This September I will celebrate fourteen years of marriage. Although Autumn and I have a “marriage” category on the blog, I have written about it zero times. Mostly that’s because I feel that marriage is a total crapshoot, and truthfully, I still don’t really know what I’m doing. I most definitely do not feel qualified to provide any sort of tips or advice on marriage.
Let’s face it: being married is HARD. I’ve read a lot of books and talked to a few other couples about it, and ultimately I’ve come to the conclusion that all marriages are extremely unique and we are all just basically wingin’ it.
Adjusting to married life was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. And it was not a quick adjustment, either. If the first few years were all about getting used to living together, finishing school, setting goals and settling in—then the ten or so years after that have been about working out the kinks. Does it actually take years to work out kinks? In my experience, YES.
Smoothing Out The Edges
Today I want to explore some of the “kinks” that my husband and I have had to work out as we’ve grown together. These little bumps in the road are unique to us; I can only speak for my own marriage. Obviously our marriage is not perfect and we will continue to experience challenges, but I believe as we have worked on ourselves and grown together as a couple, our marriage has strengthened, evolved and actually become more effortless with time.
1. We had to learn each other’s personality types
Knowing that my husband is an introvert or that he loves sports was not enough. I had to learn all the nitty gritty ins and outs—what makes him tick, how he responds to stress, what he’s motivated by, what he most values, etc. Luckily, online personality tests have been a game-changer in helping me discover these things about myself and my husband. Myers-Briggs and Enneagram are great tools to explore your personality type in a deeper way. Understanding the unique aspects of each other’s personality types has made communication and expectations a million times easier. But let me be clear, discovering all these little quirks (or major aspects) has taken YEARS and has not been discoverable by one personality test alone. But KNOWING that there are personality “types” is a great place to start because it has helped me understand him on a deeper level and learn to accept our differences or not take certain things personally.
2. We had to learn each other’s love languages
For example, I love acts of service and he likes quality time. Figuring this out early was super helpful because it allowed us to focus on loving each other in the way we most like to feel loved. There’s a quiz for this too, of course.
3. We had to learn each other’s communication styles
Just communicate, they said. It’s the secret to marriage, they said. What they didn’t say is that effective communication is an art to be mastered, and nobody–I repeat, NOBODY–teaches you how to communicate. Therefore, I have not yet mastered this art. However, I’ve gotten better over time. This was literally one of the most agonizing parts of our marriage to learn and work through. I can’t tell you how many emails I sent my husband in our early days of marriage because it felt like I had to break through walls to tell him face to face what was on my heart. (No shade to him; I just didn’t know how to express myself effectively or how he best responded to my expressions).
So many factors affect how we communicate and respond to others: our tone of voice, the words we use, our body language, our confidence or lack thereof, our ability to articulate our wants and needs, our level of pride and defensiveness, etc. These things have to be figured out, and sometimes the best thing you can do is have a conversation that starts with certain questions like: how would you best like to be approached if I have an issue? When is a good time to have a deep talk with you? What would cause you to get defensive? Etc…
4. Speaking of communication, we had to create a “safe space” for real, vulnerable communication to take place
I came to a point maybe 4-5 years in our marriage where I realized sometimes I just couldn’t get through to my husband. It’s not necessarily his fault (although kinda bc he’s stubborn) but I take responsibility too because like I mentioned above, nobody taught me how to communicate well. So, I sat him down one day and told him that I thought we should implement a system called “Marriage Matters” once a month where we sit down together and talk about how things are going, check in with each other, discuss family business and future purchases, etc.
We created norms, the most important being that this time with each other is a “safe space” for communicating. Basically, we wouldn’t judge or get defensive and we would try our hardest to never let things escalate into an argument. Establishing a “safe space” has helped us talk openly and be vulnerable with each other, knowing that we had each other’s best interests at heart and that we had come prepared with things to say that were important to us in bettering our marriage. This has helped our marriage immensely, and helped me (someone who values vulnerability and authenticity greatly) feel seen and connected to my husband.
5. We had to get specific about our unique roles and contributions
This included household tasks, childcare and general responsibilities. This seems like a no-brainer aka something we should have discussed while we were dating, perhaps? Well, it took us yearsssss to get clear on these things. To be honest, my own resentment is what led me to a place of finally getting real with myself and making it a point to communicate my needs (which happened slowly, awkwardly and imperfectly).
Let me provide a little context: Shortly after I got married, my mom told me to get used to the idea of doing more because I’m the woman. She said it casually with an eye-roll, so I don’t blame her (good ol’ patriarchy handed down by our mothers). However, the idea NEVER sat well with me. I wanted to chew it up and spit it right out, but instead, I swallowed it, and for many, many years, I believed it. My own false ideas about my role in my marriage created so much angst for so long that I came to a point of feeling trapped. I will not lie and say it’s been an easy road to arrive at a place where I no longer feel resentment. I’ve had to really gain clarity about a lot of things on my own. I have had to grow as a woman independent of my husband and learn my own worth. So, this took time.
Here’s the thing: my husband and I work the same amount of hours (I just don’t get paid for all of them). When I finally accepted that my unpaid work was still work, I realized that it’s not “too much to ask” for equality with household tasks or the emotional load that women often carry (a post for another day). We have reconfigured a lot of things over the years, and I have learned to speak up more about what I expect and how to make things more equitable. Resentment can’t grow where true equality exists; remember this. Women and men need to work together in their marriages, dividing up the tasks equally. Unpaid work is still work, and a marriage doesn’t thrive when one or both partners feel like they’re carrying too much. Sorry mama, I won’t be repeating that idea about being a woman to my own daughters; the cycle stops with me.
That’s A Wrap
So, there you have it: some things I’ve learned over the years. I’m still learning all the time and I’m no stranger to the idea that change is the only consistent thing in a marriage, but these principles have been foundational for us and have strengthened us as a couple.
One thing I would add (that maybe I’ll write about in a later post) is the importance of knowing and working on yourself. This has been key in helping strengthen my marriage. As they say, real change starts with YOU.
I’m giving myself a huge pat on the back for making it this far. It’s a crazy and wonderful ride.
Love you Ror-Bear! 😉
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Marriage is Hard: Here’s Why It’s a Worthwhile Adventure or 10 Lessons I’ve Learned About Marriage