12 years in I’ve learned a lot of lessons. Here are 12 of them.
12. It’s okay to get married young — Seriously. It’s okay. My wife and I met in college at 19 and 20 and got married at 21 and 22. Pretty radical, right? But we knew early on we both wanted to get married and so we made a decision not just to grow old together but also to experience our early 20s as a married couple. In a way this means we got to experience growing into adulthood together and facing those challenges helped prepare us for bigger challenges we would face down the road.
11. It’s okay to start out poor — The day before we got married I got a call from Staples saying they were going to hire me and pay me $6.50/hr. Minimum wage was $5.15/hr at the time so I was stoked! Eventually, my wife got a job at Dillard’s making $9/hr and we thought we had it made! We rarely ate out and when we did it was usually dollar menu fare. But you know what? Those early months and years when money was tight are some of our fondest memories. We were still students and we were just scraping by but there was a sense of wonder and adventure as we figured out our lives together. We didn’t have much and we didn’t need much and it was awesome.
10. The wedding is the introduction not the finale — You know that big day that you dream about and spend untold hours planning and ungodly amounts of money to make it perfect? Yeah…there’s a lot more to marriage than that day. Our wedding was very nice and very meaningful but it was a beginning. We left the sanctuary of the church with Frank Sinatra’s “The Best Is Yet To Come” playing because our attitude was, “This is an amazing day but it’s just one day. We’ve got to carry this commitment through the rest of our lives.” Have a wonderful wedding day but just remember it’s not the finale.
9. Savor the simplicity of the early years — Our first years of marriage were incredibly simple. We didn’t have to worry about anyone but each other. Our jobs tended to be lower level and thus lower stress. Our free time was really free and we could do what we wanted with it. We had a lot of fun in those early years. I’m glad we were still figuring out what we wanted to do because we weren’t so career oriented and that freed us from a lot of stress. Because we got married young we didn’t have to have the whole career thing figured out yet. Plus, we didn’t feel the pressure of the biological clock urging us to start having kids right away.
8. Kids change everything. No, really. They change everything — You know this but you don’t REALLY know it until you live it. The incredible rush of being there and holding that newborn as soon as they enter the world. The first sweet cries and those precious first moments of bonding. They are absolutely amazing. But life gets a lot more complicated. Saving money becomes more urgent. Career changes carry new risk. You might need a bigger home or a bigger car. I experienced all of this. Plus, another human in the house changes the dynamic with your spouse. Now your attention is split. Oh, and then we had a second kid. And then a third. We be cray, I know, but doggonit we are doing our part to keep Social Security solvent and hopefully these kiddos will return the favor someday by helping us out in our old age.
7. It’s possible to thrive in college and graduate school while married — I made it through a year of college and nearly four of graduate school while married. My wife was our primary source of income while I was in graduate school and I was able to cash flow grad school and didn’t have to take out any loans thanks to her hard work paying our bills. Once we had kids we reversed roles and I was working while she stayed home with our kids. Being married in school actually provided more income than if I’d been single because I never would have been able to hold down a job like my wife had and still be a full time student.
6. Travel as much as your budget will allow — You might be thinking trips to exotic locales. Yeah…that was never in the cards for us. Mostly it was exploring the local area with day trips and the occasional overnight outing. But, as we got older and more established we found that we now have a little more income and now we try to take overnight trips with our kids every few months. These are highlights for our family and we’ve made the decision to spend money on experiences rather than a billion toys for our kids. I think it’s well worth the investment.
5. Make saving money a habit from day one — From the earliest days of our relationship we established a financial plan that involved saving and investing money. We’ve continued that ever since. Because we practiced it when we were young and poor we’ve continued to execute the plan with discipline as the years have passed and our family has grown and our income has increased. Mutual fund. Roth. 529. These are terms we know because we got familiar with them early and made investing in them a part of the fabric of our marriage. Money is one of the most common sources of stress and fights in a marriage. If you can remove some of that stress through smart saving and frugal spending you will help set your relationship up for success.
4. You and your spouse will not agree on everything and that’s okay — Yeah, I know with dating apps and the abundance of social media it might look like everything matches up but stay together long enough and you will discover places you disagree. That’s okay. You’re two different people and co-dependence is not healthy or cool (Hello, people who share a Facebook profile e.g. “JamesNRosie Smith”). Make sure you agree on the big things. Things like how many kids you want, will you both work or will one stay home with kids, are your religious views compatible, are your political views similar and can you live with the differences, etc. Disagreements will come but if you start with a strong foundation of agreed upon values you’ll be better able to work through them.
3. Fighting fair and fighting clean are crucial skills — Surprise! Live with someone for twelve years and there will be fights. They are inevitable. If you have no conflict, just wait, it will come. The question is how will you handle it? In my occupation, I do a fair bit of relationship coaching and counseling. One of the best things I’ve done is take all the stuff I’ve learned about fighting fair and practice it in my own marriage. You know what? That stuff really works. Give it a try and you’ll be amazed.
2. You won’t always “feel” in love like you did in the early days and that’s okay — If you expect every day to feel butterflies in your stomach and electricity when you hold hands, you are building your relationship on something fleeting. As the years go by love becomes less some involuntary feeling and more a conscious choice. My wife chooses to love me even knowing all my personal weaknesses and failings. To me that’s a lot more powerful than some involuntary feelings because you find a person attractive. This is why it’s so amazing to see people who make their marriages last through multiple decades. They chose over and over and over again to love each other.
1. At year 12 you and your spouse are very different people than the ones who walked down the aisle. Love the spouse you have now and not the one from over a decade ago — In marriage counseling I often hear couples complain that their spouse is a different person than who they married. Man, I hope so. I hope we don’t stagnate and cease to change and grow the day we get married. At year 12, I’m making a decision to love my wife as she is now and not the person she was 12 years ago. That person no longer exists and never will again. Life has happened. Kids have happened. Hardship has happened. Those things have shaped and formed us into the couple we are today and so each day we make a decision to love the person who sits down across the dinner table from us.
What about you? What has changed in your relationship as you grew and matured?