Mere days ago my husband and I celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary. We agreed that is didn’t feel like we had been married for a long time. A lot of stuff has happened for sure, but it just doesn’t feel long. I said, “I just feel like I know you really well.” He said, “yep, maybe it will feel long at forty , I guess we’ll see.”
I don’t know whether it is good or bad that it doesn’t feel long. I certainly don’t feel like it has been a burden. We decided that we would keep being married at this point, acknowledging that back when the whole ‘married for life thing’ was established ‘life’ wasn’t all that long. We are in our early forties so it is fair to say that a couple of hundred years ago one of us would probably be dead by now, so it was good to check-in and make sure everyone involved was still interested in staying together.
So on the occasion of twenty I thought I would do my top three lessons learned from marriage. Twenty is too many to have to remember, I think if you can hold on to these three it will get you through a lot. I asked Chris,“what insights do you have to share after twenty years?” He said, “I don’t know, I ‘ll let you know at forty.” That’s Chris in a nutshell, so accepting who your partner is and not feeling the need to change them is going to be number one on the list:
- Acceptance: You are marrying a person not a lump of clay. We all have quirks, habits, behaviors that other people don’t like. Mostly that isn’t a problem because we don’t live with a lot of other people, we live with one other person. So it really helps if you understand who you partner is and you don’t go into the relationship thinking, “if I could just get him/her to do X then everything would be good.” That’s true for how they dress, what they like to watch, the food they like – everything. Sure there are going to be some things that are deal-breakers (no you can’t listen to Metallica at 3 in the morning on a Tuesday drunken bender) and we change over time both for ourselves and for our relationships because we want to give to the people we care about. If you love running and your partner loves chillin’ on the coach with the Xbox don’t put your hopes for marital happiness on going for early morning runs together. If you absolutely have to be with someone who does X or does not do X then go find that person, if the person you love doesn’t fit those parameters adjust your parameters – you can’t have it both ways.
- Patience: I heard once, “feelings aren’t facts” and I ponder that when I am in a particularly bad mood. A mood is a feeling, sometimes it has facts associated with it, some times it doesn’t. When it doesn’t there is a tendency to look for a cause, and often the person you live with is a convenient cause. After all they are probably doing something at least moderately annoying. What I have learned is that we shouldn’t talk everything out, sometimes we should go to bed mad, and often it is a great idea to just keep your mouth shut about whatever the thing is that is upsetting and then check back in some hours later to see if that really was the problem. For instance maybe I don’t actually feel like if I have to live with someone who never wipes down the side counter after doing the dishes because it is out of his immediate sight-line I am going to completely lose it and we should just end the marriage now. Maybe that is just annoying and I have to say, “don’t forget the counter,” and then move on. A little patience with your feelings let’s you figure this out – that’s a good thing!
- Know Yourself: This is the biggest, the simplest, the hardest and the easiest all wrapped up in one. You have to know who you are, what you like, what you want, what is important to you and you have to communicate those things honestly with your partner. Unless you married a psychic they aren’t going to be able to read your mind, and no one loves anyone else enough to figure out what is going on in their head. You have to know yourself, you have to tell them, you have to ask for the things you need. Sure, you can be disappointed that they “don’t just know.” But then you have to get over it and be a grown-up not a petulant toddler who wants someone to anticipate their needs. You alone as responsible for your happiness, ask your partner to contribute, but don’t expect them to do it for you.
Twenty years and 5 days, so far so good. Actually getting better all the time as long as I am willing to put in the work!