30 Things I’ve Learned from Being Married

I’ve been married for three years. That is not a long time. But I have grown and changed more in the past three years than in any other time period in my memory. I mean that in a good way. Being married to the best friend I’ve ever had has been a wonderful adventure.

And despite only being married for a short time, we’re fairly good at it. We have a happy life and a happy marriage and family. Earlier this month we were invited to a Family Day at my mom’s school where we talked with the students about marriage and how we handle disagreements, money, changes, hardships, etc. At the end of the day we played “The Not So Newly Wed Game” and we won. We won by a lot. We won against people who had been married longer than I have been alive. We’re pretty proud of that.

And I’m thankful to have someone like Steph by my side as I approach 30. She keeps telling me she has loved her thirties. That they have been her favorite.

We’ll see.

In all seriousness, I’ve learned a lot in the past three years. About myself, about Steph, about marriage, about life. Here are just a few of those things.

1. Nobody cares what you look like without makeup.

There’s a freedom in marriage. Someone has promised to love you as you are without exception. You can stop worrying about “looking perfect” and focus on being loving. Besides, when you’re chasing kids and a year and a half behind on sleep, flawless lipstick is the last thing anyone cares about. Put on some chap stick and go on.

2. Communication gets stronger.

You can no longer avoid things that bother you. You have to talk them through and make compromises. But the good thing is, the more you practice this the better you learn one another’s communication styles and therefore the more effective your conversations become.

3. You really don’t have to know how to cook.

I mean, I am a really good cook and I can put together really great meals, (I’m not even going to try to be modest about it) but when you have toddlers running everywhere, it’s just not worth the time, effort, or money. Peanut butter sandwiches are delicious. There are a million ways to make pasta taste yummy that don’t require much effort.

4. You don’t have to like the same things.

It’s actually really good to have separate interests to help you keep your sense of identity. Steph is very athletic and into sports. Not my thing. I like arts and crafts and whimsy things.

5. But it’s fun to share interests.

It’s also important to have some things you enjoy doing together. Steph and I like to paint together and browse book stores and try new restaurants.

6. Everyone needs a break sometimes.

But not the Ross and Rachel kind of break. Sometimes we need to rest or spend time with friends or get lost in a book. That’s okay.

7. You’re not the same person you were the day you got married.

You will change and grow and mature. And your relationship will change and grow and mature. That’s okay. Don’t try to hang on to the past. Embrace the future.

8. Our marriage is our most important relationship.

If we don’t nurture our marriage, everything becomes a disaster.

9. Dating is important.

Make time for one another without interruptions or any other people. Sit across from one another without a phone or screen and talk, laugh, and have fun together.

10. The one year old wedding cake is gross.

If I could re do anything from my wedding day, I would have eaten the top tier of the cake instead of putting it in the freezer for a year. Ugh. It was disgusting.

11. Romance changes as your love matures.

In the beginning romance is flowers and music and goo goo eyes. As time moves on, the most romantic things are cleaning the bathroom, making a relaxing playlist for your wife to have in the hospital, or watching your spouse play with and teach the kiddos.

12. Compromise is necessary.

Compromise doesn’t necessarily mean doing one thing OR the other, it means making time for BOTH preferences.

13. The purpose of the task is to strengthen the relationship.

Sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do. The purpose of doing those things is to strengthen your relationship. The other day I chose to stay up late and wash dishes, prepare bottles, and lay out the boys’ clothes. I didn’t want to, but it helped Steph start her morning a little more smoothly. The purpose was to make her life easier–strengthen our relationship. I hate feet. Even cute little baby feet. One day I noticed Steph was extra stressed, so I grabbed some nice lotion and massaged her feet while she graded papers. The purpose of the task was to strengthen our relationship.

Cooking dinner together, cleaning out the garage together, running errands together, grocery shopping together..it may seem like the tasks are important, but the purpose of the task is to strengthen the relationship.

