You need to be more like me. Musician and Dove Award winner Mark Schultz didn't realize it at the time, but that's the message he was sending his future wife, Kate. "I really love you," he told her, "but there are just a few areas where I wish you were a little different."
Kate's response wasn't what Mark had hoped to hear. "I really like who I am," she said. "If I changed who I am for you to like me, I wouldn’t be true to myself — I would be somebody different."
As the tension between Mark and Kate continued to grow, the couple finally decided to call off their relationship.
At the time, Mark was not particularly comfortable with who he was, he recalls. So after his breakup with Kate, Mark entered a difficult year of soul-searching, praying about his purpose and trying to learn who God really wanted him to be. Mark began to realize that he had a unique calling and personality, and that his future wife wouldn't need to have identical characteristics for the two of them to be compatible. A pastor helped Mark understand that a spouse was someone to journey through life with, but God never intended that person to fulfill him.
After about a year, Mark saw Kate at a mutual friend's wedding. This gave them the occasion to talk and consider dating again. Kate noticed a change in Mark, who seemed more confident and stronger spiritually. This time, Kate and Mark's relationship kept growing, and they married in 2005.
Now, Marks says, "One of the greatest gifts that my wife has ever given me is being different from me. The same things that I [once] wished were different are the things that I celebrate now."
The first year of marriage can be a challenging time of adjustment for many couples. But for Mark and Kate, the transition to married life was relatively smooth.
"I think we got our 'first year of marriage' out of the way before we ever got married — we realized we didn’t need to change each other, but could appreciate each other's differences."
Get me to the airport on time
After four years of marriage, Mark felt as though he and Kate weren't spending enough time together. Kate was in residency to become an OB-GYN. Mark, who is known for writing and recording hit songs such as "He's My Son" and "Remember Me," was frequently traveling for performances. They both had been so busy in their careers that the couple decided to move to Europe to take a year off. "We were still in the honeymoon phase because we didn’t see each other much," Mark says.
During that time, Mark realized the significance of Deuteronomy 24:5, which says, "When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken." Mark says that time away gave him an opportunity to begin to truly know and understand Kate.
Mark worked to be more observant of Kate's preferences and personality. They talked about love languages and differences in how they respond to certain situations. For example, Mark was in the habit of leaving for the airport about an hour before a flight, which made Kate nervous. Mark tried to reassure her that they wouldn't miss the flight — they hadn't missed one in the past.
But when Kate said, "My love language is to get to the airport early," it struck a nerve with Mark. He vowed to be at the airport two hours early next time, if only to prove to Kate that she wouldn't like to spend that much time waiting in a terminal. His plan backfired, though. Kate and Mark enjoyed that two-hour wait over a light meal, talking, laughing and spending time together.
Lessons in love
Mark says he has learned a lot about caring for his wife by watching her dad. On cold winter mornings, for example, his father-in-law would start Kate's car to warm it up and would scrape the ice from her windshield.
"My father-in-law was the most loyal, giving person," Mark says. "He was so good at things like that; it made me [want to] grow into those shoes. Now, hopefully, our son, Ryan, will start to realize, That's normal. Husbands just do those things for their wives."
Kate’s willingness to serve her husband in meaningful ways has also encouraged Mark to look for opportunities to serve her. Shortly after Mark and Kate were married, for example, Mark came home from a long trip, and a Kansas State football game was on TV.
"I walked in," Mark recalls, "and the first thing she did was hand me something to drink, then she said, 'Go sit on the couch. The game's on. Don’t talk to me until a commercial is on. I know this is important to you.' That blew my mind. So the natural thing for me to do was to find out what was important to her and start doing those things."
Since their son, Ryan, was born in February 2012, Mark has developed an even deeper appreciation for Kate. Her skill as a mother inspires him, and he's grateful that Ryan can grow up with a mother who has such strong character. "Character doesn’t fade," Mark says. "It only grows stronger."
Mark observes that he's becoming more like Kate, and he's realizing that Kate has developed—in many ways—the characteristics he believed were lacking when they were dating. "I think it's because I'm not trying to bend her into being who I wanted her to be."Troy Griepentrog is the director of marriage content and an editor of Focus on the Family magazine.