Lessons Learned From 8 Years of Marriage
My husband and I are celebrating 8 years of marriage today as well as 12 years since we met. You can learn more about our relationship here. There have been a lot of lessons learned in our 8 years of marriage that I want to share with you all today. We are by no means pros at this at all. But, we know of things that work for us, and maybe it will help for you too!
Tips for a Successful Marriage
We have experienced a lot in 8 years and have learned a lot about ourselves and each other. I just want to share some of the biggest lessons we have learned. Just remember that while I am a trained counselor, I am not YOUR counselor. I am just offering advice and sharing my experiences. If you are struggling in your relationship, please seek counseling from a minister, relationship counselor, or other mental health professional.
To me, communication is key and that is why I listed it first. Couples need to maintain an open line of communication in order to stay successful. I have noticed some couples just don’t talk to each other very much anymore. This could be because of busy days where one or both is at work all day and dealing with children. They just don’t talk. Those stressful times where couples aren’t talking as often as they used to (beyond talking about weather or other topical discussions) can cause them to lose closeness and trust with each other. If a couple does not have the time or energy to discuss wants, needs, or stressors with each other, there is no way for them to either obtain a goal or relieve the stress.
Talk About Everything
My husband and I had a long-distance relationship the entire time we were dating. So, talking was the only thing we could do for a long time. We would send each other texts throughout the day and share things through Facebook. I just wanted him to know I was thinking of him and vice versa. We would call each other every evening to catch up on the day’s activities. My husband was active duty at the time, and I was in college, so there was always something to talk about. Then, on Sunday evenings, we would always have a Skype call so we could actually see each other. It was like our weekly date.
Because talking was such a huge part of our relationship for so long, it has become second nature for us to always want to talk to each other and share thoughts and feelings. I love that I am not afraid to broach almost any subject with my husband and that he is the same with me. Couples need to be able to talk with each other about everything. If you are uncomfortable with talking about something, it could lead you to withholding information from your spouse. Often times, your spouse can tell you are hiding something and can get suspicious and think all kinds of things. Withholding thoughts and feelings leads to all kinds of tension in a relationship. This can take trust in each other away very quickly.
But Know When to Stop Talking
I am a very talkative person. If you know me personally or have conversed with me on Twitter or other social media platforms, you know that I LOVE talking with people. I can share a lot of information or thoughts or feelings on almost every subject out there. My husband won’t admit it, but he is a talker too. There are times where we need to realize when we need to just stop talking and give each other a break.
We both like to go down the rabbit hole and read about different conspiracies going on in the world. We can talk about certain ones for hours. Every once in a while it gets obsessive and sometimes we have to pull each other out of it and just stop talking. He or I will notice we have talked for so long and just tell each other that we’re done.
Other times, we can get into an argument. What’s funny is 9 times out of 10 we are literally saying the same thing to each other, just phrasing it differently. We can go back and forth on the subject and then one of us realizes what we are doing and starts to laugh a bit and then set the discussion aside since we are agreeing on it. We’ve done that with all kinds of different topics from politics to how to decorate our house.
You Might Go to Bed Angry
I don’t like the saying, “Don’t Go to Bed Angry”. I personally do not think that is necessarily healthy. It can encourage couples to not want to bring up a topic or concern for fear of starting a fight. The saying tells couples to continue heated discussions for hours on end until there is a resolution. That is not good. People can grow tired in those kinds of discussions regardless of the time of day. That fatigue and frustration can lead to someone saying something they don’t mean. Saying hurtful things do not fix problems; they make them worse.
So, I highly recommend that couples who are having a heated discussion learn to know when to set the conversation aside for a while. Each person needs some time away from each other to regain composure and put their thoughts together. Depending on the time of day, that could mean that you go to bed and sleep before trying to talk with your spouse again about what you were arguing about. But, getting some rest and time to reflect on the argument and what you are trying to say will help make any future discussion more fruitful.
Arguments will happen, even in the healthiest of relationships. It is important to understand how to handle them. Remember, you and your spouse are on the same side.
Understand How Your Spouse Communicates
Even though my hubby and I were together for four years before getting married, I was still learning how he communicates in the first years of our marriage. Eight years in and there are still times where I am not understanding the way he communicates. My husband has a lot of base in his voice. I still sometimes think that he is aggravated with me when in actuality, he just spoke louder than he was expecting. His voice also drops and sounds angry (when he isn’t) when he gets passionate about or frustrated by what he is talking about.
