On August 22 we celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary, and we had the most special weekend. Every now and again I look through our wedding album and remember the craziness of the day mixed with the excitement to spend the rest of my life with my husband.
There are some important lessons I've learned about marriage, ones that have kept us in balance and always growing together.
1. THE ONLY WAY TO COMMUNICATE IS WITH RESPECT
No matter how many disagreements we have had, they never blow out of proportion when we speak to each other with respect: no name calling, no cursing, no accusatory comments or harsh tones. As soon as one or both of us crossed the line into disrespectful speaking, we immediately regret it, though sometimes wounds are still made that can be hard to patch up with even the most sincere apology.
2. GO TO BED ANGRY AND GET SOME SLEEP
We were told many times, "don't go to bed angry" and it is some of the worst advice we heeded as newlyweds. There were a few nights we got to talking, then some little thing became a big thing, and before we knew it, it was three in the morning and we were emotional and making zero sense. So, after about the third time that happened we decided it's best to go to sleep, get rested, and revisit the conversation the next day. Most often, the sting of the conversation subsided the day after, and we could make up and move on much more easily.
3. HAVING KIDS DOES CHANGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP
So many people have asked me about how having kids changes a marriage, and indeed it does, but I can say with certainty that it changes your relationship for the better. A child is a beautiful gift. Every time I look into my daughter's eyes I think of my husband, and now that she is getting older, I see the things I love about him in her.
The strain of adjusting to parenting does magnify any preexisting issues in the relationship, and addressing those as soon as possible is always recommended, but having a child together brought about a deepened mutual respect as we watch each other parent our daughter. I also felt wildly satisfied when my husband expressed his pride in my ability to give birth to her naturally (unmedicated). A little New Mama street cred, shall we say.
Our admiration of one another has grown immensely, especially as we see stretch ourselves to care to our little girl, and in turn keep the flow of family life going. We both have had to sacrifice things in different ways now that we have a little person depending on us, and our love has grown tenfold through parenting together from a deepened intimacy and trust.
4. PICK YOUR BATTLES
In our first New York City apartment, my husband Stephen wanted to hang a rack of hooks by the door. I agreed it was the place we wanted to hang it. But after it was put up, I thought it was about 12 inches higher than I would have liked. But I never said anything because when he showed me the finished product, he was proud of it. And every day I hung my bag and coat on those hooks and thought about how much more I would have liked them to be lower, but the thought always finished with an image of his proud face showing it to me.
This lesson I learned is a bit cliche, but it's true. There are times when I have to bite my tongue, and let something happen that I don't really like or that doesn't fall in line with what I want 100%. The way I choose my battles is by rationalizing the outcome: how will my critique change the outcome of the situation and is it worth potentially hurting my spouse in order to express it? What is the sacrifice versus the reward?
No one likes being nit-picked. One of the hazards of living with the same person (forever) is that their habits become predictable, and we can easily get into the habit of reminding too often, or correcting them, or even just telling them flat-out that we don't like something they do or say. When we choose to express ourselves, timing is everything.
5. QUIT COMPARING YOUR MARRIAGE
All couples, have their issues and struggles just like everyone else, no matter how seemingly perfect their life is. It can be tempting when you meet other married couples or see them from afar (instagram!) and start a litany of discouragement about your marriage or your finances or your limitations and so on.
Every marriage is unique; some couples find stability more quickly than others, some couples experience parenthood sooner than others, and some couples just live a different lifestyle altogether. Comparison is dangerous because it causes resignation and doubt. We are all on different tracks, but the journey is the same. One thing we love to do is to spend time with couples and families that inspire us, that share our interests, and that have the same zeal for living life that we do. Rather than comparison, aim to build community with friends and family that encourage you and your spouse.
6. GIVE EACH OTHER SPACE
Our spouses cannot be everything to us, though they are the first person we turn to, of course. Each us of us needs an outlet or a hobby, whether something creative, athletic, or spiritual (or all of the above) because no matter how much we try, our spouse cannot give us everything we need physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
The problem is, these activities usually take away "family time" one or two evenings a week and that can be hectic. Planning these things in advance, and doing a calendar review at the start of the week is crucial so we can enjoy our hobbies and interests with the full support of our spouses. So, when I have Mom's Night Out, or he has his Guy's Night, both of us flex our schedules to allow the other to have much needed solo time.
7. GETTING HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT IS NOT A SIGN OF FAILURE
Not very many people grow up with the psychological knowledge needed to combat the complex baggage that we all carry from our families of origin, past relationships, and even current stressors. There have been a few times in our marriage when we sought advice, whether from a spiritual director, priest, or psychologist, and every time we did we saw exponential growth and almost immediate alleviation of whatever was the thorn in our side at the time.
Most people think that it's a sign of failure to seek outside help, but we believe the opposite. Pride is what keeps us from asking from help, and that pride will just keep you tethered in whatever mess is happening until the mess is so big hopelessness sets in. Even if your spouse is not on board with seeking outside help, sometimes one person has to start without the other. A fresh perspective from a trusted third party will add years to your marriage, I promise you that. And isn't that what we all want? To grow old with the person we love most in the world?
To end, I am not a marriage expert; I'm just married. I've learned some of the best lessons from people who are just normal and married, and I hope that some of these lessons might help you or someone you know. Strong marriages are part of what makes this world so great because it produces happy little people that grow up as fulfilled adults, and the cycle continues. As St. Theresa of Calcutta said, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”