On April 1st Chris and I celebrated 12 years of marriage. This year on our anniversary I pulled out the same binder that Chris's brother read from as he officiated our ceremony. In it we still have the the vows that we wrote ourselves and I was curious to see how our vows had held up after more than a decade.
Among our vows to each other:
"Kelsey, I love you because you focus on the good in people that others might not see. I love you because you are thoughtful, organized, and you keep our lives in order."
"Chris, I love you because from the first day we met you have made me laugh...You challenge me to be spontaneous and to worry less."
And both of us said "I do" to this question:
"Do you promise to always strive to create the kind of marriage that you envisioned for yourself, one in which you always try to live life to the fullest while being respectful and kind to each other, to others, and the Earth?"
Honestly I was surprised at how well our vows reflect our relationship today, all these years later. I have this impulse to say that I feel like such a different person than I was 12 years ago when I married Chris but actually that's not true. I think what is true is that we've both grown deeper into ourselves, and deepened our relationship too. But even 12 years ago we knew who we were and who we want to be together. I love that.
In honor of our anniversary I wanted to reflect on and share the marriage lessons that I've learned so far. Although my hope is that I would practice these all the time I'll be the first to admit (and Chris could be the second, haha) that I fail at practicing my own advice sometimes. Overall though I think we're better at all of these than we were 12 years ago and are better for it. As I share these I'm reminded of my own good advice that I strive to always bring into my marriage.
Here are the nine marriage lessons I've learned so far...
1. Don't micromanage. This is advice I'm directing right at myself. I'm a perfectionist who loves to be helpful but this combination can take a detour into micromanaging or unhelpful criticism quickly. Just ask Chris around the holidays as he's trying to put up Christmas lights. I think I do a better job not micromanaging Chris generally but I'm sure I could use the reminder.
2. Know yourself and ask for what you need. I think each person in a relationship is responsible for doing the work of self-reflection and knowing themselves better. I don't think it's fair to expect a spouse to intuit our every need. The more we communicate preferences while also listening to the preferences of others, whether how housework is done or how often we need quiet alone time, the better partners we can be for each other. As an example, I am flustered and stressed out by any plans not made at least a week in advance. Whereas Chris loves spontaneity (I even referenced it in our vows!). This used to result in me feeling stressed and being in a bad mood when last minute plans would come about. As a result I could take my stress out on Chris and be short with him. Now I've learned that when spontaneous plans come up I can say, "That's a little too last minute for me but I'm happy for you to go!" Chris is also really understanding as well and will offer, "I know this just came up so you might not want to and that's okay..." But related to this in my next lesson.
3. Be open to change. What I've also learned is that sometimes saying yes to last minute plans to go out to dinner can turn into a really fun evening with our family. So while knowing and advocating for yourself are important it's also a beautiful thing to embrace your spouse's point of view; that's part of why we married them after all!
4. No score keeping. "Love doesn't keep score," is something that Chris loves to say and I'm thankful that we both feel this way, especially in the demanding years of raising young kids. To me this lesson means that we aren't keeping a tally of the quiet hours alone that either of us got and wondering when we'll get the same, or quietly fuming about a perceived inequity in the household labor. Instead, we both share what we need and then figure out what we can do to support that need, whether that's the ability to take a trip to see friends (and the budget and solo parenting that goes along with that) or revisiting our laundry routines.
5. Kindly vent or share grievances. I try to use the phrases, "This is not a criticism, I just need to vent..." or "I'm so frustrated and just need to vent..." to open a monologue when I plan to complain. These little phrases have been a revelation to me. When I'm tired or the house is untidy or I'm running a deficit of introvert time I am not my best or most pleasant self. At those times venting my frustrations about being tired or the house being messy to Chris can be helpful to me but without these magical phrases it can also (understandably) come across being critical to Chris. If instead I open with sharing that I just need to complain then I bring Chris on to my team and he can validate my feelings instead of being put on the defensive.
6. When you don't have a lot of quality time together, just saying that aloud can go a long way. This is advice from my counselor that I love. Whether it's having a newborn, a demanding project at work, or just not having anyone to watch the kids, there are seasons of life when you just aren't going to get much quality time with a spouse. And that is really hard! For me spending time with and talking to Chris is a foundation of feeling like my best self and being connected to Chris. Saying aloud to Chris, or hearing it from him, that we miss each other and want more quality time together instantly makes me feel more connected. And often after one of these conversations we're intentional about making plans for a game night or a coffee date.
7. Know what makes you feel loved and know what makes your partner feel loved. This goes along with knowing yourself but is more specific. Being familiar with The Five Love Languages has helped me to know that quality time and long conversations together along with words of affirmation and appreciation are things I need on a weekly basis to feel connected to Chris. Apparently we tend to show love in the way that we want to feel loved but this might not match up with your spouse's love language. That's okay but just something to keep in mind! I notice that I tend to tell Chris how much I appreciate all that he does and I know he likes hearing that but it might not delight him as much as a small surprise gift.
8. Find new things to do together. Chris and I have favorite things we love to do together, like getting breakfast at The Coffee Shop or playing a go-to game after putting the kids to bed. But when we have the chance we also like to find new things to do together, whether it's a guided summer night hike, opting for a new restaurant instead of one we've been to before, or even just a new card game. I read that the shared experience of doing something new together makes you feel connected with someone. When Chris and I were first dating and falling in love and even the first couple of years that we were together so much was new which was exciting. With three little kids life is exciting now in other ways (haha) and having favorites and routines together are anchors. But it feels equally as important to experience fun and interesting new things together.
9. Have respectful disagreements. Chris and I don't fight but we also don't always agree on everything. In our 12 years of marriage I've learned a few things about navigating disagreements together. One is to bring up the topic when you actually have time to talk about it. Sometimes this means waiting a day or so to bring up something. This actually has the benefit of giving me time to reflect and decide if I was actually upset about something Chris did or if I was upset about something else. Another tip is to be very thoughtful about language. Sharing how I feel is helpful. So is acknowledging how Chris might be feeling. Years ago I heard the advice of never using the words "always" or "never" if you're upset with someone and that is advice I stick to! And finally, if something like money or tasks around the house come up as issues repeatedly then a bigger conversation is probably needed. I think we head off many potential disagreements by getting on the same page about our budget and who does what around the house plus we have ongoing conversations about those things.
I'd love to hear any of your favorite marriage or relationship lessons. And cheers to the next many decades with you, Chris. xo
And if you like this topic you might enjoy the most recent episode of The Girl Next Door Podcast which is all our how we approach equity in marriage including time, money, raising kids, and communication.