This past fall (September to be exact), my husband and I celebrated our 8-year wedding anniversary. Although we have been together over a decade, the most lesson-learning has occurred in our matrimonial years. I know in the grand scheme of life 8 years isn’t long. But when I think about how society has increasingly begun to view marriage as an antiquated institution, even lasting five years these days is a huge feat.
Anyway. I’ve spent the past few months thinking back on our first few years together, some of the challenges we faced as a couple and as individuals, and the hard times I never thought we would survive. It is through the experiences of our past where we learn to move forward. As I look to the future, here are the lessons I will take with me:
Marriage is a lot of hard work. HARD WORK. It is easy to grow complacent with someone you see every day. It is easy to take them for granted, to ignore their needs and to make everything their fault. In a marriage, or any serious partnership, you have to try. Being in a happy marriage doesn’t happen on a whim. It happens through putting in time, changing toxic behaviors and learning to put someone else first. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt.
Relationships are not static. The two people in a relationship are living, breathing humans. We change, and grow, and learn new things. It is important to create a relationship that can grow and change with you. If you expect year 8 of your marriage to be the same as year 1 you are going to be disappointed. You and your partner are not the same people you were back then, why would your relationship be?
Your partner is not you. We hear all the time that you should treat people how you would want to be treated. And while, yes, I believe kindness and courtesy go a long way in life, this thought process can lead to miscommunication in a marriage. What I mean is, what brings me joy isn’t necessarily what brings Travis joy. How I show love is not necessarily how Travis receives love. Following me? We have to learn to show our love and support in ways our partner is receptive to. Otherwise you are setting yourself up for frustration.
If you can make it through the hard times, you’ll be ok. I know this sounds obvious, but trying to get through the hard times is where a lot of relationships break apart. This is because we grieve, experience anger and sadness, and come to solutions differently than our partner. This harkens back to my previous point, a relationship is made of two individuals who have different needs. It can be easy to ignore your partners emotions when you are inundated with your own. Learning to give to your partner while honoring your own pain can mean the difference between making it through, or not.
Honesty and trust are absolutely crucial. Even the smallest deception can plant a seed of mistrust. Once your partner doesn’t trust you, it can be impossible to work your way out of that hole. So just be honest, all the time, about everything. Even if you think it doesn’t matter, even if you are afraid they will be mad, don’t lie. And in case you aren’t sure, an omission of information, is a lie.
Create traditions. Traditions not only give you something to look forward to, they show your commitment to the relationship. Creating a tradition means you plan on being there when it comes time to do it again next year. Traditions add a touch of whimsy to your relationship. They don’t have to be big, and they don’t have to make sense to other people, they just have to mean something to the both of you.
Don’t expect it to look like what you thought it would. Chocolates, flowers, beach frolicking and mind-blowing sex. That’s marriage, right? We are inundated with this ridiculous trope day-in and day-out. Whether due to advertisements for jewelry, romantic comedies or Disney, we most likely come into a relationship with a preconceived idea of what it should look like. And chances are, the first year of marriage is going to shit all over that idealist view you have. Trying to make your relationship something it’s not takes away from your ability to see it for what it is. A beautiful mess of dirty dishes, arguments over changing the toilet paper roll, dinner at the coffee table, and farts so wretched they make you gag. And if you’re lucky, mind-blowing sex.
Sacrifice. This seems to be a gesture that is fading away in our society. We have become so attention hungry with the desire to fulfill our own needs that we forget how to put others first. In a relationship, selfishness can be a slippery-slope. If you aren’t willing to sacrifice your own needs or desires to help out your partner, resentment can build. Sacrificing aides in your partners joy and life satisfaction. Don’t be selfish. Let them pick the movie from time to time, choose to go to their event instead of the one you wanted to go to, consider relocating because they found their dream job, etc. Just remember, it’s a two-way street. If you are giving too much of yourself and your partner is not, that’s a whole other problem.
Say thank you, show appreciation. As I mentioned before, it can become really easy to take for granted a person who is there all the time. It’s tempting to just assume they will always be there and will always be willing to do things for you. But I can tell you, saying thank you every time they do something nice, or take the initiative on a chore you don’t want to do, goes a long way. When he makes dinner, or does the dishes, or takes the garbage out yet again, or changes the oil in my car, or cleans shit off my cat’s ass, I say thank you. Showing your appreciation for someone will never go out of style, and they will never get tired of hearing it.
Lay yourself bare. I spent a good portion of the first few years of my relationship with Travis hiding my severe depression from him. Depression is highly stigmatized and I didn’t want it to skew his vision of me. So, I never told him. I would just say I was “busy” if I wasn’t in a condition to see him. Living apart made it simple to avoid having the conversation about it. Eventually, my secret came out. One night, after a messy fight in our new apartment, I couldn’t hide it anymore. So, I told him everything. I fully expected that he would pick up right then and there and leave me for good. Not only did he not leave me, he helped me heal. Kindly and patiently. I wish I had not spent all those years hiding my most vulnerable self from him, because it was in bringing that side of me into the light that we were able to nurture true intimacy.
Kindness and respect are all that matter. When Travis and I first started fighting in our relationship, our disagreements resembled something of a school-yard spat, filled with low-blows and name calling. It didn’t take long to learn that if we wanted to stay together, we would have to change the way we argued. Being objective, calm-headed and fair in a disagreement not only made it easier to work through the problem, it led to positive changes in our day-to-day interactions. Treat each other gently, respect their opinions, don’t take it personally if they disagree, and be kind, regardless of how angry you are. You can’t be in a loving relationship if you are willing to name-call, degrade, or disrespect your partner. Trust me.
Say ‘I love you’ every. single. day. I know that some people think if you say ‘I love you’ too much it renders the phrase meaningless. I completely disagree. Saying ‘I love you’ is not an obligation, therefore, each time you say it, it’s because you mean it. We tell each other ‘I love you’ as often as we can throughout the day: when we kiss good-bye in the morning, when we chat over lunch, when we get home, before we go to bed, and at other random times during the day. You can never over use this phrase, you can never say it or mean it enough, and I promise you, the person you say it to will never wonder if you love them, they will know you do.
I could keep going but this post is already long enough. Marriage takes a lot of effort, but whether you are 1, 8 or 50 years in, the connection you can make with another person is the biggest life fulfillment of all. Being able to predict what the other is thinking, picking up the phone to call them only to have them call you first, or simultaneously craving the same meal for dinner is something that only happens when you put in the time and the work. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Continue to learn about your partner. Enjoy growing as a couple. Have adventures. Be playful. Choose love.