Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What I've learned in a Decade of Marriage

This week Shane and I celebrated our 11th year of marriage. 11 years. Totally crazy. 11th isn't a very exciting anniversary. We spent our 10th anniversary at our honeymoon bed and breakfast, and celebrated it "officially" in Hawaii. This year we went to Joe's crab shack and to the movies. 
Still, it was great! Marrying your best (and sexiest) friend makes life fun.

Newly engaged.
 Weren't we cute at 23? Ah, so young. 

I've been thinking about some of the things I've learned in the last decade of marriage. The things that make the relationship easier and more fulfilling. I don't claim to be an expert, but one thing in my life that I feel confident about is my marriage and that we are doing it mostly right. This post is mainly written for the married ladies out there, and I'd love your thoughts about what makes your marriage work. But I've added a little italized part at the end of each subject for the single ladies.
And also for the single gals......Marry the right guy. I wrote about this last year, but since it's the most important decision of your life, it's worth repeating. I had a friend who recent got married to a "fixer-upper". In her words, "he's not perfect, but I like a project". That's not a great idea. (Their divorce will be final next month.) I know we are all about the bargain these day, but when it comes to husbands, steer clear of the clearance racks.

11 things I've learned in 11 years of marriage.

1. Show gratitude constantly.

Gratitude is huge. I put it first because I think it's one of the most important elements of a good marriage.  The minute you stop being grateful for all the small and large things your spouse is doing for you, you are failing him. Is it your husbands job to take out the trash? That doesn't mean you shouldn't say thank you each and every time he does it. Thank him for working hard to support your family. Thank him for giving you a compliment. Thank him for remembering to update the netflix queue. Always be thinking, "What can I thank him for today". There is always something. It will help you realize how much he does for you, and he will feel appreciated. Men who feel appreciated are men who don't go out looking elsewhere for appreciation. 

Marry someone who makes you feel grateful and is grateful for what you do for him.

2. Be fiercely loyal.

Once you are married, your husband should be the most important person to you in the world. Never say anything about him that would diminish him in another's eyes. (ESPECIALLY your mother's!) Stick up for him. If he is doing something wrong, by all means tell him! Just not in public. Find a quiet time to tell him if he said something you didn't like or acted in a way that you felt wasn't the best. But never embarrass him. 

Marry someone you feel comfortable being loyal to for eternity. Make sure he is loyal to you. 

3. Show affection often.

When you're a newlywed, you can't imagine not wanting to be constantly physical with your husband. I felt like a newlywed for 5 years. Then I had a baby. It changes so much because you change. And because the exhaustion is unlike anything you will ever have known. Every mother knows this. Even so, be physical with your husband. Kiss him, be playful. Have sex.  You can't be totally dependent on your husband to "get you in the mood". If you just are not in the mood, figure out how to change that. Talk with your husband. Ask him to take the kids while you shower. Ask him to take care of the nighttime routine so that you are ready for time with him. And then make sure to put out :) You will find that he offers to help much more often. 

Marry someone you want to be affectionate with.

4. Fight Fair.

Shane and I don't fight too often. We learned very early in our relationship how painful it was when fighting contained yelling or harsh words. So we just don't do it. When we get angry, usually we step away from each other to calm down, then return when we have regained control. We never call each other names. Your spouse is the most important person in your life. Treating them with care is required. It's amazing how much better it is to discuss things after a good nights sleep. (Never going to sleep angry is terrible advice.) 

Marry someone who has control of his temper. 

5. Be intentional.

When we have children, we tend to focus on traditions and making memories, but this is just as (if not more) important with your spouse. Holidays should have traditions just for you two. Even if it's just a cup of hot cocoa in front of the Christmas tree after the kids are in bed. We always go Halloween shopping at Target just the two of us. Every single year. Just because it's "our thing".Be intentional with your activities together. Make daily routines into daily traditions. Greet him warmly when he returns from work. Find small ways to take notice of each other during the chaos of your day.

And most important....Date night!  I will quote from my post Motherhood Game Plan, "I have a belief I hold very close to: I married my husband because I wanted to spend eternity with him. I did not marry him to provide seed so that I could reproduce; that was a secondary thought. I got married so that I could be with this man. I see date nights as totally and absolutely critical to a working marriage. If a marriage is all about the small daily workings of raising children and maintaining a household, it isn’t exactly going to be the passionate relationship we envisioned on our wedding day." I cannot emphasis this enough. Even before kids, date nights are so important. You have to get away from work and school and kids and cleaning and just be together. When we don't have a babysitter we have bed picnics. We get takeout, lay a blanket over our bed, light candles all around our room and sit, eat and talk for hours. It is a simple way to reconnect as a couple, even if we can't get out of the house. And turn off the TV some nights!

