My 21 year old cousin, Megan, is getting married next summer to her long-time boyfriend, Chris. I really wanted to do something special for her, and I’ve been thinking long and hard about what that might be. I wish that I had the foresight, before I got married, to sit down with some of the happily married women in my family and ask their advice. What makes a marriage work? How can I remain married for 50+ years? What’s the true secret to success? That advice might have saved me my sanity during the oh-so-stressful first year of marriage.
With that said, I’m on a mission to talk to as many women as I can and find out what their secret is to having a successful, happy marriage. I’m not ruling out the single ladies – if you’ve been in a relationship, then you’ve learned some tips and tricks as to what has and has not worked for you. I want to hear from all of you!
- What’s the secret to a successful relationship?
- What do you wish you had known prior to getting married?
- What’s the best relationship advice you’ve ever received?
- What advice would you give my cousin?
Prior to meeting my husband, I was not experienced in dating by any stretch of the imagination. I dated in high school – short, insignificant relationships - but I did not date at all throughout my college years. I did not have a clue about what it takes to maintain and nurture a long-term relationship.
Jason and I met and married within six months. Because the time period was so short, we spent the whole time period in the blissful honeymoon stage. We didn’t fight or argue. I went into the marriage thinking that our life together would be rainbows and puppies – we would never fight. Our lives would be blissfully happy. This would be my happily ever after.
Whatever! Our first year of marriage was extremely rocky as we learned to communicate, live together, and truly share our lives. Add in two deployments and more than 6 months spent apart during that first year, and you have a “what the heck was I thinking?” experience on your hands. In spite of the hardships, we’ve made it work. We’ve been married for 6 years now, and I like to think we’ve learned a few things along with way.
What have I learned?
Love is a verb. It’s an action; it is something you do. Love is also a noun; it is a feeling. But here’s what is important - love isn't something you necessarily feel each and every single day. There may be times in your marriage when you don’t feel love for your spouse. Maybe you’re fighting. Maybe you’re growing apart. Maybe you’re just experiencing a truly hard time. During these times, it’s important to remember that love is an action – it is something you can choose to do. Your marriage will fare much better if you realize that sometimes you will have to make that choice - to love that person, to continue your marriage in spite of whatever hardships you may face as a couple.
In the same vein, you will not always be “in love” with your spouse. Love changes – it ebbs and flows. The feeling of love remains, even if it takes different forms. And sex? It changes as well.
I read an article once where the interviewer asked a couple who had been married for 50+ years what the secret to their successful marriage was. The wife answered “we never fell out of love at the same time. The times I did not love him, he loved me, and the times he did not love me, I loved him.” I’ve always carried that with me.
What’s the secret to a successful relationship?Communication! It is something that seems so simple but really, it’s hard to do. You would think a social worker with 5+ years experiencing in counseling and mediation would have figured a few things out, but this is something I still struggle with each and every day. This really is my biggest downfall.
Here’s my confession: I’m a terrible fighter. I lash out and I say things I don’t mean just to hurt my spouse. I yell (cough cough: I scream). I pull things back out from past arguments and fights and throw them in my husband’s face. I also completely lack the ability to walk away from a fight. I have gotten better about this, but when I first got married I would follow Jason around from room to room until he agreed to listen to me. This almost always ended in him either leaving the house to get away from me or locking himself in a room so he didn’t have to be pestered by me anymore.
Like I said, this isn’t something I’ve completely mastered, but I’m working on it every single day. One thing I have learned is to choose your battles. What’s important to you? What will be important to you in one year or five years? Decide that, and save your arguments for those things. When something is really important to me, I usually write my husband a letter verses talking about it face to face. That way I know I will get to say exactly what I need to say, and I know he can save the letter and read it at a time where he will be most receptive to my words.
A lot of people will tell you not to go to bed angry. I prefer to go to bed angry. Why? Because when I wake up, I’m usually not mad anymore.
What do you wish you had known prior to getting married?
Marriage is not a fairy tale. It’s hard work! However, it’s very much worth the effort.
What’s the best relationship advice you’ve ever received?
A friend of mine shared with me that during her marriage counseling sessions, her pastor advised her to never use the word “divorce” unless it was something she truly intended to follow through on. That has always struck with me. Don’t make threats to your spouse unless you really mean them. (Don’t make threats to your spouse, period.) Threats never work out the way you think they will.
What advice do you have for my cousin?
Talk about your finances before you get married. If you both work, how will you divide your money? Will you have separate or joint accounts? Decide on a budget, and talk about what your thoughts are on spending and saving money. Trust me – this will save you a lot of stress in the end.
Also, you get out of your marriage what you put in. If you feel like you aren’t getting the love, attention, or appreciation from your spouse that you want or need, ask yourself if you are giving those things in return. What are you doing to make him feel special? Do something small to show him that you love him. You’ll be surprised what you get in return.
I want to hear from you! I would love it if you would do a blog post at your convenience, letting me know what your thoughts are and what you’ve learned about marriage. If you do, please let me know in the comments so that I can come back and read. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments – I want your opinions!