I can hardly believe it’s true, but as of last weekend, Jay and I have been married for 5 years! That’s a pretty significant milestone, so I thought I’d take some time to sit down and dwell on the past 5 years… Which has led me to this post where I want to share 5 marriage lessons I’ve learned over the past 5 years!
Let me just say a few things from my perspective about marriage: It isn’t always easy, nor is it always difficult. It takes work, but it can also be so fun. I believe that the things you dedicate the most time to in your life are what’s most important to you and therefore become the most fruitful. (i.e., pro golfers spend a lot of time on the course practicing and perfecting their game because it’s important to them, and they therefore become better golfers for it and enjoy it more than anything). The same goes for your marriage!
Let me give a brief background on mine and Jay’s story for those that don’t know (our entire stories are on my About page): We met in high school when I was 15 and dated for 2 years until we graduated. We decided to go to different colleges (mine in Texas, his in California), so we thought it best to not date each other long distance. However, after our freshman year, we realized that we wanted to be together and even though it was going to be super tough, that dating long distance would be worth it. SO, we dated 2 years long distance, then got engaged the summer before our senior year and spent one more year engaged. Our senior year was a fun, yet tough one because of the long distance engagement. Two weeks after we graduated college, we got married… and here we are!
I tell you that story because I think our marriage started off slightly different than most people’s. When most couples are in those critical months/years of dating, they’re usually together in the same state, able to hang out and be around each other. But that wasn’t the case for us. We saw each other several times throughout the year and spent a few summers together. I’m not gonna lie to you, long distance sucks and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone! However, we learned in those 3 years how to communicate better than most couples. Everyone told us that marriage was going to be so hard and to prepare for a tough time because our expectations were probably going to be off and we were probably going to be surprised by all of the junk that comes up when you live with someone. But, nope. Not us. I owe it to the fact that most of our junk came up during those long distance years (jealousy, communication issues, not feeling loved, etc). So when we got married, instead of dealing with all of that craziness that others might not have worked out already, we were able to just enjoy each other’s company. Because 3 years of wanting to be with someone but not being able to will make you super grateful! And that’s what we experienced – And quite honestly, what we’re still experiencing. I thank God every day for giving me someone that I can both like (as a friend) and love (as a husband) for the rest of my life!
That said, everyone’s marriages are different and I totally get that. However, I’m offering my 5 marriage lessons that anyone can apply to their marriage. If you do these things, will you have the perfect marriage? Nope. But hopefully it will give you a little bit to think about and possibly offer you a little bit of encouragement. Jay and I by no means have it all figured out, but being 5 years in, I think we definitely understand a few areas a little bit better.
|| 5 Marriage Lessons I’ve Learned Over 5 Years ||
1 || You have to communicate.
Cliche, right? Possibly. But that doesn’t make it any less true. The number one piece of advice I would give to anyone getting married or already married is that you absolutely, 100%, without-a-doubt have to talk to each other.
I think a big issue sometimes is making assumptions about how your spouse is feeling. While you may think you know, you also might not. Don’t make the mistake of assuming – just ask. If you’re not sure how your spouse is feeling, ask. If you don’t understand why they’re so mad about something that seems so dumb to you, ask them to explain. If they’re giving you the cold shoulder, ask why.
One of mine and Jay’s weaknesses when we first got married was being upset with each other and not talking about it. His was out of pride that he didn’t want to admit he needed anything from me, and mine was just this awful passive-aggressiveness because I “didn’t feel like talking about it”. So having an upset husband that’s not talking about it and an upset wife that’s not talking about it… I bet you can figure out how well that worked out for us.
But now, change the situation in your mind- Imagine a husband that is asked how he’s feeling and is willing to communicate his thoughts and needs to his wife. And a wife that can get over herself and open up about why she’s feeling a certain way (even through their frustration or feelings of being misunderstood). Now you have a couple that can talk freely with each other and communicate well. A couple that communicates and listens well with each other is definitely a happier/healthier couple.
Side note: It’s important that as the asker/listener to your spouse’s feelings/needs, that you’re receptive and loving as you listen and respond. You won’t get anywhere fighting back about their feelings. Let them feel heard and understood, then go from there!
2 || Be quick to apologize and quick to forgive.
A very close second to one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far is being quick to apologize and forgive. This was another lesson we had to learn the hard way.
Jay and I got married young. And I don’t know many 21-year-olds that have had a lot of practice in taking ownership when they’ve done something wrong or telling someone that hurt them that it’s okay, forgiving them, and moving on. Jay and I both had a lot of pride when we first got married. His was not wanting to admit he’d done something wrong and mine was always wanting to prove that I’m right. So, yeah, when one (or both) of us did something to hurt the other, there wasn’t a lot of apologizing… which then led to resentment or more frustration.
But the first time Jay ever stopped in the middle of a conflict and said, “You know what, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to happen. Will you forgive me?”, it just blew me away. All of that pride I had in wanting him to know how wrong he was and wanting him to understand that I was hurt by it went away – just like that. I felt heard because he owned up to it and apologized. I felt compassion towards him because he was asking for my forgiveness, even though he was probably still mad at me. And I felt a weird sense of relief that we didn’t have to argue anymore.
