Last week, my husband and I celebrated eleven years of marriage.
It simultaneously feels like yesterday and a whole lifetime ago that two barely-adults promised their unknown futures to one another. In that span, it's felt like I've learned both a lifetime worth of lessons and still have so much to learn.
I am not perfect. And neither is my marriage. But we have been so richly blessed by the wisdom others have sown into our marriage. We've listened to the advice of those who have gone before us and have been able to avoid many pitfalls. So. I am going to share the pieces of wisdom I can gather from 11 years at this married thing. I haven't arrived yet. But maybe I can help those trekking behind me.
Before You Wed (On Expectations):
1. You aren't marrying yourself. No, really. Your spouse is not a male version of you. He doesn’t think like you, respond to difficulty like you, or likely put shoes in the right spot like you.
2. Pre-marital counseling might just be the very best thing you do for your marriage. (I am sure there are many great options out there, but here's one workbook I can recommend: Preparing for Marriage)
3. Identify as many expectations as you and your future husband have before you get married. All the things: from whether Lucky Charms is a legitimate breakfast choice to where you spend holidays to who scrubs the toilet to how you raise your kids.
4. Neither one of you will meet the other’s expectations of what being married is like. How you handle this will determine what your newly-wedded beginning will be like.
5. And on that note: expectations can kill relationships.
6. It’s not that you shouldn’t have expectations; it’s that you should get in the practice of clearly communicating them and readily adjusting them.
7. Find out his love language. Learn to speak it.
8. Find out your love language. Learn to help him speak it.
9. Listen for all the ways he communicates his love for you. Love isn’t always expressed in thoughtful declarations, flowers or expensive gifts. Sometimes it’s spoken in long work hours, emptied trash cans, and in Target lines holding a box of tampons.
10. Don't ask or expect him to read your mind. It might seem infinitely easier than learning to express your own mind and desires (that maybe you don't even know yourself), but it's just not a reasonable request. He can't do it.
11. You will grow in different ways, at different times. You will rarely be on the same page.
12. Communication might be less about "getting on the same page" and more about "reading the page" the other one is on.
13. Savor your days as newlyweds. Savor the new love, your younger bodies, the clumsy love-making, and the empty spaces of your home. Don’t be in such a rush to the next phase that you miss the opportunity of this one.
14. Make love often. Unless there is some kind of legitimate medical reason to abstain, set a bare minimum while you are young and everything is new, and do not ever let yourselves go longer than that minimum. I have no idea if this, ahem, gets adjusted in old age, but I know (KNOW) the busy years with small children and headaches and a million things to do is NOT that time. This is the number one way you stay on the offensive against Satan who seeks to divide you.
15. I’m saying it again because it’s important: Love-making is for procreation. It’s for pleasure. And it’s also where you fight FOR your marriage.
16. Your marriage bed is sacred and the one place God has set apart as holy to be wholly naked. Protect one another by keeping it sacred (and not telling your friends all the things.)
17. Sacred space is important for every relationship. The giant redwood tree can be slowly killed by tourists who trample the roots when they get up close to the tree. So it is with marriage. Have inside jokes that no one is in on. Keep your favorite part of your lover’s body as a secret for the two of you. And for the love, don’t share every moment on social media. Keep some memories just for yourselves.
18. Spend less time critiquing your body, and more time attempting to see it as your husband sees it. If he tells you that you are sexy, believe him.
19. Compromise is rarely equal. It doesn't often look like a melding of two opinions. It's learning when to fight, when to let go, and how to trust even when you don't agree.
20. Know this: God's faithfulness to your family doesn't depend on you having your way--even if you are certain you are right.
21. The first time you get so hurt you aren’t sure how to forgive, that is when you make the call for counseling.
22. You can’t take back your words. Not everything needs to be talked out right away. Sometimes it is better to give yourself (or your spouse) a few hours or a full day to let the emotions cool and think through exactly why you are so upset before you have the conversation.
23. Should you ever feel wronged by your husband, your family is not who you talk to about it.
On In-laws, family, and friendships:
24. Kids don’t make you a family, you are a family from the moment you vow yourselves to each other.
25. Understanding that you are a family from the moment you wed helps you understand that your marriage is the crux of your family life. It has been there before there were kids, and it will be there after the kids are gone. And it will be there whether the Lord blesses you with children or not. Investing in your marriage is investing in your family. Choosing your marriage is choosing your family.
26. Should conflict or offense arise with your in-laws, allow your husband to be the one to resolve it. If conflicts arise between your husband and his in-laws, you be the one to resolve it.
27. Make a point to evenly divide family holidays between your in-laws and parents to the best of your ability. Don’t be afraid to set aside time for your own family traditions (even before kids).
28. Establish some kind of regular routine with your in-laws. (Maybe it’s dinner once a month, a weekly phone call...)
29. “Couple friends” are much more rare than it might seem, and maybe even a bit over-rated. Nevertheless, don’t stop investing in friendships.
On Everyday Life:
30. Laugh. A lot. And don't take yourselves too seriously. Laugh through the romantic fails, the burned dinners, and the times you are left clueless at how to parent your child's most recent tantrum. Lighten your loads and the all the trying-so-hard to be a good wife/husband/parent with laughter.
31. Rejoice in the lifetime you have to “figure it out.” Take the pressure off one another having to be great from the beginning.
32. His inability to put his shoes (or dirty laundry or dirty dishes...) where they go is not an accurate measure of his love and respect for you.
33. Part of a God-glorifying relationship looks like trusting God to do the work in your spouse’s heart...in God's own good timing.
34. Make a habit of praying with each other.
35. Make a habit of praying for him. And don't undermine this humble little point. Pray for him daily.
36. No two people break the same. No two people grieve the same. When and if you face some kind of hardship or major change, give one another the gift of room to be affected differently.
37. More than he needs you to be right, he needs to know you have his back whether he succeeds or fails.
38. Maybe you know that on your wedding day you're taking a giant leap of faith--promising to face the rest of your uncertain futures together. But marriage isn't one leap of faith you make that first day, it's a daily leap of faith--a daily re-falling in love. You have to join hands and jump into so many uncertain futures--job losses, set backs, adventures, becoming parents, moves, promotions, parenting two year olds and teenagers, illnesses, retirement, and all the ways life can change a person.
Which number resonates with you the most? Do you have anything to add to my list? Let me know in the comments!
***These are all little pieces of wisdom I have gleaned in 11 years from my imperfect, but most-often healthy marriage. These are not meant for counseling. If you are in an abusive relationship or facing a difficult storm in your marriage, please consider seeking help from a certified counselor.