The moment I saw those steel blue eyes, and side-swept blonde hair, I was lost for good. I’d never believed in love at first sight. Until then. Less then a year later, we said “I do.”
I was eighteen that day, and today it’s been eighteen years. I have now been married as long as I was not. We were babies, so incredibly young and naive, but we got to grow up together and how many people can say that?! There are a lot more wrinkles and pounds and silvery hairs between the two of us today, and those “new love” butterflies flutter a little less, but the love that has formed over 18 years is deeper and more profound than either of us could have imagined.
Eighteen years of choosing “I do” over and over again, of the deepest joys and rawest pain. Of babies and bottles, bills and businesses, of emerging teenagers and tired parents, of vacations and Christmases and so much mundane … Eighteen years of life.
What have we learned? What wisdom do we pass on? I smirk a little when younger couples ask for advice… I mean, do they know who we really are? We have nothing figured out yet and honestly each day is still a mystery. Each disagreement is still uncharted, each difference on how to raise our kids is still difficult to resolve. 18 years does not make it easier to compromise when you feel deeply…
But I will share 18 things we have learned. They may not be Pinterest-worthy tips, but they do come out of experience and a ton of trial and error:
- Laugh. A lot. Laugh when you’re grumpy, sick, or angry. Find someone who makes you laugh so hard you pee your pants. Because honestly? Life can be hard and sad and crazy and sometimes nothing makes it better besides a good hard laugh with your best friend.
- Let it go. Some things, okay most things, can probably be released long before we want to. You know that 5 by 5 rule – if something won’t matter in 5 years from now, don’t spend more than 5 minutes thinking about it? Yes, that.
- Fight early. Seriously. Don’t bring up those make-or-break issues after 10 pm. Just don’t. Even if you’re both night owls.
- Fight. Period. We went through a period of time where we didn’t fight. We skirted around hard things and retreated into our silent caves until it was “safe” to come out. It was not a healthy place to be in. Learn how to fight, and fight well. Fight when you are able to talk calmly (take 20 minutes to cool down if needed) and not when in “fight or flight” mode.
- Counselling is not for the weak. Quite the opposite in fact, and a great idea to do before you feel the relationship is in trouble. My husband and I went to couple’s counselling as maintenance, and it was such a great experience. We take care of our cars, with regular oil changes, consistently checking the tires, working to prevent problems… but somehow that concept is often lost when it comes to the most important things in our lives – relationships.
- Turn towards instead of away. This is a concept from the Gottman Institute and it is so powerful. Read more on it here. Probably more than anything else, this is one tool I took away from our counselling. Gottman did a 6-year study on newlyweds and found “At the six-year follow up, couples that had stayed married turned towards one another 86% of the time. Couples that had divorced averaged only 33% of the time. The secret is turning towards.” Together with this one is recognizing when your partner is making bids.
- Don’t forget who you are. Sometimes we get so busy being a couple/parent/business owner, that we forget to feed the “me” that was before “us”. Sometimes spending a little time apart is actually really good for the relationship, especially for the one who may be a little more introverted.
- Have more sex. I know, I know, I don’t usually go there on this blog. But seriously, if you’re married and committed to each other for life, find ways to express and explore sexually together. It’s one of the best ways to stay fully connected in the chaos of raising a family and building a business (or two!)
- Find things to do together. Before we were married, we had everything in common. Ha. Then life, and kids, happened and we find we need to be more intentional in finding common ground. It’s so worth it to find something that fills us both up. Maybe it’s playing music together, golfing, hiking, or hey, even grocery shopping! My parents have been married 59 years and every evening they sit together in their recliners and silently read, with the odd comment to each other. I think it’s beautiful.
- Be adventurous. Find new things to try as a couple… it might be trying a new type of food, learning to scuba dive, or spending an hour at the shooting range. It doesn’t have to cost a ton of money but learn a new skill or experience. Together.
- Don’t forget to date. This is a challenge for pretty much all of our married friends, and us as well. It’s hard when you have younger kids and need to find a sitter, but it doesn’t seem to get a lot easier when the kids are old enough to stay by themselves. I believe making it top priority to get out by ourselves, no matter what stage the kids are at, will pay off in spades when the kids are all gone. I don’t want to send off the last kid at 18, and look across the dinner table at a stranger.
- Find that little thing. Coffee is my love language. When my husband has to leave early in the morning, he leaves a steaming mug by my bed and I wake up to the smell of fresh coffee. It’s such a little thing, but it’s everything. It’s one human telling another, “I care, I notice, I sacrifice, I love.”
- Create spiritual whitespace together. There are so many differing views on this, but I believe that we all have a spiritual part of us that needs growth and space. For us, it has been attending church together and I love that our home church allows us to drop off the kids before the band starts and we can fully focus on worship in the same space.
- Go camping. Ok, so this is totally tongue-in-cheek, but also a bit honest. You know those t-shirts you can buy that say something like, “I’m sorry for what I said while we were trying to park the camper”? Nothing brings out the raw unfiltered emotions like roughing it for a few nights. And in spite of the heated words and frustrations that can come with the experience, I always feel like it bonds us all a bit more…
- Volunteer together. Oooh this is a good one. Nothing does the heart good like giving of ourselves for someone else, with no expectation of return. Doing this as a couple is just so important.
- Say “The thing I love most about you is…” This is a great one to do daily, whether or not you’re “feeling it”. It can be the tiniest thing, like “The thing I love most about you today is that dimple in your left cheek…” The important thing is that you do it.
- See things from their point of view. Probably the hardest, but in my experience, the most important. Some of the most infuriating things my spouse has done or said, take on a whole new meaning when I put myself in his shoes.
- Say “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” A tie for the hardest, this one will change your entire marriage. Humility never goes out of style.
This was so much harder than I thought it would be! What are some tips and experiences you would add? How many years/months/weeks have you and your significant other been together/married? I’d love to hear from you… please leave a comment below!