After three months of dating, JP and I got engaged and life has been perfect ever since. Just kidding. Like all couples, we’ve experienced our fair share of bumps in the road but each obstacle we overcome brings us closer together and strengthens our bond. I want someone who challenges me, inspires me to be my best self, and supports me unconditionally. I have found that in JP and it is a constant comfort to know he loves me and that he knows I love him back.
People often tell us that we are “so cute” as a couple and that through watching us interact, they can see that we are very much in love. All of this is true (come on, we’re adorable) but none of it came without putting in the necessary work. The true measure of love is being together when things aren’t easy, when you aren’t having fun, and when everything feels like a challenge. You know, still loving each other even when you really (really!) don’t like each other.
Relationships have ebbs and flows. I firmly believe that the divorce rate is so high because we take people for granted and treat them as disposable (like our $800 cell phones that we junk after a year). As soon as a relationship gets too hard, we simply move on. The honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever, yet people seem shocked by the transition into “real” life. This is a pretty horrifying way to treat a person, especially one who you have vowed to, you know, spend eternity with.
So even though it’s not always rainbows and butterflies, it is always worth it and there is no one I would rather be going through the journey of life with than JP.
Our Marriage Commandments
I have a secret: successful marriages take a lot of concentrated effort. We haven’t been married for that long, but we have learned a few things along the way that I think are worth sharing. Our list may be entirely different than yours, and I’d love to hear about what works for you in the comments.
Communicate with each other. I do have an English and communication degree, but that’s not the (only) reason that I put this at the top of the list. Sometimes long-term couples can read each other’s minds, but sometimes they make assumptions that are just plain wrong. Regular communication can help prevent resentment from building and ensure that couples really are on the same page (in the same book).
My experience has shown me that a lot of couples talk about their issues with the wrong person. I have friends who are happy to tell me how they are feeling about something, why they are angry with their partners, and exactly what they want done about it. However, other than providing an ear to listen, there isn’t much I can do to help. Unless couples talk to each other, then nothing is going to change for the better. These friends won’t be identified by acronyms to protect the guilty.
These elephants do not mess around when they communicate. I’m all for a direct style!
Develop and nurture trust.
Often Sometimes life throws you curveballs that you didn’t see coming. It is so important to know that your partner has your back no matter what and that you can put your full trust in that person to support you, advise you, and be there for you. Of course, it is also important to trust that your husband or wife really is where they say they are, but if you didn’t have that kind of basic trust then you wouldn’t have gotten married. Right? I’m talking about the “I trust you with my life” trust, which takes a lot of work to build and very little effort to destroy.
This couple trusts each other enough to know that they won’t drown out there. What more could you ask for? Me, I’d push JP in and then swim as fast as I could to shore (after we took the picture of course)! Just sayin’.
Make each other your most important priority. Sometimes you have to say no to other people, even people you love, so that you can say yes to each other. It is more important to me that JP is happy than anyone else and he feels the same way about me. We are always looking out for each other’s best interests and we are each other’s biggest supporters, defenders, and fans. We never have to worry about coming in second place to anyone or anything else (yes, this includes work, except on a strictly exception basis that we discuss first).
To be fair, we don’t have children yet (and we may never have them). But I still stand by this commandment and my marriage will always come first (don’t throw tomatoes at me). Of course, small children are going to need attention that will take away from time that I can spend with JP. I’m not talking about being unwilling to make any sacrifices, I’m talking about working together on a balance you can both handle. I think it’s important that our relationship doesn’t revolve around our (potential) children and that we still carve out time that is just for each other. I do not want to be defined by being a mother when I will also be a wife, daughter, sister, and friend.
These big cats make cuddle time a priority! Do you? True story: once, JP told me that “there’s no time for cuddles, babe! We have to go!”
Learn the art of compromise. Disagreements aren’t about winning or losing but about trying to make both people walk away feeling good about the outcome. It can be hard not to get caught up in the emotion of a contentious situation but as my dad always said, as soon as you start yelling or losing your temper, you’ve already failed. As challenging as it can be, try to always put your love and respect for your partner before any other emotion and most importantly, be kind! We are often more polite to total strangers than our own family members, which is just crazy talk. There is always time for kindness (and cuddles, JP).
