Today is our 11th wedding anniversary. I’d be lying if I said it’s been all sunshine and roses. We’ve had hard days, we’ve had hard years. We still have plenty of battles that we work through and that will never change. We are human. Imperfect people trying to perfectly love each other. But as I look back on where we are in year 11, I have a sense of peace and strength in our marriage that was not always present.
I was going to share 11 lessons I’ve learned, but marriage is so dang complicated, I couldn’t condense it anymore. So here you have it, 20 things I wish my newlywed self would have known:
1. Don’t get hung up on definitions. “Marriage” may describe the union millions of people have, but each scenario is different. Define your own, and own it, and never ever compare it to anyone else’s.
2. Your spouse won’t “complete” you. And if you expect them to, you’re going to be very disappointed. (Been there. Done that.) You need community—friends, family, and above all else, God.
3. Communication is EVERYTHING. Not just what you say, but what you don’t say, tone, timing, the look on your face when you say it. Almost every fight stems from some form of miscommunication.
4. Get over it! You will both hurt each other to your core from time to time. Forgive and move on. (Hold onto the moments when you’ve failed each other only enough to help you not repeat the same mistakes later.)
5. Assume the best. Don’t jump to conclusions. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt even when your bend is opposite.
6. Surround yourself with people that support your marriage. I have had moments of desperation that were turned to moments of glory quickly by the sentiments and prayers of a close few that I am able to trust wholly and turn to in the ugly moments. They don’t keep score or assign blame. They simply support; and I sure am grateful for how well they do it! (Oh yeah, and marriage counseling is ALWAYS a good idea. No shame in that game!)
7. Have agreed upon relationship boundaries. Be it family, friends, colleagues, it is imperative to always be on the same page with your spouse about what interactions are best (or not healthy at all) for your immediate family.
8. Don’t try to solve problems when you’re tired. There are times when nothing good is going to be said after arguing for what seems likes hours. Go to bed with the agreement that in the morning, once we you’ve cooled off, you’ll talk.
9. Say “I’m Sorry.”
Even if you don’t think you did anything wrong, so many times we just want our spouse to acknowledge that we have been hurt.
10. Say “I Love You.” Those 3 words affirm your commitment to each other. There is a need deep inside each of us to know that we are loved by our spouse.
11. Say “Thank You.” Never stop appreciating each other and showing gratitude. It’s easy to start to take each other for granted and a simple thank you goes a long way.
12. Say “Nice Work.” Encourage each other. Notice and commend the good things your spouse does.
13. Don’t criticize each other. Not to him. Not to your friends. With closeness and vulnerability comes the knowledge of each others’ sensitivities. It’s so important to never use that knowledge as a weapon as tempting as it can be in heated moments especially.
14. You can’t make someone else happy. But you can help them find their own happiness.
15. Your spouse is going to grow and change. So are you. Sometimes these changes are wonderful and add to the relationship, and sometimes they can feel divisive. Talk about it. Grow together (which doesn’t have to mean growing the same)!
16. Dates are essential. If you want your marriage to remain strong, you have to make it a priority. Getting out of the house can feel like an American Ninja Warrior course, but spending quality time together breathes life into your relationship. And if you can make it an overnight, DO IT!!
17. Don’t keep score. No good comes from keeping score. And it most likely won’t ever be balanced. Just show up and do best of your ability on any given day.
18. Tell him what you want. We have to understand that our husbands aren’t mind readers. It took me a long time to figure this simple concept out. I wanted him to just know what I wanted for Christmas or that I was sad about something. It’s less complicated for everyone if I just speak up about it clearly ahead of time.
19. Take care of yourself. Shave your legs. Wash your hair. Put on some mascara. Not just to “look” hot for your partner, but because you’ll feel better about yourself, which will make you more attractive to your spouse as well.
20. Have sex. Schedule it. Buy lingerie. Lock the kids in the playroom. Whatever it takes. Even if you’re not particularly feeling it at the moment, it’s like going to the gym—you never regret it afterwards!