My husband and I were high school sweethearts who have been together for about 19 years and have been married going on 12 years this October. Now, I wouldn’t say I’m a marriage vet just yet, but I’m definitely no rookie when it comes to relationships and the realities of what married life is all about. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle—I know a lot, but still have lots to learn.
Having been married for over a decade (so crazy to say that out loud), there are certainly more than a few things I have realized and come to understand about this unique type of relationship. We’ve been through a lot—good and not-so-good. But I have learned so much about myself and my husband while on this journey, and to be honest it was actually the not-so-good parts that made us stronger, love deeper, and communicate better.
So, in no particular order, here is a totally subjective list of the most important lessons I’ve learned after 10+ years of marriage:
1. 50/50 Does Not Work
I know we’ve all heard the saying that a relationship should be 50/50. I even subscribed to this notion as well at some point in my relationship but learned quickly this calculation is completely off. When you think about it, if you and your spouse only give 50%, it equals up to a half given effort from both of you. In marriage, you each have to give 100% to sustain your relationship.
So much energy is required to nurture and support your marriage that only your full efforts will be able to do the job. And to be honest, there may even be times when 100% is not enough, and you will have to overcompensate for your spouse because they’re not able to give their full effort at the time and vice versa. So basically, I see 100% effort as being the base level, and it fluctuates based on any and every factor in your lives.
2. It’s Not About You
The sooner you start thinking outside of yourself and putting the focus on your spouse, the better husband or wife you will become. It’s so easy and in our nature as humans to be selfish—in the sense of thinking of our needs first before others, and yes, there is a time and place for that.
But in marriage, the idea is to be more selfless than selfish.
For example: Let’s say you and your spouse both have behaviors you don’t like that that the other does, which is completely normal. You’ve talked about them to each other, so you’re well aware of his/her feelings of them wanting you to stop. So, in this case, each person is thinking they won’t change their said behavior until their spouse changes theirs first. This usually results in a lot of back-and-forth power struggles and ends with the issues not every really being resolved.
But, if you put the other person first and change your own behaviors without any prompting from your partner, you would definitely see how appreciative they feel and that they know you truly care about their feelings. And more often than not, this results in your spouse wanting to reciprocate the actions because sometimes actions truly speak louder than words.
3. Give Grace
In marriage, you can tend to be your spouse’s biggest critic or agitator even if you don’t realize it and it’s not your actual intention. I know in my case, no one can get to me or push my buttons like my husband can. And it’s probably because he’s the person I care the most about, the person I chose to share my whole life with, and the person who knows me in and out. Because of this, it’s been important for me to realize even when he makes me mad or says something I don’t like, I still need to give grace and forgiveness to him at the moment.
Giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt and just understanding they’re human and make mistakes truly helps you build emotional stability in your relationship.
4. It’s All About Communication
If there is anything you take away from this list, let it be this. I know it’s so cliché to say you must have good communication, but it’s so true—communication is a MUST. It sounds so simple but it’s actually one of the most difficult parts of marriage. Talk about everything. You have to be able to sit down and discuss any situation that comes up in your lives, and you should be able to do it openly and honestly. As well as being able to say how you feel and what you are thinking.
On the flip side, you have to be able to be a great listener as well. Having the ability to really listen to your spouse’s point of view with understanding and empathy are two of the most essential parts of a healthy marital relationship. Valuing your partner’s perspective and giving it validation is priceless for your partner’s self-esteem and emotional well-being.
5. Expect Change
Over these past 11, almost 12, years of marriage, I’ve realized that change is inevitable. You and your spouse will change over time. It’s so easy to put our spouses into a little box and see them only as the person we fell in love with X number of years ago. But it’s important to understand you and your spouse are always evolving and becoming new versions of yourselves—and the acceptance of that is what is truly important.
Marriage is not only about change, but how you react to the changes.
The reaction is key. You have to allow yourself and your spouse the space to become the best versions of yourselves, even if it’s uncomfortable. What used to work or make them tick may not work as time goes on, and it’s your job to invest in re-learning who your spouse is while they’re discovering who they are.
6. Love Is NOT Enough
Love is important—yes, it’s the feeling that carries you over the threshold of dating and into the world of marriage. And it really should be one of the cornerstones at the foundation of your relationship, but it’s not enough and a marriage can’t stand on love and love alone.
Outside of love, your marriage needs several key components to support its success for the long haul: respect, trust, and complete and total honesty, just to name a few. Also, the action of choice or choosing is a large part of your relationship as well.
Marriage is essentially just the act of choosing the same person every day.
Choosing to love them in spite of what they do and don’t do, choosing to respect them, choosing to stay committed, choosing to be there for them no matter what, forever and always. The truth is you really need so many more parts than just love in your marriage to keep it together.
7. Have a Plan
Once you’re married and have kids, life starts coming at you pretty fast. That’s why the idea of planning out as much as you can is so crucial. Planning out your day-to-day life, work schedules, and kids’ schedules is obviously important. But I’m talking about sitting down and really making plans and setting goals for your life and future. You need to have an actionable plan for nearly every area of your life: family planning, education, spending, savings, debt payoffs, your children’s education, spirituality, physically, and mentally.
Setting goals for your marriage and family is key and keeps you focused on what you want to accomplish together. I know it sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but it will certainly pay off. Knowing you and your spouse are on the same page about the direction you want your lives to go gives you a sense of peace and helps avoid unnecessary conflicts down the road.
8. Pray Together
I can certainly say my husband and my bond has been strengthened by our spirituality, religion, and prayer. When we come together before God and ask for his help and blessings, it always reminds me that our relationship is bigger than just us. Our faith and prayers are what have gotten us through some of the hardest times in our relationship. And I know having that core belief system and putting God first in our lives is the reason why we’re at where we are in our lives and marriage today.
9. It’s Not For Everyone
I hope I don’t ruffle any feathers by saying this, but I think it has to be said that marriage just isn’t for everyone. And that’s completely, 1000% OK. The pressure and amount of work that goes into trying to have a successful marriage is a huge undertaking.
It requires you to give of yourself in some of the most difficult ways and requires a level of transparency and intimacy that can just be too much to give for some people.
I’ve realized over the years that a lot of people place pressure on themselves (I think largely due to societal messaging) that having a husband or wife and kids is the only way to be happy in this life, therefore they try to conform to a certain ideology, which ends up with people getting married who shouldn’t. I guess what I’m saying is if marriage isn’t on your agenda or you feel like you just aren’t at the place in life where you can make these kinds of commitments that is OK. Don’t conform to any of these pressures and live your best life doing what’s best for you.
10. It’s All Worth It
If you haven’t recognized the theme of this list, I’ll break it down for you—marriage is a TON of work. It requires so much from both people and takes constant work on yourself and being there for your spouse at the same time. But, it’s all worth it in the end. I can honestly say I respect and love my husband more now than I ever have. Not because of all the great or perfect times we’ve had but because of all of the times he—we—never gave upon us. Because of the times when it really counts, we chose us above our egos and pride.
Being happy in the good times is easy, but knowing you have someone in your corner who is willing to do the hard work it takes to make this thing last forever. Now that makes it all worthwhile.
Previously published on the author’s blog