Editor's note: This article was originally published on Anne Banks' blog, Travel Parent Eat. It has been modified and republished here with permission.
Today we are taking a drive down my personal story lane, because I think it's important to share, not because I'm an amazing person by any means, but hopefully someone else may gain strength from knowing they aren't the only one.
My husband served a mission for my church, as did I. We met at school after our missions were completed. We had deep doctrinal discussions. Our faith is something that sparked our friendship and eventual courtship.
See, my husband and I didn't like each other much when we first met. Let's just say our first impressions weren't very impressive. He thought I was a self-righteous, proud, unattractive know-it-all. I thought he was a proud, ignorant jock. How did we end up together? On a bet.
One of Mike's roommates had a bit of a crush on me. One evening I stopped by their apartment to ask them to return a pan they had borrowed. The roommate was watching WWE. I made a remark about the believability of the wrestling on that program. I followed up with the challenge that I could take down the roommate with my real wrestling skills. I did so in just a matter of seconds, whether he let me or not, I did. Mike then claimed I couldn't take him down, and if he pinned me, he was going to kiss me. I had never fought so hard in my life! I DID NOT want him to kiss me, and my ego was afraid of being crushed if he pinned me. I couldn't tell you which reason was my greatest motivation. He pinned me, but after at least 10 minutes of intense wrestling, and the rest, as they say, is history.
We began talking, joking around and eventually dating. Our first date was to worship together. I had a date that night with another guy, because I didn't consider worship as a date. Mike had other plans in mind and was mortally offended that I would go out with someone else right after my date with him. In my defense, he never categorized our worship as a date, and didn't clue me in until the next day. The next day we attended a university football game together, and he wouldn't even look at me.
Later that evening, I was attending an opening showing of the newest Harry Potter movie with my sister. He called while I was traveling to the movie and asked if he could tag along. He later told me that he felt bad for being so cold at the football game and couldn't bear to stay mad at me so he had to drive the hour and a half to see me that night. The movie was sold out, so my sister offered her ticket so he could join me. He came to my house afterward and met my mom. She warned me after he left that he was wrapped around my finger. I wasn't convinced because there was no way this guy that hated my guts could like me enough to be love struck.
Boy was I wrong. We had our ups and downs during our dating, but during Christmas break, we realized we couldn't be separated, and never wanted to be. We got engaged in January and married in April. From the time we officially started dating to marriage was only about six months. We had only really known each other for eight months. We knew it was love, and knew we wanted to be together forever.
About a year and a half after we were married, Mike dropped a bombshell in my lap. He told me he no longer believed in God. Not just that he didn't believe in our faith, but he didn't believe in life after death, a heavenly father, any of it. I literally felt the wind knocked out of me, and wasn't sure what path to follow from this point on. I was unprepared for what the next step would be. I didn't know if there was a next step or if everything I had hoped for would be gone.
We started having long conversations about what his new belief system meant for our relationship. I prayed and fasted for answers and direction. I received great counsel from my dad. All answers told me to continue loving Mike, and placing our marriage as my priority.
That is what we have been working on ever since that point. My faith and religion are one, and they are the most identifying factor in my life. That hasn't changed and never will. My faith has been strengthened through this challenge, and I am grateful to recognize that blessing. I never knew I would be this strong, and don't always feel very strong, but I continue to pray for strength, and receive what I need. If it isn't too proud to admit, I am a better person by going through this challenge than I would have been without it. I attend all church meetings with our two boys by myself. I share my faith with our boys, pray with them and help them develop their own faith.
So here's how Mike and I keep our marriage strong and the priorities we have set.
Family is first and foremost
I don't let service in the church come between me and my family. My church service is important, and I schedule time, and attend all my meetings, but I don't overstretch myself so I'm stressed out about service more than spending time with my family.
Mike and I spend time together doing the activities that we have always enjoyed together
We still attend our alma mater football games together, we exercise together, we continue our courtship through weekly date nights. We take time to reconnect and enjoy each other's company. He is my best friend and my first choice to spend free time with. He makes me laugh and helps me release stress.
We set the right time to discuss the serious issues
We've had our share of arguments and discussions about religion, in-laws, personal time, whatever it is that couples fight about. We've been there, done that and learned from our mistakes. We wait to bring up an issue until it is the right time for a discussion. I'm really cranky when I'm tired or overstretched. I wait until I've had a nap or accomplished some of my to-do list before I bring up a taboo subject. This avoids excess stress in the situation, and I've had time to collect my RATIONAL thoughts. He has learned to wait for a discussion until I'm unhindered, the kids are otherwise preoccupied, and I can give him my full attention so the discussion doesn't become bogged down with unnecessary emotions.
We are honest with each other about our emotions and thoughts
I wouldn't feel comfortable writing this post if I hadn't discussed each of these points with Mike previously. He knows how I feel, and I understand how he feels.
We focus on each other's positive attributes
While I'm still praying for Mike to find his faith, I know he is THE BEST father, husband, friend, companion, you name it, I could EVER wish for. I know he is my soul mate (even if he doesn't believe in a soul. I guess I could call him Edward), and I wouldn't be happier with anyone else. He knows that even though I'm busy Sunday mornings, my faith makes me more compassionate, patient, and overall happier.
We support each other in our personal pursuits
He cheers me on at my races, and I watch tennis with him. He eats all my baked goods, and I watch tennis with him. Just kidding, I do enjoy watching tennis now, but only because of him. We recognize that it is important to have our own hobbies, and our own time to more fully appreciate our time together. We are different people with different interests, and participating in those different interests is what helps us stay true to who we are.
We still cuddle almost every night
The only exceptions are when he is out of town, or when I stay up late finishing a blog post. We still enjoy physical contact and reserve that special connection for each other. Complete fidelity through thought, actions, and the media we view, keep our marriage strong.
What do you do to keep your marriage strong? What priorities have you set in your relationship?