Monday marked my 24th wedding anniversary. I know it's cliche, but I don't feel old enough to have been married for 24 years. Sometimes I have to remind myself that my oldest child is 20. Time is a wondrous, amorphous thing. It stretches and expands and condenses with such complexity that at times I find myself unsure of what end is up. Also, I'm notoriously bad at calendaring.
I don't want to paint some weirdo picture that our marriage is perfect, because it's not. The times I get the maddest are when I feel like he is trying to be the boss of me. Then . . . watch out. And sometimes he becomes so consumed with work that he kinda sorta forgets about me for a while, and then I have to jump around waving my arms wildly screaming, "I'm here. It's me! Your wife! Remember?" He stands there looking stunned.
However, by and large, my marriage is one of my greatest sources of strength. The really cool part about being married for 24 years is the incredible amount of history that we share. It's been me and him, for 24 years. Woven throughout those years of shared meals and worries and laughter and sorrow, I've learned some incredible lessons about relationships and, surprisingly, about being my own person. Here's my top 5 marriage lessons from the trenches:
1. Focus on the good. In the first years of our marriage I often thought I needed to correct habits or practices that I didn't like. I had the I-certainly-can't-live-with-this-for-10-years mentality. So, if I thought I couldn't live with it -- I tried to change it. Essentially I think I wanted him to fit some crazy, made-up mold in my head labeled 'husband.' Now, after more than 20 years, I KNOW that I can live with all of his stuff, so I'm free to sit back and just enjoy and love him. My advice? Focus on all of the good things about your spouse and gloss over petty annoyances. Who has time to be petty when there is so much good Netflix to enjoy?
2. Talk nice. Words are powerful little missiles, so choose yours wisely. Even when we argue we keep our language civil and avoid name-calling or issuing threats. I can honestly say I see this practice as a cornerstone of our happy marriage -- we always try to show respect regardless of how we are feeling in the moment. Take a moment to cool down if you need it. If you do this, you will eliminate SO MANY hurt feelings.
3. Don't play games. This nugget is a hard-earned piece of wisdom. Sterling is NOT a game player, but I had this tendency to avoid talking to him when I was mad. If I was angry or upset, I wanted to punish him AND get his attention (it's called a two-fer), so I'd pout or play the drama queen (stomping off to my room just before we sat down to dinner). I know. It's silly. Finally, after we'd been married about 18 years we had a great conversation where we talked about game playing. Sterling told me he hated the games, and I told him I often felt the game-playing was the only way to get his attention. We made a conscious decision at that point to come together on the issue. I stopped the games, and he became more willing to face any disagreements head on. And it worked! At first I found myself saying, "Hey! I'm not playing games, so I need you to discuss this." And then he would. And yes, I'm in my 40s. I'm a slow learner.
4. Be thoughtful. EVERYDAY. It feels great to be acknowledged and remembered. When Sterling jumps up to do the dishes after I've prepared a meal, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling that starts in my toes and shoots out of my head! When I'm at the grocery store, I'll pick up his favorite ice cream and hide it in the freezer for when he's had a rough day at work. We try to do something nice for each other every day, even if it's just a foot rub while we watch tv. Be mindful about this -- include it in your daily to-do list -- one nice, unexpected favor each day generates a ton of goodwill.
5. Find happiness in yourself. Probably the biggest lesson I've learned in being married (since I was a wee babe of 19) is that I'm responsible for myself and my own happiness -- not Sterling. Having a fun date night, or long, lingering conversations, or family outings with the kids can add to my feelings of happiness and well-being, but ultimately it's up to me to be a content, fulfilled person. Our relationship flourishes when we bring our strengths together rather than expecting the other to "fill us up." Because the "filling up" or "completing" can't really happen -- not in the long term anyway. A Blog About Love does a great job teaching about working on ourselves so we can be better spouses.
Alright folks. That's the best of my happy marriage arsenal. Go forth and build happy marriages. Also? Include carbs. Carbs enhance everything.