14. Having a sense of humor is important.

If you can’t laugh together, then what is there to talk about?

15. You have to learn one another’s love language.

You have to. Steph’s love language is acts of service. I don’t get it, but I can show her I love her by helping her and doing things for her. The purpose of the task is to strengthen the relationship.

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16. Speaking negatively about your spouse is harmful.

Be positive and kind always. If something is bothering you, talk to you spouse. Not your mom (she will always side with you) and not your friends (they are not going to forgive your spouse).

17. Evaluating our relationship on a regular basis helps us stay on track.

The teacher in me immediately thinks of a checklist or a rubric to evaluate the relationship. Reality though is just a simple check in. How are you? Are you overwhelmed? How can I help you? What are your thoughts on [the future, our home, more kids, etc]? Your long term goals and plans will change as you grow and mature. It’s important that you keep talking about them often to make sure you are on the same page and not putting unrealistic expectations on yourself or each other.

18. Nitpicking is a waste of energy.

It doesn’t solve anything. All nitpicking does is cause fights and negative feelings.

19. Be each other’s safe space.

I believe I can tell Steph anything and it’s going to be okay. I know I am safe wherever she is.

20. It is always more important to be kind or loving than it is to be right.

Recently Steph and I experienced a miscommunication. She told me I didn’t tell her something clearly. I knew that I had and I knew that I had the text message to prove it. I even double checked. Instead of making it a big deal, I just said “Okay. You’re probably right. This is what I meant.” We fixed the problem and moved on. There was no reason to argue or gloat or make it a big thing. The important thing was that we were loving and happy. (Whatever it was, it was so unimportant that I don’t even remember what the miscommunication actually was)

21. Marriage is hard work.

Love stories make it sound like the hard work is finding someone to marry. The story always ends with a wedding and “happily ever after”. The truth is, the work doesn’t even begin until after the marriage license is signed. That’s when you have to figure out how to be loving and kind and unselfish while life is happening.

22. Having a hand to hold unconditionally is worth the hard work.

Every hard moment is worth it knowing I never have to face the trials of life alone.

23. Never go to bed angry is bad advice.

You know what? I am angered a lot more easily when I am tired. Or hungry. Or in need of a shower. Want me to be able to talk to me like I am a reasonable person? Make sure I’m comfortable. It’s like Maslow’s hierarchy. Meet the basic needs, then the emotional ones. Seriously though, most major issues turn out to be very unimportant after a good night of sleep.

24. No secrets. Ever.

Remember elementary school? Secrets don’t make friends. Secrets, secrets are no fun all they do is hurt someone. Now that we are all grown up, secrets have no place in marriage. If you have to keep it a secret, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. (Surprises are TOTALLY different from secrets, though).

25. Intimacy is important.

Make time for it. Without intimacy, you become two people who share a living space. Roommates legally bound to live together.

26. You need a vision for your marriage and family that you are both working towards.

Make sure you know what your plans and goals are for your family. What is most important and how are you working to achieve it? You have to be on the same page.

27. The most important thing you can do in marriage is keep searching for, and finding, each other.

Never stop learning about one another. Never stop asking questions or trying new things. You can never really truly know every single things about another person, but spend your whole life trying to know everything about your spouse.

28. Small acts of affection are as important as big ones.

Some even argue that they are more important. They add up. And when they aren’t present, it’s noticeable, because that adds up, too. So make eye contact when you’re talking. Hold hands in the car or while you take a walk or while you sit on the couch watching TV. compliment each other. Hold doors. Kiss.

29. Be honest when you are frustrated with “life” (work, kids, etc) before you take it out on each other.

Sometimes Steph comes home from work and says “It’s been a long day. I need a nap” and I leave her alone. Sometimes she comes home from work and I say “Hey babe, you’re on baby duty. I’m going to my office” and she leaves me alone.

