My husband and I are far from perfect — but we also know that we don’t have to be perfect to be perfected by the process of love. We have chosen to let our marriage be a safe space to learn, not a place to perform. Making marriage a safe space, however, is a daily choice. A refuge isn’t built carelessly or quickly, but with patience and intention.

Almost two years into our marriage, and I can see a steady foundation rising slowly around us. I have faith for our future because I can feel how we’ve become strengthened over time. Without any exaggeration, my husband and I will tell others that marriage really does get better and better — and it’s not because it was bad to begin with. The bar was high, and it’s continued to rise in ways I had no comprehension for on our wedding day.

Bad marriage doesn’t improve without effort, and neither does good marriage. It was never meant to be stagnant or boring. I also don’t believe it was meant to be just okay, or as good as whatever else is happening in my life. Marriage has the potential to be wild, passionate, deep, and fun — and if I am not experiencing the level of these things I want, it’s not because God isn’t good or marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Marriage is the closest earthly experience I have to what relationship with God is like — and I don’t experience “more” from my relationship with God because I show up to church on Sundays like I’m told and pray sometimes. I also don’t fully feel loved by him when I think our level of connection is dictated by my not failing. I don’t grow in trust with the Lord without baring my heart and putting myself into a position where I am afraid I will be rejected.

My relationship with God grows because I have chosen to know him as a person — to spend time with him and not shy away when things get hard or embarrassing. Every opportunity the Lord has had to reject me, he’s never taken. Instead, I find myself more loved, more connected, and more brave every time I lay my heart out before him.

People are not God, and our husbands are not Jesus. I don’t expect perfection from my husband because it’s not what he was made to be like. But he was designed to love and to receive love. He was made to be a part of a powerful partnership and friendship. Together we were made to conquer giants and mountains and know a passion so deep it would reflect the type of passion God himself embodies. And both of us, we were made for process. Life with God is so much better than following rules or “doing the right thing.” It is a process where we are constantly growing, evolving, and changing — a process where we don’t have to be perfect, but somehow are perfected by love, simply by showing up.

This is marriage, too.

But none of this happens without effort. It doesn’t happen only in big events; it doesn’t magically unfurl because we write really amazing vows to read to each other at the altar. It happens in daily choices to not hide or give up. It happens with patience, intention, and humility. It happens only after I can own my mistakes or the past experiences I may project on my husband. It happens only when I give him the space to fail or to be the best husband he can be.

I don’t always get it right, and neither will you. That isn’t the point. The beauty is that being “right” or correct won’t make your marriage. Being right or correct don’t really make life with God, either. What makes a marriage is choosing to show up and staying humble. It’s okay to have to learn — to apologize profusely and ask for forgiveness often.

“I’m sorry,” wasn’t alway easy for me. Neither was admitting my mistakes, talking about things like finances that brought me shame, or simply not shutting down in a conversation. I had always learned to fight, fly, or freeze: inflict pain verbally, run away physically or just by withholding, or be paralyzed in fear. So for me, beginning to embrace process and vulnerability started simply with choosing to stay and keep my mouth moving even when I didn’t want to. It meant vocalizing to my husband, even though it felt awkward, that I wanted to be connected, but I felt stuck and mostly just wanted to run away.

Learning means we are growing, and apologies are not admissions of defeat. Apologies are a declaration of victory — because each time I can rise above my pride to say “I’m sorry,” I am choosing my husband and our connection over dysfunction, disorder, or fear. I used to hate apologizing because I couldn’t handle being wrong. I hadn’t experienced before that it was okay to be wrong — my instinct told me that if I wasn’t perfect, someone was going to leave.

But in marriage, the power of “I’m sorry” has changed my life. I used to think that apologizing was like admitting defeat — but I now know that apologizing is powerful. “I’m sorry” embraces the process. It takes ownership. It validates the person I love, and it creates connection more strongly than correctness ever could.

The strangest thing happens when we not only confront our internal fears but explain to our spouse what is happening. They’re not God, and they don’t have ESP so they can’t read what is happening in our hearts. But just like “I’m sorry,” explaining what was happening shined a light on the emotions that were holding me back. Sharing vulnerably, baring myself fully for him to see, is a powerful step towards connection that emotion and mistakes cannot touch. I wouldn’t have realized this if I had chosen to be passive, to keep my feelings or fears hidden, even when I thought I had good intentions for doing so.

And so we’ve built over time. Small choices that once felt huge, like apologizing or staying put, have grown into deep trust and a marriage that gets better every day. I may grow tired of having conversations sometimes, but that’s because I am a human and not because the reward isn’t great.

As a result of embracing process together, we have both become more compassionate and understanding people. We have discovered new things about each other, and experienced acceptance and honesty deeper than I have ever known. We have the marriage that I dreamed of — not because I am perfect, but because we are allowing ourselves to be perfected by the process of love.