My husband, M, and I are celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary this August 11th. In honor of the day and of our relationship, I have attempted to distill the lessons of loving over a decade into ten poignant points. I am so thankful to have found a partner to love me, as we promised in our vows, “even when situations seem insurmountable.” I remember us tripping over that line at our rehearsal dinner and laughing, over and over. That seems a good metaphor for our life together, and I hope we can keep laughing for decades to come. I also humbly hope that my readers can find something below that resonates, touches your heart, or moves you to look at your relationship with new eyes. My marriage has done, what my husband and I committed ourselves to doing on our wedding day ten years ago, it has strengthened me and stretched me and taught me how to love harder and better than I could have loved on my own. I wish you the same joy. Here are some (of the many) things I have learned (to do imperfectly, but to keep striving to do) in ten years of marriage:
- Forgive each other. I think in marriage, you forgive each other every day. You forgive the times when your spouse squeezes the toothpaste tube in a way different than what you would prefer. You forgive when they forget something you had communicated that was important. You forgive when they irritate the bejesus out of you! You forgive the bigger stuff too, if you can. Forgiveness purifies the relationship and brings a new level of acceptance and intimacy forth from the rubble of discord. Forgiveness allows you to move forward together, holding hands over the skin you’ve shed as a couple.
- Trust. If you can’t trust your spouse, who can you trust? Better yet, if you can’t trust your partner, why are you in the relationship? Trusting when it feels difficult is true trust. It is easy to trust when there is little at risk, but trusting when your heart or future are at stake, it can be the hardest thing to do. We all have the urge to self-protect, but allowing that urge to override our trust in our partner (where it is merited) turns the instinct of self-protection into selfishness. There are times when you should keep your eyes open, and in many marriages, reasons to do so. However, you have to keep a clear head about when doubt is healthy and when it is just divisive. Thankfully, I’ve learned, despite my personal baggage, to keep on trusting, even when I want to curl up in a ball and keep my organs well sheltered. Thankfully, my husband does this too.
- There will be times (moments, days, weeks…) when one or both of you want to leave. Then they pass. When you don’t know what else to do, giving it more time can be a good thing. The worst advice I received when I got married was “Don’t go to bed angry.” That’s just not realistic, nor does it promote healthy discourse! There have been many times when my husband or I have gone to bed, distant and angry, and then wakened to some fresh perspective and renewed feeling for each other. Those nights are a micro-metaphor for the weeks when we may feel a sense of disconnection. Sometimes you have to give yourself some time to sort through your feelings before you can have civil discourse that is semi respectful and solution focused rather than a result of emotional flooding. Marriages are never perfect, and there are going to be times in a lifetime of loving where you just can’t get in sync with your partner, but if you can find some patience when you think you can’t take your spouse’s idiosyncrasies any more, you can rediscover each other. Falling in love happens cyclically in a marriage. You have your times of stress, then one day you look outward and see the person you love, standing there, waiting for you to come back to them. Or telling you, loudly, “Hey, I’m still here!” Those times are worth waiting for.
- You won’t be the same people you married. And you will be. I am not the same person that married my husband. And he has changed as well. There are things about ourselves that last and things that change. If you see yourself changing in a way that doesn’t jive with the way your spouse is changing, maybe it’s time to speak up and start sharing. You don’t have to be static, but you do have to put energy into rediscovering and learning about your partner.
- Sharing is the fuel to the fire of sustained love. Share anything: feelings, thoughts, dreams, goals, hobbies, adventures. When my husband and I are sharing together, we are most connected. We share a love for travel, writing, books, water, and art. We share a passion for learning, for truth, and for justice in the world. We share a goal in raising a happy, loving family. We care deeply, about nearly everything. We share personality characteristics (for better or for worse). We share low points and interpersonal struggles. Every time we share an experience together, we are building a piece of our marriage. I know I will look back on what we have shared together someday and feel an overwhelming sense of love and gratitude that I’ve had a friend who knows my life and who has chosen to participate in creating something, everything, together.
- You always have choices. Every day, every word is a choice. You can choose to build up your marriage, to add positive thoughts, words, affection, energy to your marriage, or you can choose to be self-focused, stubborn, proud, distant. Your choices will influence the quality of your marriage. Loving is a choice. Choose wisely.
- Sex is a barometer of the relationship. Keep an eye on it. Talk about what is and is not working. Enough said.
- Learn to discern the stresses of life from the stresses of relationship. We all go through difficulties, some more taxing than others, but all place a certain amount of stress on us as individuals and as couples. If you blame your partner for the stress that should be best attributed to a passing difficult phase in your life, or if you cannot distinguish the two, you are going to have difficulty navigating it together. My husband and I handle stress differently. I worry ahead of the life event and plan and struggle to prepare for every worst-case scenario. He is able to delay his worry response and support me while I am stressing, but then worries during the actual period of stress and change. Good thing is, by then, I’ve usually got a grip, so I can take the wheel. We have learned that we deal with death, moves, job changes, parenthood and times of crisis differently. Finding the ways in which your differences can sustain you through periods of change and stress allows you to feel supported rather than distant from your partner.
- Traditions are important. With the addition of our daughter, V, to our family, my husband, M, and I are still creating family traditions. Some, we alter from traditions begun by our family of origin. Growing up, in my home, we had a “special bear” that we put by the seat of the family member who was the focus of a special celebration (birthday, Mother’s Day, achievement). In our home, we have adapted a Warhammer figurine (my husband’s favorite hobby), that sits at our table during our family celebrations. Some traditions, we craft on our own. On Mother’s or Father’s Day, the honoree gets to pick the way our family will spend time together. We watch “Big Bang Theory” together before my daughter’s bedtime in the evenings. We have a letter of the week on a chalkboard, and we think of all the words we can that start with that letter and read them together throughout the week (this helps us as writers and my daughter as a language learner). We have a Buddhist meditation card to focus on each week. My favorite family tradition is the way my husband and I renew our vows together in a different place, every year. We remember why we came together, and promise our continued commitment to each other. Traditions give life and continuity to our relationship. They allow us to define ourselves as a couple and a family.
- When there are so many things to say, you don’t know how to begin, begin. Start talking. You cannot resolve conflict without communication. No matter how connected you may be with your spouse, he/she is not a mind reader. I’ve gotten myself worked up into frenzy about many situations, then, when I start to talk with my husband about them, turns out, I never really communicated what I needed. Even if you think you have been a sufficiently clear communicator, chances are something either went astray or you did not convey a thought or emotion that needed to be better understood. Learning to listen and learning to articulate needs are some of the biggest challenges I have found myself struggling with in my marriage. I often assume that because my husband knows me so well, he’ll deliver an answer to a question I haven’t asked. While we often pick up the phone to call each other and the other person is ringing on the line, assuming that we’ll always be responsive to each other’s needs sets our marriage up for failure. No matter how much you fear the other person’s reaction, in a healthy, normal relationship, you should be able to be honest. Failure to communicate doubts, fears, feelings, thoughts, creates division, distance, and resentment. When it is difficult to do so, speak up. Your relationship will be the more honest and true version of itself if you can find the courage and your voice.
Thanks to my husband for the past 10 years of marriage; only we know what we have experienced together and felt for each other during this journey. I look forward to the next decade of loving and learning. Thanks to my readers for allowing me to share my reflections; please join me in sharing your own love lessons in the comment section.
Linking up with Shell at Things I Can’t Say for Pour Your Heart Out Wednesdays!