My best friend and I just celebrated 7 years of marriage. This is a big deal because statistics show shocking numbers of marriages that don’t make it beyond this point. Hence the infamous “Seven-Year Itch.” One of the things I am most proud of in my life is the ability to say in all honesty that I am HAPPILY married (something few have the privilege of experiencing). I literally learn something new everyday. Mostly because he’s brilliant but also because..well, life. Like today, I learned a lesson in perspective. When your spouse gives you the guacamole they’ve been eating, you can see it one of two ways. You can see it as them giving you their unwanted leftovers or you can see it as them saving all the yummiest parts for you (like the tomato and onion chunks). Perspective. And if you were wondering, I was on the giving end of that guacamole exchange. He’s the Yoda here.
Of all the things I have learned in our 13 total years together, here are my top 7 lessons from our 7 years of marriage:
- Keep Record of Rights. We are all familiar with “Love keeps no record of wrongs,” but I think we have to take it one step further. Love keeps record of rights. Intentionality in our thought life is so essential to aiding in all healthy relationships; it is absolutely imperative pertaining to marriage. Ever get lost in frustration trying to tell your mind to not think about something? It usually ends up being counter productive, resulting in us dwelling on exactly the thought we tried to suppress. My mind is always thinking so it is literally impossible for me to stop thinking about one thing without finding something new to move on to. There would just be a gaping hole of nothingness and I just don’t have a nothing box! The remedy? We can replace those thoughts with healthy, helpful, happy thoughts. I have learned to intentionally exchange my thoughts. What does this look like in a real life context? Instead of making a list in my mind of things I wish my husband would do, I start thinking of all the things he did do! I take thoughts like, “He didn’t even compliment that new healthy pinterest recipe I slaved over” and I trade them for thoughts like, “Wow, I love how he cleans the kitchen after I cook.” See what I mean? The silliest, seemingly insignificant little thoughts can be life-changing! Our minds are like fertile soil where ideas are planted and grow quickly. You have the power to choose if you are going to allow seeds of animosity or gratitude to grow. Take time to sit and just dwell on what a great spouse you have. Remind yourself of all the big and little things they do on a daily basis to make your world better. Perspective is everything so keep yours in check! A healthy, positive perspective on who your spouse is will help you overcome negative thoughts when they arise. It is easier to forgive and believe the best when your mind has kept a steady record of only good thoughts toward the other person.
- Compete Only in Kindness. Competition can be lethal in a relationship, but not this kind. Competing in kindness is life-giving! What I mean is constantly upping the ante. Outdo each other in goodness targeted toward one another. This doesn’t just apply to marriages, I dare you to try this in your friendships and see what happens. Your spouse leaves you a sweet note? Make them breakfast in bed! They save you time by filling up your tank of gas for you? Surprise them with a date night to their choice of movie or a new restaurant. They stop on their way home from a long day to bring you your favorite treat? Go buy them that pair of shoes they’ve been wanting! Thoughtfulness goes a long way and can be a chain reaction. Keep the kindness ball rolling! Even if you aren’t in a financial position to make extra purchases, there are so many creative ways you can do this for free. You don’t have to buy a card, write a note in lipstick on the mirror! I often think of relationships using the analogy of a bank account. If both people are making steady deposits, you are going to grow in wealth. If both people are only making withdrawals, you will end up bankrupt. If both do their best to make deposits constantly as they have it to give, then when one or both people go through a tough time and need to make some unexpected withdrawals, there is money in their love bank to cover it. Give yourself and your spouse the space to not be perfect and be prepared to cover them in the rough patches. Be intentional with your time, words and actions and know that you are making the best investment there is.
