10 Lessons From 10 Years of Marriage
Matt and I have been married for 10 years. Side note: we totally share an anniversary with Chip and Joanna Gaines - just five years later. Cool, huh? We were not quite two weeks past college graduation. I was 21 and he was 23. We were practically babies. We've learned, grown, and gone through a lot during that time.
I remember getting married and feeling like 10 years was so far away. Yet suddenly it's here. We fit quite a bit into our first years. I excelled in my career, Matt completed paramedic school and compiled quite the resume, and we had three beautiful children. I delved into the deep end of entrepreneurship. At two years we very seriously entertained divorce. At seven years we said "no more" to abuse. At ten years, after those first years essentially burned to the ground, we found ourselves in the midst of building the next chapter of our lives together.
It's not always sunshine and roses. Although I choose to focus on the good. With each passing day, I find myself opting for rose colored glasses more and more. Not in an I'm-avoiding-something-detrimental-and-would-rather-be-an-ostrich way. No. In an I-can-choose-to-see-all-that-needs-work-or-I-can-see-the-beauty kind of way. It feels better. God/the Universe responds better. Life is just better when we've cleaned up our side of the street and commit to being better.
But I digress.
Through our ups and downs of marriage, I've learned many lessons. Lessons that could have helped smooth the way if I had learned them sooner. Yet I know I learned them exactly when I was meant to learn them.
So without further ado, I introduce 10 things I learned in 10 years of marriage.
1. Grow together. Grow apart. Just make sure you come back to center. If we aren't growing together, we are growing apart. I used to think the goal was to grow together all the time. To a point, it is. That is not sustainable, though. Sometimes we seem to be growing apart. Our seasons of immense growth are not always intertwined. Sometimes he is going through something huge and other times I am. Understanding that and having faith that we will come back to center as a team is everything. It is not always easy. Having patience during those times can be frustrating. Yet in those handful of times when we seemed miles apart in seasons, we always came back together.
2. Relationships are give and take. Sometimes it seems like I am pulling most of the weight. Other times it seems like he is. Many times we have a routine that allows us to work better as a team. As with everything, it ebbs and flows. Referring back to lesson one, sometimes seasons of growth have one person being a firmer foundation than the other. It's okay as long as it isn't all the time. Seasons merge into new seasons.
3. I am responsible for my own happiness. He is responsible for his. Hear me out. He can't make me happy if I am deeply dissatisfied with who I am. That is my inner work. We are our own individuals before being a couple. The more whole we can be individually allows us to come together and be happier as a couple. It allows us to share life together in a stronger, more fulfilling way. It doesn't mean we aren't still supportive and there for the other. We are. We just have a greater understanding that the other person can't fix anything perceived as wrong within ourselves.
4. His pain, struggle, and hardship are not mine to own. Mine do not belong to him, either. It took many years (ahem, 10) to realize I did not have to embody my spouse's pain when he was struggling. Being down in the trenches only served to keep him there longer. Sure, we still commiserate with the other. I still feel his pain at times. We allow the other to feel what needs to be felt. But we've learned to help the other move through it instead of dwelling in the chaos and misery. I can still be light and happy when he isn't. He can still be light and happy when I'm not. Instead of resenting it like I once did, I've learned to see it as a gift. It's like someone saying, "This way! Over here! You can move through this and feel good again!" Prolonged periods of time in misery as a couple digs a trench. The more prolonged, the harder it is to climb out. Replacing the resentment allowed me to remember the blessing I have in this man with whom I'm doing life. He can be a light when I need it. He can be encouraging. He can be a silent listener. Sometimes we climb into the trench and feel each other's pain. We just don't let it last too long. The goal is to pull each other up, not down.
5. Laughing with each other truly is the best medicine. Marriage is never better than when we can laugh and have fun together. With three kids, a career, a business, and all the other stuff, we could choose not to make time for it. To be honest, this was one of my downfalls for many years. I was so hyper focused on getting all the "important" stuff done that I forgot laughter is the important stuff. It brings light into our marriage, home, and family. It washes away the pain of trying times. It makes the good times a million times better. Last week my son started school. Our daughter had not started yet but we did have a meeting with her teacher 10 minutes after the last bell rang. So we sent Jake into class and sat in the school's front lawn waving and nodding to fellow parents, talking to each other, and generally passing the time with ease. Old me would have been horrified to be acting differently than the other parents. Honestly, I would have been the working mom stressed out and racing to my car. Instead, I was oblivious to anything but happiness. I was holding my beautiful baby daughter as she sat in the grass. My other beautiful daughter was playing in the grass. Matt and I were joking with each other as we stayed out of the stream of every day life. I distinctly remember throwing my head all the way back and laughing a full belly laugh. Who knows if anyone was watching. Maybe they were. Maybe they weren't. It did not matter. In that moment, I was centered and whole in the best of ways.
