What 10 Years Of Marriage Have Taught Me
This coming Saturday I'll celebrate my 10 year wedding anniversary, and I’ve decided to mark this milestone by taking stock of what I've learned.
In the same way I thought I knew how difficult parenting would be before I had kids, on my wedding day I thought I understood the challenges that came with marriage. Boy, was I naïve!
Through all the ups and downs, marriage has taught me as much about myself as parenting has (if not more). Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1. Instead of focusing on having the right partner, focus on being the right partner.
I know I say this a lot, but it bears repeating: The only person I can control is me.
For a long time, I blamed Gavin for certain aspects of our relationship without taking responsibility for my part in our problems. I would think to myself, “Why can’t he just…” or “If only he would…” But when I began to examine my contribution to our issues, I always found at least one thing for which I could take responsibility.
For example, after Dalia was born, I got frustrated when Gavin came home late from work. I wished he would help out with the girls' bedtime routine. But whenever he did come home early (around 6:30 pm), I immediately passed the kids off to him while complaining about my day and trying to control how he parented. Why on Earth would he ever want to come home to that?
Now that I can understand this, I give him space when he gets home, appreciating that he's also had a very long day at a stressful job. I check in with him about how involved he wants to be with the bedtime routine instead of assuming that he'll just jump right in. I've also adjusted my expectations about our division of labor and don't mind doing the whole routine by myself during the week.
2. It’s not a competition.
When I fight with Gavin, I fight to win. I want to be right. Being right makes me feel safe and in control. Being right means I don’t have to risk making changes in myself because it’s Gavin’s fault. But where there's competition, there’s a winner and a loser. There’s score-keeping. There are attacks and counterattacks – none of which bring us closer to our ultimate goals of intimacy and connection.
It sounds so obvious that as a couple, we need to work cooperatively on the same team, but it’s a lot harder to do when the spirit of competitiveness takes over. I’m learning to turn toward Gavin instead of away from him when I most want to protect and defend myself. I'm also trying to see the truth in whatever he says that puts me on the defensive. More and more, when the dust settles after an argument, I’m able to see things from his point of view and apologize for my part. Apologizing is tough for me to do, but it usually makes things better.
3. Expect conflict.
I once heard someone say, “All couples go through conflict, but not all couples grow through it.”
I’ve learned to expect conflict rather than think it’s a sign that my marriage is in serious trouble. Conflict is a wake-up call to something that isn’t working in the relationship. How we deal with it is the important thing.
4. Stay calm.
When I react out of my anxiety about a situation, I say and do things that only escalate the problem.
I’m learning to restrain myself from saying everything that’s on my mind in the name of honesty because sometimes I say things that I later regret. So, I try to remain calm or stop an argument from spiraling out of control by simply saying, “I’m not going to discuss this until we are both calmer.”
5. Don't rely on your spouse to make you happy.
I’ve learned that I’m responsible for my own happiness.
This is hard to accept sometimes – especially since marriage is often portrayed as the ticket to “happily ever after” or as a way to “complete” oneself. When we can come together as two already complete people, the overall spirit of the relationship is different: I am with you because I want to be, not because I need to be. Neediness is not attractive.
So, I make sure to nurture interests outside of our family, such as writing this blog and spending time with friends.
6. A marriage will suffer if it’s not a priority.
The things that brought Gavin and me together – friendship, time spent together, playing, laughing, being curious about each other, and being vulnerable — got pushed aside as other responsibilities crept in.
We got too comfortable and started to take the relationship and each other for granted. I think we’re both aware of this now and working to re-prioritize.
7. Sex is important.
I'm not just talking about intercourse here, but also kissing, touching, and other forms of physical closeness.
As I said in this post, sex is something that sets your relationship with your spouse apart from all others and makes it special. When you don't share that kind of intimacy and connection, you start to feel like roommates. Most likely, one or both of you will not be satisfied with that type of arrangement and it can become a huge issue.
I struggled with this for a long time, but it was definitely my issue and I needed to get past it. I'm so happy that I did — it really makes a huge difference in the quality of our marriage. I know that lack of sex and libido is a widespread problem, especially for moms. Please don't be in denial about how it's impacting your relationship.
8. People change.
The person I married and with whom I exchanged wedding vows is not the same person he was 10 years ago, but then again, neither am I.
Marriage has required me to accept those differences while remaining true to my vows, which actually referred to change. I said: “I vow to be loyal, honest, and respectful of your opinions, beliefs, dreams, and feelings. I will strive every day to improve myself and strengthen our relationship. I promise to give you space when you need it, remain open to change, and support your growth and freedom as well as my own.”
9. Focus on the good.
I have so much to be grateful for. With all the stresses of work and family life, it's sometimes difficult to take a step back and look at the big picture.
I have a hard-working husband who is an incredibly involved Dad to our girls. I need to remember to voice and show my appreciation as much as possible.
10. Marriage is an opportunity to grow.
In the past, when I've struggled with marital conflict, I've wondered whether the situation was a sign from the Universe to grow, change my habits, and expand my way of thinking, or that my emotional pain meant I was with the wrong person.
I've decided that for me, marriage means being committed to welcoming those moments as learning opportunities. It is a unique relationship in which we get constant feedback about how our behavior is perceived and how it affects others.
What has your marriage taught you? I'd love to know! Please leave a comment below and tell me. If you liked this post, please subscribe to the blog for weekly updates right to your inbox and share it with your friends on Facebook.