This past weekend was our wedding anniversary and I've been a bit reflective. I've learned a lot of lessons in my relatively short, 12 years of marriage; the usuals -- like not saying the "D" word, accepting that my husband doesn't always flush the toilet, and that throwing wooden spoons at walls while cooking makes more work for me than trying to prove how mad I was. But there are a few important lessons I've learned (mostly the hard way) that have truly helped save my marriage countless times.
1. Marriage is a cycle.
There will be good times, and there will be bad times. Ups and downs. Hills and valleys. Don't think that when you're trudging through a valley, your marriage wasn't meant to be or that you two don't have what it takes to make it work. Hard times are normal! I've learned that these are the times I grew to know my husband on a deeper level. I learned valuable lessons when things weren't going good for us. See it as a time to learn and grow and know that things will get better again. No marriage stays awesome 24/7.
2. You'll have horrible thoughts.
There have been many times that my husband made my blood boil and all I could think were things like "I can't be with him," "I must've been wrong about the kind of guy he was," "I wish I could just leave." Just because you think these thoughts does not mean your marriage is doomed or wasn't meant to be. It's normal to get extremely upset and have these kinds of thoughts flash into your mind. Just don't dwell there.
3. Marriage takes work, especially after kids.
Throughout the years, I've noticed the times my husband and I grew most distant were the times when we weren't putting each other as a first priority. Like a flower needs water, a marriage needs attention. It starts to wilt when the two partners don't take time to focus on one another. This is easier in the first few years when you're still riding that "love high," but several years down the road or after you've got very young children to take care of, it can become real work. At times since having kids, my husband and I have felt like nothing more than roommates who give a passing "hello" and "goodbye" every day. (Alternatively, this is also the time you'll find out what real love looks like).For us, making time for each other every night, even just to watch a show, helped us to start to reconnect. Doing things we used to do before kids, like play-wrestle each other and go on dates were also things we started doing again, and it helped so much! It's the little things after you have kids that help you stay connected to your spouse.
4. You WILL mess up.
And your spouse WILL mess up. Forgive, forgive, forgive. And then forgive again. Don't hold grudges, don't bring up their past mistakes (especially after they've apologized and you've forgiven them), don't dwell in the past, and don't expect your spouse to be a fairytale prince/princess. That's not reality so let it go before it destroys your marriage. Humans make mistakes and that's how they learn to do better. No marriage is perfect behind closed doors; everyone has their issues and your marriage is no different. When you accept that they are flawed and you are flawed, you can drop all of the unrealistic expectations on both of your parts.
"A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers." - Ruth Bell Graham
5. You don't have to be joined at the hip.
I think at first in our marriage, I just didn't really get the memo that we could have different hobbies and time for ourselves. And then when I realized that having time to myself and doing the things I've always loved totally recharged me and brought to life within me the person he fell in love with, I saw how beneficial it is to do some things apart from one another. Let your spouse keep their friends and family... don't hog them. You're not the only person who loves them. And even though you're married, you're still two individuals who have some different interests; it's okay to still "do you" after you're married!
6. Don't assume you know what they're thinking.
Ohhh man, this one has probably been my biggest downfall. And it's only taken a million times of being proven wrong to finally get into my head that, *gasp* I don't know what my husband is thinking!! Yes, I'm actually not a mind reader, even though all these years I could've sworn on it. Every single time I've been certain my husband was thinking something negative, turns out he wasn't. I pegged him for guilty hundreds of times without concrete proof, just basing it on my "sixth sense" and my social awareness "skills". My best piece of advice -- just ask them. Don't make up all kinds of elaborate scenarios in your head about what could possibly be going on, what he really meant by that comment, etc. Just ask. Explain the way they've made you feel and let them let you know what they really meant/said/did/didn't do/etc. Nine times out of 10 you're going to be wrong. Assume the best of your partner.
7. Respect him, cherish her.
I know this has been written everywhere under the sun, but I've realized this to be true for our marriage. My husband wants to feel respected and I want to feel cherished. Here are the definitions:
Respect: esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person. He wants you to see and appreciate what he does for you and your family. He wants to be treated as if you think something of him.
Cherish: to hold or treat as dear; feel love for. She wants to feel loved and special in your eyes. She wants you to see what she does for you and your family and for you to appreciate and admire her for it.
After writing that out, it's pretty obvious we both just want to be acknowledged and loved. Hard to do sometimes in the daily grind of marriage, but really our core needs are very basic.
8. See the good.
This is the best piece of advice I've received so far in marriage and it seems way too simple and trivial to actually work, but it does. When you're going through a rough patch in your marriage and you and your spouse just can't seem to connect, what you do is (every day) take note of all the things they do that you love. Either mentally or on paper. Think of at least 10 good qualities about your spouse every day. Even if it's things like "he took the trash out," and hold back any bitter thoughts like "even though I take it out every other time." Just focus on the good. Ten things a day. Every time I've done this, my heart started to soften and I started seeing him through loving (instead of accusatory) eyes. And once they feel your positive and loving vibes towards them, they'll also soften.
So to recap: the hard times bring you closer, you'll question your marriage at times, your relationship needs watering, forgive constantly, maintain your own interests, you aren't a mind reader, respect and cherish one another, and always, always look for the good.