On March 10, 2007, my husband and I said our vows. It is so wild to look back on that day this week, 14 years later, and wonder how the time has passed by so quickly, yet has seemed simultaneously slow going. This week also marks the one year anniversary of being thrown into a pandemic. The unique dynamics and challenges that fact has brought to all our lives is also worth noting. In so many ways, marriage blindsided me. I should also mention that my husband and I have been parents for the entirety of our marriage, and that, too, has offered no shortage of surprises and unknowns. In honor of our continued commitment and in the spirit of keeping things real, I have compiled a list of 10 lessons I’ve learned over the last 14 years as a married woman.
1. Marriage is Often Uncomfortable
As I’ve pointed out in a previous marriage post, in many ways society sends the message that marriage is some kind of fairytale, happily ever after. The idea of soul mates, romantic gestures, sparks of knowing, butterflies in the gut…the emotions of it all can wrap us up into a tizzy of fantasy. In those moments, it’s hard to imagine anything about that person, and the relationship blossoming, ever losing any luster. When the luster does wane, however, what is often missed are the golden opportunities presenting themselves.
The discomfort of being at odds with one’s spouse is inevitable, of course. Yet sometimes, I have found myself attempting to avoid that discomfort… at the mercy of human nature’s attraction to what’s “easier”. Discomfort, however, is extraordinarily important. When we stay committed to realigning with our spouse by keeping our values up front and openly shared, we have the chance to deepen our relationship through a greater understanding of each other. Accepting the reality of how uncomfortable marriage often is can be a much needed tool in the toolbox of creating a thriving relationship for years to come.
2. S-p-e-l-l It Out: Your Spouse Isn’t a Mind Reader
Over the course of 14 years, and many conversations often on the same topic, sometimes I (and I’m sure my husband) wonder: “WHY doesn’t he (she) understand/know this yet?! How many times have we had this conversation?” I do not think we are alone among married couples in the realm of rehashing the same issues. I have found great value in respectfully expressing myself on (as well as opening my ears to listen to my husband tell me) EXACTLY what is desired/expected/felt/misunderstood…etc.
This FOR SURE can land itself under the “marriage is often uncomfortable” category because it isn’t always simple or readily accepted when we have to get down to brass tax, so to speak. If beating around the bush were an Olympic sport, I’m confident the athletes would be teams of married couples. Saying what you mean and meaning what you say is a certain kind of freedom. Gaining understanding through hearing your spouse explain the root cause of their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors is also liberating…if momentarily debilitating at times. The thing is, when it comes to marriage, beauty and fragility are interwoven. It takes courage to be vulnerable, and the return on investment is invaluable.
3. Sometimes You’ll Go to Bed Mad. It’s Ok.
Okay so if you’re engaged or married, chances are good that you’ve heard the advice “don’t ever go to bed angry”. I’d like to throw this one in the proverbial trash bin. As a sleep deprived couple, I cannot even count the EXTRA hours of slumber we’ve lost reacting to each other in the midst of heightened emotions. Now unlike my husband, if I’m upset about something, I cannot just turn off the lights and pass out. Instead, I lay there and stew. It’s a curse in so many ways. Because of this delightful trait, I will not back down, and I will not be walked away from. If you asked my husband, he might tell you I “needle with a pool stick”. Okay I made that up just now, but you get the gist of what I’m saying.
When we have hashed out arguments late into the night, yes, we have resolved them, but often not before midnight. And when you have small children coming in and waking you up multiple times, and your alarm sounds by 6 AM or earlier, midnight is not an ideal time to go to bed completely drained with a headache. That being said: I recognize that some disagreements will end up like this, and that’s life. But what I’ve also learned is that sometimes when my husband exits the room to go sleep somewhere else after a snarky comment thrown my way, it’s a blessing for both of us. I sprawl out in the middle of our king sized bed, take a couple deep breaths, and know we will face each other the following day looking through a less defensive lens.
4. 50/50 is a Myth.
Whether you’re imagining 50/50 with financial contribution, chores around the house, childcare, who initiates sex (more on that later), or emotional support…this breakdown is a myth. Take that last example, emotional support. There have been many seasons within the last 14 years that I have battled major hormonal wreckage (hi, three pregnancies anyone?) and on its own–it’s a doozy. My husband has weathered those storms with me and been patient while I level out. Guaranteed there were times he felt the burden (real or perceived) to provide a joke or two to make me laugh, or give an extra hug or “I love you, you’re awesome” to lift my spirits.