- Make No Assumptions. Clarity in communication is quite possibly the best skill a person can learn in life. We take way to much liberty in making assumptions in our relationships. Decide now to stop assuming what they think, what they will say or how they will react. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Believe the best in each other, every time! Don’t assume they know you love them, remind them A LOT. Don’t assume you’re good after an argument, apologize and ask for forgiveness. If resolution and moving on is your goal, don’t be lazy. Put in the extra work and stop sweeping hurt under the rug. Don’t be so quick to fix their problems. Ask what they need… maybe they just want to vent and process without you offering solutions. Stop assuming they know you appreciate them and say thank you OFTEN and for EVERYTHING. Maybe you don’t have the money to buy your spouse a gift to show them you care, but your words are the best gift. One of the most tragic mistakes in life are words that go unsaid. Don’t let that be a part of your love story. Say every little thing, even if it seems insignificant. “Thanks for walking the dog.” “I want to be like you and be more patient.” “I like being around you so much.” “You’re funny… you make everything more fun.” “Your biceps are sexy when you fix your hair.” “It’s cute how you blush when I talk good about you.” “I appreciate how you wake up early to work out and stay hot for me.” “You are so smart… I trust you… You work so hard.” You get the idea. Don’t assume that they can read your mind! I don’t care how closely intertwined the two of you are. Shower each other with uplifting words that encourage you both to keep up the hard work.
- Controversy can create Intimacy. This is not a license to go pick a fight with your spouse. The key here is that word CAN. As time goes by and life seems to bring its own natural battles, we can become accustomed to stuffing our feelings or thoughts. We even brush it off by chalking it up to “choosing our battles.” Honestly, that’s lazy and a scapegoat. But what a powerful, powerful thing it is when we take action and do the hard thing… talking it out! Disagreeing does not mean devastation in a relationship; it can mean growth. Challenging each other’s thoughts and perspectives can really create such health, I promise. Even if you are naturally non-confrontational, rest assured that confrontation can be calm and not chaotic. When both people enter controversy with love, the result can be understanding, love and respect. Conflict can seem so discouraging in the heat of the moment, but when we focus our efforts on resolution, it ends feeling like progress. Not progress because we agreed or came to a conclusion or made a decision. Progress because we know each other better. Progress because we recognize we are still on the same team. Progress because we are aiming for unity. Believe it or not, unity is not dependent on agreement. Disagreements don’t have to equal division. When love takes precedence in our relationships, unity and disagreement can coexist. I used to think the idea of make-up sex was absurd. Now it makes total sense. From a scientific standpoint, a heated discussion creates adrenaline, releases hormones and triggers neurotransmitters of passion. This passion when bridled and fostered with care can absolutely be a good thing for a marriage. So don’t fear fighting. Fight fair. Don’t push buttons you know will trigger defense. Don’t recall past events that have already been moved forward from. Don’t throw hypothetical punches below the belt and expect to not get met with similar sucker punches. Learn to navigate controversy in love, gentleness, patience and hope for peace. Allow adversity to be a vehicle transporting your relationship toward healing and away from hurt.
- Change is Constant. Simply put: Healthy things grow and growing things change. Too many people shy away from change because of fearing the unknown. We fear change in relationships because we are afraid that we will grow away from the one we love. Yes, change can be scary and awkward and such unchartered territory literally and figuratively. Often times change is outside of our control. Life has so much give and take. We gain and lose friends, family members, jobs, positions, property, possessions, you name it. It effects us differently, leaving different marks or scars. Change can be subtle sometimes while being overt and blatant other times. Just like a baby maturing into childhood and then adulthood, growth can change things at different rates. Sometimes things change rapidly all at once and other times there are slow transitions. Whatever season, phase, wave or pace, expect change and seek it out. Naturally we are drawn to love comfort and familiarity, which aren’t of themselves bad things. But when comfort and familiarity breed complacency, we are doomed to stagnant, boring and eventually miserable relationships. Marriage stays interesting and vibrant when we both want to be better. Falling in love deeper and deeper is easiest when we end each day beside someone who is a little different, a little stronger and a little sexier. If you and your spouse are both seeking to be the best versions of yourselves you can be, you will learn in time what aspects are essential to making you healthy on the inside. When both parties are focused and working on their internal health, growth is the result. Individual growth paired with love for each other leads to mutual growth. And as you grow both as individuals and together, change is inevitable and change is good! Embrace change, welcome it, celebrate it!
