I read this article the other day (Top Ten Rules Every Marriage Should Live By. . . Gay or Straight). Being in a long term relationship myself, I love reading other’s so called rules and secrets about their relationships, finding congruencies and discrepancies with my own. I first loved that this title included gay and straight marriages, love is love man! I loved that this article didn’t try to pretty up the business of being in a relationship. It was real, gritty, and I could tell the author was in a happy marriage. I agreed with a lot of what it said; you have to try, have fun together, don’t yell at each other, but one phrase stood out to me, “Marriage is NOT about being in love. It’s not about getting butterflies when your spouse walks in the door and giggling uncontrollably at their jokes in public. Marriage is, above all things, about commitment.” This was part of the author’s explanation of their number 1 rule: Never threaten to leave or say divorce. Marriage is not about love? I’ve heard this before, but for some reason it was still jarring. After thinking about it, I honestly believe this to be the truth. Many marriages survive with happy people who don’t love each other because they are committed to making it work. You will need to rely on that commitment on late nights, when you can’t believe what is coming out of your partner’s mouth. You’ll need to rely on that commitment when you feel alone, scared, unsure if you’ve made the right decision to get married and by the way, EVERY married person who isn’t in a complete state of denial has thought this so you’re not crazy. You’ll need to rely on that commitment in the darkest, deepest moments of your marriage.
A marriage is not solely about being in love, I agree with the author on this one, but a marriage NEEDS love. Love is what fuels the commitment. Love gets you through the dark times. Love lets you enjoy all the times of light. Yes, at times you will think you lose the love. It will get hidden behind tangled vines of life, covered with the dirt and grime of work, bills, errands, But without love, marriage is simply a business agreement. I want my marriage to be more than that. When things are hard, when you drift apart, when life gets too much, you need to remember that yes, you are committed, but you are committed to loving that person across the room.
My husband and I started dating when I was 15. This makes our relationship much different and kind of weird. We grew up together so a lot of the typical “rules” and “secrets” don’t apply to us. I so enjoyed reading the above article, and all the thoughts it made my brain think, so I wanted to come up with my own list. The rules/secrets/things that make my marriage work. I’ll refer to them though as pieces of advice because every relationship is different, here are no hard-fast rules or secrets, but these are the most important things I’ve learned in my relationship, maybe they’ll help you.
1. My number one piece of advice that I always tell my newly engaged friends is Have Fun Together. I know, I know. This is a cliche. Everyone says this, but does everyone really do it? Everyone knows you need to have date nights, go on vacation, “have fun”. But what I mean is infuse fun and enjoyment every day, in a majority of moments. Part of what I love about my relationship is that we have so much fun together doing practically anything. We kayak, play fantasy football together, go “naturing”, go to comedy shows, try new restaurants. We can have fun playing board games with each other. We can have fun going out to a fancy dinner and a movie. We can have fun together going to Walmart, yes Walmart. Don’t allow fun to be something that is scheduled for Friday nights at 6. Life is short, make the most of it. Enjoy all the moments you get to enjoy with your partner and make it fun! Those moments of laughter at that weird soap shop downtown will become the bricks in your relationship’s foundation.
2. My second piece of advice is much harder to accomplish than the first one. It’s Letting Your Partner Feel Feelings. Yeah, this is easy when they are happy, excited, all those “good” emotions. It is much harder when your partner is angry, frustrated, disappointed, apathetic, all those emotions deemed “bad” or “negative”. I can not tell you how many arguments blew up into shit storms when we were younger because I felt so uncomfortable allowing him to be upset. I wanted to fix it. I was afraid. If I was enough, why would he feel this way? Didn’t you just hear me say I’m sorry? Over the years, he started to hide his feelings, afraid of the argument that would follow. He’d say, “I’m fine,” if I asked him how he felt. It took us awhile to get away from this routine of behavior, sometimes it’s still a struggle. It will only be successful if I allow him to deeply feel his feelings without judgement. Allow him to be a full human being, experiencing all the intimacies of life. I have learned to give him time. Allow him to process his feelings with me if he wants, or on his own if he wants. I’ve learned to trust him when he says he loves me, that I am enough. I’ve learned to let him feel his feelings, even when they make me uncomfortable. What I get in return is a husband who is deeply connected and full.
