This April, I celebrated nine years married to an incredible person. This time I’m finally getting it right. As that statement suggests, it’s not my first trip to matrimony. Like many humans, I have to do something a couple of times before I get it right. That made me wonder what I (we) did differently, what I learned to make this relationship so solid, since I know is this one is right and it’s really strong.
After thinking on it for awhile, I came up with the nine things I’ve learned in the nine years of my marriage. For those that know my listmania obsession, won’t be surprised in the format. I’m sure those who have many more years of successful partnerships might think me bold in my pipsqueak nine years. I’m sure you do. But, I figured sharing is a way to help those, who like me before this relationship, are looking for the security code to happy matrimony. Please, also, don’t think this has all been a fairy tale for us. Some of these lessons were very hard to learn. We came to one another late in life, both having children from former relationships, dealing with exes, accepting our own truths, blending a family together, trying to mesh two-careers together, moving across the country together, job loss and shifts, learning our son had Autism, and all the perils of growing older. Regardless of the problems we faced, we faced them together and learned what the foundational things to a healthy relationship were/are.
- Start with the right person. And that right person is actually you, first and foremost. If you don’t know who you are, don’t love yourself, don’t care for yourself, a relationship will always be a struggle. I spent too many years trying to please everyone and live my life for someone else. It encompassed so many aspects of my life. It made me vulnerable to relationships with people who were narcissistic and downright sociopathic. Once I realized that my own self doubt, and moments of loathing were making me a target for bad relationships, it was easy to begin a regiment of self-care, love, and respect. Seriously, if you don’t treat yourself with respect, how do you expect others to do so? Once you have self-love and care and respect down the right person as a partner is going to show up.
- Be and Let Be. One of the recurring themes in the relationship my spouse and I have noted is that we allow each other to be. I don’t try to change him. He doesn’t try to change me. We celebrate the people we are. Do we have challenges? Weaknesses? Yes. We’ve found that one’s weakness is another’s strengths often. He’ll readily admit he doesn’t like cooking – partially because the planning and timing of such is foreign to him. I like to cook and relish the puzzle of timing and planning a meal. Mathematics is like a thorn in my side. He has an applied mathematics degree. My kids got their math skill from him, clearly. I’m very list orientated. He is very spontaneous. Together we have a good balance of getting business done while having fun. I think in a collage; he thinks linearly. Depending on the problem we need to solve, we get the job done together. We both can be pretty hot-tempered, but over different things. When he’s fuming, I’m a sea of calm; when I’m a screaming banshee; he is a soothing salve.
- Remember Your Manners. Politeness is not just for strangers. Using your manners and being polite as possible goes a long way in the life of a relationship. It goes beyond saying please and thank you, too. Holding doors open for one another, picking up each other’s plate from the dinner table, or just simply keeping our less-than-desirable bodily functions from the other person. I know that made you giggle. But, it’s true. Not farting in one another’s general direction is a good thing in a relationship. We’re human, however, so not all bodily functions will be hidden away in the lavatory. You share a life, a bed, a home together. One of you will get a rash and feel all gross. A good partner will be polite about it and wish it clears up very fast. Manners help make it easy to love one another at our weakest and worst.
- Be Your Honest Self. If you’re doing anything that is not true to yourself just in order to be accepted by a partner (or anyone for that matter), the relationship will not last. The other person in the relationship will come to expect that is actually who you are, what you like, how you’ll be, etc. It’s false. Any relationship built on false pretenses is doomed. None of us can keep up an act our entire life. Both people deserve better. Honesty also leads to more intimacy. Intimacy builds a stronger relationship.
- Fall and Rise Together. Many vows say for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. You will share all of that in a marriage. Certainly my partner and I did. He’s watched me go from a fairly svelte figure that could kick the Army’s PFT’s bootie, to laying waste in pain with spinal injury and becoming nearly deaf. I’ve stood by his side when he broke his ribs in a motorcycle accident, and hobbled himself in a work-related karate kicking contest. We’ve been “need to go to the food bank” poor and paying our bills fairly easily (we’re still waiting together on the richer part). Regardless of the extremes that life can throw at you, you need to share in them together. One time you’ll need to be the stronger partner, the other time, it will be you that has fallen down and being picked up by your spouse. Additionally, falling and rising together is a simple way to remember to go to bed and get up together. Will there be times that life precludes this? Yes. But, wanting to be by your partner’s side as the last thing that happens at the end of the day and the first that happens at the start of the day, builds for a good foundation. It allows uninterrupted conversation and staying connected. The more you do this, the stronger your bond.
- Share. With modern technology sharing parts of your day is fairly simple, even though work lives often keep us apart for 10 hours or more. I’ll send my partner a picture of our dog being silly. He’ll snap a photo of an interesting thing he saw on the ground at the bus stop. It also means we share our frustrations and challenges. The whole reason many of us marry is to have someone to build and share a life together. Early in my adult life I did a lot of traveling alone. I saw some incredible things, but didn’t have someone to really share it with – sure there were travel groups I was included in, but that’s not the same. Sharing is building memories. I sometimes believe that good memories make for a good footing for a great future, too. Sharing also encompasses interests. There has to be a couple of shared interests. Sometimes that’s just keeping your sanity in a house full of teenagers. But it could be making and checking off things off a bucket list, a shared hobby, or beating the drums of support for your favorite cause. Oh, and sex, too. Sex should be a part of the sharing. As often as possible, for sure, is key. At first I wasn’t even going to address that part of “sharing” as it seemed obvious to me. But, then I thought back on relationships that weren’t so successful. The old adage of couples that play together stay together is very true.
- Listen. Be willing to hear about your spouse’s day, the crazy driver that cut them off in traffic, or the unexpected treasure they found at the grocery store – whatever. Know that sometimes they just need an ear and not a problem solver. If you’re listening you’ll know when it is they need help with a problem. Listen to them laugh. Listen to them cry. Know when they are becoming frustrated, or are elated. If you listen, you’ll grow to know them well. Knowing them well creates an environment of strong trust, because you can approach challenges with love more easily. When you can trust one another implicitly, that is an equation for happiness.
- Be Forgiving Friends. Often times you have to put the romance away and just be a buddy to your spouse. Being friends first – being there even when they are grumpy or playful. Be their soux chef, their carpentry assistant, their masseuse, their event planner, their coffee chum, whatever they might need from you that you can provide. Also, friends forgive each other pretty easily. Forgive one another your faults and encourage, as you would a friend, them to be their best, as you also strive to do. I find I can’t stay mad at my partner for long, because he’s my best friend. Be aware, however, you may find that being excellent friends also leads to some intense romantic times, too.
- Respect. At the core of all that I’ve learned about a healthy relationship, a strong relationship, is that respect is the greatest thing in life that as a human being we can give to ourselves, others, and our community. As well, it’s been a guiding principle in how we teach our children: The 3 R’s: Respect yourself, respect others, and respect your community. If you do those things you’re covered. Respect and love are not mutually exclusive. I don’t think you can love someone and not respect them. It’s something other than love then, darlings. When I slip up, or my partner slips up, it’s because we’ve forgotten this golden rule. Hey, we’re human. When that happens, go back to being that forgiving friend and everyone gets another shot at being respectful again.
Nine years really flew by. I’m hoping we can take these nine things and make the next nine years just as incredibly happy as these have been. Happy Anniversary, Tiger.
What things have you learned about in your relationships? What would you share with others?