I recently celebrated my 10th wedding anniversary. I cannot believe that the time has flown by so quickly and been so joyful. As I walked down the aisle 10 years ago, I never would have predicted that 10 years later, my husband and I would be business partners -- producing Off-Broadway theater no less! -- spending 24 hours, seven days a week together and loving it.
As I reflect back on my 10 years of marriage with my wonderful husband David, I chuckle at the fact that during those first few years, I refused to be called a "wife". I mean "girlfriend" and "fiancée" were fine. But "wife"... whoa, that was a loaded term and I was not accepting it.
I moved out of my parents' home at 18 and got married at age 30. So in between I had plenty of "me" time, plenty of time to explore and be an independent single gal. I lived in three different cities, including a jaunt across the country to the west coast.
I loved having my independence. After growing up with slightly strict, okay very strict (I didn't even have my first date until I was the ripe old age of 21) parents, I was ready to make my own rules. I was ready to be on my own and in control. But what did this mean? I had no clue.
I knew that I could decide what I wanted to wear. I could decide what to cook (or not cook for dinner -- hence the gaining of 10 post-college pounds, since the only action my stove saw was the underside of the pizza box as it rested on top). I could decide what movie to see, what car to buy, what apartment to rent. But it also meant I had to decide what car to buy, what apartment to rent and what movie to see (sometimes by myself). The transition from being told what to do to deciding what to do for myself was hard but rewarding. I needed to learn what I liked, and that my opinion mattered.
In my first few relationships I was struggling as much with wanting to be in control as with wanting to have my fantasy boyfriend. In the process, I went a little overboard sometimes. I either gave too much of myself (I bought one of my early boyfriends about five Valentine's gifts while I later found out he only considered us dating and barely wished me Happy Valentine's Day) or too little (on the other hand, I nearly took off the head of a guy on our first date because he bought my subway token and put it in the slot for me. I thought, "does this guy think that I can't buy my own token?!").
As I matured, I came to realize that our struggle for control is not with another person, but within ourselves. I learned to push myself so that I could garner more confidence. I remember the first time I went to a movie by myself; I probably had on dark shades, a sunhat and a scarf, just in case anyone saw me. Now that I am married with a 4-year-old, I would text the world I am going to the movies by myself, "Wooo hoooo!" if I could.
Luckily, David escaped some of my earlier attempts at finding myself and finding balance, but not completely. The first few years of our marriage I REFUSED to be a called a wife. I mean I loved my husband and I loved being married, but I did not want to be called a wife. Why? I had rigid ideas in my head about what the term "wife" meant. A wife for me meant a woman who cooked and cleaned for her man -- and as my matron of honor said at my wedding, "I don't know why anyone bought any dishes, because Jamillah is not cooking". A wife was a secondary complement to the man. A wife had no other identity. I mean what happened to my name... now I am just wife. I don't think so. Now let me say that none of this had anything to do with my husband. He never once imposed a role on me... he knew before we got married that I couldn't cook. My ideas all had to do with my past. I was taking the role I saw my mother play and rebelling against it and allowing my past make me fearful of my future.
It took some time, but once I realized this, I realized that I had the control within me and no one could change who I was or my worth by calling me a wife. I came to understand what my aunt meant when she told me a few weeks after my wedding "Be a good wife." She meant be that person who makes him happy and who he can rely on. And doing that doesn't mean giving up any part of me.
Even though I am shy by nature, I am grateful that being in theater has forced David and I to share our love publicly and emboldened so many audience members to ask us how we managed to spend all of our time together without killing each other!
Unwittingly becoming relationship advisors to so many people has encouraged us to constantly look at the lessons of our love and given us the courage to finally share what we've learned. I don't say I am the champion of love, but I will say without hesitation that I am a cheerleader for love!
So with three cheers, here are three tips that have helped me have love and happiness:
1. Let my past be my past. Always be present in this relationship (don't let old hurts from the past negatively influence your present relationship).
2. Let him care about you.
3. Keep it simple (and silly). Keep comedy in their life. Happy husband, good loving.
For more information about Perfect Combination: 7 Key Ingredients to Happily Living and Loving Together, check out Jamillah and David's website www.acoupleoflambs.com.