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20 things I’ve learned in 20 years of marriage

Becky Higgins 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.  ; )


37 Responses

  1. Crystal says:

    Thank you for writing this!!! Thank you for celebrating and standing up for marriage and keeping Christ at the center of it all!!! What a great encouraging article to read!! Happy 20th!! God bless you both and your family!!!

  2. Camille says:

    You are so on point. We are only 2 years in our marriage and it feels like I just want to give up sometimes. Communication, compromise, lots of patience, and having God in the center of our relationship definitely helps! Thank you for this little refresher. Always good to know that there are ways to improve our relationship and learn from this.

  3. Ashley T. says:

    I love this! You are so right! We are on 11 years of marriage, but I still learned a lot! Thank you for this!!! Plan to read this over and over and share some things with hubby!!! Thank you again and Happy Anniversary!!!

  4. Olya says:

    Becky! This is so beautifully written it went right to my heart. 6 years into my own marriage I was nodding along to so many of your points, while some paragraphs just made me tear up.
    Congratulations to you and David on 20 years of marriage <3 you two are such big inspiration.

  5. Kristina says:

    Such a great list! I agree with all of them! Happy Anniversary to you and David! XO!

  6. Denise says:

    Happy Anniversary! Thank you for taking the time to write this post. It is wonderful! We can always learn from each other.

  7. Leslie S. says:

    Happy Anniversary to both of you and thanks for sharing this post. I found it very enlightening and I really need to work on some of those points you made. Good to be reminded that life is so busy for everyone but we need to put each other first.

  8. Mandy says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I enjoyed reading it and think that many things my husband and I are doing right and there are some things that we could approve upon. We have been happily married for almost 17 years (July 31) and we are still best friends and love each other more each day.
    I also couldn’t help to notice that you took a Family Science class or more in college. I am a Family and Consumer Science teacher. I teach middle and high school.

  9. Patricia says:

    Happy anniversary! Great, great list but I have to say that the last one made me laugh. I’ve used that one too. ;)

  10. Anna says:

    Thankyou so much for putting this out there. You took the time to put it down on paper and ensure it all made sense.
    Point 10 is so true and you explained it so beautifully.
    Bless you and David and look forward to the “40 things …….”

  11. Karen Watts-Edwards says:

    From one of my heroes- Steven Covey. “My friend, love is a verb. Love- the feeling is a fruit of love the verb.” I believe understanding this is at the heart of any successful marriage and after reading your beautiful post I know that you embrace this. Happy Anniversary and prayers for many many more!!

  12. Alison Behan says:

    You two are so cute. As I went through the list I found myself nodding along. We are 22 years together and 14 years married. Some days have been difficult but I would be lost without him.

    Wishing you both many more happy years ahead.

  13. Emily Coe says:

    Congrats on 20 years!! Love this! So spot on! My husband and I have 4 kids and just recently started a weekly date night. How great it is for our relationship! We rarely did before we had our 2 year old twins. And you’re right why stop dating after your married? Wishing you many more happy years!!

  14. Rose C says:

    Beautifully written

  15. Tiffany H. says:

    Happy Happy Anniversary! Wishing you & David many more years of wedded bliss!

  16. SandraA says:

    Happy Anniversary! The things you’ve learned in 20 years is very impressive. My husband and I will celebrate 42 years next week. Your list is spot on. I had to laugh at #13. We honor each other as well. I remember a neighborhood gathering a few years back, with a few women sitting in a circle, sharing life moments. Quite a few were ridiculing or belittling their husbands. One of my neighbors said “and I suppose Carl is perfect”. I had to chuckle and say that no indeed he was not perfect, but our relationship was ours.

  17. Jen says:

    Happy Anniversary! Beautifully said and it looks like you both have what it takes to stand the test of time.

  18. Jenny B. says:

    Happy anniversary! I enjoyed reading your list. My husband is also named David, and teasing is one of his love languages, too. I’ve never thought about it being a “love language” before now, though (since that’s not one of the “languages” listed in the book!). :) Lately, it’s been irritating to me, and I’ve started telling him that no one likes to be teased. Now, I think maybe I need to stop saying that, and find a way to understand him a little better and not get my feelings hurt so easily. Anyway… You are so right about telling him he’s right! That made me laugh because it is equally true for my David. :)

  19. Sharon B says:

    Happy Anniverysary Becky! Thank you for taking the time to share this experiences. My husband and I have been together 14 years, but only married for two. We have both come from relationships where lots of your points above were seriously lacking, but this made us both better people for our own relationship and that with our two children. When it’s right it’s brilliant, but you do need to put some effort in!

