I meant to post this on my one-year anniversary, but alas the last month was so darn busy I just was unable to find the time to write it, and I certainly didn’t want to slap it together haphazardly. So now that things are settled down and I have more time to write this thoughtfully, here we go.
I also want to preface this with a virtual standing ovation for Amberly from Life with Amberly and Joe. She is one of the most amazing people I’ve met in blogland, and I adore everything about her and her blog. Honestly, a lot of what I’ve learned about marriage has been inspired by many of her posts. Her marriage and money series seriously helped my husband and I get our debt under control. Her marriage & relationship goals linkup made me evaluate myself in my marriage and make concrete goals to make it stronger. But most recently, her Meaningful Marriage Study, which is conducted via Facebook group with other married women bloggers, is making me even more engaged and learning by reading and discussing topics. So a giant thank you to Amberly for posting amazing things to inspire me in my own marriage.
OK, moving on. For real this time.
I’ve been married for one year and one month now. It feels great. I love being married, I love being a wife, I love having a husband. I absolutely believe that marriage is truly great. I know some people think that it’s just a piece of paper, and to each their own, but for ME, marriage is beautiful. I love that we made the commitment publicly and legally to be with each other for life, and to have and to hold till death do us part. I take that very seriously. That means, we have to make it work.
I’m going to skip some of the basic marriage must-haves, including communication, trust and honesty, because those are a given. They’re in every other list everywhere about keys to a good marriage, and we all know they’re important. They are! But you know that. Here’s some of the less-often-talked-about keys to making marriage work that I’ve learned in the past year or so.
Make Your Spouse Your #1 Confidant
This is the newest thing I’ve learned, and it was the first discussion article that Amberly used in our study. It talked about infidelity, and not just the way most of us think of as cheating. What I took away from it was that the more we make a best friend or mom our go-to person, the less your husband can fill that role. And to make marriage more meaningful, make a point to always talk to your husband first. When something happens, or you need to share something you’re feeling, hold off on calling your mom or BFF. Reserve that for your spouse. By sharing with him first and foremost, it solidifies that bond you two have.
Likewise, never gossip about him. Ever. To anyone. Even if you had an argument, you need to work out your issues together first before blabbing to your BFF about how inconsiderate he was. I will say though, that I think some small things are harmless. I see no problem in bonding with your friend over how silly it is that men never can seem to pick up their socks. But you have to talk or joke about it in a loving, respectful way. Never make it a negative thing. Especially if you say something in the heat of the moment as you’re still working out your feelings, you may start believe your irrational thoughts before you’ve cooled down.
I think it’s also important to keep some secrets just between the two of you. It may not necessarily be something you told him you did as a teenager, but I mean personal things in your marriage. Your sex life, when you start trying to have kids, or looking for a house, or any other big thing that’s happening in your lives. Maybe even a silly tradition you have. Keep some of that private and totally off the table to others, because that also solidifies you together in your marriage. Whatever it is that’s important to you. I do think there should always be at least one thing that you both know that no one else does.
Combine Your Lives but Maintain Your Individual Identities
I’ve seen separate lives be the downfall of marriages. The point of marriage is to combine your lives together. You are no longer a single individual; it’s now the two of you, together. Major decisions must be made together. Heck, some small ones too! Seeing yourselves as a unit is really important.
That being said, you need your own identity. I can’t just be Amanda, Cal’s wife. I’m also Amanda, the writer, the book club member, the volunteer, the friend. Having hobbies you do on your own, and friends you can hang out with on your own, does make your marriage stronger, because you simply cannot do everything together.
For instance, my husband is in a band. He loves performing music, and I know that it serves as an outlet for him. He needs that in his life to feel totally fulfilled. On the days he has practice, I actually like that it builds a little bit of time and anticipation into our days. It means that while he’s jamming with his buddies, I also get a few hours to myself to blog, watch The Bachelor, read a book, go for a walk, or meet a friend for a margarita. Most days he has practice, I’ll take a little time to relax, then I’ll pack his lunch for the next day since he’ll be out late, and have a post-practice snack (or late dinner) ready for him. We’ll have just enough time to catch up on each others’ days, or watch one show together before bed. But those also make us look forward to the days when he doesn’t have practice, and I don’t have some other obligation, when we can spend an evening together.
