This month my husband and I are celebrating 23 years of being together. You’d think that after 23 years of doing something we’d be experts by now, but—we are not. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past 23 years it’s that relationships are a lot of work and they don’t necessarily get easier over time. Relationships are an ongoing journey of growth and learning and I don’t think it’s ever possible to be an “expert.”
My husband and I started dating in high school when he was 17 and I was 16. We were children back then, and we’ve truly grown up together. In 23 years together (married for over 16 of those) we’ve grown and changed, had a lot of disagreements, and also had a lot of fun.
Here are 23 thoughts I have about relationships. One for every year I’ve been in mine:
1. It’s okay to go to bed angry (sometimes).
You know how “they” always say never go to bed angry? Well I disagree. Sometimes you need your sleep and you just aren’t going to get anywhere tonight. Sometimes sleeping on it can bring a new perspective and you can have a more productive conversation in the morning.
2. Communication is a necessity.
My husband and I talk about pretty much everything, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. Exhausting or not, we know what’s going on in each other’s lives and that’s a good thing.
3. Schedules are necessary.
We share a Google calendar and we communicate constantly about plans and schedules. With three kids, all with numerous appointments and activities, and the two of us busy with several jobs and projects each, this is a must for us.
4. Weekly meetings are helpful for our communication.
We sit down together for a check-in once a week. This is where we discuss our schedule for the week and share what help we need from each other. It’s usually all logistics and not very exciting but it gets us on the same page for the week.
5. You don’t have to share everything.
I know I said we talk about pretty much everything, and we do. But sometimes there are feelings or thoughts that might make a situation worse. I find it’s better to keep some things to myself. It’s good to be strategic with what and when you share. I’m not saying keep secrets, I’m just saying be sensitive to your partner’s mood and choose your timing wisely.
6. Relationships are work.
This is the truth. You can’t just sit back and enjoy the ride. You have to engage and be present for yourself and for your partner. It’s not easy.
7. Not every moment is going to be perfect.
Accepting this has made a huge difference for me.
8. There are perfect moments.
Yep, lots of them. Notice them when you’re in them. Commit them to memory. Remember them when you’re having a rough moment.
9. Counseling is great!
Don’t be afraid or ashamed of counseling. Even if your marriage is great, counseling is a good idea (in my opinion). My husband and I have developed our relationship so much through counseling. We’ve become better communicators and better at understanding each other. We’ve also become better and more effective at arguing with each other which basically means we’ve become better listeners, even when we disagree with each other.
10. Sometimes when you don’t feel connected it might be because you’re too connected.
In counseling we’ve learned about this thing called fusion. Basically what that means is that each person in the relationship has lost their own sense of self, and all thinking, feeling, and acting is done with the other person’s potential feelings and reactions in mind.
When we first started counseling I told our therapist I felt we were disconnected and not on the same page. It turned out we were too connected and had each lost our own sense of self. It turned out we weren’t connected with ourselves! If you’re interested in reading more about fusion, here’s one place to do that.
It’s vital to maintain a strong sense of self within a healthy relationship. That leads me to thought number 11.
11. You’re not responsible for your partner’s feelings.
This one is a work in progress for me for sure. See number 12.
12. You’re responsible to others, not for others.
You are responsible to be respectful, caring, loving, and supportive to your partner. You are not responsible for your partner’s feelings, emotions, actions, problems, successes, etc. Get it? This one was so, so, so big for us to both understand. And we are still practicing. The cool thing is, since we both know this now, we can remind each other. It’s something we work on all the time.
13. It’s important to have your own interests and your own lives.
I think this one is self-explanatory. (see number 10)
14. It’s okay to disagree.
This one took me many years to be okay with. I’m actually still working on it. It’s hard for me when we disagree. I don’t like to be in opposition. And if I’m being totally honest with you, I don’t like to be wrong. But disagreements are healthy and they are an opportunity for new perspectives and growth.
15. Ask for what you need.
If you think your partner is going to read your mind, you will be very disappointed over and over again. I was for a long time. At some point about 7 years ago or so, I learned that my husband is not a mind reader and it was totally okay for me to ask for what I wanted or needed. That was a huge, life-changing shift for me.
16. Accept help.
That is all.
17. Make time to be together.
We’ve found that if we don’t make the time it doesn’t happen. Our lives are too busy to leave this to chance.
18. Stop comparing your relationship to other relationships.
If you’re looking at other people’s relationships and telling yourself yours “should” be like theirs, stop it. First of all, you never know what’s really going on inside someone else’s life. It may appear lovely on the outside but it’s really awful on the inside. And second, your relationship is your relationship, no one else’s. There’s not a right way or a way it “should” be.
19. Date nights are mandatory.
With 3 kids we need to schedule date nights. We aim for about one a month but more would be great!
20. Have a sense of humor.
Sometimes life is just full, chaotic, and complicated, you just have to get some perspective, be silly, and laugh. Taking everything so seriously all the time is just too exhausting.
21. Listen without trying to fix the other person.
This is a BIG one for us and we are both working on it. Not all problems need a solution. Sometimes we just need someone to listen without making suggestions, without trying to solve anything. My training as a life coach has helped me a lot with this but it’s not always easy for me to practice with my husband. I’m trying!
22. Having kids makes things complicated, messy, chaotic, but also wonderful.
That’s all I have to say about that.
23. Marriage is not a fairytale but you can find ways to make it magical.
The truth is marriage is rarely the way we see it in fairy tales but I do believe you can create magical moments. It’s important to do this every so often. How do you make your marriage magical? I’d love to hear!
So there you have it. 23 thoughts about marriage and relationships from a non-expert…
Just someone who’s been learning, growing, and working on her relationship for the last 23 years. What thoughts do you have to add? I’d love to hear what you think about marriage and relationships too.