Around this time twelve years ago, I was rapidly approaching my wedding day with excitement, and I couldn’t wait to jump on the journey that I was about to take with my best friend. In a little over two weeks, my husband and I will celebrate our union, and, yet again, I am reminded of how fortunate I feel and how lucky we are to have found each other.
Marriage is a constant work in progress, and I do not lay claim to be an expert in this arena. In fact, I would say that after ONLY 12 years, we still have much to learn about maintaining a healthy marriage. For now, though, these are some of the things that I have learned – some the easy way, others, well, the very difficult way!
1. Learning your partner’s love language can go a long way.
Very early in my marriage, I had a friend tell me about a book called the Five Love Languages when the early “honeymoon” stage had passed. Once we read this book together and figured out how we liked to express our affection for each other, it made a world of difference in our relationship. Any time I have a friend or someone tell me that they feel like their significant other doesn’t “listen” to them and their needs, I tell them about this book. While it leans on the religious side, the message is solid and can help tremendously. For instance, once I realized that my husband liked to wash, wax, and clean out my car as a way to express his love, I realized that he was showing me love in his own way. Also, after 12 years of marriage, my husband has learned that something as simple as some warm, fresh baked chocolate chip cookies definitely speaks my love language.
2. A man who cleans, cooks and helps with the kids without being asked is way sexier than washboard abs or George Clooney.
Am I right? Honestly, I think it’s true. Men, take note. Nothing is more appealing than a man who takes the initiative to help his wife after a long day. So roll up your sleeves, cook dinner, do the dishes, and take over bath time. If you are feeling really energetic, clean the house. Look at it this way: the less time spent cleaning and cooking equals the opportunity to spend quality time with each other. Now, if George Clooney cooked me dinner and cleaned my house, well, that’s a whole other story!
3. Husbands don’t notice the stuff that we think are our flaws.
My abdomen looks like a road map because of all of the scars I have from a c-section, 2 laparascopic surgeries, and another serious abdominal surgery. I have stretch marks, cellulite, and my body is pretty soft. In a conversation with my husband once, I realized he doesn’t really care about all of that, and in fact, some men find stretch marks and scars attractive because it is a badge of honor for birthing their children! In all seriousness, let your husband see you for who you are. He loves you and let him embrace you. I bet you anything he isn’t focused on your belly paunch; he’s too busy looking at all of the parts of you that he loves! (Which is a LOT!)
4. Trust your spouse.
The one thing I have learned the MOST in these 12 years, it is to TRUST your spouse. If you don’t have trust, well, you have nothing. When you accepted your spouse’s marriage proposal, you made a commitment to them, and they made a commitment to you to be a team. Of course, in the news, (and in life) we all hear these stories of so many people cheating on their spouses, stealing, etc. What you don’t hear about are the millions of couples who have been married for years who believe in each other, trust each other, and have made it this long. Trust your husband to take care of your kids; don’t micromanage him. Trust your wife to listen to you and help. Trust your partner to rely on you in good times and in bad.
5. Marriage is an ever changing cycle where you choose to grow with one another.
We were only in our mid 20’s when we tied the knot, and since then, we have grown up SO MUCH in the last twelve years. Things happen, and it can be tough and wonderful at the same time. Over the years, we have celebrated a lot of birthdays, anniversaries, and the birth of our son, but we have also dealt with several hurricanes, a loss of a parent, home renovations and medical issues. When things get hard in our marriage, I always reflect on that part of our vows “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad,” and I recall that we are in it for the long haul. We have really grown up together in the last twelve years, and we still have a lot of growing to do. Remembering this always keeps us grounded.
