9 Things I’m Learning About Marriage (because I was too lazy to come up with 10)

I should warn you, I haven’t even been married for two years yet. So if you’re looking for one of those advice letters from a couple who just celebrated their 65th anniversary and will probably die holding hands, this is not it. And I certainly don’t have the bulletproof recipe for a successful marriage. To be honest, I don’t even know what that means or how that’s even measured. But somewhere in the midst of the slamming of doors, the “I’m sorrys,” the “we need to talks,” the five-year plan goals, the laughing, the crying, the forgiving, the job promotions, and so, so much happiness — I’ve learned a few things.

1. It’s okay to go to bed angry.

When my husband (we’ll call him Wade) and I first got married, we would stay up into the morning hours, determined to resolve a fight rather than commit the cardinal sin of going to bed angry. The more tired we became, the more delusional we became about what we were actually fighting about. A disagreement about communication evolved into a full-blown fight about that one time Wade forgot to call me — three years ago. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is call a cease fire and surrender to your need for sleep. Somewhere in the middle of the night, your anger dissolves or at the very least, it gives way to more sensible thinking, leading to a more constructive conversation in the morning. (Side note: this probably only works if you go to bed in the same bed — it’s a good way to get some distance without being distant).

2. Your spouse deserves to be treated like a friend.

I’ve always thought we had this one covered; we were the best of friends before we ever got together. So I thought that we had nailed that whole “marry your best friend” thing. But I recently read an article that talked about how we often treat our friends better than our spouses — I found myself identifying with it a little too much. For example, when one of my friends is running late (again) for our dinner date, I am the nicest, most gracious human being on the planet. “No worries, no rush, take your time!” But when I get one of those running late texts from Wade, it’s usually met with some variation of “Seriously? How hard is it to be on time for once? You had ONE JOB!” or with my favorite passive aggressive text: “k.” Do I lecture my friends when they run late, or when they eat fast food, or say the wrong thing? Usually not. We really need to give our spouses the kind of grace and patience that we often reserve for our friends.

3. You’re not supposed to match your partner’s effort.

I thought marriage was a 50/50 partnership. I’ll meet my partner halfway, he’ll meet me halfway, and we’ll nail this whole marriage thing. There is no such thing as 50/50 in marriage, nor should there be. It’s all or nothing. 100 percent. Let’s be honest, we fall short of that 100 percent all the time. But you don’t get to choose how much you put in based on how much the other person puts in. Whether your spouse is giving 10 percent (and you should probably talk about that if that’s the case), or giving 110 percent, you should always, always be striving toward that 100 percent for your effort. And when one person falls short, the other person needs to try to compensate until balance is restored.

4. An apology only works when you recognize what you’ve done wrong.

According to the dictionary, an apology is: “a statement saying that you are sorry about something; an expression of regret for having done or said something wrong.” This should not be confused with “a statement saying that you are sorry, followed by a lengthy explanation of excuses for having done or said something wrong.” When you give excuses for your behavior, it comes off as justification. Don’t bother apologizing unless A) You really are sorry B) You recognize what you did wrong and C) You have no intention of doing that again. Society has really become desensitized to the words “I’m sorry” because all too often, we find it’s an insincere expression, especially when the behavior is reoccurring.

5. You need to spend more time perfecting your marriage than making it look perfect.

Obviously you know that people present their best self when it comes to social media. But when the effort is directed more toward how your relationship looks, rather than how it actually is, there’s a problem. Sometimes I feel like I spend more time choosing an Instagram filter for my #mcm (that means Man Crush Monday if you’re reading this, Mom) post, rather than looking up and telling my husband that I have a huge crush on him.

6. Marriage requires you to show up every single day.

I can’t stress enough the significance of being present in your marriage. In a crazy, mixed up world, you can’t afford to check out. There are nights where I desperately want to catch up on Pretty Little Liars but Wade had a bad day at work. There are times when I realllllly want to play Trivia Crack or check my text messages, but we’re eating supper. These are times that require a choice. I can be present in the moment, here, with my husband or I can turn my attention to a harmless distraction. The thing is, these “harmless” distractions can add up, and they take away from my efforts to be present in my marriage.

7. It’s okay to ask for what you need.

I once was venting to my mom about how Wade didn’t help with dinner even though he knew I was stressed out and tired. And she said, “Well, did you ask him to?” Um…no, I’m not going to ask my husband for help with dinner when I want him to help with dinner. The assumption that my husband is supposed to just know what I need and my inability to ask for what I need from our marriage very often leads to a pattern of passive aggressiveness where I feel upset for not getting what I didn’t tell my partner I needed. There have been many situations where I could have saved myself SO much resentment if I just spoke up about what I wanted or needed.

8. The love languages are real.

If you haven’t read the book “the 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, you need to. It centers on the fact that there are five ways we communicate love: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. I communicate love with acts of service. Wade requires love with words of affirmation (he probably doesn’t even know this yet, but I’ve learned a thing or two about this guy) and physical touch. So sometimes, there’s a disconnect because he needs to hear how appreciated and loved he is, and I’m over here like “um, hi, I just made you meatloaf. People don’t make meatloaf for someone they don’t appreciate or love.” So in order for Wade and I to feel loved, I need to speak to HIS love language and he needs to speak to mine.

9. “I shouldn’t have to change for you” is a myth.

I hear people say this all the time. “She wanted to change me, so I broke up with her.” I see quotes about how we shouldn’t have to change for anyone. And I get that. But I don’t agree. If love isn’t going to change you, what IS THE POINT? I’m not talking about an abusive relationship where one person controls the other or situations like that. And yes, I get that whole “accept me for who I am” stuff. But there’s a huge part of me that doesn’t want Wade to accept me for who I am or accept all of my faults. Because I shouldn’t accept all of my faults. Some of my faults don’t deserve acceptance. If we don’t change, we don’t evolve. And a marriage NEEDS to evolve, we need to change, and we need to start seeing that as a beautiful opportunity for two people to better one another.

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Originally published at jennaguerin.wordpress.com on February 27, 2015.

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