30. Listen, even if you don’t want to.

If you don’t like what they say you flip them off when they turn around or in your head, and be able to laugh about it later. But in the moment, listen, reflect, and be supportive.

What have you learned in your marriage? What do you think is the best advice you could give someone who is newly married or about to get married?

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Other Posts from this Series:

30 Things I Want My Sons to Know

Last month I began counting down to my 30th birthday with my first post in my List of 30 series: 30 Things That Make Me Happy.

This month has been all about my boys who turned one on October 8. We have celebrated them and reminisced all month long. I finally got around to writing down our birth story. So, this month’s list of 30 is dedicated to them.

I never imagined I would be a mom before I turned 30. Honestly, I didn’t think I would ever have kids at all, but always thought if I did, 30 was a good age to start. Now I’m five months away from my 30th birthday and looking forward to ringing in a new decade with my baby boys by my side.

In honor of Ace and G-man, I’ve written a letter to them–Thirty Things I Want My Sons to Know.

Dear Atticus and Gryffin,

You’re one whole year old. I can’t believe how fast this year has gone. You will hear that your whole life, that time flies, but you will have no idea just how fast it goes by until you have babies of your own. Those are both things I hated for people to say to me before I had kids: “time flies” and “you won’t understand until you have kids”. Now look at me, saying them. They’re both true though.

I have never truly felt the weight of responsibility more than I do now that I am a mom. Your mom. I have so many hopes and dreams for you. I want to be so much for you: a mom, a cheerleader, an encourager, a teacher, and, when you’re adults, a friend.

As we tackle the next 30 years together, here are 30 things I want you to know.

1. Respect others

I hope you learn how to show respect to others even when you do not like them or do not agree with them.

I read once that some people view respect as being treated like a person while some view respect as being treated like an authority. And sometimes people say “If you don’t respect me, I won’t respect you.” But what they mean is “If you don’t treat me like an authority, I won’t treat you like a person.”

I want you to know that people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity just because they are people. You don’t have to respect others’ choices, perceived authority, or beliefs, but you have to treat them like they are people. And people deserve to be treated with respect.  

2. No means no

The end. Period. No is no. No is not “maybe” “kind of” “later” “not right now” or “ask me again”. No is no. And yes can become no at any time.

3. Learn to cook

Everyone should know how to cook. You may not be interested in learning how to be a fancy chef, but you should be able to cook enough that when you no longer live with Mommom and me you do not have to rely on fast food to survive.

I enjoy having you play in the kitchen while I am cooking, even if all you do now is make messes. When you were really little, Mommom would wear you while she cooked. She would say “Someday you’re going to call me and say ‘Mommom, how do you make pancakes?’ because you’re going to want to make them for someone special. Well, this is how you do it.”

So what I’m saying is, pay attention.

4. Learn how to throw a ball.

Mommom and Gryffin–the boys’ first college basketball game.

Okay, what I mean by this is that I hope Mommom teaches you how to throw a ball. I never did learn how to do it right. Even if you’re like me and not naturally athletic, and even if you don’t necessarily enjoy sports, I want you to have the opportunity to try. I don’t want you to be afraid to try new things or give up on something before you even give it a shot. I’ve missed out on too many experiences because of fear to let you develop the same attitude.

5. White privilege is real

You have an advantage because you are white, American males. White privilege is both something you must recognize as an unfair, unspoken advantage, and a cause of racism.  Having white privilege is not in and of itself racist. Neither is recognizing it.

This also doesn’t mean that white people don’t or never will struggle. There are historic inequities that have created institutional and systemic racist disadvantages for people of color.  Being aware of your actions, your words, and your position in society can change all of that. Educate yourself. Know when to speak up.

Having this privilege does not make you bad, but how you choose to use it can. I hope I teach you to make the world better. I hope I instill in you a passion for justice and equality. And I hope you learn to ask and then live out the answers to these two questions: What can I do to help build a new system?  What is my role in creating a new normal?