3. My third piece of advice is Know Your Relationship Weaknesses, Accept Them, Then Work on Them. Now, if you are ever being physically or emotionally abused, get out. This rule only applies to safe relationships. What I mean is that no relationship is perfect. People are complicated and sometimes crazy creatures. If you are experiencing a deep and meaningful relationship, there will be things that are struggles for you and your partner. Maybe you simply just can not grocery shop with your partner. Maybe you struggle with showing how much you appreciate your partner. Maybe it’s hard for you to prioritize your relationship above your career. Our problem is communication. I’m not saying, “Accept that you struggle with ________ and never do anything about it!” What I am saying is that my husband and I accept that communication is a challenge for us and probably always will be. We continually work on this area of our relationship, but when we hit bumps we acknowledge the problem and forgive ourselves. When the SAME THING is causing problems in your relationship ten years later, it can be incredibly frustrating. You might question if you’re not meant to be, if the problem will ever be fixed. What we focus on instead in these moments is how far we’ve come (Remember when we use to stay up until 3 am yelling at each other? Thank goodness we’ve learned not to do this anymore!). We focus on how we can continually improve (Next time, let’s try not interrupting as much). We focus on our love and commitment to each other, how hard both of us are trying. We focus on all the good things and do not let this area of struggle consume and wreck our relationship.
4. My fourth piece of advice is Continually Show Gratitude, Appreciation, and Love. After a few years, it’s easy to forget telling your husband that you appreciate he carries in all the groceries. It’s easy to forget to tell you wife that you really like how she doesn’t kill the spiders in your home, but gently rescues them back to nature. To maintain a level of intimacy, it is so critical that you continue to tell your partner the things you love about them (There is no limit on how many times you can tell me you love my adventurous spirit), the things you are grateful your partner does (Thank goodness my husband is such a pro at doing dishes), and the things you appreciate (I appreciate he lets me sleep in and shows no judgement when I’m being lazy). Your partner will continue to interact with the world, receiving compliments and glances from coworkers, friends, and strangers. They need to know that you remain their number one fan. My husband tells me practically every day that I’m the best, that I’m awesome. He randomly texts me he loves me. I know, even when things get tricky, that he loves me more than anyone else ever could and I know this because he makes sure to frequently tell me.
5. When you are with someone for a long time, you must accept the fact that people don’t remain the same year after year. An important piece of advice is to Allow Your Partner to Grow and Change. My husband was always such a goofy guy, carefree. We were teenagers when we started dating, still kids. When he was 25, he started to change. Part of him maturing was to be a bit more motivated, a bit more serious. He didn’t want to stay out super late with friends anymore. Jokes weren’t coming out of his mouth 99% of the time. This was scary to me. Oh no! If this changed, what else about him, and in turn our relationship, could change?! Was he less silly because he was unhappy with life? Was he losing his light? I was looking at this growth in the wrong way though. We talked about it and he explained that he was just maturing, that he needed to take things a little more seriously if he was to become successful. He was still the same goofy, lovable guy, he just had a day job now. After a few months, I grew to see the beauty in this change. I admired him and was grateful. How brave it is for a person to grow and change and instead of being fearful, I embraced the newness. I realized that life is not a simple picture book, but one filled with many, many chapters and that each new chapter with my partner could be the best one yet.
Relationships are crazy. Love is crazy. Marriages are hard work and not for everyone (a societal myth), but for those that are in the right ones, they can be so beautiful. Do you have any pieces of relationship advice? I’d love to hear them 🙂