A couple of months ago, Matt and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. It’s hard to believe we have been married for five years already, time has flown by! We have been very lucky to experience a lot of wonderful things over the last five years, but as with every marriage, we have had some hurdles to overcome. I have definitely learned a lot during the course of our marriage, and some of the things I have learned are not necessarily in line with “normal” marriage advice. And because I like to go against the grain, I’m going to share what I have learned about marriage in the last five years.
The first year of marriage ain’t that hard. Why do people always talk about how hard the first year of marriage is? For us, it wasn’t in the slightest. Now we (like most couples these days) had been living together for two years by the time we got married, and that definitely played a role in the ease of the transition (though I didn’t really find the first year of living together to be that challenging either); our first year was a lot of newly wedded bliss. I happened to see one of my former couples at another couple’s wedding last week and I asked him how married life was. His response: “Nothing has really changed, so it’s great!” Obviously something has changed–they’re married–but for couples who are already living together and have a committed relationship, nothing about getting married affects day to day life. Now there could be some life circumstances in the first year of marriage that make it more challenging–having a kid, losing a job, moving, etc.–but really the first year on its own is awesome.
Sometimes it’s okay to go to bed angry. The number one piece of advice people give newlyweds is “don’t go to bed angry”, and it’s not always great advice. I am an emotional person, and there are times I get irrationally irritated about something so ridiculously small that even I can’t believe it. If I find myself super annoyed with Matt, I try to sleep on the problem and see how I feel about it in the morning. Nine times out of ten, I can’t even remember what had me upset in the first place. And the one time out of ten I actually have a real issue, I have a clearer head after a good night’s sleep and can articulate my feelings much better.
Do what works for you, not what works for others. Matt and I have been living together for over seven years, have owned two houses together, and have a child, and yet, we still have completely separate bank accounts. We have a system that works for us, and even though it is not conventional, it (I think) has helped our marriage. Even though we still consult each other before big purchases, we each have the freedom to spend our own money as we see fit. We each contribute to the family finances in a way that we feel is fair. This is an issue that is specific to us, but this is a general piece of advice. Don’t feel like you have to do everything the way you are “supposed” to. There is no set plan for how a marriage has to work, so do whatever is going to work for you and your partner.
Communication is key. All right, so this is a pretty common tip, and it’s one I fully believe in. You can’t expect to have a successful relationship if you don’t talk to each other. Not just about things that are upsetting you, or things that may be problems in the marriage, but about the good stuff too. It’s important to talk to each other about your daily lives. Even if it’s just the mundane, everyday details, sitting down and having a conversation is a way to connect with your partner and share with each other.
Make time for each other. It’s sooooo essential to take time out of the sometimes overwhelming tasks of life to spend quality time with each other. Go on a date, stay home and watch a movie, do whatever you both like to do. Carving out that alone time keeps your connection fresh, and it also helps keep the lines of communication open (which we already know is important!)
Having kids will change things. I guess this one is kind of a duh, but it’s also two sided. Matt and I have never been the type to bicker, but it in the first three months of Squirt’s life, we snapped and snipped at each other constantly. We were sleep deprived, exhausted beyond belief, and overwhelmed by all that comes along with having a baby. And we often took that out on each other. Once Squirt started sleeping better, the snipping and snapping went back to normal (as in, extremely rare), but there is still from time to time some resentment when it comes to childcare responsibilities. Now I have to be clear about this: Matt is an extremely involved father. He is an awesome dad and he takes on a lot of tasks that I know other dads do not, and I am so grateful for that. But since I am home with Squirt every day, sometimes I feel like I am doing more than my share (I’m not, it just sometimes feels that way), so some resentment can build. I will say, there has been less and less of the resentment as Squirt has gotten older.
On the flip side, there have been few things in my life that bring me as much joy as watching Matt and Squirt together. Seeing them play and roughhouse and read together, makes me happier than anything on the planet. I have loved Matt since very early on in our relationship (three weeks in, to be exact), but I have never loved him as much as I do in those moments. If we had decided not to have kids (which we thought about), I would have obviously still loved Matt, but there is something much deeper about our connection now that we share a child.
Supporting each other is key. Matt and I are both creative people, and we both ended up in the teaching field because we wanted the stability of a career and the freedom to still express ourselves. The education field has turned out to be much different than we thought, which is one of the main reasons I decided to leave teaching, stay home with Squirt and build my wedding planning business. I could have never made that leap without Matt’s support, both emotionally and financially. He now has different financial burdens he has to deal with, but he has supported me 100% the entire time. There is a decent chance that Matt will leave teaching eventually to pursue his creative aspirations, and then it will be my turn to show him that support.
Taking time for yourselves is just as important as spending time together. I firmly believe that having a life independent of Matt’s helps make our marriage stronger. We each have our own friends, and our own hobbies that we devote time to outside of our couplehood. This does so much for us on so many levels. It makes us appreciate the time we do spend together and it makes us fulfilled as individuals.
And perhaps my most controversial lesson: Marriage shouldn’t be hard work. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say “Marriage takes a lot of hard work”–and each time I have thought, “Really?” Our marriage takes effort. We have to find time to spend together and find ways to connect and communicate while we both work and raise a child. But I would never describe my marriage as hard work. To me, effort is something much different than work. I have been in relationships in the past that did feel like work. Meaning, I was constantly putting in effort and feeling like I was not getting anything back in return (to be fair, I’m 99% sure my former partners would say the same thing about me). I have never felt like that with Matt, when we were dating or since we have been married. Will there be times in our marriage that it does feel like work? Who knows. I’m sure there are things that could happen that would make it feel like work. But for me, after five years, I would say it’s not hard work for me to have a successful relationship with my husband.
Before I sign off, I asked Matt what he had learned about having a successful marriage to see if I could incorporate some of his ideas into this post. His tips for a solid marriage: “Don’t be a dick, do nice things for each other, be cool about stuff, and have lots of sex.” I needed 1500 words for my tips, and he needed 20. So there you have it.
What are your tips for a happy marriage, or what have you learned about relationships? Share your lessons!