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This month, I celebrated my 9th wedding anniversary. As my husband and I sat in a dimly lit, romantic and way too expensive restaurant with our 3 kids in our laps, I started to wonder what makes this or any marriage work. It has been a very eventful 9 years and I can't say that the years have passed quickly. We have experienced all the joys and pains of sharing your life with someone and we have experienced some major life changes - we moved twice, the most recent was a life altering out of state move which took us away from close friends, we had 3 beautiful children in a 5 year span, and both of us have changed jobs several times. Lest my life continues to move so quickly that there is little time for reflection, I decided to write down a few things that I have learned.
1. Marriage is a Good Thing - As the fairytale goes, we are married to our best friend, life companion, guardian of our hearts, protector of our darkest secrets, deepest insecurities and vulnerabilities, and champion of our dreams. More realistically, you and your spouse are walking hand in hand, stumbling through the maze of life, avoiding obstacles, overcoming challenges (foreclosure, job loses, altered expectations of marriage), stopping occasionally to smell the roses and savor the desserts but stumbling many times, each hoping that the other doesn't let go. Somehow, both of these descriptions excite and inspire me! It is not a perfect union but a rewarding union and there are moments when the fairytale is very real.
2. Think Long-Term - Most of us repeat the vows "for better or worse" but don't think much about what "worst" means. Well, it could mean infidelity, grave illness, financial instability and a wealth of other things that you just vowed to love your way though. No one should stay in a marriage that is unsafe, however, bad things happen in good relationships. Talk to someone who has been married for 50 years and you will hear them say to each other "Honey, remember back in 1968 when we barely spoke for 6 months, remember when you thought that you were in love with that guy from the office or remember when we had to move in with your mother because you quit your job." I think about these stories when I start obsessing about the crisis of the month.
3. Speak What is in Your Mind and on Your Heart - Remember the song "if you don't know me by now, you will never, never know me?" The truth is that after 10 long years, your spouse, still won't be able to read your mind, still may not remember your anniversary or your favorite restaurant and still won't know why you are upset. We still have to say "I am angry/happy/sad/dissappointed and this is why." If we ask for what we want in a marriage, we just may get it.
4. Praise Floweth Like a River - Don't save your praise for coworkers, babies and the nice bus driver, pour it on your spouse. My favorites are "great job with dinner", "you look like Halle Berry's prettier sister, today", "Baby, I am so proud of you", "I am going to miss you today". Praise is like filling a piggybank with love and goodwill and when you make a mistake, like we all do, and have to withdraw $20, your spouse hardly notices.
5. Kids Change Everything! - At some point during the marriage, you start to think "we are blissfully happy, the only way this could be more perfect is to complete our family by having kids." Yes, you can add to your wedded bliss by starting a family, but savor your current state of bliss because once you have kids it will be a roller-coaster of highs and lows for the next 18+ years, so grab your spouse and hold on for the ride. Be prepared for the frequent diaper changes, toys everywhere, all nighters, broken china, 2a.m. run to the emergency room and reduced time with your spouse. If you are mentally prepared, all the challenges will be overshadowed by the sweet smell of a baby, the cooing, the heartwarming smiles and hugs and hearing "mama" or "dada" for the first time.
6. Intimacy is Not Optional - Hugs, kisses, gazing into each other's eyes, and holding hands all establish and help to maintain a connection. It says, "I know that you are here, and you matter to me."
7. Fight Fairly and Always be a Soft Place to Land - Focus on feelings when you argue because feelings are always legitimate whether or not we agree with them. Don't accuse, just state how your partner's words, action or inaction made you feel. Studies show that spouses who don't argue actually are more likely to divorce than those who fight fairly. That said, the outside world is challenging so home must be a peaceful place. Try not to argue the minute your spouse comes home from work. Save it until after dinner and try to make up before bedtime.
8. Remember your Wedding Day - It was the happiest day of your life and you have the pictures and video to prove it. Remember what brought you together. If the joy has faded, look at the photos, watch the video, get marital counseling, just do whatever it takes to reclaim the magic.
9. Grow Together - I have heard people say that they haven't changed in the past 10 years; well that is not true because every new experience changes us in a small way. Since we are not with our spouse all day, those changes are not always evident. Four years ago, my husband decided to become a Vegan and that not only changed the way he ate but the way that the entire family lives. If you don't connect daily, soon you will not recognize the person at the dinner table.
After 9 years of marriage, these are the things that I know for sure. I also know that life is unpredictable and it is important to keep learning. Wouldn't it be great to to stay mostly happily married for another 9, 18, or 36 years? I would love to get thoughts and suggestions from others who are on the same journey.