10 things I learned after 10 months of marriage

Exchanging our rings. Blame Gareth Leigh for the wonderful photography.

Robert and I got married during one of my favourite times of the year — June. I can’t find listicles giving advice after short periods of marriage. I guess it’s because newlyweds get the feeling that their advice isn’t yet worthy of sharing… maybe because they aren’t the veterans they feel they should be.

I already know I’m not an expert, and I can’t tell you how freeing it feels to release myself from that expectation. Being an amateur is much easier. I don’t intend to be called a pro at anything for quite some time, so it means I get to share my thoughts without being held up against the ‘guru scale’. :)

10 months, however, was more than enough time for us to go through a whirlwind of emotions and experiences. We’ve had way more than is necessary to write a little 10 point list. But I’ll share just these ten, and hope that it resonates with you on one level or another.

  1. Love is not a reward for good behaviour.
    We both agreed from the beginning that love is not a feeling as much as it is a cause-and-effect cycle of choices and emotions. I’ve also come to discover that if my love is actually worth as much as I’d like it to be, it must exist independently of my husband’s choices. If my husband’s mistakes turn my love on or off, I give up my power to love, and in turn I actually become incapable of love. Since my love for my husband is sustained by a series of my own choices, it makes sense that his journey shouldn’t chart my own.
  2. Please ignore your spouse.
    When we first moved in, we were somewhat joined at the hip, much to the dismay of our inner, independent selves. We felt smothered, but we couldn’t help it. There was something intoxicating about experiencing the first throes of married life together. I suspect this goes for all cohabitant, romantic relationships. We would wake simultaneously, brush our teeth together, make breakfast together, do the groceries together, go to sleep together and put it on repeat. 
    The issue is this: all of these activities are really enjoyable to do with your spouse — yes, even looking in the mirror and brushing your teeth — but curiosity and lingering co-dependency from past emotional trauma or insecurity risks turning valuable bonding experiences into bonafide intimacy-killers. 
    The key to it is the feeling of compulsion. Do I feel like I should make breakfast with my husband because I can’t stand to miss him for one second, or do I enjoy doing it and choose to, whether as an act of service (I like seeing him out for work) or for self-satisfaction (I don’t like my scrambled eggs dried out)? I’ve experienced both. Sometimes, for efficiency’s sake, you really should help your spouse make breakfast because you’ll both be late, but it helps to try to resist the urge to constantly invade each other's bubbles and maintain that longing, even if it feels forced and unnatural at first. It will subside, and become the new natural. Resist the urge to feed your neediness. Really, if you truly can’t know that your partner is in the other room, doing something they enjoy without you, then stop and ask yourself when exactly did you become your housecat.
  3. Please don’t ignore your spouse.
    There came a few times when building tension and mysticism between us did more harm than good. Illness, mental distress or disease, homesickness and financial challenges name a few. Opening up for the serious stuff is the key to our union’s success. We work on communicating daily, even when we feel like it’s no use to say anything. 
    My husband migrated here. There were things Rob felt, especially after the move here that came up in our discussions repeatedly. Time after time I would patiently listen, reassure and then console. After a few times, I listened less, and deflected more. This behavior of mine had two things wrong with it. 1: I assumed that I knew everything he was thinking or was going to say so I missed the moments when he opened up about things he never had before, and 2: I was being a selfish tool. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have things that bothered me repeatedly, so why the unfair expectations?
  4. Deflective listening is defective listening.
    I fell in love this phrase I got from a video we watched that was produced by the marriage courses. They identified a few types of ‘listening’ that meant you weren’t listening at all. Going off on a tangent, Reassuring, Intellectualizing and Minimizing what you hear are some of the things you do when you’re uncomfortable with what you’re hearing. We all do it. We turn our partner's’ feelings and expressions into tools we use to focus on ourselves, instead of truly listening. The lesson is sinking in: we’re making a conscious effort now to stay quiet, both verbally and mentally, when the other is speaking. If we’re going to bother to listen, we should be paying full attention.
  5. Your childhood is going to come back with a vengeance.
    Your upbringing will unavoidably have a positive or negative impact on your partnership. No matter how good or how bad your childhood was, no matter how much you either had to fend for yourself or fend off your helicopter parents, you’ll have picked up behaviours and expectations that have been instilled by your parents, caregivers or the lack of the former. 
    I am challenged by defensiveness — not ever being apologized to as a child has made it hard for me to apologize to my husband, even when I clearly was in the wrong. It meant that I had to actively remember to stop defending myself when met with criticism. I had to remind myself that my mistakes, not me, were the subjects of the discussion. I had to grow up, stop avoiding the discussion when I knew I did wrong and simply apologize. Robert, on the other hand, could tell you that his need of affirmation came from a lack of it in his childhood. Lacking much affirmation myself, I had to learn how to give it, and accept it joyfully without being mistrustful. We’re both learning how to give and receive love this way.
    Baggage comes in different forms, not just an assortment of exes. We both had our own hangups that were there long before we met each other. Just know that a relationship is going to draw all those hidden insecurities (and strengths) out of you, and I want to promise you that running from them is the absolutely worst way to deal with that. See it for what it is — a golden opportunity to finally deal with all those dust bunnies you felt you needed to sweep under the carpet to appear dateable.
