Paper Trail is a new monthly feature, profiling a story originally published in Issue One of MAGNIFY. You can order the print issue in our online shop.
When love turns into a battleground, many couples choose to part. 17 years down the line, one Seattle couple talk about the conflicts and resolutions that have given them a love worth fighting for.
THE EARLY YEARS
How did you get to know each other?
Billy Huffman: I met Jen when she was 13. Later, I used to come home from college on the weekends to see mutual friends and I soon fell in love.
What were your first impressions of each other?
Jennifer Huffman: I wasn’t attracted to him – he was a bit bashful. Once I got to know him, I saw he was passionate about his faith and really close with his family. He treated his mum with respect as a true gentleman.
B: She was the first girl I had met in a church that was having fun. She loved life and God, which I found really attractive.
How did your relationship develop?
B: [We dated for] two and a half years. When we got married, I was 20 and Jen was 17. We were friends, so our dating looked different. We were friends and then best friends.
What was the biggest lesson you learnt from dating that has helped you in marriage?
B: To work through differences in our personalities. During the first five months of dating, we were on our best behaviour. After that, we began noticing things that bugged us. That’s when I realised there were things about Jen that I didn’t like, but I still wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. There were probably more things about me that she didn’t like though!
How did you know the other person was ‘the one’?
J: I knew in my heart. Also, it’s helpful when people whose opinion you value the most say, ‘This is a good thing.’ B: How else can you explain the feeling in the pit of your stomach, when it’s hard to breathe when they’re gone?
J: It’s great to marry the man who is your best friend. During difficult times in marriage, you go back to the foundation you built on – your friendship. You can’t marry someone for potential, you’ve got to marry them for who they are today. Then if your spouse never changes, you still love them.
TURNING ROMANCE INTO REALITY
What has marriage taught you about yourself? B: What has marriage not taught us?
J: To say sorry, humble myself, become more selfless and put the other person first.
B: Marriage has taught me that it’s entirely possible to love someone more than you love yourself. I think inherently we’re all sort of selfish, but in marriage you can’t be selfish – it won’t work. I love her more than myself and I prefer her. If you have selfishness in your life, marriage will remove that or you’ll die: it’s one or the other.
How does faith influence your marriage?
B: It’s the epicentre. It’s bigger than our love for each other and is the one thing we always agree on. Love in a marriage sometimes fails, which is something we’ve experienced over the 17 years that we’ve been married. However, God’s love for us never fails.
J: When you realise God loves you, it helps you love others more.
What would you say is the secret to a happy marriage?
J: A successful marriage depends on the choices we make. I think we have to be intentional with our romance, just as we are about getting a solid education and finding a good job.
B: In Ephesians 5 in the Bible, husbands are told four times to love their wives, while wives are told just once to respect their husbands. A woman who feels loved finds it easy to reciprocate. Jennifer knows I love her, and she feels secure in that. I’ve never had to look at Jennifer and say, ‘Hey, respect me, woman’, be- cause she feels secure in my love. It’s my job as the man to show her I love her. It’s really fun too, if guys just embrace it; it’s not hard. Another key to success – and we’re not experts by any stretch of the imagination – is being able to say to your wife, ‘I was wrong.’ The ability to admit when you’re wrong disarms arguments. You could be right and still be wrong – I’ve learnt that in our marriage. J: Being married young, the glue for us has been having a personal relationship with Jesus. It’s been the key to making it through the difficult seasons and keeping our marriage strong and healthy.
FIGHTING WITH PASSION
Would you say it’s okay to fight?
J: Yes. We love passionately and we fight passionately.
B: You have to fight. When people say they don’t fight, I wonder if they are even in love. How could you not disagree on something over the course of time?
J: We grow when we learn to resolve a disagreement and move forward. B: As you talk through things, you know each other more intimately.
What do you do after a serious argument and why?
J: For me [after an argument], you’re always upset, but it’s about coming back together a few hours later after cooling off. It does affect you, but if you can respond to the person who’s angry or upset, and not react and take it personally, then you can work through it. However, I think often in marriages, it stops with the fight and couples act like it never happened. If you don’t go back and resolve it, you can start living in a place of denial and it affects your marriage. It takes time and energy, but if you work through the conflict, it really strengthens your relationship. The resolution creates a strong marriage.
When you fight, do you shy away or go in ‘all guns blazing’?
B: I don’t like getting too mad, so I need to go out. That makes Jen mad. Jen likes to talk through everything straight away. We can spend hours doing that, which makes me mad. We’ve now learnt that she should give me some time and I won’t ignore her.
What is the worst thing one can do in a fight?
B: Say, ‘You’re just like your mother!’
J: Compare or bring up the past.
B: It’s never acceptable for a man to get physical with a woman and vice versa.
What’s the best thing one can do to resolve a fight?
J: Back down and see the other’s perspective.
B: Admit where you were wrong. Even if you’re not the only person wrong, admit where you were wrong and that’s a good start.
If you could give your younger selves advice on how to argue well, what would it be?
J: Identify the core issue quickly.
B: Often married couples find themselves fighting about some- thing totally different to what got them arguing in the first place, [so I’d say] don’t let the little things become the major things. Focus on what it is that really upset us and deal with that.
Do men and women communicate differently?
B: I get loud when I feel passionate about something. I’ve learnt that being loud is not the best way to win a fight. Jen is feminine, but not much of a girly girl, so when she’s crying I’ve learnt that it is probably serious and I should pay attention.
J: When talking about their hearts, women can cry, while men will sometimes get passionate and angry.
Is it more or less important to win the argument as time goes on?
J: When we were younger, we both wanted to be right. Now, we can agree to disagree.
B: I don’t think anyone really wins. It’s just important that we both learn from an argument and walk away still in love.
INTERVIEW BY Sabrina Dougall
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Nneka Salmon
*Please note that this is an editorial shoot.