 Marry someone who has the desire to be intentional with your marriage. 

Married 7 years.

6. If you want it, ask for it! Explain what you want. Don't make him guess. 

I wrote an entire post about just this subject here. Marry someone who is concerned with meeting your needs. 

7. Don't criticize, don't nag. Pick your battles carefully and only very occasionally.

It gets easy to criticize the longer you've been married. But it's not an effective way to deal with anyone, especially the person you are to love more than anyone. And it's impossibly damaging to a man. I don't claim to be an expert on how to avoid it, I just know we don't do it in our marriage if we can help it. Shane is wonderful at this. He never criticizes me. 

I finally got around to reading that article that was getting all the spotlight, "Nagging, the Marriage Killer". It got a bit of attention by claiming that nagging can be as toxic to marriage as adultery. Now, I'm not sure about that, but it's obviously a problem. Years ago as a single gal, I decided that I was not going to be a nagger. I'm not sure why that stood out in my mind as very important, but I made a firm decision I would not nag my husband. It seemed easy peasy to say that in my mind, but it has taken some serious will power to keep that out of our marriage. I've found other ways to get things done that I want. If I've asked for something a few times, I might go to Shane and ask if there is anything I might do to help him accomplish the task. I'll ask that we sit down and "plan the week" on Monday night and causally mention the thing I want done and we put in on the calendar. It isn't me asking, it's us planning. Sounds like semantics, but it works. I'm pretty happy to say that in the nagging department, according to Shane, I've done good. (Except for maybe this incident.)

Picking your battles is inevitable, but it should be rare. One of these days I'll fess up to the battles I pick. But it's such a huge gift to your marriage to be able to let things go. (Thank you Shane for ignoring the disaster of a bathroom counter I make you share with me, even though I know you love a tidy bathroom.)

Don't, don't, DO NOT marry someone lazy.  Don't marry a man-child whose mom did everything for him and plays an incredible amount of video games. If you do, you will probably nag. Anyone ever watch Everyone Loves Raymond? On pregnancy bedrest I watched it a lot. I'm not sure why since that show kind of bugs. All I could think the entire time was "Deborah honey, you're a moron. You married a lazy idiot and then tried to change him after marriage." Bad move.

8. Be interesting and interested. 

If you feel like all you talk about is the kids and cleaning, start looking for other things to discuss. Read books. Watch the news. Write a blog. Pick up a hobby. KEEP LEARNING. Find things to talk about other than the routine. Be interested in what your husband says. Put your phone down and listen to him. Have lots of pillow talk that you would be aghast to have anyone else listen in on. :) 

Marry someone who you find interesting and who finds you interesting. 

Married 10 years.

9. Take turns having crises.

Have you ever seen a marriage where one spouse is always having a mental breakdown and the other is consistently the supportive one? Or where one spouse is completely dependent on their partner for everything? That can be a little hard on the supporting spouse. If you think back to your marriage and it seems like you are always the one complaining about your life, on the brink of despair or crises, it might be your turn to pass the baton. When Lydia was first born I was a total disaster. For about a year Shane was taking care of me. But when things got better, I made sure to focus on him. Shoulder some of his worry. The last year in Chattanooga it was Shane's turn to have a hard time. His job was crazy and he was exhausted. Did I have bad days too? Sure. But at that time, it was Shane's time to be "going though something". I remembered all the times he had taken care of me, and I bit my lip and just listened and comforted. If you are each shouting to prove that you have the harder life, it's just going to fill your marriage with contention and frustration. "Bean counting" in marriage is asinine and immature. But if you are quietly listening to the other persons needs, you will be able to help one another and allow the other to feel heard and supported.

Think twice about marrying someone who is constantly in crises, and if you are constantly in crises, figure out how to get that under control. Don't marry someone who depends on you for everything. You will tire of that quickly. Find yourself depending on someone else constantly? It's possible you're not quite ready to become someone's partner. 

