20 things I’ve learned in 20 years of marriage
Photo credit: Natalie Norton
Twenty years ago today my husband David and I officially became a family. Best decision of my life, and I mean that. Neither of us has a clue how it’s possible that 20 years have come and gone already, and I feel more grateful than ever that we have 20 years worth of pictures, stories, and memories recorded.
I’m not sharing my personal feelings about David in this public format. That’s between the two of us, and he knows how I feel about him. If he doesn’t, I have serious work to do on my communication skills. But I felt inspired to share some things here on my blog because I hope there is something that perhaps will spark an idea in someone else’s mind about what kind of effort they may want to put into their own marriage. Or perhaps it helps some of you to turn inwards and think about the things you’ve learned in your own marriage.
Lesson number one: Men really are from Mars!
Okay, I’ll get to the real list. (But seriously.) I have to say there really are more like two thousand things I’ve learned in these 20 years, but this is obviously a more narrowed-down list. These are in no particular order.
1. Dating is so important! The purpose of dating is to get to know someone, enjoy his/her company, have fun, and nurture the relationship, right? Right. So why would you want to stop dating when you become husband & wife? David and I have prioritized weekly “date night” all of these years, missing some weeks here and there for various reasons. Sometimes it’s just the two of us. Sometimes we go out with friends that we both love spending time with. But that time together is always a very welcomed break from the usual busy-ness of life.
2. Our marriage is the single most important relationship — and we should treat it as such. Our marriage is more important that the relationship that we have with our friends, co-workers, hobbies, work, phones, Netflix, our parents, and even our children. As our children understand this, they actually increase in their own security.
3. Having a healthy balance between our “own things” and our “together stuff” is hugely valuable. There are things I enjoy that David isn’t really interested in and vice versa. We very much enjoy those activities on our own or with friends that share the interest, and we are supportive of each other taking time away to do those things once in a while. But we also know that having some common interests/hobbies is equally important.
4. He makes mistakes. I make plenty of them myself. We’re not perfect, nor should we expect perfection of ourselves or our spouse. Marriage requires patience, encouragement, and forgiveness. Holding onto grudges benefits no one.
5. Compromise is necessary. David and I come from two different backgrounds. Our families have lots in common in terms of core values, but there are plenty of differing opinions on… you name it. Child-rearing, discipline, the way we structure our time, our communication style… lots of things. It’s not a matter of who’s right. It’s about meeting somewhere in the middle between where we’re each coming from.
6. Communication is everything. I used to expect David to read my mind and thankfully I learned (a few years into our relationship, probably) that expecting him to just “get me” all the time is completely ridiculous. I’m a woman, which makes me innately complicated. Sometimes I have to literally spell things out: This is how I feel and why I feel this way. David tends to be much more straight-forward and I tend to go all over the place in how I express things. We respect each other’s communication style. I’ve encouraged him to open up more and he’s rubbed off on me in a way that I’m better about getting to the point when I need to get there faster.
7. The purpose of the task is the strengthen the relationship. This is a saying that I picked up in one of my family science classes in college and it has stuck with me ever since. When I keep in mind that the purpose of us cooking a meal together, or running errands together, or chatting on the phone for a few minutes in the middle of a work day, or cleaning out the garage together… is to strengthen the relationship? Well, it keeps me focused on how I should treat David during that task. This of course applies to other relationships as well.
8. Keeping Christ central in our relationship can only help our marriage succeed. As we both look to the Savior as the ultimate example of how we should be, we are happier. One small example: Serving others has always been a significant part of my life. When I’m actually serving alongside my husband, we feel even closer to one another. A few years ago we flew out to Maryland together and spent a few days serving my brother (who was dying from cancer) and his family. Our hearts were incredibly full from that experience and we grew closer from serving together.
9. Having a sense of humor is critical. No, seriously. We are two very imperfect people. Our imperfect marriage has had plenty of ups and downs. My husband likes to tease me (he keeps me very grounded — trust me). For all of these reasons, I have found that when I just lighten up about life in general, I’m far happier than if I felt uptight about our frustrations or got offended when he teases me.
10. I am confident that the Adversary is working hard to destroy marriages and families. This knowledge is important for every married couple to recognize so that we can do our part to protect what is most sacred to us. No one is immune to the stressors of living in this very complicated and sometimes devastating world. But we each have the responsibility as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, to do everything we can to protect our families.
11. Understanding each other’s love language is extraordinarily helpful. I may express my love verbally with expressions of gratitude and praise, but if David’s love language is say, acts of service (like filling up his gas tank or making him dinner) then that’s the kind of stuff I need to be better about. And he likewise would need to know that it’s important to me to hear verbal expressions of love.
12. Positive reinforcement for the win! When I see David being the best dad ever, I try to not just think it in my head. I want to point those observations out, so as to encourage his continued awesomeness. When something he does is a turn-on and I tell him (and let’s be honest – show him) how I feel about it, you better believe he’s likely to repeat that behavior. Likewise, when he cheers me on for going to the gym or making a homemade meal, I’m more motivated to carry on with those good habits.
13. Speaking negatively about your spouse is harmful. You can quiz all of my dearest friends, my parents, or anyone close to me and they would be able to tell you that I don’t speak ill of David. I honor and respect him and any issues that come up between us, stay between us. We work through our struggles together instead of going outside to others.
14. Evaluating our relationship on a regular basis helps us to stay on track. I’m for sure the initiator with this conversation (it’s my communication style), but at least once a year we have a good heart-to-heart about where we are — physically, spiritually, financially, you name it. We talk about what our weakness are as a couple and what we could be working on. We talk about where we’re feeling pretty great. We talk about how we can be better in various areas.
15. Let’s go back to that comment about how men are from Mars (and women are from Venus). The truth is… we solve problems differently. We respond to stress differently. We express ourselves different. We react VERY differently when other drivers on the road are being less than awesome (ahem!). So guess what? That’s because we’re… different! When we celebrate our differences and practice patience in doing so… and when I view David the way a loving Heavenly Father views him… well, that just softens my heart ten-fold.
16. Nit-picking is such a waste of energy and it doesn’t benefit any marriage. So David loves soda and sometimes his dirty socks land next to the laundry basket instead of IN the basket. There are a hundred things we could pick apart about each other, but who the heck cares?? We have each other and life’s too short to nit-pick. We’ve been around long enough to see tragedies through death and divorce and as long as we still have each other, we keep the nit-picking to a minimum (teasing is one of David’s love languages and so we have to give each other a hard time once in a while).
17. He’s busy. I’m busy. Whatever. Everyone’s busy. But we should never be too busy for each other. I have never ignored David’s call in the middle of what I’m doing, no matter how much I have going on at the moment (unless I’m literally in a meeting, and even then he’s my first priority as soon as I become available).
18. Be each other’s safe place. I know that I can vent endlessly to David and he will counsel me and be a listening ear and offer his honest opinions. Likewise, he can share things with me and know that I’m not judging him or sharing any of that with anyone else. It is so important to have that trust between husband and wife and then use that trust to confide in each other regularly.
19. Traditions and rituals. It’s so important for couples to establish traditions and rituals but also in a way that is specific to their relationship. We don’t mind being unconventional on several things. For example, we do not exchange birthday / anniversary gifts with each other. Our love language is not gifts. It’s time together and creating memories together… and many other things but not actual wrapped gifts. So guess what? We’re different than most couples that way and we love it.
20. Telling him he’s right usually solves any problem. I totally just did this yesterday, in fact. I knew I was right but told him he was right and – bam! We’re good. ; )