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James and Lea's Marriage Story: Fueled by Friendship and Sustained by Commitment

October 17, 2017

By: Emily Conley

We’re surrounded by negative portrayals of marriage in popular culture, celebrity divorces in the news, and inaccurate statistics about the failure of Christian marriages. This February, we're sharing the stories of married couples who've been there, with goal of strengthening and encouraging you. We've shared thoughts from couples who are engagedmarried five years, and coming up, we'll hear from couples who've been married ten years, twenty years, and longer. 

James Gottry serves ADF as Marketing Director of Legal Services. He and Lea have been married almost ten years. 


Tell us the story of how you met.

We met at church. Lea had recently moved to Arizona from Nebraska to work as a nurse at Mayo Clinic.  She and her roommate visited the church I attended, and I, noticing the beautiful newcomer, performed the selfless task of making her feel welcome!  Our first date followed shortly thereafter, and we were married one year and one day after our first date.

What about marriage has been different than you expected, or surprised you?

We have a good friend who says, “once you get married, you really get to know each other.”  He’s right, because when you enter a marriage, you are now sharing everything—from your address to your bank account to your weekend plans to your life plans, everything is intertwined.  This total integration has a way of teaching you things about each other that you simply wouldn’t discover any other way.  So in that sense, almost everything has been a surprise. And that process of learning is what fuels the beautiful challenge of uniting—learning how to blend our unique personalities, passions, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses together.

What challenges do you think marriages face today that maybe they didn’t in your parents’ generation?

The attitude toward marriage continues to change.  While our parents experienced the era of no-fault divorce, that was a relatively new phenomenon, and it stood in contrast to their parents’ generation, which viewed marriage as a lifelong commitment and divorce as an unfortunate disintegration of the ideal. 

Today, divorce or “conscious uncoupling” is not only more common, it is viewed as a natural solution to the problem of conflict or feelings of personal “unfulfillment.”  Thus, the positive pressure to stick together and work through problems is almost nonexistent.  Indeed, couples often begin their journey with a “trial marriage,” cohabitating in an attempt to determine whether they are compatible.  If they decide to progress to marriage, they do so with the mindset that divorce is always an option if both individuals are not “thriving” within the marriage.  Some recent divorcees even throw parties to celebrate their return to singleness. 

Within this environment, it is countercultural to view your marriage as an unbreakable and lifelong commitment. When couples experience the inevitable struggles that accompany any marriage, their friends are at least as likely to urge them to walk away as they are to encourage them to walk through the difficulties together.

Could you share with us the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your marriage?

Change has been a constant in our marriage.  When we had been married less than two years, we moved cross-country to Nashville for me to attend law school (something I was not planning on when we first got married).  Lea worked 12-hour shifts as a nurse while I spent countless hours attending classes and studying, all while adjusting to a new state far away from family and close friends. One week after I graduated, Lea gave birth to our first child.  The following three months were consumed with learning to be parents, while I studied for the bar and searched for a job (the judge I was set to clerk for was shot and killed months earlier).  After I took the bar, we moved cross-country yet again.  More moves and job changes followed.  In all, during our first eight years of marriage we moved five times, and welcomed three children into the world, the oldest of whom is four. 

So much change brings with it a fair amount of stress, but also great opportunities to learn and grow together.  God has used these challenges to teach us a great deal about how to communicate more effectively and how to approach every challenge (or “opportunity”) as a team.  We are still a work in progress, but it’s exciting to look back and see how we’ve grown together as a couple in this first decade of marriage.

What’s been the biggest blessing you’ve received through marriage?

The biggest blessing is the way that God uses your spouse—and the circumstances you face together—to grow you into the person He wants you to be.  We’ve been blessed both within our marriage and from outside our marriage, by the example and encouragement of each other, friends, and family. When you make yourself vulnerable to others (whether to each other or those around you), you quickly learn that they are experiencing—or have experienced—many of the same joys and challenges that you are facing.  In a Facebook status world, there is the temptation to wear a mask and portray your life, and your marriage, as perfect (it’s like retouching a cover model).  When you take off the mask and share real hurts and struggles with your spouse, or when the two of you share with people around you, you open the door to encouragement, to advice, to learning, to comfort…everything good and real that can come from authentic friendship.

What has made your marriage successful?

The commitment to learn and grow as individuals, and as a couple.  Our parents have a combined 70+ years of marriage experience, so we both entered marriage with a conceptual understanding of the work that is involved in continually cultivating a healthy and growing marriage.  But it’s all theoretical until you step into that garden together, roll up your sleeves and begin the work.

Hollywood portrays relationships as being fueled by physical attraction and sustained by sex.  The reality is that a healthy marriage is fueled by friendship and sustained by various interwoven commitments. The commitment to believe the best. The commitment to put your spouse’s needs above your own. The commitment to invest in your relationship. The commitment to humble yourself and acknowledge your faults.

If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice before you were married, what would you say?

This is a marathon, not a sprint.  Accordingly, don’t try to learn everything in a day, and don’t expect yourself or your spouse to be perfect, because every marriage is made up of two imperfect people.  Instead, commit to love each other sacrificially, to seek the best for your spouse, and to believe the best about your spouse. Accept and love who your spouse is, and abandon any preconceived notion of who they “should” be. Focus on allowing God to transform you into the spouse He wants you to be.  That’s more than one piece of advice, isn’t it?

In ten years, what do you hope will be true about your relationship with your spouse?

That our wedding day is the day we loved each other the least.

What advice would you give to someone who’s newly married?

Your spouse is your first “ministry.”  You made a promise to God to care for, cherish, and walk with your spouse for the rest of your life.  Do not take that responsibility lightly or shove it to the side when other responsibilities—or opportunities—begin to demand more of your time.  Your kids, your neighbors, your friends, and any other individuals who observe your marriage, will learn much about you, your priorities, and your relationship with God, by watching how you treat your spouse and how you prioritize your marriage.

Inspire others with your marriage story

Marriage is beautiful, and it benefits society in ways no other relationship can. So show your photo, tell your story, and share your advice. The world needs it.

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