  6. Things that ‘experienced’ couples say do not become law.
    People who are married, especially those who have been married for a long time, feel a sense of pride and entitlement over a newlywed they may know. This, I noticed, happens especially when they’re close, whether they be a sibling, friend or parent. People are going to try to live through you and try to prevent you from making decisions they regretted making in their own marriage — even if that decision suits you much better. They aren’t always to be blamed for this, usually because they aren’t even aware. Everything they hear or perceive passes through the filters of their own life experiences, prejudices and fears. You could hardly expect a loved one to advise you to quickly forgive your spouse for something they’ve been badly hurt by more than once themselves. Some married people feel a nostalgia… and a compulsion to ‘predict’ the outcome of your relationship and tell you how to behave, instead of listening quietly when you share your relationship concerns and then give level headed advice. 
    In the end, I think we’ve both learned not to completely shut our loved ones out, but instead to sift the advice we get. We make it a point to choose for ourselves.
  7. Respect comes from admiration. If you remember why you admire them, respecting them is easy.
    Remember when you just decided to be a ‘thing’? Arguably, that’s the most enjoyable part of a courtship: the early stages when your partner could do no wrong, and you were completely convinced that they never would do wrong. You wouldn’t hear a single ill-themed suggestion against them — every mistake had a justifiable cause, and every bad trait had a genesis that was cruel and unjust. Somehow, you were this intelligent being, completely capable of logical thought yet your partner defied all logic and actually achieved the status of ‘the perfect human being’. I’m not saying to find your rose coloured glasses again and fool yourself into thinking that you won’t be misunderstood or disappointed. Just remember the kind of effort you made to exalt the best in them, and remember how easy it was to find so many good reasons to commit to them. If anything happens where you feel like you no longer look up to them, think back and remember why they caught you in the first place.
  8. Never speak ill of your spouse. Period. They are not their mistakes.
    It’s tied closely to the respect point. Really, it’s just poor form to choose to treat the one you claim to love with disdain, in front of others, and encourage them to do the same, with relish. Who can you expect to respect your spouse if you can’t even do it yourself? If you think it’s okay to have your family members or friends run a tag team on them, remember, your spouse also has his/her people. You would not like to be a dart board with your significant other heading the rounds, so don’t do it. It’s a simple case of doing unto others. 
    Your trustworthiness isn’t tested in the easy times. Even when you’re feeling foul about something your spouse did or said, it is unproductive to sit with others and attack their character for it, regardless of what you think about their character at all. After all, they were well and good enough till you married them. If you must go for advice to someone for something, make sure that someone has your best interests at heart. If they have your best interests at heart, unless in the cases of infidelity or abuse, they never would suggest resenting your partner as the first course of action.
  9. If you don’t have a form of faith to center your marriage around, assign yourselves one.
    Rob and I form a Christian home if you couldn’t already tell, but what I mean here is even if you don’t align yourselves with any organized faith at all, create a form of ‘blind belief’ in an agreed upon set of principles and values, and center your lives around it. This belief is the measure by which you hold how you should behave, how you hope for the future and how you overcome hard times. It looks like a collection of ultimate do’s and don’t’s that you agree must be adhered to in good times and bad. It’s useful to come up with this system when you’re both in a good place. If you don’t use a holy book or set of writings to guide you, make the list yourselves. Make the list when you’re both calm and balanced: you’re going to need it precisely when you’re not calm nor balanced. Whether it’s a belief in God, or in the power of love itself, it is a formidable foundation for placing your marriage and your lives upon.
  10. Don’t be surprised that your relationship actually needs work, regardless of how good at them you think you are.
    I may claim to be a logical thinker, but I actually was surprised when I realized that my marriage needed adjustment, and repeatedly so. I knew, and often said beforehand that “marriages take work”. However, somehow it didn’t click to realize that my marriage was included in the plural form. I admit — I thought for some reason that everyone needed to work very hard at their partnerships except Rob and I. My ego and pride in our marriage made me think something stupid — that we were a pair of special snowflakes that deserved to have it easier than everybody else, just because we had great chemistry. I mean, we had good rapport, good sex and agreed on so many things: how could two ‘good communicators’ like us possibly have problems more serious than deciding whose turn it was to do the dishes each night? 
    It surprised me, and I have no idea whether this realization is a right of passage for all newlyweds. All I know is that the first time I made my own poor husband sit on a step and cry because of my obstinacy, the horrific thought dawned upon me: “Maybe this doesn’t make sense.” It’s strange, and sad, that at the first sign of a real challenge my thoughts were that we were broken beyond repair. This, yet I can’t tell you many times I acknowledged that other people’s relationships needed constant mending and building. Glass houses, and all.

I hope this list was encouraging for you, if not at least entertaining. Writing this was pretty therapeutic. Currently we’re actively investing time in developing our relationship, and we’re trying to get some good groundwork in before our family gets any bigger.

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