Seven Tips From My Seven Years
Last weekend I celebrated my seven year wedding anniversary. We went on an incredible camping trip and on our anniversary had to look up directions to a hike so we found cell service; a friend had wished us a happy anniversary. Jeff was filling the water bottles in the back of the car so I yelled back from the front seat “Oh hey! Happy Anniversary!” We both laughed at our complete inability to remember our own ‘special occasion’ every dang year. If any men are reading this, do not assume your wife will be so lackadaisical about forgetting an important day like an anniversary, we are just lucky enough to BOTH put this low on the priority scale. If you are not both on the same page here, you should definitely start setting phone alarms to make sure you have that locked down!
In our relationship, we are not good at celebrating: holidays, anniversaries, birthdays. Throughout college you could always find us at the thrift store on Halloween day finding our costumes. We are very good at celebrating our boys, and Christmas and Thanksgiving have become big for us; but beyond that we do not put the stock of our relationship on our ability to celebrate one day out of the year. Collectively we do a great job of trying to live our best lives and spend meaningful time with people we love regularly, so when it comes to special occasions it seems a little silly to halt our lives to go on a dinner and movies kind of date night.
We spent this anniversary in the best way we could, by camping as a family and enjoying time in nature together. It was not intentionally on our anniversary, but because we have been trying to go camping every other weekend this summer as a family and this was a camping weekend. We woke up in separate beds on opposite sides of the trailer, each snuggling with a different kid because they have gotten too big for us to all share one bed. We had a romantic lunch at Arbys on the drive home, held hands in the car, then got home and unpacked the trailer, mowed the lawn and sat down to a dinner only one person in the family liked. Then we rounded out our day on the couch together watching a show that I have conned Jeff into liking. It was a perfect day.
While I would be the last person to give advice on celebrating things in an over the top way (feel free to check out Pinterest for moms that have that dialed in!) I do think I have some valuable advice to offer on how to keep this marriage thing going. We started dating 13 years ago and have been married for seven. Some people would argue that after dating for that long (and living together) that being married would not really be much different. In some ways, that is very true. After the celebration is over, everyone goes home and all the Thank You cards are sent, it will still be the two of you going through regular days together. In the first year of marriage I told many friends getting ready for marriage that it does not change anything. What I meant in those early days was that they should not expect a magical wedding to change the basic function of their existing relationship. If you get married in hopes that your partner will become a charming prince overnight and stop leaving wet towels on the floor after a shower then you will be disappointed. Marriage is not a magic wand; but it does fundamentally change your relationship in so many deeper ways. When you stand in front of your friends, family and God and vow to be committed to your partner for the rest of your life it should change you. When you are looking at a lifetime together, you move past the roommate stage, there is more stability and permanence in your actions. Marriage is a sacred bond, and should be treated on a on a higher playing field.
So, how do we do it? Here are seven tips from my seven years of marriage:
Without a doubt, communication is the key to any marriage. This goes way beyond the ‘how was your day honey’ and ‘what should we eat for dinner’. I am talking real communication, and this starts long before marriage. Jeff and I have spent years learning with and from each other. Navigating personality types and discovering how each person needs to be spoken to so that they can hear what you are saying is immensely important. It took us many years and many arguments to train each other in the best way to approach tough subjects, and how to work through them together instead of shutting down on each other. Things like finances, parenting, lifestyle can all be triggering conversations for people, and you will have to figure out how to talk about all of these hard topics without damaging your relationship. This takes time, grace and patience with each other. It also requires a desire to continually learn and grow with each other.
If you do not respect your spouse on a very deep level, you will have trouble surviving any tough season. Respect is so foundational that without it your relationship will crumble at the slightest stumbling block. Having respect for your husband can sometimes look like submission to the feminist world, but I believe that my husbands opinions should be equally weighted to my own. If your husbands opinion does not matter to you then I believe there is a basic need not being met. Jeff has asked me very few times in our thirteen years to not do something. Out of our mutual respect for each other, he has never once abused the power to shut something down, and because of that, I have shown him enough respect to consider his request and comply. This is not to be submissive to him, but more to work together toward a common goal: living and loving each other in the best way we can. If you take the time to consider the intentions of a request like this, you will hopefully find that it comes from a loving place, and from there you can find the best solution together on moving forward.
There is laughter in our house every day. We are a family full of funny faces, silly voices and terrible movie quotes. If you cannot laugh regularly with your spouse you might be taking life too seriously. Your spouse should be a place that you can be completely at peace, and if at your most basic level you cannot laugh through life I can recommend a few movies for you to watch. We first started hanging out/dating about a month before my birthday, which is really uncomfortable timing for gift giving. I had zero expectation of a gift that first birthday, and he surprised me anyways with this overly big gift bag for what I thought was inappropriate that first holiday together. Looking at him sideways the whole time I timidly pulled out the tissue paper I completely burst into a laughing fit when he had gotten me the most ridiculous gift that was later dubbed the “funny face train”. This is where we started and we have not stopped laughing yet.
It is said if you are not growing you are dying. This could not be more true in life and especially marriage. You should be continually setting goals both individually and together, and you should talk about them often. Growth should not be a secret thing, but something that is central to your relationship. If you feel yourself getting in a rut, go out and do something new together. If there is an area that interests you, pursue it together, and support each other through that. If you are worried that you might come to a place where you do not even recognize the person laying next to you in bed, know that it is not automatically a negative thing. The person in the mirror and the one laying next to you will change regardless, so you might as well control the direction of that change. Being intentional about this puts the power in your hands and can create stunning results.
Marital unity is a term that I have recently been introduced to, and it could not describe this value any better. If you are not unified and facing the world together, you will naturally drift apart. Small disagreements, if not communicated properly, can fester into relationship ending chasms over time. If you cannot approach a new challenge with the full confidence that you are supported by your spouse, that will start to eat away at you and your marriage.
Grace is an undeserved kindness offered to another person. There will be times in your marriage that you will each do something irritating or unkind. You cannot expect to spend a lifetime of good days with someone without a few rough ones sprinkled in between. If you can remember on those hard days that you came into this relationship in love, than you should do everything in your power to offer grace to your partner. There will also be times when you become out of sync with each other or come to a place where you disagree. Those moments call for grace and patience as well. If you knew without a doubt that you would survive a tough season together and come out stronger you would never hesitate to offer them grace in the moment.
**This is referring to standard relationships, and is in no way saying that someone suffering true abuse should just stick it out. If this applies to you. please reach out to someone you trust and get help. Abuse is NEVER acceptable.
“All you need is love.” When all is said and done, the beginning of your journey together in life must always start with love. The Bible puts love as a focal point for all things in the human world. We were created to love others and I believe setting a firm foundation in love, on a deeper level with your spouse than with any other person. You will go through the trenches of life together and if you do not believe in each other, support each other, and cheer each other on then you are missing out on the greatest gift we have in this world.
Marriage is a lifelong commitment that can and should grow in ways you could never have imagined when you said “I do.” Everyone’s marriage will look different, so finding what works best for your relationship is essential. Here is to a lifetime together!