The Top Five Things I’ve Learned in 2 years of Marriage
My honey and I got married 2 years ago this summer. We’ve been together for almost four. Our relationship is young and right in the quagmire of kids, and careers and all the stresses that come with being in your early thirties with young babes.
My parents divorced when I was 10 or so - for lots of reasons. My husband, by contrast, has parents who have been married for 40 years and yet he himself had to separate from his son’s mom - for lots of reasons. Because I am a relationship nerd, and because I really want to stay married for as long as I can - and help others to do the same - , I like to explore what makes my relationship tick and stay conscious about what I am learning as I go.
In honour of my 2 year anniversary I thought I would share the top five things I Have learned in my first two years of marriage. Just a quick note to acknolwedge that I am a cis gendered woman in a heterosexual and monomagous marriage that is healthy and respectful. Not all relationships look like this and all relationships are valid and beautiful. Some of this may resonate and fit your context and some of it may not.
1. The small things matter
Yesterday I made a small request. I asked my husband if he could bring me my favourite guilty pleasure - a soy chai latte - before he drove himself up to the airport. This small request was actually a big request. It was a big ask because he was rushing out the door with five other things do before his flight. It was also a big request because I had spent the night silently annoyed at him for being away while the baby decided to get a major cold (totally not his fault but it’s easy to direct our anger at our partners). I was up all night nursing a fussy snotty baby and I just wanted a little love.
I was prepared for a no, I got a maybe. And when he dropped off that coffee with a hurried I love you as he rushed out the door it made my day.
Small things matter. Sometimes small things are big things. Don’t take them for granted and pepper them into your day as much as you can. They are fuel for the fire.
2. Disagreements are okay
Disagreements and differences are where the learning and growth happens in our relationships. Through these conversations we peel back more layers of the onion and understand each other better. I am personally proud of how we fight fair and keep the nasty comments and attacks out of it. I think sometimes we avoid disagreements more than we should but we are also not afraid to get into a conversation, work to understand where the other person is coming from and simmer in something for a while. Probably the biggest light bulb moment for me has been to resist the urge to force a resolution to every conversation. Some issues are bigger than one conversation, they may go one for months. You may need time and space to come at it differently and find common ground. This is okay. Find ways to coexist and continue on with your day to day on while still holding space for and making time to talk it out. The solution will come, often in unexpected ways.
3. Gratitude always, appreciation above criticism
Many of the parenting supports we refer to talk about offering praise/ support/ encouragement 8 times for everyone one criticism or negative piece of feedback. While this might seem contrived, if you put yourself in your kids shoes and ask yourself how it feels to be told everything you are doing is wrong (even in small ways) you can see how quickly demoralized they might get. As a parent you might simply be offering advice or instruction on how to finish or do a task but the message instead is “you don’t know how to do this or you didn’t do it right”. It’s not a bad message, but ten little notes like that in a row without a single “great job, you tried hard, you are making progress” is tough.
Now translate this to your partner. How many times a day do you find yourself offering a criticism because they didn’t do something the way you would do it, or they didn’t do it right, or they forgot something or, or, or. How many of those positive notes do you give in contrast. Appreciating small things, sharing gratitude for all the things made possible by your spouse? What’s your ratio? Can you image how the energy would shift if you shited the ratio the other way to lots of appreciation and only some criticism.
4. Get clear on who/what you are really mad at anyways?
Further to point #3 I have noticed a peculiar tendency in myself. I’ve observed that when my criticism level goes up - generally as internally bitching that my husband has not done xyz, I’m typically experiencing some stress or burn out that is flipping me into negative brain gremlins. This means that my as my stress level goes up my tolerance level for things goes down - but it also means that instead of acknowledging my stress I make my husband the scapegoat.
I’m learning to recognize that when my criticism goes into overdrive I need to stop, slow down and ask myself what I really need. Do I really need all the laundry and every chore done NOW, or do I actually need a good meal and some sleep, or maybe a vent session about money stress, or maybe just a good cuddle.
Be careful to observe where those criticisms come from. Are you actually mad at your partner for xyz or are you ignoring a need you have not recognized in yourself yet.
5. Space for you, space for me and space for we
When we first got together my man was a busy single dad finishing school and working and I was a busy self-employed gal about town. We both have a penchant for taking on a lot and being involved in many things. It was fuels us. Early on we made the promise that we would make space for the “you” , the “me” and the “we” in our relationship. This means we do our best to give each other time each week and month to see our friends and do our things as well as make space for time together doing what we love. Often when things get out of balance it’s because one of us has not had enough me time lately. So make sure there is space for the “holy trinity” in your marriage:)
There have been many more lessons in my marriage but these are my favourite. I’d love to hear your biggest relationship lessons. Share in the comments and let me know what you have learned about how to keep your relationship strong.
A toast to you who dare to take on the challenge of loving someone through the rest of your life. It is no small feat and we will do it only by helping each other through.