June 20, 1992 was a breezy, 85 degree Saturday, when we committed to share life together on the family farm.
Like any couple starting this journey together, we had a lot of assumptions and ideas, (ranging from realistic to absurd) of what a marriage would look like. There’s nothing like sharing a home, day after day, to bring issues to the surface (which can be addressed or ignored). We have learned to deal with our issues through beloved books, friends and mentors, our own parents, and the hard way, through trial and error.
Whether we tripped over, fell into, or were handed these gems from those with more experience, they have helped us navigate the rubik’s cube known as marriage.
So, without further ado…
The 25 Things We’ve Learned:
1. Don’t make each other the adventure.
Ignore the sappy love songs from the eighties… they’re full of crap. You are not each other’s “everything.” She is not the adventure of your life. He is not the ultimate goal. Your partner will disappoint you, probably regularly. As long as you remember they are only human, this shouldn’t come as a total shock when it happens. For us, the ultimate, unconditional love comes from God. When we screw it up, we apologize, learn what we can, acknowledge our imperfections, and try to move on. Then we can grab each other’s hand and continue our adventure together.
2. Deal with, don’t run from your baggage.
EVERYBODY has baggage. Some have steamer trunks, some carry-on, but we all have it.
No one has parents who did a perfect job parenting, and no one has a flawless personality. The sooner we started figuring out what our baggage was, how big, and why we carried it, the sooner we could start to unpack it (which is an ongoing process). Of course we’ll always be dragging something around behind us, but lightening the load makes the journey easier.
3. Take time for back scratches. Seriously!
Can’t remember how we figured this one out, but trust us… give each other a good back scratch before bed. Doesn’t need to be fancy. It isn’t a sexual thing… just a thorough back scratch. We’ve always believed that if every person in the world got a good back scratch before bed, wars would end entirely.
4. Learn to speak your partner’s love language, fluently.
If you find yourself frustrated that your partner is vacuuming instead of talking through your deep thoughts together, it may be you have different ways of expressing and accepting love. These are called your love languages, and the sooner you learn to speak your partner’s language – fluently! – the better. Early on in our marriage we were handed a book that defined five love languages: acts of service, gift giving, physical touch and closeness, quality time together, and words of encouragement (The 5 Love Languages).
5. Discover your Enneagram numbers.
We have never been big personality test people, but then we discovered the Enneagram.
Finally we understand why one of us needs to load the dishwasher A CERTAIN WAY, and the other’s greatest goal in life is to eat Milk Duds on the couch.
Whatever personality test you’re into can be used to learn more about each other: what makes you tick, what situations you thrive in, and what scares you or makes you angry. It’s helpful to become more aware of why you and your partner are the way you are. We can’t stress enough to use these insights into each other’s personalities wisely – only to build each other up, and not as ammunition.
6. Look for ways to spiral up instead of spiralling down.
Entropy is a Law of Nature, like gravity, that causes all things to break down over time. We’ve learned that relationships are not immune from entropy any more than physical objects are. If you aren’t intentionally building up the relationship (like helping with the dishes instead of sitting on the couch eating Milk Duds), it’s going to fall into chaos… just like a sand castle at the beach. It takes some work patching those cracks and packing sand around the weak spots. Without that ongoing work, it’s going to fall apart fast.
7. Consider the cup of cold water principle.
This one we borrowed from a beloved book, A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken. If your partner wakes you in the night and asks for a cup of cold water, would you get it for them without question? Do you trust that they need you, and aren’t just taking advantage of you? Would you give up some sleep to help them? Asking these questions occasionally has given us insights into the level of trust we have in each other.
8. Look for non-conflict time conversations.
Did your partner just do something that bugged you? That definitely happens. You can do what we did and fight about it in that moment when you’re really irritated and probably won’t be careful about your words. We’ve learned it’s usually better to wait till a moment when things are okay, and you are calm to discuss it.
Talking about difficult things is much easier without all the negative emotions flying around.
If, on the other hand, you are a clam-up-and-pout person, hoping the other would notice and figure out what’s wrong, stop it. Yes, that’s what they do on tv, but not what actually works well in a healthy relationship. Be brave and have that conversation – you’ll save mountains of time and energy just being open and up front with them. Also, as you learn more about each other, your likes and limits, your intimacy deepens.
9. Make time for “cocktail hour”.
This one we learned from parents (who are still happily married after 65 years!) Set aside a time to sit down and have a drink or snack together after your work day has wrapped up. Even if you can’t find a whole hour, and only have 15 minutes, use that time to catch each other up on the events of your day. This gives you more understanding into each other’s current moods, as well as insights into what’s happening in each other’s worlds.
10. Talk to each other before committing to ANYTHING.
We find it difficult to say no. We love our people, and want to be involved in their lives, so when we are asked to be part of something, a dinner, volunteering, or whatever, we almost always want to agree immediately. Unfortunately, there is only so much time, which is a limited resource. If either of you are agreeing to participate in lots of activities without checking in first, you’ll be overwhelmed in no time, and resentment could set in. Agree that you won’t commit to anything until you’ve both looked at your calendar and discussed it together.
11. Put away devices on dates.
Don’t make your partner be that person who has to look around uncomfortably while you screw around on your phone… especially on a date (we would never do this of course). Leave it in your pocket or bag, or even at home and focus your attention on them. It’s a date, for goodness sake!
Even if you are mapping out your next adventure together, stop! It’s better to be present in the current one.
12. Agree to pursue a holistic, healthy lifestyle.
Pursuing good health through diet, exercise, enough sleep, though challenging, is a gift you give to each other every day by feeling good, having energy, and enjoying those endorphins. And, it’s a payoff for the rest of your lives, increasing your odds for better health and better times as you age together. What we feed our bodies is the beginning of a healthy life. Eating good food together not only builds your physical bodies, but builds community in your family (even if you’re a family of two).
