As of last October, my parents have been married for 47 years. Throughout that time, I’ve been awed by the sacrifice, faithfulness, and commitment they have demonstrated through their relationship and care for one another. Some of you who are familiar with their health challenges can appreciate this deeply.
It is also my own 10-year anniversary. And as I reflect on our wedding day, it strikes me how different my picture of marriage was then. Like many others who are dating or engaged, I wanted to make sure I found as good a match as possible.
When I look back now, marriage is so much less about the “starting point.” It’s about all the years that have come after the wedding ‒ how do my wife and I endure in marriage and keep growing together in our relationship? How do we face stress and the inevitable challenges and losses in life? How do we handle the reality that we ourselves will change and our relationship will change?
The more I’ve reflected on these questions, the more I believe they’re also critical questions that apply to longevity and endurance in leadership. After all, stress, challenges, losses, and changes are all part of what leaders face every month and year. What does it take to engage all of this with courage and compassion?
I definitely don’t have all the answers. And 10 years of marriage is not anywhere close to 47 years. But my wife and I also don’t take it for granted that everyone will make it to 10 years in marriage or 10 years in leadership. And we don’t take for granted all the factors ‒ from people to God ‒ that have strengthened and supported us, coming alongside us to help us get this far. So we are definitely making time to celebrate.
Hope this encourages you in your relationships, and in your leadership!
What’s helped us to endure in our relationship and marriage?
Jenny: I definitely think the key has been growing together with you. I firmly believe that if people aren’t growing closer together in a relationship, they’re growing further apart. I often hear people say right before a divorce or break-up, that they just didn’t feel like they knew their spouse anymore. That’s not something that happened overnight.
Adrian: Yes, I agree that you can’t grow complacent. I feel like there are critical moments where we face the choice of whether we’ll let them bring us closer or drift us apart, and our relationship is the sum of how we responded in all those critical moments. Like a few years ago when we hit our limit with all those personal and professional challenges. We were both stressed out of our minds and I remember we both saw that we didn’t have the capacity to handle the realities of our life. To me, the key was that we were honest with each other and chose to face it together ‒ even in all our confusion, fear, and weakness.
Jenny: Yes, and we also knew God wouldn’t leave us alone.
Adrian: Right. I honestly was completely out of answers. But we accepted that, and trusted that there was strength, hope, and capacity from God that we couldn’t see at the time. And years later, I do think we’ve grown and can handle things better.
Not Being Alone
Jenny: That speaks to another key that I feel has allowed me to endure in marriage and leadership. Throughout all my ups and downs ‒ even the other night as I was feeling discouraged ‒ I’ve not felt alone. I’ve known you were there with me, even if you couldn’t solve any problems or understand everything I was going through. And I’ve known God has been with me.
Adrian: Yes, I’ve felt the same way with you. And I haven’t always been great at listening and connecting to you, but I’ve gotten help and grown in that, I hope.
Vulnerability and Core Needs
Jenny: Well, I think that you’re talking about the idea of core needs and how important that is in a relationship. I do think that deeper than anything, people want and need to know that they’re heard, seen, and loved. But it can be hard to admit and engage those things because it requires us to be vulnerable.
Adrian: Yes, and it was a real breakthrough for me to understand that opening up and being vulnerable takes the most courage. It’s unfortunate that so many images of “strength” in popular culture are associated with anger, aggression, and emotional withdrawal (especially in men) when I think those are often signs of insecurity. I do understand that vulnerability is especially hard during stressful times. But that’s also when it’s most critical.
Jenny: Well, there are multiple layers to vulnerability in terms of getting to the core of our needs. We’ve had to work on understanding each other’s needs and desires, like the need to be heard and respected. We’ve had to do the internal work of being in touch with our own needs and desires. Then we’ve had to learn to express those needs to each other. Those have been a key foundation to building a strong relationship with you.
Support Outside of Marriage
Adrian: That’s true. But one thing that’s also helped us endure doesn’t have to do with us. I’ve found it critical to find sources of support for myself outside of our marriage so that my leadership stresses don’t land only on you. In that sense, talking to friends and mentors has been a huge help so I can confide in them and get the encouragement and love I need. As I’ve gotten support for myself, do you feel that it’s made a difference for you?
Jenny: Yes, I don’t feel the pressure to be your only confidant or to shoulder the burdens you feel in leadership. Besides, I can’t always support you in the ways other people can!
Adrian: True. I’ve learned that not everybody provides support in the same way. Some of my friends are in a life stage where they can relate to some of the same things I’m going through and can provide the emotional support I might need. But other friends might not be able to relate and that’s okay. They provide support and friendship in other ways for me and I appreciate them for that.
Jenny: Yes, I have some friends who always cheer me up when I need it and other friends I can vent or cry with. If I try to push too hard because I want something that a certain friend simply can’t provide at the time, it ends up just frustrating both of us.
Reaching Out for Help
Adrian: The other thing is that sometimes when we go through struggles, people don’t always know what we’re going through or what we need. So they freeze up. I used to get frustrated by that but now I try to focus on figuring out what I do need and then reaching out and asking people for it. I want to give them a decent chance to respond before I judge them or our friendship. You were the one who encouraged me to reach out to my good friends when I was struggling a number of years back.
Jenny: Well, I think we both know how that turned out. You’re still talking to that same group of guy friends every month, over five years later.
Adrian: That’s the thing. Up front, it does take some investment to reach out to people and ask for what you need … and so often when we’re tired, it can feel like too much effort to get over that hump. But I’ve learned that one small investment yields so much fruit down the road which I’m still benefitting from. It’s totally worth getting over that hump.
On “Being a Burden”
Jenny: Not only that, but reaching out for help actually can prevent us from becoming too self-absorbed. When I ask for support, a lot of times other people share what they’re going through, too. And it becomes a mutual thing whereas if I didn’t reach out, we might all just keep things to ourselves.
Adrian: That’s really interesting. I hear so often that people don’t share about themselves because they don’t want to be a burden. But when we do share honestly and vulnerably, it’s a gesture of honor that we trust and need what other people have to offer to us. And it opens the door for both sides to draw closer together. That’s the exact opposite of “being a burden.”
Jenny: Which, coming full circle, is what has helped us to stay strong in our relationship. We’ve let each other in. And so we haven’t felt alone and we’ve continued to grow together through all the challenges of life and leadership.
I hope you enjoyed “listening in” on our conversation. If you have thoughts or things that have helped you endure in marriage or leadership, please write in and let us know! And check back on Friday for “Part 2” of our conversation, which will cover practical tips that have helped us in marriage and in leadership.