Couples need to understand how one another phrases things too. I talk very differently than my husband. This is how we sometimes get into arguments even though we agree on whatever it is we think we are disagreeing on. If you are ever unsure about what your spouse said, ask for clarification before getting upset. More often than not, you just misinterpreted what they are saying.
Finally, with interpersonal communication with anyone (especially with your spouse) the way a person takes a statement is as important and often times more important than your intent. You might not have intended to insult someone, but if they are insulted, that is on you, not them. So, if your spouse says that your statement hurt them (regardless of your intent) be sure to apologize for that and try to clarify what you were saying. If what you are trying to convey still upsets them, then a conversation needs to be had. Not every conversation is going to be comfortable for everyone at all times. But those uncomfortable conversations are necessary.
Learn Each Other’s Non-Verbal Communication
Couples need to pay attention to non-verbal cues between each other. Spouses need to be aware that the other is open and willing to talk before broaching a heavy subject. If you do not have their full attention, let them know that you need their attention in order to have a fruitful conversation.
Pay attention to whether they are comfortable while conversing. If you notice that they cannot seem to sit still, tense, or fold their arms/legs and look closed off when talking, it might be time to table the discussion for a later time. Or, ask your spouse why they may feel uncomfortable when discussing a certain topic. That might lead to a new discussion, but it is important that both spouses are open and communicating to each other about everything.
When to Seek Counseling
If you find that you are always arguing with your spouse or you are struggling to resolve issues with them, it might be time to seek help. You can go to your minister or other spiritual leader to help mediate conversations. You can also seek help from a mental health professional. All types of counselors should have the ability to teach you communication skills and go through drills with you to help you learn how to better communicate with each other.
You have not failed in your marriage if you need to seek outside help. You fail your marriage by quitting or not by not trying to make things better.
Regular Mental Health Checks
It is important to really check in with your spouse regularly and see how they are feeling and what they are thinking. While this is technically a part of communication, I feel like it is important enough to be its own item on the list.
Set aside a certain amount of time each week or two to just check in on each other. This time is specifically to talk about how each other is feeling. Express to each other anything that is bothering you or anything that is making you stressed out. If you are feeling blue or down for no particular reason, share that as well. Ask each other probing questions about thoughts and feelings. Then, ask each other what can be done to reduce stress, improve mood, etc. If something can be done, be sure you act on it. The more proactive you are in your own and your spouse’s mental health, the more likely you will be able to maintain good mental health in the long run.
There are a lot of responsibilities when it comes to marriage. But it should be fun too! Your spouse should be your best friend and confidant. You should be able to almost anything with them and have a good time. It is important that you set time aside regularly to just go and have fun together, just the two of you!
This can be easier if you don’t have any children in the house. For example, my husband and I enjoy playing video games together. We also like board games. But those two activities can be hard to make special for just the two of you if you have kids too. So, try to find activities you can do together for dates. Go for bike rides together, maybe join a bowling league or something similar. Find something you both enjoy and set time aside for it regularly.
Even though you love each other dearly, having some time apart is particularly important too. Husbands might want to pursue martial arts with their friends. Wives might want to join a book club. Both spouses want to take part in their appropriate Bible studies. These types of activities should be encouraged in healthy marriages. That time apart lets you miss each other just a little bit while also encouraging healthy friendships with others.
Activities apart are important for couples. But, be careful that you aren’t spending all your time apart. A married person’s priorities should be their spouse and their children (in that order) above anyone else. Many couples mistakenly have too much time away from each other that they start to live separate lives which can kill any marriage. So, be sure your personal activities aren’t taking way from your time with your spouse.
Maintain the Romance
My husband and I are not necessarily “romantic” people. We have tried to do the stereotypical candlelight dinners and romantic getaways and they just don’t really work for us. They always fall short on being romantic like in the movies. However, we always have a good time, even in our failures.
But just because we aren’t really the most romantic, we still put effort in to try to keep the spark in our marriage. Yes, I feel funny writing that as a freshly minted 30-year-old with only 8 years of marriage under her belt. But honestly, compared to some people, we are ancient. I digress…The effort to show you care is important.
It is important to remember that you were boyfriend and girlfriend first. What did you do when you were dating? You wanted to impress each other and show you cared. Why would that stop now that you are married? Yes, you already got the guy/girl, but that doesn’t mean you should stop pursuing them. It doesn’t have to be hard or expensive either. There is a lot to be said about gas station flowers! You were already filling your gas tank on the way home; you might as well buy some pretty blooms to make her day. Ladies, whip up your husband’s favorite meal and have a special date night in with a cheesy rom-com.
