This past Sunday, Michelle and I celebrated 7 years of marriage. If those 7 years are any indicators for what’s to come in our relationship, I can only say, “it’s going to be an incredible adventure”.
Our relationship is an adventure. A wild, fun, challenging, crazy at times, wonderful adventure.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in these past 7 years of marriage it has been that you never stop learning or growing. You could choose to be absent in your relationship, and some do, but the greatest gift of marriage is the growth in yourself and with your spouse that comes from this partnership. I can’t imagine a marriage without this. A marriage is an active partnership.
That being said here are 7 things I’ve learned from our relationship (and from the experience of other couples that we respect) that I hope will be somewhat helpful whether you are married, in a relationship, or preparing yourself for one.
1. Choose to Be In Your Relationship, Everyday
The months leading up to our wedding was very stressful for me. It might have been because I’m an emotional person. It had nothing to do about the planning of the wedding. I think it had everything to do with commitment. Marriage is and should be sacred. The vows we take, the words we say to commit our lives to each other is no small thing. Those truly invested in their marriage know how scary this is. The deeper you invest, the bigger the risk (of being hurt, but more importantly scared of losing the person you love the most). Knowing this, you decide how active and how present you want to be in your relationship. You determine if your relationship is worth the risk. This is the foundation for our relationship.
You should be the one in control of your own life, only you can decide if you truly want to be in a relationship with another person. That is why marriage is powerful when two people individually choose to share life together; to be present and active in each other’s life. This isn’t easy, especially on the days, seasons, or times that life is challenging and the last thing you want is to share life with another person.
I have seen that the best times in our relationship is when we have been intentionally working on it. No matter what argument we get into, not matter what is going on in our lives, knowing that we both are choosing to be a part of this relationship gets us through. Again it’s not easy, especially when you might be frustrated with your partner. It’s not easy in general. But it’s an important practice to realize that EVERY day, you have a choice. Everyday you can choose to be a part of your relationship or not.
2. Work on Communication
The simplest and hardest aspect of any relationship. We all communicate one way or another, but do we communicate well? I can’t tell you how many times we’ve miscommunicated and how frustrating those times have been. Everything communicates something (even silence). It would be amazing if your partner speaks and understands your unique language. They probably don’t.
Thankfully we’ve gotten better over the years to be more patient with each other, to understand that certain styles or behaviors come from ingrained, learned programming, and that we can change this. We’ve worked on our communication in very intentional ways such as counseling, advice from mentors, and making time to talk about how we talk to each other. We know we have a long, long way to go. But we’re hopeful.
Recently we met up with another, wiser, more experienced couple who are good friends and mentors to us. Even after 35+ years of marriage they said they are still learning to be better communicators. It’s encouraging to know. Becoming better communicators is something that we will continue to work on for the rest of our lives and I know we’ll see the benefits from it.
3. Create Memories and Share Experiences
There seems to be a growing trend where people are realizing that tangible things, stuff, items, do not make people happy or fulfilled. When I look back on the most meaningful times in our relationship, it centers around the experience and memories we have created together. It’s as simple as that.
4. Find Common Values
Many people are amazed at how different Michelle and I are. One of us talks a lot, the other little. One of us is emotional, the other not so much. We approach and experience life very differently but what we have in common is our beliefs and values. This has united us.
We knew a couple once that were amazing together. They loved each other. They enjoyed each other so much and people enjoyed being around them as a couple. But they had one major issue that we knew would be trouble for them. They had very different core values and beliefs. They thought it wouldn’t be a big deal since they had so much fun together, but the more they thought about sharing life together, the less they found they could agree on, not matter how much they liked the other person. While your personality is important, your core values are the foundation that make up your identity. It drives your passions and interest. It guides you to be the person you want to be. No relationship is worth sacrificing your values and beliefs.
5. Forgive & Forget (the small things)
There is a passage in the Bible that says, “love holds no records of wrong…”. Unfortunately for Michelle, I have a bad habit of not forgiving and forgetting the small things. The things that really don’t matter in the long run. It’s something I’ve been made aware of over these past 7 years and something I’m working to get better at.
One of the best models of this has been my awesome mother in-law. I’ve seen it a couple of times over the years when my father in-law will do something that drives her crazy. However, her patience, willingness to learn about why he does what he does (and maybe her years of experience) allows her to move past that insignificant moment. She knows his heart and true intentions. She doesn’t let small, meaningless things divide them. She can communicate from a calm, rational space. Most times, it’s best to forgive, forget, and more importantly, to move on.
6. Reconcile Differences with the Intent to Learn Principle
When we got engaged, one of the first things we did was go to pre-marital counseling. Thankfully we did because we learned one of the best tools on how to resolve conflict in any situation with a principle called, “the intent to learn”. No matter what topic or situation you are in that has conflict, the best way to communicate and to work it out is to be willing to learn and listen to the other person. You may not agree with them. You may not like what they have to say. But if you can express and approach the conversation with genuine interest in the other person, for what they are talking about, you will be more likely to have a productive and meaningful exchange versus an argumentative one. That’s all we want in those situations; to be heard and to be respected.
7. Have a Community of Support
From what I’ve seen from couples that I admire and respect, they have great relationship outside of their marriage. What I mean by that is they have a great support network they can lean on and learn from (and share life with). A marriage seems to work best with balance. Though Michelle and I love to spend time together, we deeply value the time we get to spend with family and friends. We’ve been so blessed by these relationships. We all need support. We all need people in our lives that we can share our challenges with and to be there for others when they need assistance.
When we got married, one of the things I’ll never forget was how I felt to be surrounded by our family and friends. They knew our lives before we were married. They have been there for us since then. We know they have our back moving forward. We hope we offer that same love and support to them.
BONUS: Becoming a Better Person
Since meeting Michelle I feel that I have become a better person by choice and by default. Because of our natural differences, Michelle and I bring out the best and the worst in each other but more importantly, we help each other grow in the areas that we need it most. Your relationship should do this. You should want to help the other person be the best they can be. You yourself should want to be the best person you can be. When you do this, you become life partners.
Have some helpful advice for anyone in a relationship (or just for us)? We’d love to hear about your experiences and valuable life-lessons that you’ve learned. Let us know in the comments below.