This past December, my husband and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. All the adages hold true: it’s hard to believe we’ve been married for over a decade, yet I can barely remember what life was like before becoming Luke’s wife.
When we got married at twenty-four, we were relatively young, but we would not have considered ourselves naïve. We both had decent heads on our shoulders, we knew what we wanted out of life—and from each other—and though we’d only known each other for a year, we were committed to “love and to cherish, for better or for worse,” for the remainder of our days.
I can’t speak to all that lies ahead for us in our remaining days, but I will say that our first ten years were not exactly a walk in the park. Together we weathered physical and mental health struggles, ‘growing pains’ in separating from families of origin, a stint in rehab for anorexia (me), a few big job changes (both of us), a longer-than-expected delay in becoming parents, a move halfway across the country, and a painful journey through secondary infertility. It hasn’t been easy, but each trial has grown us as individuals and as a couple. I can honestly say that I am infinitely more in love with my husband today than I was the day I married him.
Throughout these 10+ years, our experiences—good and bad—have taught me so much about my husband, myself, and what it means to be in a committed, loving marriage.
Here’s a glimpse at the highlight reel of the lessons I’ve learned (and am still learning) along the way.
Lesson #1: The best way to improve my marriage is to “draw a circle around myself and work on changing everyone inside the circle.”
I am not responsible for fixing perceived flaws I see in my husband, and blaming our marital issues entirely on him is at best unproductive and at worst deeply destructive to our marriage. The quickest, healthiest path to conflict resolution is focusing on the role I play in our disputes and taking full responsibility for my complicity, then doing my part to make amends. Though Luke and I have never attended marital counseling, I see a therapist a few times each month to focus on my own mental health, and the resulting breakthroughs and healing I’ve experienced as an individual have been the number one contributor to consistent growth in our relationship.
Lesson #2: I don’t need to compete with my husband. We are a team.
When we were first married, I was threatened by Luke’s personal and career successes, which I felt cast me in his shadow. As I’ve matured, I’ve begun to see that a win for my husband is a win for our whole family: we are one unit, and a success for either one of us is something to be celebrated, not resented.
Lesson #3: We will take turns being ‘the strong one’ and the one who needs some extra support.
Every couple knows that keeping score (of household duties, of wrongdoings, etc.) is eventually a recipe for resentment. In our early years of marriage, I subconsciously played this game and felt that I could never measure up—especially because my anorexia was taking such a toll on both of us. Rather than playing the martyr, Luke showed me boundless grace during those years, holding us together (and keeping me alive) while expecting nothing in return. In subsequent years, there have been moments when our roles have been reversed. I no longer keep tabs on who is currently shouldering more of our family’s burdens; ideally, we are both pulling our weight, and that’s the case when life is going smoothly. But there is nothing wrong with one of us leaning heavily on the other in times of trial or crisis. (And yes, a parental meltdown counts as a ‘crisis.’)
Lesson #4: It’s okay to disagree.
Luke and I are both conflict avoiders, and for years we would tiptoe around subjects that we knew we would never be able to see eye-to-eye on. Though I still prefer to be in total agreement on all issues, I now see that complete solidarity is not only impossible, but not even ideal. Our unique perspectives are part of what make us a stronger couple, and we are learning that ‘agreeing to disagree’ is completely acceptable in a great number of situations.
Lesson #5: Good communication is crucial.
Communication is our marital kryptonite, and in talking to other couples, we’ve discovered that we are not alone. Though we have a long way to go in this area, a major aha moment recently has been that the goal of effective communication isn’t to win an argument, but to foster mutual understanding. Another huge communication lesson I’ve learned is that I NEED to convey my explicit needs: for instance, it’s helpful for Luke to know whether I’m coming to him for help with a problem or am simply in need of a listening ear. We are also learning to kindly but clearly express our exact expectations regarding sex, finances, parental responsibilities, and how to meet one another’s love languages.
Lesson #6: Always speak well of my spouse with others.
This is not something I did well when we were newlyweds, and it caused a number of people to draw unfair (and mostly untrue) assumptions about my husband. I now do my best to speak positively about Luke with friends and family and to limit my venting to my journal or my therapy sessions. Along these lines, I try to avoid social circles where a lot of ‘spouse bashing’ takes place: I believe it’s important to surround myself with other women who value the sanctity of marriage, who regularly affirm their own spouses and encourage me to do the same.
Lesson #7: Find a joint activity, project, or hobby that we both enjoy and that gives us time together.
This was definitely easier in our pre-parenthood days. BC (Before Children), Luke and I read books together, played board games, went for long walks and bike rides, and co-led a Sunday School class. These days, we struggle to make time for an annual date night, let alone a time-consuming joint hobby. However, we’ve gotten pretty good at doing things ‘together, but separately.’ For example, this year we are both reading through the Bible following the same reading plan; though we technically read separately, we make time each day to discuss our takeaways. We do the same with podcasts and audiobooks we are both listening to. For most of our marriage, we’ve also participated in various Bible Studies, Community Groups, and classes that keep us united intellectually, socially, and spiritually.
Lesson #8: Assume the best of my husband.
When we’re in the midst of a disagreement, or when I’m in a bad emotional space, it’s easy to take offense at Luke’s missteps and assume that his actions or words were intended to hurt me. The truth is that my husband is a good man who loves me and wants the best for me and for our marriage. Assuming positive intent helps me to focus on the issue at hand, allowing me to stay calm and rational rather than playing the victim.
Lesson #9: Committing to being for my marriage is not the same as committing to being for my husband.
Luke and I are both big on commitment, so we knew when we said “I Do” that divorce would not be an option for us. However, a blind commitment to the institution of marriage does not necessarily equate to a happy, thriving relationship. Over the last year, I’ve begun to realize that wholeheartedly supporting and committing to my husband (his happiness, his health, his personal growth, his career) is much more important than simply vowing to stay married. After all, a congenial cohabitation is not my end goal for our marriage.
Lesson #10. There is always room for improvement, but if we remain committed to each other, our marriage will just keep getting better.
Our culture often gives the impression that a couple’s wedding day is the best day of their lives, and that it’s all down hill once the honeymoon is over. It doesn’t have to be that way! Our marriage has only gotten better with age, and I look forward to seeing how amazing it will be after twenty or thirty or fifty years together!