13 years ago, on an overcast Saturday morning in central Kentucky, my wife and I said our “I dos” in front of a small group of family and friends. It was a simple event with little fanfare and quite possibly the world’s best breakfast casserole and country ham biscuits (we still have people talk about the food and how relaxed the atmosphere was that day).
For both of us, this was wedding number two. She, a domestic violence survivor, and I, a survivor of my own mentally and verbally abusive relationship, began our journey together in a garden full of flowers as the sun broke through the clouds.
Yes, our wedding was pretty cool.
Since then, we’ve had our share of struggles and triumphs both individually and as a couple (more on that in a moment) that have led us to where we are today. Three years in, we decided it would be a good idea to have a kid and give that business a whirl. Four years in, I decided it would be a great idea to begin a second career in education and go on to finish three degrees in eight years. My wife took on her own challenges as she took on different positions, inexorably moving her way up to more responsibility and greater success in her career, even expanding into what we hope will one day become a thriving private practice.
While I am certainly no marriage counselor (or any type of counselor, therapist, or other “-ist” but my wife is…), I thought I’d commemorate the occasion with 13 lessons I’ve learned on the way to 13 years of marriage.
Lesson 1: You must, without question, be 100% your own person. Yes, you and your spouse will have things in common, but not everything. If you do, I question how long your marriage will last. Have you ever been around someone who “loves” everything that you do? It’s exhausting. You and your spouse aren’t meant to love all of the same things. You each should have your own “thing” that is yours and yours only. My wife likes true crime podcasts. They scare the daylights out of me. I’m a geek. She’s not. She likes different music and shows than I do. We like to read different things. We spend our time differently.
Don’t love the things your spouse loves, love your spouse.
Lesson 2: You never do anything in your marriage alone. Yes, of course you’ll be by yourself when you do somethings (at least, I hope you are. You need breathing room). But, nothing you do will have no effect on your spouse. Every decision, every action, every reaction will have consequences for both of you. Keep that in mind as you pursue your dreams. And if your person isn’t ready to go on the ride with you and you with them, maybe you need a different person.
And that’s ok. No one said you’re going to get this right the first (or the second, third, …) time.
Lesson 3: Talk with your spouse every day. Get beyond the “good mornings” and the “I love yous” and the “talk to you laters” and get a little deeper. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation. Trust me, I am the poster child for short conversations and avoiding deep discussion. Check in with your spouse daily. And don’t let them off the hook when you know something is going on.
Lesson 4: Trust your spouse’s instincts. When you’re with the right person, they’re always going to be looking out for your best interest. More than once, my wife and I have kept each other out of bad situations. We always look back and say, “thanks for letting me know how you felt” when we see what might have been.
Lesson 5: All you need is love because sometimes you’re not going to “like”. This right here is where so many couples have struggles. Yes, you love this person. But oh my god what a pain in the butt they are sometimes and you just want to shake them and have them stop doing whatever it is that is pissing you off today that they won’t ever stop doing no matter how many times you talk to them about it and you just don’t understand why they don’t get it (whew).
Love is a wonderful thing and it really does cover a multitude of sins. But it can’t help you make you like your spouse some days. Sometimes you have to power through. It’s also healthy to remember that there are just as many things that you do that piss your spouse off as they do to you. Get over yourself and remember why you got together.
Lesson 6: Remember, you are partners. Sometimes you are equal partners. Sometimes you will be a silent partner. But, in everything, you are partners.
Lesson 7: You’re not always right and neither are they. This one is really difficult for me to accept. Not that I’m stubborn or enjoy being right most of time…
You’ll both have opinions about everything and rarely will they be the same. Work with it. Otherwise, move along.
Lesson 8: Plan dates. I know you’ve heard this before but it really is important, especially once you have a kid or if you are a driven person with goals. You’ll both get caught up in school events, sports, games, family events, work, working out, and on and on. Then you’ll realize that it’s been six months and you and your spouse haven’t had any time that was just yours together, without distraction.
Make the time. You will never have the time, but you must make it.
Lesson 9: You didn’t just marry them, you married their whole family. Unless your spouse has no family to speak of, you’re going to do things with your partner’s family. There will be any number of times that you don’t like it. Your spouse will feel the same about your family.
But if you ignore their family, they will resent it. Even if they don’t really like the rest of their family, they’re still family. Shun them and you’ll get shunned yourself.
Lesson 10: Sometimes the only thing that makes everything alright is a warm embrace. Just stop, hold your spouse, and breathe. It won’t fix whatever you’re going through but it will make it a hell of a lot more bearable.
Lesson 11: There is magic in sincere forgiveness, both in forgiveness granted and in forgiveness received. I’m stealing this one directly from the wizard’s rules but it is very true for marriage. You cannot, in any way at all, hold on to things that your spouse has done that were wrong. And you can’t hold on to the feelings of regret for doing something wrong.
You have to forgive. You have to move on. It will take time for wounds to heal and there will always be scars. But you must move on.
Lesson 12: Make the most of your time together because you never know when it will end. I don’t just mean this as a “till death do us part” statement (although that can happen) but also that some people aren’t meant to be together forever. Sometimes people change and they’re only with us for a season. I certainly don’t feel that way about my wife (she’s stuck with me, we have a hilarious “love contract” that we signed) but you and your spouse may not always be together, for whatever reason.
Enjoy the ride, however long it lasts.
Lesson 13: Don’t take relationship advice from anyone else. Yes, this last one flies in the face of everything I’ve written beforehand. My point is this: you have to write your own relationship story. No one else can do that for you. On paper, my wife and I shouldn’t work. Not only should we not work, we never should have met. But we did and the rest, as they say, is history.
Never let anyone tell you how to build your relationship. Yes, you can learn a few things from others but at the end of the day the person you have to write that story with sleeps right next to you every night. The two of you get to write the book you’ve always wanted to write. Make it your own.
Trust me, it’s worth it all.