7 Things I’ve Learned in 7 Years of Marriage (updated)

Ten years ago today Michelle and I stood before family and friends and committed to being life partners. It’s hard to believe how much time has passed and yet, there’s always a newness in our relationship as we keep working on being better individuals, and working through challenges to grow closer and stronger as a couple.

3 years ago I wrote this post and upon revisiting it, a lot of the things I wrote still hold true. But to mark this anniversary I also wanted to add 3 new things I’ve learned from our 10 years of marriage. Here’s the original post with some new thoughts:
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 10 years of marriage it has been that you never stop learning or growing. It’s easy to “go through the motions” in your relationship, and some do, but the greatest gift of marriage is the growth in yourself and with your spouse that comes from a true partnership. One were both people are equally trying to bring their best to the table. We’re love is an intentional choice. I can’t imagine a marriage without this. A marriage is an active partnership.

That being said here are 7 10 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.

jm10 - 19

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. We’ve also seen an awakening in people that they are spending more time working and with coworkers then with their life partners. Life doesn’t have to be this way.

I’m thankful for so many people that helped us to figure out a way we could support ourselves financially so that way we could spend more time together and less time apart. When I look back on the most meaningful times in our relationship, it centers around the experience and memories we have created together. You can always make more money. You cannot make more time. 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.

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so thankful for our family and friends

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.

NEW for our 10 Year Anniversary

8. Want and Work on Becoming a Better Person
Since meeting Michelle, I feel that I have become a better person by intentionally working at it and by the impact she and our relationship has had on me. 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 your partner be the best they can be. You yourself should want to be the best person you can be. When you do this, you give each other the best of yourselves which is an incredible gift.

9. Work on Intimacy and Vulnerability
You would think that being in a long term relationship this would be easy. But it’s not. Because of proximity and the amount of time one spends with their spouse, you do have a better chance of having vulnerable moments, but the truth is that as human beings, it’s natural for us to have our guards and defenses up. Even with our partners.

True intimacy is when we can feel safe. Safe to share our worries and fears. Safe to let out how we truly feel about things, even if it’s uncomfortable truths and frustrations we have with our partners. Intimacy is knowing it’s ok to breakdown. Intimacy is admitting we don’t have all the answers. It’s the things no one else has privilege or access to. The deepest form of connection that is meant to be treasured and most importantly, protected.

10. Make Your Relationship Your Own
It’s important to get guidance and advice from others on how to have a healthy relationship/partnership with your significant other. But at the end of the day your relationship should be your own. One of our favorite quotes is “comparison is the thief of joy”. We use this as a constant reminder to not look at other relationships with envy or contempt.

In the past I struggled and fought with this a lot. I was programmed to believe that a relationship looked and acted in certain ways. I believed there were gender roles and norms that we were supposed to adhere to. It never felt right. I’m thankful Michelle felt the same way.

So leading up to our wedding and in the beginning of our marriage we worked really, really hard to discuss what we wanted our relationship to look like. From how we would live together. Who did what chores. Who did the finances. Who would kill the spiders. What are our goals and dreams are and how we can work together to make them a reality. Even today we still intentionally spend time checking-in with one another (though admittedly we know we could get better at this as well). We are the authors of our own relationship.

10 years is a long time but nothing compared to people we’ve know who’ve been together for 40 years or more. I’ll never forget what two of our good friends and mentors shared with us about being married for many years. Whether you just started a relationship or been in one for many years, there’s always new things to learn, ways to grow, and more love to share. As I said before, if the past 10 years were any indication of what life might hold for Michelle and I, it will continue to be one special adventure, and I’m thankful to have an amazing life partner to share it with, whatever comes our way.

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