This week my husband Jim and I celebrated eight years of marriage.
We had grand plans this year but unfortunately I came down with a severe cold on the actual day of our anniversary. So we spent the weekend laying low and watching television.
Eight years seems like nothing when you compare it to our parents -- both of ours have been married to each other for 35+ years. Granted, back then it seemed like more Americans were getting married before they were age 20. But frankly, that's even more remarkable.
For those of us who have signed the dotted line, we know that marriage is wonderful. But if someone tells you it's easy, they are either an anomaly or full of it. It takes commitment, patience, forgiveness and much more.
One of my friends is engaged and recently asked me about the reality of marriage. I don't think they had cold feet but actual real life concerns about what is a good marriage -- how we endure the tough times, how we savor the good ones. Is it really worth it?
I'm not an expert but I thought I might give eight reasons why I think our marriage has worked for these last 8 years. I'd love to know what has worked if you're currently married or in a committed relationship.
1. Determine divorce is not an option
That's about it in a nutshell. Once you determine it's never going to be an option, it won't be. Hard times are seasons - you don't know when the season will end or how you'll come out of it, but once you establish you're not going to quit, you won't. When we say something stupid, we correct ourselves. It's always a work in progress. Faith is also a big part of that.
2. Say I'm sorry and try really hard to mean it
Jim and I recently got into a dust up because I said I was sorry but followed it up with an explanation that I only apologized because I thought it made him feel better. As you can imagine, it didn't go over well. I was trying to rationalize that even though I wasn't really sorry, I wanted to apologize to him because it meant something to him. Still didn't go over well. Long story short - apologize often, mean it and move on.
3. Forgive often
Forgive your partner; forgive yourself. We all say and do stupid things and we just need to dust off our shoulders and go forward. Jim and I call out each other when we forgive but bring it up later. I don't like the phase, "I'll forgive but I won't forget" because I don't really believe that is actual forgiveness. My belief is that I'm a better human for being vulnerable than being hardened -- life is more genuine that way.
4. Remember patience is more than a virtue
Patience is a learned trait. If I say something like, "You're always _____", Jim will quip back with something like, "And yet you're always surprised." It's a slow burn but you know, he's right. If your partner struggles with being on time then it becomes your fault for not back-timing the day better. Jim has a lot of patience with me because I have tendencies to over-schedule or see things idealistically over reality. Patience is a two-way street.
5. Find your love language
I don't read a lot about self help but I do occasionally dabble. A friend of mine actually got me thinking about love languages after I gave them a small gift -- they told me they were so grateful because I was speaking their love language! From there, I discovered my own love language is acts of service. It helps partners communicate better. Take the test for yourself.
6. Remind each other you're a real, stand-alone family
I often think married couples compartmentalize their family. My family. His family. Our family. The question I sometimes ask is are we even a family since we don't have kids? Sometimes society says no. That can hurt because we are a Dual-Income-No-Kids family that wants kids. Jim reminds me that no matter what, we are a family.
7. Seek help through loved ones, churches or professionals
Before Jim and I got married, we had to go through pre-marital counseling through our church from a couple who'd been married for at least 40 years. I thought it was going to be a headache but it was actually inspiring. I wish we were somehow mandated to do go again. We haven't had a consistent church since we got married but I would like to keep that door open. Also, hearing real-life marriage talk from our parents now that we're in our late 30s and early 40s is really interesting. Friends who are trustworthy and honest about what a daily marriage looks like also keeps us in a fit marriage.
8. Show gratitude
I think this one goes without saying but for us, we really do try to take a moment to thank each other. I try to show Jim gratitude for doing laundry. Sometimes he goes big and thanks me for choosing to spend my life with him. It can be subtle or obvious but showing gratitude goes a long way and ultimately, it's just for you two.
Hopefully Jim and I will lead long, healthy lives together. We are not experts in marriage but we are experts in our own marriage. We don't have all the answers but we have been getting better at finding answers that work for us. If anyone has any thoughts on their marriage, we'd love to hear (going back to #7!) And we want to thank so many of our loved ones for supporting us for the 13 years we've been together!