Earlier this month, my husband and I celebrated 15 years of marriage. Some would say that is quite the accomplishment! It feels like it has always been, so I wanted to focus my thoughts and memories on how we managed to do all the things we have done.
Reflection always brings us the seeds of our knowledge learned, doesn’t it?
My husband was kind enough to chat with me about it on our five hour drive back from a weekend away. The following are the fifteen things we have learned over the last fifteen years, in no particular order.
1. Identify your role in your family system.
Do you call yourself a housewife/husband or a stay-at-home-mom/dad? Language defines our perceptions, and identifying as the parent or the spouse can be a small tweak we make to put our marriage at the center of our relationship. Yes, before the children.
2. Identify and honor your personal strengths, regardless of how traditional gender roles are defined.
In our family, my husband loves to cook while I absolutely hate anything to do with the kitchen or food. I am also much more detail-oriented and thrive on managing schedules and budgets. He cooks, and I do the finances. We intentionally chose to honor these strengths when we first got married, even though many gender stereotypes may claim the opposite would be a better fit. If we traded to meet the expectations of others instead of valuing what works best for us, we would be miserable.
3. It is OK to not be “in love.”
We realized long ago that any romanticized idea of adolescent infatuation was unsustainable. Mutual respect trumps “in love” every day and is an actual behavior we can show and practice rather than a feeling we might feel. I have to say, being respected and showing respect keeps us connected. That is a better feeling than those flashes from our younger years ever were!
4. We have each learned to be comfortable without our spouse.
This was not always the case. We struggled for many years to become inter-dependent. Both of us are independent people with many hobbies and talents. We have different friend circles. However, we have grown in our personal and relationship maturity to recognize that we can be apart and return again without losing anything. We often gain much more to bring back to our relationship.
5. We must mutually agree on delaying gratification.
Both of us must do this, or our relationship becomes too one-sided. There is always a trade-off; we discuss the cost/benefit of our decisions so that we know the outcome.
6. Talking about sex is critical.
Conversations about your sex life are extremely important. There are natural cycles throughout adult life, for both men and women, and you both need to feel safe discussing this with one another.
7. Define your greatest priorities.
Early in our marriage we intentionally defined our family as the people who live within our house; everyone else is a relative. For us, this means we love and visit those people whom we have connections with through blood and marriage, but we make our decisions based on the greatest impact on the six people who live under our roof.
“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” ~George Burns
8. Keep commitments.
Marriage is a long-term commitment, and we have to both be willing to pay the price of that commitment. There is always an opportunity cost with any commitment we make. We also recognize that we will never make a commitment that we have no intention of keeping.
9. Every new beginning has an ending that comes with it–and feelings that coincide with that.
We had to grieve the end of our single lives. Even in the excitement of the new beginning, there is sadness. We grieved the change with the addition of each child in our family, even amidst the wonder and hope for the future. These feelings are natural and normal, and we must allow ourselves to process through them, individually and together, so that we can move forward without baggage.
10. Find your tribe.
Our people listened, challenged, discussed, gave us time and money, and walked with us in some really difficult moments. I highly doubt we would be the people we are today without the friendships and support of the people we have had in our lives along our journey.
11. Be loyal.
Neither of us will say, or write, anything about the other that we would never tell them in a conversation. Does that mean everything is always positive without challenges? Absolutely not! However, we are loyal to one another even when we have struggles. Sometimes it takes a few days to have the time and energy to bring it up, and to listen graciously, but we always do.
12. Make pornography a conversation early in marriage.
Whatever your stance on this particular item, statistics tell us that it is an issue–often hidden–for our society. Whatever you choose to do for your own marriage, I would highly advise that you talk about this and come to an agreement for the mutual health of your marriage. When you have children, you also need to be aware and have safety measures in place to protect their innocence until they are of age to make their own adult decisions.
13. Connection is the key to intimacy.
My spouse is my “safe person.” I have learned that it is safe for me to be vulnerable with him. I can share my joys and fears, and he accepts me for who I am. The same applies to him. We have learned how to accept this about one another, and it makes our relationship stronger and better connected.
14. Complacency makes a marriage fragile.
While we expect the other to always choose this marriage commitment, that does not always guarantee that the marriage will always be strong. You are the one who makes the marriage work. You choose daily, moment to moment, to renew your commitment.
15. The marriage journey is much like the parenting journey.
Marvel in this amazing relationship you have with this other person, watch it grow, trust and extend trust, and recognize that we can always reconnect and work on our behaviors to make it stronger than ever.
How long have you been married and what have you learned along the way?