"Happy anniversary," I whisper, kissing my husband's jawline. I love this spot, this scruff, his warmth.
"Mmmhmm," he says, rolling over to his other side. I'm not offended. It's really early, I'm up, he's not. This is how our schedule works right now.
I tiptoe downstairs, see the notes our girls have sprinkled for us -- one by the stairway, one on the counter, one on my desk. They've been working on these all week. "Happy anniversary" is written in their pretty print surrounding photographs from our wedding they found a few days ago.
We sat on the floor with the ridiculously big box of pictures between us. Their slender fingers picked up one photo at a time. Who's this? What are you doing here? Are you kissing?! They asked, their voices threading over mine as I told them things they already knew. Sharing stories of their dad and I before they were born is a favorite gift I happily give.
Jason walked in right then and settled by my side. "Mom was scared right here," he said, pointing to a wedding picture, moment and memory that I love so very much. It does, indeed, look like I'm scared in that photo, but for the record, so does he!
I swatted at him, he moved, I missed, we laughed. Twelve years later, he's still the one that makes me laugh in the best way -- with memories and moments, our past and future glittering between us.
Not taking ourselves too seriously is one thing that keeps us happily together. Here are 12 other secrets about being happily married that I've learned from 12 years of marriage.
1. You're on the same team.
Why this secret works: Most bad moods, bad moments and bad words have nothing to do with the other person or the marriage. So you learn how to let go of (most of) the piddling fights from your first few years together. He doesn't leave his socks out at you just like you don't overspend at him. When you face hard times and hard conversations assuming you're on the same team, it changes your approach (for the better).
2. "I choose you" is a mantra.
Why this secret works: Knowing that there's someone out there that would choose you over anyone else makes this world feel sweeter and safer. People who feel sweet and safe are happier. Make this a given.
3. Yes is more important than no.
Why this secret works: Take this as you will. We were told this on our wedding day and still remind each other of it as needed. It's important in all arenas of marriage (maybe life?). Coming from a place of yes and assuming your partner will, too, takes defensiveness out of the equation.
4. Having at least one interest of your own and at least one shared interest (besides your children) is key.
Why this secret works: Whole people are happy people. We're both smitten with our hobbies and it's ridiculously fun coming back together and sharing what we've been doing separately. I understand as much about beer making as he does about yoga; Just enough to ask good questions, but to let the other person be the know-it-all at their "thing." The places we overlap -- running, cooking, politics -- keep us puzzle-pieced.
5. At any given time, one of you will be the dream chaser and one of you will be the dream gifter.
Why this secret works: Letting dreams grow is a confidence and happiness booster and everyone has passions they need to (and should) follow. Support each other in these and gift each other resources and time, guilt-free. Young families are stretched and busy, so this may mean that only one of you can free fall into a dream at a time. No worries, this will ebb and flow.
6. Simple kindness is the only way.
Why this secret works: Kindness makes the world go round. I think we could all soften our edges a little bit and this is your person, who better to be soft for (and with)? Remember how you treated each other when you first met? Treat them that way today and be kind with the wild abandon usually attached to young love. Simple kindness is bringing me a glass of water, filling my gas tank, making his lunch, knowing how he likes his coffee. Giving and receiving kindness are equally happiness-inducing. And is there really any another way that makes sense?
7. Everyday politeness matters.
Why this secret works: Say good morning, kiss goodnight, remember pleases and thank yous, hug when he enters the room and squeeze when he leaves. Make eye contact, answer questions, return texts and emails and phone calls. These are the things we do to show people that they mean something to us and that their presence makes (our) world a better place. The habit of politeness sets the foundation for how you treat each other. And it does matter.
8. Laughter is a deal maker and breaker.
Why this secret works: Laughing together just feels good. It's putting your armor down and your happiness first. It's shared time, shared experience and shared fun.
9. Daily talking, listening and touching are mandatory.
Why this secret works: Keeping the conversation going means you know what's going on with the other person. You recognize what a look or an intonation mean which threads you tighter. Holding hands, brushing elbows, sitting on the same couch cushion -- all of these work in the same way as listening and talking do. They keep your focus and effort on closeness. And this closeness creates the most important kind of knowing I can think of. The feelings of knowing and being known are unparalleled.
10. Staying in today makes a difference.
Why this secret works: Anniversaries and marriages look different pre-kids, with a newborn, with tweens and the ensuing activities and schedules that come along with them. Don't waste time being wistful for who you once were. Instead, stay grateful for who you are to each other today. Being grateful and present sheds the right light on everything and everyone.
11. Fighting is a skill.
Why this secret works: Here's the rub with fighting: Know each other's soft spots and leave them alone. There's a coveted vulnerability within relationships. But it only stays coveted when it's treated with respect. Argue issues. Have a backbone and an opinion and a voice. But use all three to make points, not jabs. There's a difference. Don't fight each other. Same team, remember?
12. You have to be each other's lift and soft landing.
Why this secret works: You are ultimately responsible for your own happiness and can't find it in anyone or anything else. But knowing you have someone to turn to for a push or a lift or a soft place to land when things feel hard is what it's all about. Be that someone for each other.
All marriages have their golden moments and their tarnished ones. When we've found ourselves wavering, its been because we loosened our grip on one of these secrets, so whenever we can, we thread these between us. And when we can't, we work at it until we find our way back to each other.
What secret would you add?