much Purple.

It’s true. Just ask her.

7. I wore Too Much Purple.

This is true, too. You can ask her.

8. Patience and Diamonds Are Mutually Exclusive Things.

Our first date was on my birthday, October 25. By Thanksgiving, I had bought a diamond ring. By January 2, we were engaged. We were married before the next Thanksgiving.

As you can imagine, patience is not one of the most practiced virtues in the Haines’ household, even today.

9. We Were Once Caught Making Out in an Abandoned Train Yard.

I’m not sure there is much more to say about this one. It’s every bit as sordid as it sounds. The truth is, when you go to a rigid Christian university (see above), you’ll look for any old private place to mug down. [tweetherder]A word to the young-uns reading this piece: floodlights can reach into every nook and cranny of an abandoned boxcar.[/tweetherder]

10. Even Scotch Irish Girls Fight in Italian.

Amber’s maiden name was Carothers. For those of you who are into this sort of thing, you’ll note that this means she’s Scotch-Irish, and she has the family tree (and pictures of the homestead castle from the motherland) to prove it. You should note, though, that even fiery-tempered Scotch-Irish girls fight in Italian.

While dating, I suppose I hurt Amber’s feelings in some overtly dude-bro kind of way. I don’t recall the exact details, but in the heat of passion, with malice afore-thought, Amber wrote a blistering all-but-break-up note and dropped it in inter-school mail. (For those of you too young to know, this was our version of email, but it required the use of actual paper and an actual pen.) After dressing me down, she signed the letter "Ciao."

11. It Pays to Have the Apology First.

In the days of inter-school mail, delivery times were a bit of a crapshoot. Some mail could be dropped through the mail slot and immediately delivered, while other pieces were locked in mail-purgatory until the mailroom gods released them from their penance.

In the morning hours of some otherwise non-descript Tuesday, I received a note in the mail from Amber. It was an apology. I found her on campus, apologized for my dude-bro offense. We side-hugged an apology (in that rigid Christian university sort of way), and then I asked, “but why are you apologizing to me?” She looked at me, blinked in disbelief.

“You didn’t get the other letter?” she asked.

“Nope; not yet,” I said.

“Just wait.”

It was the Ciao letter.

12. We Broke Up For Twenty Minutes.

Nearly two months before the wedding, we broke up for twenty minutes. The details are irrelevant, but during our brief separation, we sat on the couch and had ourselves a good-and-ugly cry. I looked at her and said, “I don’t really want to break up.” She looked at me and responded, “neither do I.” We immediately broke into laughter. That was that. We've been together ever since.

13. We Spent the Last Two Months of Our Engagement Apart...

...for the sake of keeping our hands off each other. In retrospect, I suppose we could have simply eaten more turtle cheesecake.

14. Gerbera Daisies Were at The Funeral of Our Dating Relationship.

The death of dating happened in a beautiful church on Lake Guntersville. Amber held a bouquet of gerbera daisies. I held a fistful of tissues for all my blubbering. My groomsmen’s names were Bill, Billy, Kyle, Matt, Connor, Chad, and Grady. I don’t recall the names of Amber’s bridesmaid. The pastor’s name was Phillip. These folks had faith in us, I think.

15. It’s the Memories That Remind Us That We’ve Always Loved Each Other.

In our thirties, we’ve seen too many marriages unwind. When it happens, one party spins some sort of revisionist history, says things like, “I never really loved her,” or, “he’s just always been so selfish.” Remembering the truth of early love is a good place to start when those little lies begin creeping in.

Do you remember?