I’ve only been married for a few years, but I’ve learned a lot in that time. Marriage has been both different and better than I expected it to be.
Everyone says, “the first year is the hardest,” and we were no exception.
Our first couple years of marriage were nothing short of CRAZY.
Year one, we welcomed our second child, who was born with a Congenital Heart Defect. I had to leave my job to care for him, making us, suddenly, a one-income family (which we weren’t entirely ready for).
Our son had open heart surgery at 4 months old. His CHD journey, alone, required many doctors appointments (over an hour away from home), an understandable amount of paranoia, and an incredible amount of stress. Ironically, that experience brought my husband and I closer together. We learned how to work as a team and we learned that we make a great team when we’re doing our best- when we’re both trying.
I largely contribute our happiness during that first year, to the fact that we had so much going on, that we were too preoccupied to pick each other apart. In that first year, we also dealt with loss and cancer and missed opportunities. There were a lot of lows, but the highs were so high.
After all, our baby had open heart surgery and survived.
I’ll take lows for the rest of my life just for that one, single high.
Year two, brought even more change- finally some good ones! My husband got a dream-job offer, so we sold our house and moved to another state, where we knew no one and our friends/family were 2+ hours away. We welcomed our third baby that year, and settled into our new life. Things we’re finally going our way, but, there were still a lot of changes.
I can’t give extensive marriage advice, because we’re still a work in progress.
Aren’t we all?
I can’t tell you what you should do in your marriage, but I can reflect on my own and share what I’ve learned, so far.
1) There isn’t a blanket, “right way” to handle anything in marriage.
How many times have you heard someone say, “Don’t go to bed angry!” But, then, the next week, you’ll hear someone else say, “DO go to bed angry. It serves no purpose to be exhausted and fighting.”
So who’s right?
I think every marriage is different. Every partner is different. Some couples are similar in their love languages and how they argue- and some couples are completely different. For some, going to bed angry works! Others may need to hash it out, first.
I don’t think you can give a blanket method like that, to be applied to all marriages. I think the key to a happy marriage is figuring out the methods that work best for your marriage and not anyone else’s.
That’s where the work starts, because that takes time and effort and lots of reflection and work and trial and error.
2) Adjust your expectations.
I’m not going to lie, I still struggle with this, at times, but, I’ve noticed that disappointment can fuel a lot of arguments- when you expect something of your spouse (without communicating it), and they fail to deliver, conflict ensues.
But, when you adjust your own expectations, you are being more realistic. You are making peace with what you cannot change, because there are some things that will never change- no matter how many times you fight over it. There are some personality traits or habits that will always be. And, likely, those same things that are driving you crazy now, were there at day 1, when you were still googly-eyed “in love” and couldn’t see it. It’s par for the course.
A close mentor/friend of mine told me that the things you are fighting about now, will likely be the same things that you’re fighting about 20 years from now. I find that to be a relief. There are some problems that just can’t be solved and that’s not a reflection of your marriage. It doesn’t mean that you are destined to fail. Not all conflicts can be resolved. Sometimes, the only solution is to work on how you handle the conflict.
*sigh of relief*
3) Adjust How You Communicate.
One huge thing that I’ve learned, is that my spouse responds differently to the ways that I communicate with him. I’ve found that when I approach him one way, versus another, I’ll get completely different reactions from him.
(I know, I know, duh!)
I know this sounds pretty simple and even a given, but I think it takes intentional self-change to communicate effectively, rather than how we just naturally communicate. My husband doesn’t respond well to my natural way of communicating a problem- when I come at him with, “You always!” or “You never!” (I mean, who does, really?)- but that’s just my natural response.
However, when I adjust my response so that he can hear me better, without putting him on the defense, it makes all the difference in the world.
Of course, this is easier said than done.
Again, we’re a work in progress.
I’m a work in progress.
4) Be a Better Spouse.
We can’t change our spouse, we can only work on ourselves and I think when both husband and wife are pointing the fingers at each other to change, the marriage comes to a stand still, no progress is made at all and resentment festers.
Think about how smoothly things went in the beginning when we didn’t have any resentment building up; when we were willing to bend over backwards and be inconvenienced and selfless.
There’s something to be said about how we behaved and the level of happiness in the relationship.
5) Love Languages are Legit.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the love languages book, and while I’m not even finished with it, yet, I already know that it is ON. POINT.
I mean, if you think about the start of your relationship, we typically cater to our partners wants and needs (their love language)- do whatever they want, whatever makes them happy (like, when my husband took me to I Love Lucy, Live!) and/or we completely neglect our own love language. Our own wants and needs are on the back burner while we focus on our partners. That’s probably why we’re so “in love” because we’re being so selfless during that time, yet, receiving exactly what we need to feel loved.
My husband and I have different love languages which means we have to adjust how we approach each other- how we show love- to how the other needs/wants to receive love. I can show him love through the ways that I want to receive love, all day long, and he will not feel a thing and vice versa.
At the end of the day, I think that’s the trick- knowing how to meet your spouses love language. Adjusting your natural reactions and behavior so that it is received correctly. You have to figure out what works, and sometimes go against what feels natural. Sometimes you have to be selfless when you want to be spiteful.
I come from a family of divorce and by “a family of divorce,” I mean, I can’t name one person in my immediate or extended family who hasn’t been divorced. Everyone has been married more than once, and divorced more than once.
I know that the odds are against me.
So, as you finish reading this list, I hope you realize that this isn’t coming from someone claiming to be an expert or a know-it-all, or even someone with a perfect marriage, but rather someone who is acutely aware of her specific statistics and she is determined to beat them.
I know that statistics show that children of divorce (specifically females), are highly likely to get divorced (60% more likely, to be exact).
So, I want to be intentional with my marriage.
I don’t take it lightly. I don’t want to wake up 5 years down the road and wonder what happened. I actually didn’t think that I would ever get married!
I want, so badly, to set an example for my kids- to show them what a happy marriage is, and that takes work. It takes learning how to resolve conflict and how to better myself. It takes making changes and adjustments. It takes awareness and action and flexibility as we navigate different seasons of life.
Even though the odds are against me, this isn’t the first time that I’ve faced the odds. I’m the first person in my family to graduate high school (with a high school diploma) and, also the first to graduate college. That’s hugely contributed to the support and encouragement of my parents to do so.
While they weren’t able to salvage their own marriage, they are just as encouraging and supportive of my marriage as they were for my education.
So, when I’m feeling like the odds are against me (because they actually are), I just remind myself of this and I look at the stakes- my children- and appreciate that they are much, much higher.
What marriage books/resources have you loved? Share them with me!
Photo Credit: Misty Carter Photography
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