Yesterday was my eighth wedding anniversary. When my son’s occupational therapist found out that I’d been married for eight years, she remarked “Oh, nice! You’ve passed the seven year itch!” I had to laugh at this comment, because my husband and I have been together since 2001. I think we passed the 7 year itch the year we got married! When people hear that I’ve been with my husband for fifteen years now, they usually express surprise. One, because “Wow, you don’t seem old enough to have been with someone for that long!” (Thanks?) and two, high school sweethearts aren’t that common anymore. Fifteen years is a long time. This road we’ve been traveling hasn’t been easy and we’ve suffered plenty of bumps along the way. The important thing though, is that we’ve learned from these bumps. In honor of my eight years of marriage, I’m going to share eight life lessons we’ve learned that have helped us keep a happy marriage. In no particular order:
1. Choose your battles. Some things are just not worth fighting over. Now, I don’t mean suppress everything and just ignore it, but change how you present the issue. I know couples that bicker over everything. As a result, they’re really unhappy all the time. Instead of nagging or yelling about whatever, just calmly state your case and proceed from there. In the beginning, you spouse may immediately go on the defensive out of habit, but keep calm, don’t fall into that trap, and force yourself to discuss it instead of fighting about it.
2. Accept your spouse’s idiocies. Over time, you will notice that your spouse regularly does THE SAME THINGS things that make you angry. Sometimes, those things are built into their DNA or something and there’s nothing you can do to change it. For example, my husband gets hangry. If you don’t know what that means, it’s when someone gets angry when they’re hungry. Like in those Snickers commercials. There’s nothing I can do to prevent this except feed him, so I just have to live with it. As long as he doesn’t direct this anger at the kids (because they won’t understand “hangry” vs “angry”) then we’re fine. If he does, he gets a stern reminder that he’s just feeling hangry and he quiets down. Similarly, I am late to most things. I have a chronic inability to predict how long things take and I am always leaving the house 5-10 minutes later than I’d planned. This has gotten worse since having children. My husband can remind me and give me a countdown to how many minutes there are until we have to leave, but at the end of the day, I’m probably going to be late. It is what it is. We can either get angry about these dumb things, or we can sigh and move on. Since they’re not going anywhere, we choose to sigh.
3. Learn your partner’s love language. Not everyone believes in the 5 love languages, and I guess it’s a book (?), but we are big believers. Basically, one’s love language is determined by how they express or prefer to receive love/affection. Pin-pointing your spouse’s love language may show you that he/she views love completely differently than you do, and that things you were putting off because they don’t have value to you (like public signs of affection) are actually a really big deal to your spouse. Learning these differences allows you to re-prioritize how you show your spouse that you love him/her (and vice versa), which can only strengthen your bond.
4. Go to bed angry sometimes. No, really. Sometimes you will get to a point in your fight where you realize that there isn’t going to be a resolution and the subject doesn’t really matter, but you’re both still angry about it. At that time, you guys just need to go to bed. Sleep on it and see if it’s still worth discussing in the morning. Then, see #1.
5. Talk things out. Don’t let problems fester. This one is a hard step, because sometimes it’s easier not to say anything, but if there is something that has been bothering you for days/weeks, then you need to speak up. Be brutally honest. There will be tears and that’s ok. Some of the most difficult discussions my husband and I have had have been the things that have moved our marriage forward the most. Looking back, I don’t regret a single one of them, as hard as they were to handle.
6. Don’t hold grudges. Let things go. Nothing can be resolved if you insist on holding onto the anger. This also means that if you’re one of those people that tucks things away in your brain to pull out in a future fight, you need to stop that.
7. Ask for help. You can’t do it all. Your spouse can’t do it all. Expecting one to do so is unfair. If you find yourself struggling, then ask for help. Similarly, if your spouse asks for help, help them without comment. Making them feel bad for needing help is like saying “You’re home all day, why isn’t the house clean?/You’re at work all day, why aren’t we rich yet?” It’s not productive. You’re half of a partnership, now act like it.
8. Acknowledge that marriage is hard. Marriage is hard. Anyone who says differently is lying. People disagree. People change. People fight. That’s what people do. But some fights here and there don’t mean that the marriage is doomed and that you shouldn’t be together so give up. Marriage is one of the hardest things that people choose to do, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. So don’t give up.
Disclaimer: I understand that not all of these rules will work for everyone and that not all marriages are worth saving. This is just a list of what has worked (wonders!) for me in my marriage and I thought I would share these little words of wisdom for anyone who might need them. Thank you.