6. Win and lose gracefully

A sore loser sucks. But you know what sucks worse than a sore loser? A sore winner.

When you lose, it is okay to be upset, but you should still congratulate the winner and  mean it.

When you win, congratulate the loser on a job well done and genuinely compliment something they did well. Show them respect as a worthy competitor.

7. I will always love you.

There are no conditions or exceptions. There is not a subordinate clause that goes with that sentence. That’s the whole sentence, the whole thought, and the most important thing for you to learn. I will always love you.

8. Show kindness to customer service employees

Customer service is a difficult field. You will probably have a customer service position at some point in your life, and once you do you will finally understand how hard it is. Say “please” and “thank you”, look the cashier/waiter/whomever in the eye, be patient, use a kind tone, and show true appreciation when they go above and beyond. And always, always tip well.

9. It is important to stand up for yourself

Know that there is a line between defending yourself and being a jerk.  Don’t be a jerk.

And remember,  it is even more important to stand up for people who cannot defend themselves.

10. Be the kind of person who easily earns the trust and love of children and dogs.

No one is a better judge of character than dogs and babies. It takes them less than 10 seconds to know if you are worthy of their affection and trust. Be men who can win their affection.

Grandpa Bob and Grandma Sandi come to mind. The first time they met you was the first week of maternity leave that I had you all alone. Mommom had gone back to work and Nana was at home and it was just the three of us. At that point, Atticus, you only really loved Mommom. I mean, you loved me and let me take care of you, but you spent the whole day waiting for Mommom to come home. Then you would snuggle into her and go right to sleep. And Gryffin, I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, but I had the hardest time getting you to eat. There were days that you might not have eaten if Auntie Michelle hadn’t come over to feed you.

Grandpa Bob and Grandma Sandi came in. Grandma Sandi fed Gryffin the last of his bottle that he wouldn’t eat for me. Grandpa Bob held Atticus. I was nervous because you didn’t really like for anyone to hold you yet, but when he took you in his arms you woke up and looked around and sat so still. You snuggled into him and fell asleep. I already knew Bob and Sandi were pretty great, but you guys–at 5 whole weeks old–confirmed it. You knew they were trustworthy within ten seconds.

Be like them. It’s been a year and you still love them. You’re still genuinely happy to see them.

11. Experience as much of the world as you can.

I hope so much that you inherit your Mommom’s wanderlust. I hope you gain new perspectives by truly experiencing and respecting and loving other cultures.

12. Question everything

I don’t mean question everything the way I do–with doubts and conspiracy theories and cynicism. I mean explore all angles and possibilities. Don’t assume something is correct because someone in a position of authority said it. Sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes Mommom is wrong. And sometimes teachers, principals, preachers, bosses, managers, and spouses are wrong. Just because someone you trust says something does not make it true. Ask questions. Research. Read. Ask more questions.

Mommom and I will teach you how to identify a reliable source. Don’t go looking for answers that support your opinion. Go looking for correct answers and be willing to change your opinions because of unbiased facts.

13. Violence should always be an absolute last resort.

Violence breeds violence, which adds more hate and hurt to the world. You would not believe how much better you have already made this world in your first year of life. You have brought so much healing and joy to so many people just because you exist. I hope I teach you how to resolve conflicts peacefully. I hope you continue to make improvements in society by avoiding violence.

14. Don’t drink and drive.

Call me or Mommom or Auntie Michelle or anyone you can, but DO NOT ever, ever, EVER get behind the wheel drunk. Do not get in the car with a driver who is drunk. There are a lot of risky things you can do, but avoid the ones that can kill or otherwise negatively affect you and/or other people.

There is too much at risk.  Even if someone tells you that they “Aren’t really that drunk” it isn’t worth it. Just call someone else.