Financially, in our household, my husband is the sole provider. He works incredibly hard to provide a lifestyle we’ve all become accustomed to. My role as a stay at home mother and domestic warrior (self given title, thank you very much), involves the ins and outs of being on the front lines as a parent, administrative assistant (person who pays bills, ok? don’t crap on my title parade), chef and housekeeper etc. I don’t receive a paycheck and my husband eats my cooking most of the time. Again, the 50/50 breakdown just isn’t realistic. More often in marriage, we shift between 60/40, 70/30, 80/20…alternating who carries the bigger load yet always supporting each other. Give and take molds to many different forms.
5. Effective Communication is Key
When you side-step tough emotions, you fail to develop skills required to thrive in your marriage as it is. Sweeping issues under the rug just creates major road blocks you’ll find yourself detouring around for years to come. You rob yourself and your spouse of the opportunity to build the marriage you want to have. When effective communication is not practiced, a silent but deadly slayer is being cultivated: resentment. So…Get uncomfortable and spell it out.
6. Intentional One on One Time Matters BIG TIME.
In the name of being candid, I suck at this one. BUT: I’m getting better. When I was pregnant with our first daughter, my mother in law gave my husband and I this advice: don’t ever stop dating each other. That is sound guidance. And yet, I can honestly say, of all the couples we know, we probably go on dates the least. How ironic.
Apparently, all we needed to get serious about intentional time together was a world-wide pandemic. Every Wednesday night, we have “marriage night”. We don’t usually leave our bedroom, so it isn’t a date in the typical sense. What we do varies. Sometimes we start the evening with a bible verse and discuss it, allowing the conversation to flow from there. Other times, we choose a movie to watch we haven’t seen. And one of my favorite activities is playing chess. No phones are allowed on Marriage night.
How you choose to spend intentional time together is unique to your relationship. I enjoy the simple pleasure of taking a walk with my husband. I also like cooking together; he’s a great sous chef. Even getting outside and throwing a baseball back and forth breeds connection for us, and I always have fun. When I was a brand new wife AND a brand new mother, I didn’t prioritize intentional time with him as much as I should have. Fortunately, he’s a pretty patient guy. 😉
7. Play Games. Like Chess. Nobody Likes a Manipulator.
As I mentioned we enjoy doing on Marriage night, playing chess has been a favorite pastime of ours throughout our relationship. As a young couple with a baby on the way, we didn’t have much of a social life. Chess was commonly our after dinner enterprise. Until he taught me, I didn’t know how to play. Engaging in play with your spouse, whatever avenue you may take, strengthens the bond between you. My husband and I also get a kick out of playing Super Mario Bros. on the old Nintendo Console, mostly because of how abhorrently dreadful my skills have become. I promise, at one point in my childhood I would have been a worthy adversary for him.
Whether you’re playing bocce ball, one on one basketball, checkers, don’t crack the egg on the trampoline, or rock, paper, scissors, taking part in games creates connections and also reveals competitive edge. You can get to know each other in a different way through play.
8. Sex is a Two Way Street. Also: It’s Vital.
Just do it, okay? it’s important to prioritize– in the name of connection, physical well being, and emotional health. Put yourself out there, make an effort. To reiterate lesson #2, spell it out because your spouse isn’t a mind reader.
9. It’s Important to Give Grace. To Yourself and Your Partner.
Full Disclosure: sometimes I catch myself giving more grace to the poor behavior of complete strangers than I do to my husband. That’s just fundamentally unfair. Obviously, I have higher standards for the person I’ve chosen to spend my life with than those I greet in passing. All the same, I think learning to give your spouse heaps of grace is incredibly impactful. Extending those heaps of grace onto yourself is a wise idea too. Not always easy, but wise. The old adage that tells us to treat others the way we would like to be treated is a helpful reminder in the moments you might desire to sklonk them in the kneecap, instead. Grace, by definition, is the exercise of love, kindness, mercy, favor…disposition to benefit or serve another.
10. Marriage Has Its Ebbs and Flows
Sometimes you’ll feel like roommates. Other times, you’ll be giddy with delight. Sometimes you’ll go through deep valleys and others you’ll feel high on a mountain top. It won’t ever be “just right” all the time and you’ll both have to work at it consistently, choosing each other every single day. It might be tempting to compare your marriage to another couple’s at times, but don’t. Remember the concept of highlight reel vs the behind the scenes. A great marriage is built by using the ebbs to challenge each other and grow as individuals and as a couple, then gratefully recognizing and capitalizing on the flows.