Tomorrow marks 19 years since Greg and I got married and started our life together. Since I was barely 20 years old back then, I have a hard time remembering what life was like without him.
In honor of 19 years of marriage, I put together a list of 19 things I have learned. Keep in mind that these things are helpful for us, especially when we apply them. I assure you that we are not perfect and are always learning and striving to overcome our weaknesses. But all marriages are different and what works for us may not work for you.
Now that we have the obligatory disclaimers out of the way, let’s get started:
1. Marriage is not a 50/50 Relationship. Try giving 100%.
In a marriage, giving 50% is not enough. Both parties must set aside selfishness and repeatedly give everything they’ve got to make the relationship successful.
2. Communication is Key
We have learned over the years to communicate pretty well. I cannot assume that Greg can read my mind, even though that would sure be nice. If something is bothering me and I let it fester instead of speaking up, we will eventually have a huge problem.
So we have learned to talk about everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
And don’t forget about listening. Communication is a two-way street where listening is just as important as talking. Understanding where the other person is coming from is essential, and that can only happen if you listen.
3. A Good Night’s Sleep (or a Couple Hours of Alone Time) Can Cure a Host of Ills
We have all heard the adage, “Don’t go to bed angry.” I disagree with that advice because I am a morning person and my patience is often short at the end of the day. If I am upset about something in the later hours of the evening, I find that it is better to go to bed and continue the discussion after a good night’s sleep. A little time and rest will usually take the edge off the problem at hand, and both of us are better able to apologize and move forward.
I find the same benefit from a couple of hours of alone time. While Greg wants to work problems out immediately, that strategy does not always go well for me. When I feel pushed to apologize and make up on the spot, it makes me more upset 95% of the time. But if I can have a little time alone to process things, I almost always come back ready to move on.
Disagreements usually turn out better when we disengage and go our separate ways for a little while when emotions run high.
4. Be Humble
As much as all of us would like to be right all the time, that is simply not ever going to happen. Because of that, humility is essential.
When I go into a situation with the attitude that I am unequivocally right, it usually magnifies the problem. But if I can put my stubbornness aside and admit that I might be wrong (or have some flaws that I need to work on), we can come to a solution much easier.
We are all imperfect and need to be humble enough to admit that, for the good of our marriages.
5. Kindness is Key
While many character traits are important in a spouse, kindness should be at the top of the list. It may not be as romantic as some other things, but I cannot imagine navigating the sometimes turbulent waters of marriage without it.
6. Differences Can Be A Blessing
Opposites attract; at least that is what happened with Greg and I. On many levels, we are about as different as two people can get.
He likes to talk (and talk…and talk…) to anybody who will listen; I prefer to say what needs to be said and move on.
He is romantic; I am practical.
He is a spender; I am a saver.
He is outgoing; I am reserved.
He is a planner; I tend to fly by the seat of my pants.
I could go on, but you get the idea. While sometimes our differences cause conflict, most of the time they make things interesting, in a good way. We both pull each other out of our comfort zones, which encourages growth. The areas where I am weak are generally his strengths and vice-versa.
We are on the same page with the things that matter most (religion, parenting…), but life would be pretty boring if we were too much alike. Our differences make life colorful, and that is a blessing.
7. Put Your Marriage Ahead of Your Kids
While putting children first may sound like a good idea, I have learned that my marriage needs to come before them. Since Greg and I will be together long after our children are grown, our relationship needs constant nurturing. If we neglect that relationship while in the trenches of raising kids, we will surely grow apart in the process.
I believe it is essential for kids to see their parents spending time alone together. There is something comforting as a child in knowing that your parents love each other and want to be together. A strong marriage provides the foundation for a strong family.
8. Weekly Date Nights Make All the Difference
Dating is all about connection, and that does not change once you are married. In fact, it becomes even more necessary. We have had weekly date nights for years, and it is something that we look forward to every week.
With five kids at home, life is inherently crazy. Greg is busy running a dental practice, and I am busy running a household and sometimes it feels like we are running right past each other. We often do not have much time to spend together during the week because of our different responsibilities, but we live for our weekend date nights.