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15. Learn the custodian’s name

At school and when you are an adult in the workforce, learn the custodian’s name. Greet them by name every time you see them. Ask them how they are doing and how their family is doing. Thank them for their contribution to your school/workplace. Remember to give them a Christmas card. Try to learn when their birthday is. They have a thankless job. Many people demean them, but their job is very important. I promise you if they don’t do their job well or are out sick, you will notice and you will be inconvenienced. Make sure they know you value them.

16. Understand the weight of your words

In Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore says, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”

Your words can cause a lot of damage. Once you say something, you cannot unsay it. You cannot make someone else unhear it. It’s done. Remember that when you are angry, sad, or disappointed.

Your words can also brighten someone’s day. Tell the people you love what they mean to you. Compliment strangers. Encourage classmates and coworkers. Words can be beautiful. They can be healing. They can be life-giving. Remember that, too.

17. Call your grandparents

You have no idea how much they love you or how much a phone call from you means to them. This includes all of your grandparents–even the ones we are not actually related to.

18. Learn basic home repairs

Since moms bought our house, we have replaced every single light fixture. Do you have any idea how much money we saved because Mommom could do that herself? (I get to stand at the bottom of the ladder and pass stuff to her, and I’ve learned a lot from that.)

Mommom has also renovated our bathroom and our kitchen cabinets, and she has cut a pass-through in the wall between the living room and the kitchen. She has re-tiled the floor in front of the door and just about any time something comes up, she fixes it.

A couple of weeks ago the kitchen sink broke and Mommom wasn’t home. I had to get help from the neighbor. And she didn’t have time to figure out how to fix it when she did get home, so we had to call a plumber. Paying other people to fix stuff in your house is expensive and inconvenient. Even if we have to learn it together, I am going to make sure you know how to do as much as you can on your own.

19. Strive to make good first impressions.

A strong, firm handshake, eye contact, and appropriate clothing are instrumental to making a good first impression. Employers will be looking for these things. Parents of people you date will be looking for them. Potential dates will be looking for them. Mortgage brokers will be looking for them.

20. Be thankful

Life isn’t always good. When it is good, be thankful. When it’s bad, try to still be thankful. Besides, bad times are what make the good times so good.

21. Live with someone before you marry them.

Living with someone is a huge step. It is a big deal, so don’t do it unless you are sure you are ready because breaking a lease early and moving out is very expensive.

You know what is an even bigger deal? Marriage. You know what is even more expensive? Divorce.

There is a whole lot you just can’t learn about someone unless you live with them. When you’re dating, you can veil a lot of undesirable traits by retreating to your home, but you can only keep that up for so long when you share a space 24/7.

Break ups hurt and they are awful, but it is easier to break up and move out than it is to go to court and file for divorce.

Also, while we are on this topic, never have unprotected sex unless you are married.

Don’t trust that someone is on the pill.

Don’t trust that someone is disease-free. Sometimes they might not even know they

have a disease because they haven’t been to the doctor yet. OR the doctor might not have told them. Yeah. That happens.

And never, ever, EVER just assume someone is disease free. That’s just dumb.

It is your job to be prepared. If you are not responsible enough to be prepared, then you are not responsible enough to handle the consequences that can result from having unprotected sex. Stay safe.

22. Never settle

Don’t settle for good enough. Don’t half-ass your way through life. Mommom and I have high expectations for you, but that can only take you so far. You need to have high expectations for yourself and you need to have the self-discipline to achieve your goals.

I’ll do whatever I can to support you, but I’m not going to do it for you. I can’t do it for you. So when it gets hard, don’t settle. Pick yourself up and keep going. Work hard.

23. Marry someone who loves you as much as Mommom loves me.

And when you find that person, love them as much as I love Mommom. Even more if you can.   

24. Find the smartest person in any room.

The smartest person is the best person to have a conversation with. They will be able to teach you, challenge you, and expand your horizons. Find them and talk to them.

