Today we celebrate 3 years of marriage! Yehaw, right? Go JHubbs!
Because this is the kind of nerd I am, I have summarized these three years into five important lessons that will keep us married (happily) for a long time to come. Or at least that’s the goal!
If you’re in a relationship, about to get married (congrats Brian & Ashley and Ashley & James!), or pleasantly considering marriage sometime in your future, maybe you’ll have some opinions on the following five pieces of advice:
1. Find out how your partner suffers.
This idea is stolen shamelessly from the Kevin Thompson article that’s been circulating on Facebook. But given my health status over the years and some in-law drama on JHubbs’s side, this advice hits home very closely. I don’t know that either of us paid attention to this trait before getting married, but I count myself beyond blessed (and I hope maybe JHubbs does, too?) that it just happened to work out that we both suffer well.
Being in a relationship when things are going okay or are just a little stressful is fine. You get to see if you can support each other and vent productively and generally feel like you’re handling life’s ups and downs.
But when there’s a serious, ongoing emotional problem? When a diagnosis pops up and fundamentally readjusts your daily life for the forseeable future? You want to be tied to a sack of potatoes that will try to make french fries out of the situation (what?) instead of just sitting around and rotting.
You might cope differently (I make lists and journal, JHubbs goes on a marathon joke-making streak), but you want to be tied to someone who is aware of themselves enough to know it’s time to cope. If you are currently with someone who isn’t suffering well (or if you feel like maybe you could suffer a little better to make your spouse’s life easier), I recommend counseling to find some personalized coping lessons that will make your marriage (and life!) 1,000 times more enjoyable.
2. Actively figure out how your spouse is better than you.
This isn’t meant to be a competitive thing, but more of a constant improvement thing. Since opposites tend to attract, the odds are very high that your spouse does some things differently than you do. In some cases, this is a bad thing (hello JHubbs trying to wipe down a counter by spraying water on it and then pushing it into the sink with his hands), but in some cases this is a good thing that can teach you about how to improve your own life.
Example number one: JHubb’s only coping mechanisms are humor and music. If he can’t play a guitar to deal with something sad or troubling, he needs to start an endless stream of jokes. Early on in our relationship, this bugged the crap out of me. A serious conversation calls for serious feedback, right? But after years of this abuse, I finally started to come around to it.
After all, he’s far happier than me all the time. And if my goal is to be happy (not right, or in control, or in charge, but happy) then isn’t he winning?
Granted, I still have moments when I need “SERIOUS CONVERSATION TIME K THX,” but by and large I try to go with him when he de-escalates situations with humor. I am much happier as a result.
3. Keep talking until no one is angry.
You may need to talk in spurts (I’m actually a fan of going to bed angry if I can’t quite put my thoughts together yet), but never give up on a conversation that makes one of you angry.
If you seal it up before it’s talked out, you risk cutting off a little piece of yourself and hiding it from your spouse. My gut says that those kinds of mini-walls build up over the years into mega-walls that can cause some serious problems: feeling like your spouse doesn’t listen, doesn’t care, and generally doesn’t know you.
Talking it out– while painful, awkward, or time-consuming– lets you drain the poison out of the topic and eventually remember who you’re talking to.
When the conversation starts, its you and your spouse on either side of a sharp-sticking problem. At the end of the dialogue, it’s the two of you sitting side by side facing down all of your choices. That’s a much more peaceful way to get through a problem or an argument.
4. Remember who you’re talking to.
This approach piggy-backs on #3, but I think it deserves its own bullet point because it has saved me countless hours of being upset and probably will save our marriage over the long run. Remember who you’re talking to!
When your spouse says something stupid (such as JHubb’s famous “Wow, you look just like your dad right now”) or does something stupid (like maybe completely blanking on a birthday), it’s okay to have hurt feelings, but you should eventually return to the truth of the situation.
This is a person that married you, that loves you, that promised to take care of you, and truly, genuinely, at the heart of everything they say and do, wants the best for you… Even if they don’t always know how to follow through on that!
If something’s been lost in translation or the person simply came up against their emotional and psychological limits, it’s up to you to see that and forgive it. Holding on to what they said or did– outside of the context of who they are– leads to illogical, infinite heartache.
Of course, I don’t intend this to count for things like cheating, being abusive, or otherwise doing inconsiderate or hateful things. I mean them to apply to normal, everyday situations that make you think your spouse is insensitive or being mean when in fact they’re just oblivious or not paying attention.
The goal is to teach them how to pay more attention over time, but in the mean time it’s easier on everyone if you accept things as they are and interpret things as they’re meant.
All of these lessons kind of wrap up into one overarching Boundaries-friendly bubble: when you get married, it’s time to redraw your emotional boundaries a little tighter around each other.
How do I explain this without sounding like you ignore everyone else and make your spouse your whole world in an unhealthy way? I’m not sure I can.
But soon after reading that Boundaries book and learning how to implement it in my life, it became clear that people in exuberantly happy marriages drew the family circle around themselves and stuck the rest of their family, friends, pets, and career goals on the outside. People in unhappy or stressed-out marriages let these people and things into that circle to drive their decision-making processes.
It’s not that you disregard these people and things and goals, it’s just that at the very core level of what is going on in your life, the relationship that matters most is the one between you and your spouse.
Nothing and no one should be within that circle: not the sense of guilt that you should visit your family more, how much his mother misses talking to him on the phone every night, your friend’s constant need for emotional support via text, or his dog from before your marriage (two of these are true stories ;-) ).
You still care for all of these people and work to meet their needs within the context of your life, but your primary decision-making process starts with how this change will affect you and your spouses’s long term goals.
When you make decisions based on the stability of the nucleus of your family, you can be that much more confident in the results whether they’re good or bad. And maybe it goes without saying that that kind of mutual support can unlock incredible things within your life.
Three years is not a lot of time to be married, and I pray to God that I get to find out what 30 and 40 years will be like. Until then, please be sure that I’m paying attention to every moment with this dude, and I’m only grateful that his awkward self asked me out over six years ago.