We’re clearly in the thick of wedding season because next Friday will be our third wedding in a month. Our family has followed suit with the summer weddings: Nick and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary at the end of May, my in-laws just celebrated their 34th anniversary, and my parents’ 36th is coming up next month. So I thought it’d be a good time to share a few things I’ve learned in my six years of marriage:
1. Always be on the same team.
As competitive people, I very literally think it’s a good idea to be on the same team. If we are playing games with friends or family, we try our hardest to be on the same side. If we’re playing a sport, we play on the same team or make up our own rules so that we can work together. Otherwise, one of us is mad that we lost (we both hate losing), and the other can’t fully enjoy the victory. When we’re on the same team, we can celebrate together or commiserate a loss together.
A team attitude is also important in a more metaphorical sense. We view ourselves as teammates when it comes to finances, domestic responsibilities, community service, and most other aspects of life. We each have different gifts and skills that we bring to the table, which enables us to do more as a team than we could on our own. We celebrate life victories together, and we lift each other up during “rebuilding seasons.”
2. Uncommunicated expectations breed discontent.
This is a lesson that we learn over and over again. In any relationship–romantic, platonic, business, or otherwise–we bring expectations. It’s rare that two people’s expectations perfectly match up. If you never communicate and sort out the differences in assumptions, you’re likely to end up feeling frustrated, angry, or unappreciated. In the case of a business relationship, these differences can lead to lawsuits. For friends and romantic partners, these differences can be the demise of the relationship.
The easiest way to avoid these issues is to communicate your expectations openly before they are a problem. When you move in together, discuss exactly what each of you expect to take care of around the house. Talk about if you want to have children, and if so, how many. Discuss what kind of life you want to live and how you plan to achieve that life. It’s totally ok for those answers to evolve, so periodically reevaluating these expectations is a good idea, too.
My father-in-law, who does a lot of marital counseling as a pastor, recommends this exercise: individually write down all of the things that you expect to do for your partner, then compare notes. You might be surprised at your partner’s generosity, even if they don’t list the things you expect (or want) them to. Have a little grace as you negotiate the gaps in expectations, and don’t forget to be a good teammate when it comes to picking up slack.
3. We all express things differently.
We all express thoughts, desires, gratitude, and discontent differently. It’s easy to discount the way your partner expresses something when it doesn’t come out in the way we think it should. I would prefer that Nick gush over how good our dinner is every night. Is that reasonable? Probably not. It certainly doesn’t mean that I should take his quick, “it’s good,” to mean that I’m unappreciated. I am learning to respect his more demure way of expressing things. I think he’s learning to take my hyperboles with a grain or two of salt.
4. Marriage shouldn’t mean courtship is over.
Going on dates shouldn’t stop once the wedding bells have rung. Intentionally setting aside time together is important, whether it’s a monthly date at a restaurant, weekly golf tee times, or something else you enjoy doing together. We also try to make a point to really be present on dates. That means phones are set aside, work emails aren’t checked, and the focus is on each other. (*There are exceptions to this “rule,” including me being allowed to take photos of my food for later ‘graming!)
Remember all of those sweet things that you did for each other when you first started dating: writing love notes, buying flowers, surprising each other at work? Those things don’t have to stop when you put a ring on it (or when you receive said ring). A manageable goal is to try to do one intentional thing for your partner every week.
5. Finding a tribe keeps you sane.
Marriage isn’t always easy. Trying to go through that journey on your own is even more difficult. Spending time with other married friends can be a good reminder that you’re not the only one with struggles. We’ve been lucky to be a part of a small group through our church for the past 3.5 years. I am so grateful to hear from them that we’re not the only ones dealing with the not-easy parts of marriage. (I’ve become convinced that dishwashers play an unusually large role in marital arguments). As a “tribe,” we’re able to comfort each other in times of grief, help each other when emergencies pop up, and celebrate life together when it’s good.
6. Every couple is different.
Last, but certainly not least, I’ve learned that every couple is different. What works for my friend’s marriage may not be the best thing for mine. I sometimes get looks of shock when I tell people that we typically eat dinner at 9-9:30pm. Other people are jealous that we get to eat dinner together every night because their partner travels for work 4+ nights per week. Some of our friends have recently had their fourth child. Others aren’t sure they want to have children at all. All of those things are ok! There isn’t one way to do marriage correctly. As long as your schedules/lifestyle/choices work for you, don’t worry too much about what other people are doing.
Nobody has it 100% figured out anyway.
What’s the best piece of marriage advice you’ve received?