Five years ago, it was a cool fall day in Georgia and I married the love of my life. Like many others, my marriage is not perfect – but I don’t expect it to be. It ebbs and flows but I am lucky that there are more good days than bad. I’m lucky to be in a healthy (again, not perfect) marriage where we respect each other (most of the time), love each other and most days, really like each other. This five-year milestone has got me thinking about all I’ve learned about love and marriage along the way; advice and perspectives that have made us work, and that if only I (we) could actually do day-in and day-out, would make us even better…
- Marriage is 100/100. I read a book soon after I got married called Love and Respect. It is an awesome book. One of my favorite pieces of advice from it is that marriage is not a 50/50 deal – it’s 100/100. Because 50% only gets you to 100 if your partner is also giving their 50 at the same time you are… and how often does that really happen? But if you look at it differently, like your commitment to marriage means you give 100% to your spouse no matter what, the results can be amazing.
- You can’t be selfish. Learning to be truly unselfish can be a very difficult thing. It is really hard in a “me, me, me” society to take you out of it and just do what’s right for your spouse. Especially if they aren’t pulling their “100.” It’s easy to go down the path of, “well he’s not thinking about me in _____, so why should I think about him!” But this is dangerous. This will get you on the Crazy Cycle (also from Love and Respect). I think to really make a marriage work you have to spend more time focusing on what your spouse needs or wants, and less about you. And you know what? An interesting thing may happen – your spouse may start to be less selfish too. Win-win.
- Let the past be the past. This one is hard too. But if you want to move forward with your relationship, you can’t be consumed with the past. You can’t bring it up every time you need it to win an argument/make a point/make he or she feel bad because you feel bad. And while I don’t always follow this one, my logical not in-the-moment brain thinks that you have to look at issues in the past in this way: is it a deal-breaker? If it is not, you move on. If it is, well, then that’s a whole ‘nother story. It’s like the ole adage, “shit or get off the pot.” And by the way, when was the last time bringing up the past actually helped you win an argument?? It usually doesn’t. It usually puts the other person on the defensive and closed off to work things out. So leave the past in the past and focus on the future.
- Be on the same team. This one is particularly hard for me. Blake and I are naturally competitive – and in particular, we compete with each other. We try to one-up, prove each other wrong (for the sake of each of us being right), and sometimes we will disagree just because. But when we get going down this path, we have to recalibrate and realize we are on the same team. This is easy on the big stuff – we’re each other’s cheerleaders when it comes to careers, passions, etc. – but it’s the little stuff that has us fighting like brother and sister (okay, maybe that’s a little weird, but it’s really that type of rivalry). So when we can step back, be less selfish and less worried about always winning (individually) and realize we are on the same team, it can make a world of difference.
- Speak kindly to each other. When you’ve been married/together for a long time, sometimes the niceties go out the window. You’re comfortable, and therefore you say whatever is on your mind with little regard to your spouse’s feelings. I caught myself doing this more often than I’d like to admit and so I started asking myself the question, would I talk like this to one of my co-workers? And often the answer was no. And it made me wonder, why is it that I take the energy to be polite and appreciative at work, but at home, I don’t show the same respect for my husband? I don’t know the answer, but I’ve tried to use this question as the litmus for how to speak to the hubs. It really can be quite baffling how the person who means the most to you in the world sometimes gets the worst of you just because we get lazy and inconsiderate.
- Make each other a priority. Make the time for each other, even when there isn’t much time. Think of all the other things you’d sacrifice for, and then do a little sacrificing for your spouse. Because if the job needed you to work late, you’d do it, and if the kids needed you for something, you’d be there. But sometimes the needs of a spouse can be silent, and so it’s easy to put them on the backburner while you give all of your attention to the other squeaking wheels in your life. So go on dates, buy each other gifts, take trips (with no kids), and maybe let the dishes sit every once in a while. Think about what’s most important in your life and adjust your energy accordingly.
- Respect. So Love and Respect focuses on a husband’s need for respect. I don’t disagree, but I really think that respect goes both ways. And while for a man, it may be their main source of happiness and validation, I think when it’s a two way street it flows easier both ways. Respect in a marriage is as important with the little things as it is with the big things. It’s important to respect each other’s ideas (big and small), each other’s passions (career, family, personal goals), each other’s quirks (love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re here to stay) and each other’s faults. Especially the faults. When you build people up it will come back 10-fold. Because when you feel appreciated and understood, your natural reaction is to reward the person who made you feel that way. It’s a chain reaction that can go on and on.
- You can’t change your spouse. It’s cliché, I know. But sometimes a cliché got to be a cliché because it’s true. This, to me, is one of the hardest things about marriage. If you didn’t discover this before you said “I do”, you will likely learn within at least the first five years of your marriage that your spouse is not perfect. Well crap. What do you do now? Nothing. You live with it. You respect it. You don’t try to change them. If this imperfection is not a deal-breaker, that’s really all you can do. You have to realize that you really only have control over you. And so all you can do is change your way of thinking about your partner’s imperfections. And maybe they will feel loved and supported and want to make a change themselves; or maybe they won’t. The outcome is actually irrelevant.
And there’s my two cents. I know it, but I don’t follow it all the time. My husband is going to read this and think, man, can the lady that wrote this please be my wife?? Well babe, I’ll keep trying. It’s easy in theory and hard in practice. It’s marriage – one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And like parenting, there is no owner’s manual. We are all imperfect beings, most of us trying to be the best spouses we can be. And most of us will fail miserably at times. But the important thing is that we keep trying; that we never give up. A marriage is what you make of it; your happiness is relative to your effort and your expectations. Get both of these in check and in my opinion, things will be just fine.
And so I hope in my next five (or fifty) years of marriage that I will continue to learn lessons and keep trying to improve. I want to be less of a nag and be more supportive. I want to be a good example of a loving marriage to my kids. I want to not be lazy. I want to be more in love each and every day. I’m up for the challenge.
I love you babe – happy anniversary.