Yesterday Mike and I celebrated 15 years of marriage. Fifteen years. I won’t profess that our marriage is anywhere near perfect, but when your vows have outlasted a few presidential administrations you start to feel like you might have some authority on the subject. I recently came across Lydia Netzer’s post “15 Ways to Stay Married 15 Years.” I was inspired by it and thought I might add 15 more.
1. Find your own best friend
The other day my friend Erik Deckers posted on Facebook, “Whenever people post “12 years ago today, I married my best friend,” I have to resist the urge to respond, “does your wife know?” Mike isn’t my best friend, I’m not his and we’re more than cool with that. Asking your spouse to be your partner, lover, roommate, co-chair and your bestie is just too much for one person to handle. And if, God forbid, anything ever happens in your marriage, it’s going to be really awkward crying and sharing a pint of ice cream with your ex-spouse/best friend.
2. Find couple friends
As much as you need friends of your own, you also need couple friends. This is harder than it looks – finding 2 other people who a) like each other b) like both of you c) you both like and d) like the same things you both like can be damn near impossible. We’re so adament about finding other cool couples to hang out with we’ve even gone on a couples’ blind date (it worked out very well, fyi). Besides being fun and giving you much-needed fellowship with other people, hanging out with other couples is a great way to give yourselves perspective on what other real marriages are like – the ups, downs, and in-betweens.
3. Find things you enjoy doing together
Even though he always beats me, I love playing games with Mike. We have shows we only watch together and we can always talk about sports. God willing, you’ll end up together for a very long time and one day find yourself with no kids around and few obligations. Build the relationship and the companionship now so that when that time comes you know and enjoy the company of each other.
4. Embrace each other’s quirky hobbies and try to understand them
Mike loves poker and I love the internet. I don’t know when to hold ’em or fold ’em, he still uses “twitter” as a verb. But we try to understand each other and we make an effort to take some interest in what the other person loves.
5. Learn the other’s love language
For the first few years of our marriage Mike and I couldn’t figure out why our gifts and nice gestures to each other kept falling short. We were disappointing each other without a clue as to why. Then we discovered Love Languages and realized that we were doing for each other what we desperately wanted for ourselves. Mike’s love languages are quality time and physical touch. Mine are receiving gifts and acts of service. So he’s showering me with time and affection when what I really want is for him to do stuff with the kids and bring me a People magazine. He’s getting cards and golf lessons from me when what he really wants is for me to hang out with him and give him a decent back rub. Find out what your partner’s love language is and give them what they really want.
6. Get away on your own at least once a year
This was the best advice I ever got when I was pregnant with Elena. It came from the pathologist I worked for who’d been happily married with kids for over 30 years. Some years we’ve been able to get away big (hello 7-day Carribbean cruise!), other years it’s been an overnight in Columbus. We’re blessed to have my parents who are always willing to take the kids so we can reconnect. If you don’t have family around, make a deal with another couple to swap kids for a weekend … or just pay them really well. The return on investment for your marriage will be worth every penny.
7. Learn to talk about money
Money is the number one thing couples fight about, no matter how much or how little you have. We all come into marriage with our own ideas and hangups about money. Your choices are to spend your marriage arguing, dig your head in the sand, or figure it out together. Don’t give up – it took us several years of tense and downright ugly conversations to get to a place where we feel like we’re on the same team. It is SO worth it, though. Learn it together, then teach your children in hopes that they’ll start their marriages out with one less thing to drag them down.
8. Learn to talk about sex
Guess what the second most inflammatory subject is for couples?! In my limited research on marriage (specifically, asking a handful of friends), there’s always one person who wants more sex than the other. It seems like all the planets have to align just so for both of us to be in the same groove sexually. This is still a hard one for me (womp womp), as I have a difficult time talking about sex and all the complicated feelings that go along with it. Ignoring it doesn’t make it any better, though.
9. A pissing contest only leaves you with a lot of piss
Cut it out. You both have things you have to do during your daily life, especially with young kids, that suck. Time is limited, money’s tight, sleep eludes you. Pissing and moaning about who has it harder only leaves you with bad feelings and a lot of piss to wade through. Empathize when you can, vent to your own friends when you have to, and move on.
10. Shut out the distractions
Make sure you spend part of each day actually paying attention to each other. Twitter and Facebook will live without you, memories still exist if they haven’t been Instagramed. Nothing says I could care less than checking your phone or eyeing the laptop during a conversation.
11. Don’t get stuck in the past
As the years go by, you’re both going to change. Parts get jigglier, interests change, you both grow up a little. It’s easy to get stuck reminiscing about how good things were when you first got married, and why not? You were younger, sex was new and you probably got a lot more sleep. Instead of wishing yourselves back, be glad you got to spend those days with the one you love. Focus instead on what’s awesome about now, like not having to eat Totino’s pizzas every day and being on the verge of having kids old enough to mow the lawn for you.
12. Compromise is not a dirty word
The best couples do it. This season of marriage, when you have kids and work and various obligations, leaves little time for extras. You can’t have it all. There aren’t enough hours in the day to please your kids, your spouse, your boss, yourself and maintain a home. Sometimes it’s not my turn to go out with the girls. Sometimes Mike’s job trumps family time. Sometimes he stays home while I hang out at the beach. It’s not fair all the time, just make sure you’re being fair to each other most of the time.
13. Remember the little things
I loved it when Mike surprised me with a trip away to see The Boss. But I love it just as much when he changes the oil for me, or offers to pick up Eli from school. He’s so good at the little things and I’m vowing to be better, because it’s the day in, day out random acts of kindness that show your spouse how much you really care.
14. Let your partner be good at something
Call me June Cleaver, but dividing the work 50/50 is bullshit. Stuff has to get done and usually one partner is better at it. Mike is the spreadsheet guru and has bill-paying down to a science. Is it sexist to say he’s better at money? Maybe, but he is and why should I micromanage and mess up the system just so we can be equals? I happen to be better in the kitchen. I enjoy cooking, meal planning and shopping, and he lets me do it my way. Take pride in what you and your partner are good at and don’t be afraid to brag on them in front of others. Stop worrying about if you’re both pulling equal weight and focus on doing the things you’re good at.
You don’t get to 15 years and more without royally screwing up sometimes. And by forgiveness, I mean really letting it go, not saying you forgive and then bringing up the transgression every time the gloves come out. We’ve both messed up in little ways and a handful of very, very big ways. The only reason we’re still here together is because of the healing power of grace and forgiveness.
Now it’s time to turn the tables. What’s the one piece of advice you could give us that will help us get to 25 years?