Laughter. I sincerely hope your marriage has copious amounts of I-don't-care-who-is-around laughter. If it doesn't, it is never too late to start.
6. No, my spouse isn't perfect. I'm not, either. He can make me so flipping mad on occasion. He doesn't pick up his socks. His kitchen desk is overflowing. His schedule still makes my head pop off some days. I still haven't figured out the best way to cope with it. But let's be real. I'm impatient, leave half consumed water glasses all over the house, Matt swears I load the dishwasher wrong, and sometimes I roll my eyes at him like a 12-year-old. We are human. We have our quirks. Perfect is boring anyway. We are only 10 years into this thing. It's good to still have things we need to work on and grow through. Ha!
7. No one can make our relationship a priority except us. We made many excuses after we had our first child. Work. School. Meetings. Anything and everything kids. Before we knew it, years had passed without a date. Yes. Years. We still haven't had a real date night since right after our second child was born. We get creative, though. Sometimes it's dinner for two after all the kids are in bed. Or a movie on the couch. This morning, after dropping the older kids at school, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at our new favorite French cafe. For real. He is a master baker from Normandy. The sleeping baby was with us. I needed to get back to my office. But we also knew the occasion should be celebrated. On a Tuesday morning in the middle of August, we made our marriage and each other a priority. Emails and social media messages waited. It was necessary and wonderful and the best way to start the day.
8. Creating our own life away from extended family became crucial. Again, hear me out. I'm not promoting cutting out family unless it's downright abusive. If you are blessed to live close to your wonderful, supportive family and your lives are intertwined, keep going with your big, bad self. Yes! This is wonderful! It makes my heart unbelievably happy for these realities! I grew up within five and ten minutes of all my loving grandparents and it rocked! Just make sure your marriage does not get lost in the mix. Boundaries, special traditions, spaces that are yours alone (read: our little French cafe), and maintaining each other's trust by keeping anything that is sacred between the two of you sacred...well, that became crucial for us. Sometimes we said "no" to things because our marriage could not handle the strain of "yes." Sometimes we said "no" simply because we needed our little family to be more important than all the other little families. "No" became the only way to make that happen. Your marriage and your family are yours to prioritize. Your memories and traditions are yours to make. Be intentional about it. Don't let yourself fall prey to others' expectations and decisions that they might try to make for your little family. Yes, it takes a village. The village does not have to be present for every moment, though.
9. Sometimes it's effing hard. Period. Yeah. This. Sometimes I get really angry about his work schedule. Sometimes he doesn't respect my work boundaries. We are trying to juggle the needs of five different people and there doesn't seem to be enough time in the day to meet them all. Yet for every hard day, an easier one shows up for us, too. The contrast is actually a big part of what makes the beautiful parts so vivid and clear.
10. Communicate with each other. No marriage is perfect. Ours isn't. It never has been. When we were younger I complained to friends outside my marriage more than I communicated with my husband. Couples? That can be the kiss of death. Sure, outside insight is sometimes necessary. Ideas on how to work through a rough patch can be helpful. Getting help if you think you are in an extremely toxic or abusive marriage is beyond crucial. But if it's immaturity and an overall inability to communicate, that area could use some work. Once I stopped complaining about my marriage to other people and started building a strong marital foundation with my husband, everything shifted for the better. Too many opinions and inviting extra unnecessary gossip does not do anyone any favors. So we nipped that one in the bud and grew stronger as a couple. Because we got married young, we ended up maturing together a lot.
Bonus Lesson 11. We both have different strengths. We both can fill different needs in our marriage, family, and household. Those different strengths are such a blessing! That being said, I've learned not to let his strength keep me from growing. Just because he's better at doing something does not mean I shouldn't learn how to do it, too.
Now that you've read my lessons, what are yours? Whether you have been married six months or thirty years, what have you learned? I would love to hear!