This month closes 20 years of marriage for me and begins my my 21st year. I am feeling very nostalgic and even a bit sad as my Facebook memories from this week last year have begun. We spent a week in Vegas celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary and it was the single best vacation of our lives. I want nothing more than to be doing it all over again. It was fun to be in a city we love yes, but also to spend a week celebrating and concentrating 100% on each other. It was incredibly special!
So, to honor the nostalgia I am writing about the most valuable things I have learned about marriage in the past 20 years. It has been a journey full with ups and downs, good times and bad. If I had a magic do over button there are many things I would change so this article is in no way saying I did everything perfectly. I learned important lessons from our successes and from numerous failures and missteps. The ability to learn and adapt is what ensured we stayed strong these 20 years.
Here are some of the lessons and important truths I have learned about a good marriage…
YOU are responsible for your own happiness.
So many of us enter into relationships believing that it is our partner that makes us happy and “completes us”. All the things they do or do not do are what we feel either brings us happiness or takes it away. Your self worth, self esteem, happiness, and satisfaction with your life is all your responsibility. When you select a mate you are merely choosing someone to accompany you through the amazing journey of life and it is your job to choose that partner wisely.
Assuming that you did choose wisely that person becomes your life partner. They share the ups and downs, you support each other under all circumstances, and you both recognize that seeking happiness is a constant in life. It is not their job to provide you with it, you seek it out separately and together. You can begin to lose yourself when seeking to continually keep your spouse happy because it is an emotion of circumstance, and the constant struggle will leave their own life fulfillment lacking while at the whims of a partner’s moods and unrealistic expectations.
You are the architect of your own happiness and that is actually great news because it means YOU are the one with the power to design the life you want. If you are unhappy, get back to the drawing board and get designing. Your spouse can help if you ask but they cannot do it for you.
Change your expectations.
This kind of goes along with the happiness issue above. A huge struggle for many in marriage is the pain and anger associated with expectations. The problem here is that perhaps you are expecting something that does not play to the strengths of your partner.
Perhaps your spouse is a homebody and you want them to be taking you out socially on weekends. Perhaps your spouse is not tidy and it makes you mad that they do not clean up after themselves. Maybe they don’t talk or communicate as much as you would like. Maybe they are tight fisted with money or on the opposite spectrum they are a spendthrift. Maybe you crave romance with flowers and surprise gifts and your partner is just not romantically minded. There are so many pitfalls we can fall into with expectations.
If you are not getting what you want out of marriage concentrate on what you can put into it instead. Let go of small things, change some expectations, and work with what you have. Obviously there are some great things about your spouse or you would not have married them. Concentrate less on the things you don’t like and devote more attention to all the things you love.
I also highly recommend reading The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts.
Keep Dating Your Spouse.
The popular saying “the honeymoon is over” is quite telling. It is usually means the end of that blissful time in a new relationship when everything is happy, carefree, and passionate. I don’t think the honeymoon ever has to be over though. A relationship will change or course and it might not be quite as blissful or passionate as it was when things were brand spanking new but it can be amazing in all sorts of different ways. The key though is that you can’t let yourself get complacent. You need to keep pursuing your spouse like you did when you were dating. Make them feel desired, wanted, and valued. And don’t worry if you got off track, you can walk it back right now. If one partner starts anew the other will usually follow suit.
Don’t let kids become the center of your world.
The family unit started with the two of you. You came together and became one and then eventually you became more but at the very heart of it all is still just the two of you. In another stage of life it will hopefully go back to being just the two of you but that may not happen if you lost your connection to each other in the child rearing phase of life. You NEED to stay connected and to make each other your top priority.
This is a pitfall that many women fall into. They become a mother and let that completely absorb all their time and energy, leaving precious little, if any, for their spouse. This can lead to resentment and feelings of rejection. Spending quality time, making that extra effort, staying sexually intimate, and “dating your spouse” is crucial.
Kindness is everything.
Why does it seem like our family gets our worst behavior? Would we say even half the things we say to our spouses or our kids to our neighbors, friends, or coworkers? No! Heck, we often treat strangers on the street with more manners than we do our own family sometimes. This needs to stop. Recognize the bad behavior and correct it. Your spouse (and your kids) deserve your best behavior not your worst. Yes, there will be some bad moments, we all have them, but recognize them for what they are, temper tantrums. You are an adult though, time to get those tantrums under control.
Have some perspective.
Many of us are very good at making mountains out of molehills. Sometimes we lose perspective and don’t see small issues as they truly are. Your spouse forgetting to get milk on the way home when you texted them about it earlier? Small thing. Your spouse forgetting to put the laundry in the dryer before bed? Small thing. Your spouse forgetting to call when they were going to be late? Small thing. Leaving clothes on the floor next to the hamper? Small thing.
Don’t turn small issues into significant problems. The fact that your husband left his clothes on the floor makes him a bit disorganized or perhaps a wee bit of a slob but it does not suddenly mean he has absolutely no respect for you and the hard work you do as a homekeeper. Don’t let a small issue be a BIG source of contention and resentment. It hurts both of you and it’s just plain stupid.
When you see clothes on the floor of the bedroom just smile to yourself and think about how your husband must have been in a rush to get off to work, like the hard working man he is. Pick them up, put them in the hamper, and go on about your day. If your husband hasn’t gotten around to a home improvement project he started awhile back, carve out some room in the budget to have a handyman fix it. Give your husband the heads up about it so he can decide if he wants to finish it or pay for someone else to. Sometimes we need to let things go and other times we need to find creative solutions.
Make self care a priority.
Many people love the idea of self care and others bristle at its mention because they think it is hedonism. I think is all goes back to the first item in this list about creating your own happiness. Self care just means finding ways to refill your cup and pursue small moments of personal pleasure. Since we are responsible for our own happiness you cannot fault someone for carving out time to make it a priority. That being said it all has to be balanced with your responsibilities to your spouse and family, and the constraints of your budget. Self care makes us feel happy and contented so self care is also marriage care in many ways. When we do not make self care an important part of our life we often find that our mood, stress levels, and emotional responses all suffer.
Learn to be better spouse.
I truly love to learn new things and consider the ability to be a lifelong learner as one of the greatest joys in life. We can learn to be a better spouse just as we can learn algebra or American history. The easiest ways to do this are by reading marriage books and self improvement books, listening to podcasts, attending or watching lectures, and speaking with marriage counselors or coaches. When we want to be good at something we learn, we practice, and we work on our skills. We can approach our marriages in much the same way.
I hope I have given you some things to think about and perhaps reframe some marital issues you may be facing. I hope it helps!