10. Say you're sorry, a lot. 

The moment you realize you've hurt the other, say you're sorry. Forget to do something? Apologize. If you have a hard time saying you're sorry for things, practice. It gets easier. Just the other day I realized I had been a little passive aggressive with Shane. I mentioned about an hour later that I was sorry I had acted in such a juvenile way. He smiled and thanked me for noticing and for apologizing. It wasn't a big deal. I probably could have let it go. But by saying I was sorry showed him I was being intentional about our relationship. You're not perfect. Make sure he knows you are trying by acknowledging your failings.  Forgive each other freely - when forgiveness is deserved of course. At the point where that is in question? That might need some outside assistance.

 Marry someone who is able to say he's sorry.

11. Learn how your spouse wants love expressed, and then express love in that way. (This is a direct quote from a previous post I wrote a few years back)

The worst thing I think I have ever heard a man say was, "My wife wants me to take her on dates and buy her little gifts, but I figure, I show her enough love by making all the money and keeping her car in working condition." I literally had to hold myself back from socking this guy in the gut. That isn't the way love works. What if the only way I felt comfortable showing love was by writing my husband sweet notes. That's great, but that isn't what he wants. He wants support and physical affection. If I don't give him these things, he isn't going to feel loved. Shane can bring home the bacon, but if he don't wrap me up in his arms when he gets home, no amount of money is going to make me feel loved. Everyone should read the book The Five Love Languages. It helps you discover how your spouse needs love expressed. (i.e. Have your husband read it too.) 

Marry someone who pays attention to your needs. 

So there's my eleven lessons learned. There are more of course, I didn't even mention financial issues, but I'll keep it at eleven things for now. I'd love to hear your thoughts. 
And I'd LOVE to know what lessons you've learned in your marriage or from watching marriages around you. This is important stuff! We want to hear what works for you.


jaquelyn {mama thoughts} said...

thanks so much for sharing this, natalie! i'm still a newlywed, so sometimes i take things for granted as being "easy" always spending time together & such. we will be going though some big changes in the next few months, & my goal is to not let busy-ness & stress make my husband less important to me. we'll see how it goes! :)

HillsRus said...

Well said Natalie! My hubby and I just celebrated 7 years married last week and I couldn't agree more with you on these points. Now I just need to get a few people I now to read this... :) Thanks!

Luke and Rach said...

Wow. Thanks for this. Our son will be one year old on June 1st. We are right now, where you said you were with Lydia. Things are soooo hard and my husband has been my crutch for the past year. Reflux, colic, ear tubes, adenoidectomy, awake 7-10 times at night, pending allergy tests---you get the picture. I can hardly function on this type of sleep, it's insane. We have been married for three years coming up in about four weeks now and I think we need to get away for a night and have Grandma come and do night shift;) They say it will get easier....i pray that's true. I really enjoyed reading this Natalie! Happy 11 yrs to you and Shane!

Luke and Rach said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
My Name is JACY said...

What a LOVELY post N! Thank you SO much for sharing this... it all rings so true. Happy Anniversary to a really great couple!


Lizzie said...

Love, love this post and all the positive things it represents, even though marriage is hard work.
I personally love that my husband and I laugh together every day. It's so important, even when life is serious, to have fun together.

sweetmelbelle31 said...

Great marriage advice! My husband and I will celebrate 15 years this June.

Cari said...

Well said! We'll be married 12 years next month and I agree 100% with everything! For us now, the most important is date night because after 6 years together before kids, it was like starting life all over again. I had to laugh at the video game comment- so sad but true. They are forever banned from our home...

Sarah said...

You look so pretty in the first picture!! :)

Natalie Jane said...

Just the first one??? Oh dear. I must not be aging well :)

Push Pop Mama said...

Love the Crisis! Advice. Please send this to my SIL ASAP :)

Jenny said...

Really great post. I have learned a lot of these same things in our 6 1/2 years of marriage but have never been able to describe them the way you do. You also taught me somethings that I needed to hear. Sometimes you dont see things until they're pointed out. I have always felt guilty going to bed mad, maybe mostly because I have a hard time sleeping when I know my husband and I fighting but I think you're right, that's terrible advice and I have no reason to feel guilty if something isnt worked out before bedtime. Thank you! <3

Canadiachik said...

Such a beautiful and insightful post, Natalie! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Oh, it's so wonderful, that you 11 years together! And thank you for your advices! I agree with you gratitude is very important in relationship. For those, who isn't married, maybe you'll find your future wife on kaliningrad marriage agency

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