Time alone makes time together even more special.
Likewise, grow together rather than apart. As we grow older, sometimes our hopes, dreams and fears can change. We make new friends, find new hobbies, develop new outlooks. That’s why finding a way to keep connecting and communicating is so important. I hate hearing that people are breaking up or divorcing because they grew apart. It makes me wonder what changed, or what happened, that made them not want to stay together, grow together and make it work.
Do NOT Compare Your Relationship to Others
I struggle with this one a lot. Whether a fictional couple in the movies, or another real life couple you know, comparing your relationship to anyone else’s is toxic. Marriage is not a competition. And in your marriage, there is only the two of you, so you have to evaluate your marriage from your own unique perspective.
Jealousy or criticism of others’ marriage can wreak havoc on your own, albeit slowly. You might start thinking, ‘Sarah’s husband gives her a foot rub every night. I wish my husband did that.’ Or ‘Jane and Tom are a train wreck. I can’t believe he lets her go out every weekend while he watches their kids.’ Whatever it is, judgement should only be reserved for your own actions in your own marriage. Let others’ marriage be their own issue. If we all just worried about only our own marriage and not others’, things might be a lot easier. But we all have the tendency to let that little voice get in our heads.
Don’t Listen to Stereotypes
Both Amberly and I have written about this issue before (here and here), and I think it’s a big one for us in today’s world. Nearly every time the TV is on, there’s some joke about marriage sucking your soul, or referring to the wife as the ball and chain. The message that Hollywood as a whole puts out there is not a positive one. Basically, marriage is miserable and the husband is a jerk and the wife is a nag. Remember that the way marriage is portrayed in the media does not have to be reality, and most of the time, it isn’t. The more we hear something, the more we tend to believe it, so this is one more voice we need to block from infiltrating our brains and our relationships.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
This is one of my biggest issues. I tend to focus on the small stuff. But instead of dwelling on your husband’s minor downfalls, look past the little things. This means, before making a sarcastic comment about how he still hasn’t taken the garbage out, ask yourself if it’s really worth it, and if you still choose to say something, watch your tone and your body language (no eye rolls! I’m guilty of these) and respond kindly.
This means, relish in every small (or big!) gesture your husband makes, and don’t take it for granted. Be aware of all the ways your husband is gracious and generous to you, whether he does the dishes without you asking him to, or takes the dog out because he knows you’re sore from your workout. I think we probably all miss a lot of the little things that our spouses do for us because we tend to become distracted. So take some time to really be aware. You probably don’t realize just how much he does because he loves you. And next time you catch him doing something nice, thank him. A simple acknowledgement of his effort will make him feel loved in return.
This also relates to the prior point about not sweating the small stuff. Instead of noticing what he’s NOT doing, try watching for what he IS doing.
Oh, and make sure and do some small things for him too. If he’s working late, pack his lunch for the next day and tuck a love note inside. Or, let him pick the movie or TV show that you watch together.
This is essential to not losing that spark over time! It’s real easy to get comfortable and stuck in a rut and not put effort into romance anymore. Just because you’re no longer dating doesn’t mean you can’t still flirt with your man. Go on regular date nights (and if you never can decide what to do, make a date jar!). Dress up for him. By putting just a little effort in your appearance even if you just stay in one night, will make him feel special. (I often tend to never put on a dab of makeup, wear my ratty jammies and have my hair up in a pony all weekend if we don’t leave the house. But for dinner one night, try putting on some mascara and that cute top.) Hold hands. Snuggle. Stay up till the wee hours talking on a weekend like you used to. Try new things together. Have fun and laugh a lot. Make time for each other.
I don’t always practice what I preach. Like I said before, we all tend to become distracted. We worry about other things and sometimes lose sight of what’s important. But the key is being aware and engaged in your marriage. It’s constant work, but it is so worth it.