  20. Rhonda says:

    Happy Anniversary!!!!! Love love the list. And I agree with all of them! ❤️

  21. Dawn Steffler says:

    Thanks for sharing. May God bless you with many more years of love and happiness.

  22. Happy Anniversary ! I hope it was a fantastic day. I love that you both make one another the first priority in your lives. My husband and I do the same and 18 years later we are still happily married. # 20 is spot on. I truly enjoyed reading your Top 20. Thank you for sharing. Love the photo too. :)

    Mary from NH

  23. Monica says:

    I loved reading this – – so many I can assocaite myself with. What a beautiful marriage!

  24. Karen Kish says:

    How refreshing to see comments in support of actions that further the chance of marriage success. I was married for 33 years until death parted us 3 years ago. Popular fiction, movies and TV illustrate dysfunctional marriage relationship. Tell him he is right even when he is not. Support him. Put him first. All good advice I am so happy to see in print. Take care.

  25. Angie says:

    Love this. Thanks for opening up and sharing a little of your relationship. One thing my husband and I have tried to do over the last 15 years is watch couples who inspire us and try to incorporate those things into our marriage. You guys definitely fall into that category!

  26. Alison says:

    Congratulations, Thanks for list. We celebrate 19 years on 3rd Aug, I definitely want to do this date night as I feel over the time it has been all about the girls what they want to do which has been great doing things as a family. The girls are at an age now 17 and 15 they don’t want to do things as much. We need to make an effort to do something together that we both are interested in. Hubby loves his football and a season ticket holder. I do go sometimes and often its our anniversary outing or my birthday ha ha. I like crafting, singing and in a choir. Not his thing. So we do have own hobbies and interests. On weekend we take a guide dog for his free walk (girls have allergies) so started off as a family and now due to eldest working weekend and youngest being occupied with other things its just the two of us. We are hoping to get our own doggy rescue labradoodle which will be fab and might encourage youngest to accompany us again. So we need to make a time to do something we both will enjoy together. Maybe we need to make a list of things we want to do and see if there is anything the same on the list. Ha ! Thanks for listening

  27. Melanie says:

    I love this! Number 20 is awesome…..and so very true!

    But I especially love keeping Christ central, being aware of the Adversary, not speaking negatively and respecting him.

    Thank you so much for sharing….needed this today.

  28. Claire Poudrette says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. My husband and I just celebrated our 50th annoversary (July 24th). We were 19 and 20 when we got married and people said it would never last. We went through the Vietnam Nam war, a lot of location moves and many ups and downs. We stayed committed to each other and our marriage and raised three beautiful daughters. Your points are right on. Everyone should print them out and re read them periodically to remind ourselves what’s truly important in a relationship. Keep up the good work and may God bless you and your family.

  29. Renate Olsen says:

    Thank you SO very much for sharing these thoughts!! <3
    Me myself lives in a "challenged" relationships, and I bring with me all your wise words into my challenges!! So Thank you!! <3 <3

  30. Monique Stam says:

    Thanks for the fun words, and for helping us keep focus. You know , in Titus when it tells us to love our husbands, it is referring to a friendship type love. I think you just put feet to that!
    Thank you for sharing and encouraging.

  31. Mariya says:

    Thank you for this amazing post! I love that you shared how Christ is the center of your marriage. If He wasn’t at the center of my marriage, things would’ve fallen apart a long time ago! This is so encouraging to read how your faith is at the center of your life. It makes me want to buy your beautiful products even more!!

  32. Cisco says:

    Becky I too am coming up on my 20th year of marriage with my soulmate. We’ve been up and down but christ has always bought us together and we keep plugging along.i found your article helpful and endearing and shared with my wife. Ty for article.

  33. Cherry says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Becky.

  34. Kimberly says:

    Becky, thank you soooooo very much for sharing this!!! My hubby and I are going on 13 years of marriage with 5 children under our belt. We got married young and have been struggling a great deal for the last 6 months. I came across this and so glad that I did. I will be sharing this with him as well, as we both are so madly in love with each other, but not sure where else to turn….we view things very differently. I just want you to know that this just put a smile on my face and a happy tear in my eye. I know things will be ok!!! Thank you!

  35. Kandi Tallant says:

    I enjoyed reading this. I especially loved #13 I believe it was. I always lift my man up & brag on him. Problems that arise, stay between us two. We’ve been married almost 36 yrs. People still comment on how in love we are with each other. It’s encouraging to read how others are making this journey of marriage. Thanks! I agreed with all of it. Your principles parallel our own. God first, spouse next, then children etc.

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