After that moment, we talked about how relieving it is to apologize. Both for the apologizer (you’re taking ownership and loving the other person before yourself) and for the person receiving the apology (you feel heard and can then move on). It was seriously a lightbulb moment for us, and ever since, we’ve always tried to figure out if there’s anything we did wrong in the scenario and will immediately apologize for it.
Seriously, try it sometime. In the midst of conflict, listen to your spouse and own up to anything that you actually did wrong. Your vulnerability in that moment might be unfamiliar and you may feel weak, but I promise you, you’re not. That vulnerability makes you more relatable and forgivable. And it will immediately relieve the tension.
And just as important as apologizing – forgive. If the person has genuinely asked forgiveness for something they did, holding on to it and harboring that unforgiveness does nothing for either of you. You will continue to feel angry and they will feel like their apology didn’t matter. Accept the apology and move on.
3|| Have shared interests and hobbies, and spend time together doing those things.
Remember my story from earlier where I talked about us dating long distance? I remember feeling bummed my junior year of college one day because I had the realization that Jay and I didn’t have near as many inside jokes together as we did with our college friends. I remember feeling a twinge of jealousy towards his college buddies that he was able to laugh with about that awesome guy that makes burritos in the dining hall or that college professor who did that crazy thing in class.
I know that may sound unrelated to having shared interest and hobbies, but here’s my point: It’s not that Jay and I didn’t have anything to laugh about or that we didn’t have a similar sense of humor, it’s simply that we weren’t spending a ton of time together. While we may have had a desire for shared interests (sports, TV shows, church, etc) or shared hobbies (hiking, playing with our future dog, etc), we simply weren’t able to share them because we weren’t together. And therefore, we didn’t have a lot of inside jokes or bonding moments through those activities.
But now, 5 years in, Jay and I practically only speak to each other through inside jokes. Whether it’s The Office quotes (guys, we have a problem – we’re literally always watching that show!) or laughing every time we see a muffin because it reminds us of that one time our puppy stole a muffin off the table and got crumbs absolutely everywhere, we know have those shared experiences bringing us together!
So I encourage every couple to find 2-3 things that you enjoy doing together and do them! It can be watching a TV show, working out together, going wine tasting, shopping, seeing all of the Oscar movies nominated that year… seriously, anything! Find something you can both share in because making memories together is the best and having inside jokes brings you so much closer!
4 || You should also have individual interests and hobbies.
While it’s super important to share experiences and actually be friends that enjoy your time together, it’s equally as important to have your own stuff going on – both for your mental health and sanity as well as the health of your overall relationship. Let me explain…
If you don’t have anything going on in your life – nothing that excites you or interest you or anything that you’re doing on your own – then what are you going to talk about with your spouse? I experienced this when I first left teaching and switched over to blogging at home full-time. I made the mistake of being around Jay too much. Because I was around him so much, he already knew everything that I’d done that day and how I was feeling, so we wouldn’t have anything to talk about at dinner those nights. And it made me feel kinda useless. So, I decided to create my own hobbies (yoga, joining a book club, meeting friends for lunch… yes that’s a hobby!) and I immediately felt like I had worth again and had something to talk to Jay about.
Because I started doing my own thing and becoming passionate about other interests outside of what Jay sees, we had more meaningful conversations and, honestly, were just more interested in talking to each other. I can now tell him about these new yoga poses and how I’m feeling so much stronger these days or about how book club went and the new girls I was able to meet through it – and that spurs on other great conversations, rather than Jay knowing everything about everything that I did that week and me not having anything interesting to bring to the table.
PS, the same goes for Jay: He loves fitness, surfing, and listening to informational podcasts, so we’re able to have conversations about the crazy people at his gym, how he wants to teach our future children to surf with him, or his thoughts on this new idea or strategy he listened to via podcast. Those separate interests provide us with lots of talking points!
5 || Go on date nights.
Since the beginning of our marriage, we’ve always gone on a date night every week. It’s the best time and place to reconnect. Date nights are important for: connecting on an emotional level (How are the both of you doing?), connecting sexually, and even connecting intellectually and spiritually.
Back when I was teaching and had zero free time and was always stressed out all the time, date nights were mine and Jay’s only time to sit down to truly talk to each other, let each other know how we were doing, and slip in a little romance.
We’re in a season right now where a lot of our friends don’t have time for date nights because of kids or demanding jobs. And when asked what they need in order to better connect with each other, every one of them will tell you they need more time together. Either time away on a vacation or simply a night out to feel “normal”. The times when Jay and I have struggled the most are the times when we haven’t connected well – when we’ve been too busy to have dinner together, too busy to ask about each other’s days, or too busy to flirt with other and remind each other that we’re attracted to one other.
I know everyone’s lives are different and the levels of busyness differ, but it’s so very important to connect with each other on date nights. Create a budget for them. Schedule them as often as fits your schedule. Trade off with friends to watch each other’s kiddos. Make it happen. Yes, there are tons of things going on in your life, but, as Christians, aside from our relationship with God, our marriages are the next most important thing in our life – so we need to treat them that way and prioritize them first!
Okay, that was really long-winded, I know. But 5 years is a long time and we’ve learned a lot. I hope that this can be a source of encouragement for anyone reading because, I promise –
YOUR MARRIAGE IS WORTH INVESTING IN!
Alright, other married people – What have been some of the biggest marriage lessons y’all have learned? I’d love to hear your perspective in the comments!