Again, the magic trick is putting effort in to make your spouse feel special and loved. A periodic fancy date is fun. But it also about putting in the effort between those date nights.
Be Sure You Are Growing Together
My hubby and I were relatively young when we got married. I was 22 and just graduated college. He was 25 and about to start college after being in the Air Force. A lot can change as time progresses, especially when you are young. Being able to get married so young and grow older together is a huge blessing. But, with career changes and each one of us wanting to reach certain goals as an individual can be a challenge when married. When you are single, you and pursue anything you want and don’t have to worry about how it affects anyone else.
Each person should have their own goals to pursue. But you shouldn’t be putting your most important relationship at risk in order to do it. You have to take the time to see if you are both growing in the same direction. Do both of you want children? Is pursuing your goal in school or work going to conflict with that want? Is that conflict worth it? What about buying a house?
As you grow and age together, you need to be sure you are also maintaining the same principles and beliefs. There are many couples who are inter-faith or share different political views and so on and make it work. But, often times those differences are known early in the relationship. Both parties are willing to handle those differences. But for those with the same beliefs (especially in Christianity), if one is growing spiritually while another remains stagnant or even loses faith, it could cause tension. Not everyone grows at the same rate, but both parties should be working to build one another up and improve their relationship with Jesus as well.
Even though you are married, that does not mean that you shouldn’t work on showing appreciation to your spouse. It is amazing how saying “thank you” can make a person’s day. My husband makes it a point to thank me every time I make a meal for him. I do my best to thank him anytime he does something I ask of him, even if it is to just hand me something.
Saying thank you or writing little notes of appreciation make a world of difference. Neither one of us doubts that we appreciate each other. Knowing that I am appreciated by my husband also makes me want to do things for him and vice versa.
Respect Your Spouse, Always
Mutual respect is necessary in a successful marriage. When you respect your partner, you value them and their want/needs. When you respect your spouse, you will also respect their wishes and boundaries. If your spouse does not want you to hang out after work with a co-worker of the opposite sex, you show respect by coming home after work. If your spouse thinks you may be abusing prescription drugs or alcohol, you respect them by acknowledging their concern and work towards beating addiction and make better choices for yourself.
You also respect your spouse by not talking negatively about them when they are not present. It is very tempting to vent to a friend or family member about things that frustrate you about your spouse. But, that is not of their concern at all. Your friends or family will also have their perception of your spouse skewed because of what you say about them and that can affect their relationship with one another.
You should also always speak kindly to and about them when around other people. Making jokes at the expense of your spouse to make your friends laugh is not okay.
Buy the Bigger Bed!
Something my hubby and I learned very very early in our marriage was that even though we love to cuddle with each other, we also love our space when sleeping. We started our marriage in a hand-me-down queen-sized bed. The bed frame was purchased by my parents when we were stationed overseas. It’s gorgeous and was given to me when my parents upgraded to a king size. So, this was the bed my hubby and I shared in the early days. But, a queen-sized bed is not the best sleeping environment for two large framed, tall people. It was comfy for cuddling, but we were on the very edges of the bed to avoid touching each other while sleeping.
So about a year in, my parents gifted us with a king bed and basic frame. It was a God send for sure! We slept so much better once we were no longer on top of each other.
The point here is that it is perfectly acceptable to buy a larger bed if you are not comfortable with your current sleeping arrangements. It does not make you a bad married couple if you need to have your own space when sleeping, I promise.
Buy the Twin Comforters
We fought over sheets constantly in the early days of our marriage. I like to burrito myself in blankets. So, I am a blanket hog. So, after about a year of playing tug of war with blankets, we adopted bedding practices I saw when my parents and I were stationed in Germany. In beds for couples, there would be a fitted sheet for the mattress and two twin comforters: one for each person. This style of bedding is magical! First, we don’t fight over blankets anymore. Also, I am able to get hubby a lighter weight comforter since he sleeps so much hotter than I do. It accommodates our needs so well!
You will notice that communication was discussed a lot in this post. This is because communication is probably one of the most important aspects of marriage. Faith, finances, trust, respect, household responsibilities, etc. are important as well. However, communication is intertwined into every other aspect of a relationship. When communication starts to break down, so do other parts of the marriage. Never assume that you and your spouse are always on the same wavelength. It is important to check in with one another often regardless of what the topic is.
Eight years is a long time and I am so proud of everything we have accomplished. On the other hand, eight years isn’t all that long in the grand scheme of things and we still have a lot of growing and learning to do. But, I couldn’t imagine going on this journey with anyone else. I am truly blessed.
If you are married, what kind of marriage advice would you give to younger couples?