Sometimes, we go alone and spend a couple of hours talking over dinner or watching a movie. Other times, we make it a social event and go with friends. Either way, it is a much-needed source of connection and fun in the midst of our busy lives.
While routinely getting away from the kids is sometimes tricky, it pays dividends in the long run.
9. Chances Are, You Will Not Be Able to Change Your Spouse
While most of us have a few things that we wish our spouse would do differently, I have found that the only person who can change Greg is Greg. And the only person who can change me is me. Focusing on personal improvement is infinitely more productive than trying to change somebody else.
10. Compromise is the Name of the Game
We would never get anywhere if we were both set in our ways and not willing to bend. Because we are so different, we must rely on compromise. There are times when we do what he wants to do, sometimes we do what I want to do, and other times we meet somewhere in the middle. As long as we are both willing to set our pride aside and come up with a solution we can both live with, it works pretty well.
11. Don’t Criticize Your Spouse in Front of Others
We work to make our relationship a safe place. I want Greg to be able to trust me with his weaknesses, and I surely do not want him to broadcast my shortcomings to his friends.
We try really hard to keep our marital struggles and irritations between us. Publicly criticizing each other would surely do more harm than good.
12. Marriage Works Best as a Partnership With God
I cannot imagine navigating the maze of marriage without the help of God. We pray as a couple every morning and night, and I am convinced that is a key factor in keeping our marriage stable.
As Lee Brice says in his song, Love Like Crazy, which is all about creating a lasting marriage:
Never let your prayin knees get lazy…
I could not agree more.
13. Get on the Same Page With Money
Unfortunately, finances are part of married life and can easily become a source of conflict. If left unchecked, Greg and I would make very different choices with our money because of our different backgrounds and personalities.
We have learned, however, that we must be united in our financial decisions if we want marital harmony. (And we do.) We sit down together and go over our finances at least twice a month, reviewing our big goals, hashing out the details in the trenches of compromise, and talking about any hiccups that may be throwing us off track.
We have found it helpful for each of us to have a monthly allowance of money that is ours to spend however we want. That gives us a little bit of individual spending freedom while keeping us on track with our big goals.
14. Keep Your Sense of Humor
Laughing together can take the edge off stressful situations. Take it from one who is married to a very silly man who has a way of making me laugh, even when I am super stressed or annoyed. I always feel better after a little laughter, even when I don’t want to admit it.
And, let’s be honest, sometimes family life can be hilarious.
15. Look at the Big Picture
There is more to life (and marriage) than what is happening right now. Marriage evolves as time passes, but that is not always a bad thing. While romance looks different after 19 years of marriage than it did when we were newlyweds, it is even better in some ways.
We have grown together through years of ups and downs, and, consequently, our love is different – more mature – than it used to be. I imagine that our relationship will continue to change as we face life together. Looking at the big picture – where we have been and where we want to end up in the future – helps us to make decisions that will keep us going in the right direction as a couple.
16. Give Each Other Room to Grow
While marriage is a partnership, it is made up of two individuals with different interests and goals. We need space to be ourselves. We need time to explore the things that are individually significant to us because we are not interested in all of the same things.
Greg and I do better as a team when we both have time and space to fill our own buckets. We individually do that in very different ways, but each of us feels the support of the other through that process, which makes all the difference.
17. Tell the Truth
Always. The end.
18. Serve Each Other
Service is love in action.
Greg is a perfect example of this. He routinely buys me flowers for no reason. He puts together scavenger hunts and surprises for me, just because he loves me. He is a romantic, remember?
I may not go to that extent because I am the queen of practicality. But little things can make a big difference, too, and those are right up my alley.
19. Forgive, Forgive, Forgive
We all do dumb things from time to time. We have found it crucial to be willing to apologize and be ready to forgive. Over and over and over again.
There you have it, friends. This list is not exhaustive, and I would sure love to hear what you have learned in your marriages. Feel free to share in the comments section so we can all learn from each other.