If it so happens you are the smartest person in the room, first check yourself. Are you really–or are you just being arrogant? If you really are the smartest person, find a different room. Never ever think you know enough to stop learning. There’s always more to discover.

25. Practice self care.

Practicing self care is not only for girls. It is not bubble baths and face masks*.

Self care is taking care of yourself. Eat well, work out, meditate, reflect, treat yourself, get enough sleep, get a dog–do what you need to do to stay balanced and happy.

*There is nothing wrong with boys enjoying bubble baths and proper skin care is good for every gender. Don’t be limited by society’s imposed gender norms.

26. Be trustworthy

I’m going to be honest, sometimes having integrity, being the bigger person, telling the truth just really sucks. It’s necessary, though, to earn and keep others’ trust. Once you lose someone’s trust, regaining it is pretty close to impossible and takes a whole lot more work than it would have just to be trustworthy in the first place.

Sometimes there are consequences to having integrity that make it feel like it wasn’t worth it. And sometimes being the bigger person is the worst. But it is worth it. It is always worth it. Be someone who can be trusted.

27. Trust your gut

If your gut feeling is that you should not do something or go somewhere or trust someone, then don’t. Your gut instinct is very rarely going to be wrong.

Duncan, Gryffin, Atticus, Oliver–LOVE makes a family.

If you discover that your gut instincts aren’t all that great, adopt a dog and listen to his/her instincts. My general rule in life, “You don’t have to like my dog, but if my dog doesn’t like you, neither do I.” Lots of people have lead me astray. Zero dogs have done the same.

28. It is okay to be emotional

It is okay to cry and hurt and be sad. And it is okay to be angry. Disappointments will happen

and it is okay to be upset. Sometimes life isn’t fair, and it is okay if that bothers you. Don’t for a second think that just because you are a boy, you are not allowed to feel all the feels**. Also, don’t react or make a decision from a place of strong emotion. You will probably regret that later.

**It’s worth repeating. Don’t be limited by society’s imposed gender norms.

29. Love your brother

Having a sibling is pretty special, but because you’re twins, you two have an extra

special bond. You will have a connection with one another I will never understand. It is unique to the two of you. So love each other. Be best friends. Support one another. Be there for one another.

I love watching the two of you play together. I laugh because when one of you gets in trouble the other one gets upset, too. This week, you had to get your 12 month shots. Atticus cried when it was Gryffin’s turn and vice versa. It melts my heart when I put you in my bed instead of your cribs and you snuggle each other.

Watching you grow up is the most wonderful privilege I have ever been granted. I pray that as you grow up you also grow together. I hope you two always love each other.

30. Be you

In the words of Grandpa Bob “They’re twins, but they’re not alike.” You have two very distinct personalities. And I love it.

Atticus, Granny calls you Mr Hard and Fast. You fall all the time because “walk” isn’t in your vocabulary. You run everywhere you go, and you climb anything and everything you can. Nothing holds you back. You never meet a stranger. You’re vocal and mischievous and so silly. But you are also really sweet. You love to give hugs and kisses and you love to be snuggled. Sometimes you take a break from playing to give hugs and then run back to your toys.

Gryffin, from the moment you were born, you have done everything in “Gryffin Time.” It scares me that you might be my equal in stubbornness. You march to the beat of your own drum in everything you do. You are shy and particular about who can hold you or touch you. I can always count on you for a smile. You are equally as loving and affectionate as your brother, but you show it in completely different ways. Security is more important to you than adventure. You’re cautious and observant.

You are both perfect. I love who you are. Anyone who doesn’t like you for exactly who you are, doesn’t deserve you or your friendship. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not and don’t try to change who you are to make someone else happy. Be you. Just you.

Every single day for the past year I have said the same thing to each of you, and every single day I have meant it. And I will keep saying it as long as I live:

I love you. I love being your mama. Thank you for being my baby.   

Love,

Mama

What do you want the next generation to know? Tell me in the comments!

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