6. Time to connect is a MUST.
We were married for almost 9 years before we had our son. This was a great blessing to us, because we got to really enjoy doing things together alone before he came along. We traveled a good bit, we went out regularly on dinner and movie dates, and we were able to connect one on one with no interruptions for a really long time. When our son came along, we realized that we took that time for granted. Sometimes, you just really want to go out to dinner without having to say “stop that!” “sit down,” and “eat your dinner” twenty times so that you can actually have a normal conversation with your spouse. While we have a babysitter we can use, financially speaking, it isn’t always prudent to pay for a sitter on top of a meal or even a movie. When we do get a few hours to spend alone, we make it worthwhile. Whether we choose to go out to dinner or stay home and connect after our son is asleep, it is amazing how refreshed and happy we are when we get home and are ready to take on another round of parenting! After all, we were Scott & Andie before we were Mom & Dad!
7. Have separate hobbies and enjoy them!
Let’s be honest. Sometimes you just need a break from your partner. You are tired of hearing him talk about the engine on the latest Corvette, and he is tired of hearing about the details of the latest chick lit book you loved. For us, a way to enrich our marriage and individual personalities is to have our own hobbies outside of one another. I have my book club, New Orleans Moms Blog, fantasy football, and, of course, I love to shop. He loves fishing, hunting, football, and tinkering with cars. We respect each other’s hobbies, and sometimes we combine our love for them, but then we also enjoy them separately with our friends. We respect each other’s need to enjoy our own activities and encourage it in each other. It keeps us grounded and respectful of each other’s need for personal enrichment.
8. A partner who embraces you and supports you in your darkest hour is a keeper.
When I was digging deep into a dark time struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, my husband knew something was wrong. Instead of telling me to “buck up” or “cheer up,” he encouraged me to get help. He didn’t chastise me for my coping mechanisms, nor did he didn’t make fun of me. Instead, he stepped in to help when I needed it most. If there is anything that can test a relationship, it is a mental disorder, especially a mood one. Having a partner who can recognize when something is wrong and aims to help you out of it is a true gift.
9. Don’t keep score.
This is something I have to remind myself of…often. I will feel like I am getting the crap end of the deal (pun intended), and I will start keeping score. I have to remind myself that life isn’t fair, and when it comes to marriage, it can be hard to always feel equal, especially when there are children in the mix. Being a parent always brings about the unexpected and leaves it impossible to keep score of who is doing more. In fact, marriage is a balancing act just to make it work. Sometimes it will seem fair; other times, it won’t. Teamwork is part of our mantra. Remember, when you married your husband (or wife), you made a vow to be their partner, or more importantly, their teammate. Be flexible, work together, and compromise. Roll with the punches and work toward a common goal of a long term happy marriage and family.
10. Never underestimate the power of your words.
Tell your spouse thank you, even for the little things. If you tell your husband (or wife) thank you for cooking dinner and cleaning the house and maybe even give them a little lovin’ for it, I bet he or she will work on making the house spotless more often! Parenting and marriage are hard for both people in a relationship. Tell your partner how much you appreciate them and share your gratitude when they help you. Think before you shell out negativity toward your partner. This one is big for me, and I am still learning. Often, a complaint about something trivial does nothing but make everyone grumpy and serves no purpose. Being intentional with what you say can make a world of difference, and expressing “I Love You” to your spouse regularly is a great way to keep up the romance.
11. Love is in the little things.
Sure, it’s nice to get fancy jewelry for gifts on special occasions, but as I have gotten older, I’ve realized that it is the expression of love in little things that make me really love my husband. When I say little things, I am talking about him picking up some more of my favorite cookies from the grocery when he runs to get more milk or starting my car on a cold morning. I can promise you if you start paying attention, your husband (or wife) is showing you love in so many small ways, a great reminder of a healthy, loving relationship.
12. Just like kids, every marriage is different.
So while I am spouting off what works for us here on this public forum, I will tell you to take it with a grain of salt. Every couple is different because every person in a relationship is different. But that being said, the true message here is this: NEVER compare your marriage to others. NEVER. You never know what is going on in someone else’s marriage, and while it may look like all sunshine and roses on the surface, it may not be. Focus on your marriage and your marriage only. Don’t let other people judge or dictate how your marriage should be if they are not part of it.