It’s all about give and take! If you both try to give more than you take, imagine how sweet life would be.
Make time to have fun. Married life can be monotonous. Wake up, work, come home, make dinner, possibly work more, walk the dog(s), go to bed, and repeat. Grownups have mortgages, bills, obligations, and many demands on their time that they don’t necessarily choose. That’s why it is so important to carve out time to have fun. Children have fun everyday and adults need to plan and schedule their fun, but such is life. This could mean many different things depending on the couple but whatever makes you laugh, smile, and feel happy together – do more of it!
Snowballs make snow worthwhile. Couples who play with balls together stay together.
Always appreciate each other. I’m not a relationship guru. I’m just a gal who has been around the block a few times, learned a few things, and wants to compare notes with other couples. To sound more guru-ish, I should tell you that I always appreciate JP, always tell him that he’s wonderful, and that there is no taking each other for granted in our household. But then I’d be a liar. I don’t tell him nearly enough that I’m grateful for what he brings to our home, family, and marriage or that he’s a totally awesome dude. Today, I’m going to make it a point to.
Life is short. Take a moment to enjoy it and appreciate what you have. The secret to having it all? Knowing that you already do.
Practice active listening. We have all heard the sage advice that we have two ears and one mouth so we should act accordingly. However, this can be hard to do, especially during a disagreement. Listening is not about waiting for your turn to talk or simply hearing someone speak. It’s about being active and engaged in a conversation that isn’t all about you and really trying to understand someone else’s point of view.
This could be a good approach to getting JP to listen more. If it fails, I could always take a nap on him instead.
Learn the value of forgiveness. I often marvel at the world of B (and all dogs really, but trust me when I say that B is special). B is fully present in every moment because he never thinks ahead or looks back. He lives in the here and now and has a perfectly wonderful dog life as a result. A stressed out dog could not sleep peacefully for as many hours as B does. This is one of the most important lessons B has taught me about life: focus on the present; let go of the past; don’t hold grudges; and add more forgiveness.
Hint: to forgive means to let something go and not save it as ammunition for future arguments.
The faces of forgiveness (or abject despair, I can’t decide).
Create meaningful traditions. I think every couple needs meaningful traditions that are unique to their relationship. It could be going to the same restaurant every year on your anniversary, taking a big trip for milestone anniversaries, or simply a daily ritual like kissing each other hello and good-bye. People find comfort in the familiar and I don’t know about you but I look forward to celebrating my favourite traditions with my partner (and making new ones!).
Romantic dinners for two are a tradition I could get behind supporting (as long as I don’t have to do the dishes after).
Don’t forget to be intimate. I’m not talking about sex (well, not just about sex). It’s important to make the time to connect on a physical, emotional, and mental level because all three are equally important to a healthy connection. Life gets busy and sometimes people put the most important relationship they have on the backburner because they feel safe enough to do so. Complacency is dangerous; no one wants to feel taken for granted. I firmly believe that we make time for what’s important to us and nothing should be more important than our marriage.
See, guys? Even monkeys ask for back rubs first. And, no, it can’t be after (you’ll be asleep. History repeats itself).
Pick your battles. When you spend a lot of time with someone, you are privy to all of their bad habits. If you decide to point out every single one all the time, then you are going to cause a lot of unnecessary arguments. When you’re married, there are enough challenges that you have to face. Creating conflict when there doesn’t need to be any simply doesn’t make sense.
Consider what you’re griping about: will it matter in a month? A year? Most importantly, will it serve any purpose if you bring it up (other than annoying and isolating your spouse)? Take an example of dishes not being put in the dishwasher. It will take you less energy to put the dishes into the machine yourself than it will take for you to complain about it and start a fight. Trust me, there’s a list of things about you that your partner gives you a free pass on too.
Choose the issues that you’re going to lock horns about very carefully. Life is stressful enough without fighting over things that don’t matter.
As a bonus, men just need to remember this one simple commandment and marriage will be amazing: a happy wife means a happy life.