Brian and I celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary this month. It’s crazy to think that it’s been this long, but here we are, staring at the later half of our twenties with two little boys in our arms and five years of wedded bliss behind us.
And by bliss, I mean anything but.
Oh, there has been some incredible moments, but there have been some real tough ones too. My dears, marriage is not an easy thing to be a part of. It requires constant sacrifice, constant compromise, constant selflessness.
Contrary to what I believed when Brian and I got engaged, marriage is not a passive state of being. You have to be an active participant if you want it to do well. You cannot float through marriage. It takes a lot of work, but the reward is well worth the effort. But to make it easier on those of you who are just getting into long-term relationships, I’m going to impart some lessons that I’ve learned that have made our journey a little smoother. Of course, this isn’t a catch-all list and there is no guarantee that any of these tips will work for you. After all, all relationships are different.
5. Ditch Gender Roles
I am not very good at being the epitome of the 1950’s suburban, white housewife. “Clean” always has a layer of dust and dog fur, I need something outside of the home to make me feel like a contributing member of society, and a “home-cooked meal” is fast food eaten on plates. I balk under rules about who I am “supposed” to be as a wife and a mother. So when Brian and I got married, we decided that the “rules” that seemed to be out there weren’t for us and we made our own.
Brian cooks meals and does the dishes. I bake a lot for him. I’ll unload the dishwasher if I remember. He does our laundry and I do the boys’ laundry. We take turns sweeping and mopping and vacuuming. We trade off getting up with the boys. We both take care of the kids. I deal with all of our finances, but Brian makes the money (for now).
Your relationship means your rules. Two people have different strengths and rather than trying to conform to some made up convention, we found it was easier to do the jobs we liked and compromised on the ones we both weren’t fans of. We have found our roles that work for us in and I encourage you to do the same.
4. Focus on Gratitude
Two of the most-used words in our home are “thank you.” We thank each other for everything, even the chores that we expected the other person to do. I thank him for making the meals. He thanks me for tidying up the toys. We make it constant. Sometimes it can sound excessive, but what we are truly saying is:
I see you.
I see what you have done to make this home cleaner, better, and easier to live in. I see that you have expended time to help me. I see you prioritizing our family before your own selfish wants. I see you.
We are stopping the feeling of “they never notice all the work I do” before it starts. I know he knows what I do because he thanks me for it. Even if we don’t feel like thanking each other, we say it. Because the feelings can come with the words and, even if they don’t, feelings aren’t how we govern our marriage. They’re too fleeting to build a foundation on.
So thank each other. Thank them and tell them how their action has positively affected your life. For example, “Thank you for vacuuming the living room. I feel better about the boys rolling on the floor when it’s clean.” It’s simple once you’ve made it a habit.
3. Learn Their Love Language
When we were in our mandatory marriage preparation class, we took a test to determine our “love language.” For those of you who haven’t read the book, Dr. Gary Chapman outlined five different ways that people prefer to show and receive love. He calls these “languages” and like language, you learned it from your family when you were growing up. You have a primary language that you understand love best, but you can become fluent in the other four. Many people don’t have the same language as their partner, so they learn their partner’s language.
The languages are physical touch, acts of service, gifts, words of affirmation, and quality time. I have always prioritized acts of service and gifts as my languages. When I am grocery shopping, I love to pick up Brian’s favorite chocolate bar or something that reminds me of him. When I try to make friends, I often send them truckloads of baking. I love getting little gifts back or having someone do something for me that I didn’t want to have to do myself.
Brian, however, needs words of affirmation. He wants to be specifically told that I’m proud of him, that I care for him, that he is a good husband and father. When we struggle in our marriage, it’s often partially due to forgetting to express our spouse’s language. We feel like we are showing love, but it’s not being noticed, which is usually because we are showing love in our own language, which is getting lost in translation. Brian could tell me he was proud of me a million times, but that wouldn’t be the same as if he brought me flowers on his way home from work. I could buy him a hundred chocolate bars, but he’d rather I just tell him that I love him.
If you haven’t done so before, I encourage you to take the test with your partner to see what your primary love language is, and then commit to learning a new language if necessary.
2. No Scoreboards
“Well I changed the last eight diapers so now it’s your turn.” “And when was the last time that you cooked anything?” “I do all the chores around here.”
Fewer things destroy relationships faster than tallying up each other’s actions all in the name of fairness. It leads to resentment, frustration, and unhappiness.
I am bad for this. I am someone who tallies everything in every relationship. Not because I want people to “owe” me, but because I never, ever want to feel like I owe anyone else. I try to go over the top so that the tally is always in my favor so that I never have to feel that action inequity. I know I can ask other people for help because I have made sure to have a higher score. This is dangerous. Sometimes I overspend my time and money to make sure I’m not indebted to others. I burn out or stretch myself thin. I over invest too early in relationships and then I can’t sustain the spending so it seems like I back off and people ask where I’ve gone. Others can tell that I’m counting and want nothing to do with it.
I have to actively stop myself from tallying both in my marriage and in my friendships. I’m better now than I was years ago. I hope each day that I’m better than the day before. I’m going to kick this long-practiced habit once and for all. I’m warning you to stay away from it because it’s not pretty.
1. Support, Support, Support
I’ve got some pretty big dreams. So does Brian. There’s a lot we want to accomplish in this short time on Earth. And now that we are in this together, sometimes one person’s goals require the other to step back or step up for a while. Like right now. I’m going to school in the fall and Brian is going to remain our sole breadwinner until I’ve finished my degree. It’s a lot to ask of him, but he willingly is shouldering this burden to help me complete a goal.
It’s amazing to be in a partnership where you are completely supported. When it’s my turn to do the supporting, I feel honoured. When I’m being supported, I feel grateful and very, very humble. We are in this together and my successes are his successes. His are mine. When you realize this, it’s easier to make the other person’s goals your priority. Together, you can accomplish much.
What do you think? What are your tips for a successful, long-lasting relationship? Do yours overlap with mine or do we have completely different lists?