- Compatibility is Overrated. Similarities are what spark a relationship, differences are what sustain it. My husband and I couldn’t be more different, but I also couldn’t be happier. He’s the kind of guy who could eat the same meal at the same restaurant everyday for the rest of his life and never complain because it is what he likes. I am the type person who would like to never repeat a restaurant twice in hopes that I could try every restaurant on planet earth. His idea of a vacation is a staycation at home to rest, while mine is a multi-city tour of Europe packed with all the sites and nonstop adventure. The moral of our story is that we have found a beautiful thing in each other: balance. Although it isn’t always easy, we stretch each other and learn from one another. But when we first met, I saw us like identical twins with telepathy finishing each other’s sentences. I was so focused on the ways we were “compatible” and alike that I was blind to see how opposite we were. Fortunately I dated before the world of online dating. You know, old school, where you had to make googley eyes and dedicate songs on the radio to the person you liked. However many of my friends use dating apps as their primary source of match making today. I am certainly not knocking the efforts, I actually applaud them because frankly I don’t think I could’ve handled the pressure! Your profile has to be just witty enough to seem spunky and intriguing but direct enough to fend off the crazies. Complicated. I remember when I was a teenager, making a list of all the things I wanted in my super human guy. You know, the whole enchilada: athletic, musical, spiritual, clever, deep, fun, tall, tan, light eyes, creative, driven, adventurous and breathtakingly hot (just to name a few). And if I found said super human, we would live happily ever after in perfect wedded bliss because we would be perfectly matched for all eternity. Absurd. Funny enough, I do actually think my husband obtains all of the above qualities but that certainly has nothing to do with my happiness today. I think when we are looking for someone to spend our life with, we initially are attracted to likeness. Similar to finding friendships, there is something endearing about other humans who share our same interests, values and style. The truth of it is we are all a little obsessed with ourselves; our thoughts, our values, our personality. Since we think our way is the best and obviously right, we end up looking for an agreeable version of ourselves. The problem is that we expect to find a perfect fit… a puzzle piece human uniquely designed to compliment our every curve and fill the gap to make us complete. Contrary to popular belief, (and contraversile, I know) I don’t actually believe there is one specific person destined for us. I think “finding the one” is such an unrealistic, unattainable myth that leads relationships doomed to fail. Mostly because we are humans with free will and idiots who would totally screw it up, so I don’t think God would rely on our choosing to mess up the whole plan for all of humanity. And even if we did find our one and only soulmate who is a perfect match… where’s the margin for change? What if you change, what if they change? What then? Maybe its a lot more like finding someone who inspires you to be better everyday, becoming the best version of yourself. Maybe it’s about finding someone you don’t always necessarily agree with on everything but like so much that you are able to find a place of understanding together. Mostly I think its about finding someone you adore so much that even on your worst day you still can’t wait to wake up and be with them all over again tomorrow. I think longevity in a happy marriage is way more about commitment than it is compatibility. I plan to be married forever, so as my husband and I grow and change I will continue to evolve in how I love him.
- Marriage is what you make it... So make yours great! The power is in your hands. You get to decide what kind of husband or wife you want to be. Together you determine what kind of marriage you want to have. Choose to have the best marriage, better than any you have ever seen exemplified. Maybe all you’ve really seen is unhappy marriages. Strive to not make the same habits and mistakes of the unhealthy examples you have seen. Seek out couples you can watch and learn from. Maybe there’s a couple at church you can ask to disciple you and can provide you guidance and council. Maybe you are in a situation where you feel defeated because you are the only one trying… keep on keeping on! Passing blame is so much easier than taking responsibility. Our relationships are one area we simply can’t afford to play the blame game. We have the incredible opportunity to build a foundation of love in our lives upon which everything else moving forward in our world will be determined. Create a safe place in each other, where both are free to question, dream and even hide at times. Give and forgive more than you ever thought humanly possible. Learn each other’s personalities, but don’t just learn how to put up with who they are… learn to celebrate how they are! Use your knowledge of their quirks to capitalize on their strengths and diminish their insecurities. Fall in love with the unique qualities that make up the beautiful person you do life with.
There is so much going on in the world beyond our control. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make a change. Don’t wait, start right away with your own people. “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Mother Teresa
It’s not too late; it’s never too early. Wipe the slate clean. Start fresh. Don’t be a stubborn old dog who can’t learn new tricks. Do what you’ve not seen done. Selfish people die alone. What do you have to lose in trying? You have everything to gain. Cheers to healthy hearts.