13. Sacrifice for each other.
Another way to say this is, “die to yourself.” It’s a counter-intuitive practice that actually ends up benefiting both of you on the long run. There is nothing that makes you feel more loved than when someone else lays down the thing they want or need in order to meet your want or need. It really is a powerful moment, though definitely outside what our natural tendencies are.
What we’re NOT saying is, “become a doormat.”
The sacrificing we’re talking about means saving the last piece of cake for your partner because they didn’t get one… even though you really want another piece. And, it also means that when both people are sacrificing for each other, then lots of nice things are going on in both directions (see #2, spiraling up).
14. Whoa! Watch your mouth!
This should be obvious, but in the heat of battle, do all you can to NEVER call your partner a bad name… even under your breath! If they hear it, they’re going to remember it… for-ev-er. And, even if they don’t hear it, you’re creating a really unhealthy mindset for yourself. Once that leaves your mouth, you just can’t take that kind of stuff back.
15. Practice saying the toughest word in the English language – SORRY.
This is another fairly obvious one, but ohhhhh, so hard. Some never even try because they can never admit they were wrong. One terrible way to apologize is to start with, “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, BUT…”. We’ve learned it’s best to swallow your pride and just say you’re sorry so your partner knows you mean it. It’s a great way to keep resentment from building between you, and keeps you both humble.
16. Pre-date fooling around > post-date fooling around.
Not sure when we stumbled onto this one… maybe we just thought we both looked pretty hot as we prepared for an evening out… can’t really remember, but what we learned that particular night has served us well:
Getting frisky before a big date (instead of after) is more fun!
Think about it: you look your best, you’re not tired out, or full of rich food or too much alcohol, and you end up relaxed and happy going into the date. Winning!
17. Find things you enjoy doing together.
We love to share a meal, go for a hike, watch a great movie, read to each other over coffee, talk about travel plans… and we figured that out by trying all those things together. There are certainly things we don’t both enjoy, and have fun doing them with friends or on our own instead. However, the more time you spend doing things together that you both enjoy, the more connection points you have in your relationship. It gives you a shared vocabulary and the feeling of being on the same team.
18. Respect the activities you don’t enjoy doing together.
When one of us wants to do a long-haul cycling tour and the other wants to see a Broadway show (we’ll let you guess which is which), and there’s just no common ground between those activities, it helps to learn as much as you can about why your love loves what they love. Rather than trying to guilt trip them out of the activity, give it a try. Then, even if you can’t learn to love it, too, you can at least respect their feelings about it.
19. On the important things – agree to agree.
It’s probably always going to be a little annoying that one of us just doesn’t like squash, and dinner menus may continue to be disputed… we will probably always agree to disagree on this issue. However, there are the topics that, left unaddressed, have more far reaching consequences: Do you share similar spiritual beliefs? What will your interactions with extended family involve? How will you discipline your kids if you have them? Agree to disagree on what to eat for dinner sometimes, or what music to listen to on your road trip, but not on the important stuff!
20. Don’t go to bed angry.
This one we learned the hard way. We had a couple big arguments early on that left us fuming into the late evening. When neither of us were willing to work it out, we just went to sleep (eventually), but later woke after bad nightmares and lots of tears. We decided we would always resolve things before bed after that, which, it turns out, is a really healthy way to keep from becoming resentful (and a good way to get some sleep).
21. Learn how to say no.
When you have specific goals and a life you want to work on together, as we do, there will come a time (and probably many of them) when you’ll have to say no to something – a party, a family gathering, a vacation – so you can say yes to something else. We also refer to this as saying no to the “good” so we can pursue the “great”.
With lots of good things to fill our days, but with no extra space, when will the truly great things happen?
Also, our marriage mentors taught us that a simple, “I’m sorry, but we couldn’t possibly be there,” is a perfectly acceptable response to any request.
22. Pray for each other.
If you are people who pray, pray not only for each other, but with each other. It’s a joy to be united in thought and in spirit together. It’s also much more difficult to hide from each other or hold onto any bitterness when we’re both being honest before God.
23. Laugh as much as possible.
Honestly, I think a shared sense of humor was the first thing we realized we had in common. For us, being able to laugh at ourselves and with each other, has been critical! With a boatload of private jokes at our disposal, we are ready to face the world!
24. Share your finances.
If we’re committed to a life together, why would we keep our paychecks separate? For us, there have been years where one of us makes most of our shared income… then the other does. No matter who’s bringing home the bacon, we consider it a resource for our family. Perhaps there are reasons to keep money separate that we haven’t thought of, but it’s a good question to ask: why would we? Part of building a life together is figuring out how you will manage your assets and whether or not you trust one another to follow that plan.
25. Suffer together.
We’re still learning this one… more and more realizing how key suffering is to our growth as individuals and as a couple. Life is not easy, and neither is being happily married in our culture. But, when you learn that the times of struggle are the times of growth, when you relied on each other more, leaned in harder, made it through something you didn’t think you’d make it through, there is a corresponding joy that can’t be matched.
Don’t run from difficulties and suffering, and don’t anesthetize them.
Learn what you can from it, and hold on tight to each other.
And, maybe most important of all…
Something happens when you’re married to the same person for this many years. As you’re learning all these things, you come to realize you’re actually learning how to learn with this person. You know each other’s strengths, but even more so, you understand their weaknesses and limits, and you find that you love them all the more for having them.
These are just the 25 that come to our minds. We would love to know what what tips or practices you have learned that has helped your marriage grow. Comment below or join our Facebook group and post there.