Married 20 Years: 6 Key Things We Learned to Be Happy
This weekend we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary – a major milestone. It is hard to believe where the time as gone. Upon reflecting over the years, we have learned a few things about what makes a relationship work and what doesn’t. We have great times and we have faced challenges which have become opportunities for growth which eventually turned into stepping stones. Our marriage stood some difficult tests from outside circumstance. Life happens. How we respond to those circumstances makes the difference between success and failure. In this blog we’ll share some things that have worked for us.
There are many forces that are work in our culture that can undermine our relationships. We get messages every day from the media that persuade us to embrace expectations that are not grounded in reality. The media messages about sex, romance, self-indulgence, meeting your own needs, wealth, and looking out for number one are not always grounded in reality. If we embrace the wrong set of expectations and world view about our life and marriage, we are unlikely to be successful and happy.
Everyone is unique and every marriage is unique. What works for one couple might not work for others depending on your back ground. But I do think there are some key foundations that if uniquely applied will have universal positive results. Here are a few of the principles and practices that we have embraced. I hope this encourages you and re-directs your thinking to find solutions for your special relationship
- Keep Short Accounts. Forgive, forgive, and then forgive. No one is perfect and everyone will make mistakes and hurt you at some point or another. When I mess up, I like it when people forgive me. Do the same for others, and especially your spouse. When we don’t forgive, it is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It is the surest way to destroy any relationship. For some this may be hard to do because of your past experiences. Know that it is not impossible and there is path of freedom that can be realized through forgiveness.
- Listen, Listen, and then Listen. Empathetic listening is when the other person knows how you feel and fully understands what you are experiencing. This type of listening will disarm the misunderstanding that can come from our word choices. It is the greatest bridge builder in any relationship. Also be mindful of the powerful communication of body language. Body language constitutes 60%+ of your communication. Body language can give you some major clues into how people are really feeling. Listening is learned skill; it doesn’t happen naturally. It takes work and practice to get good at it. It starts with making a choice.
- Learn to Fight Fairly: You don’t have to raise your voice, yell, and lose your temper in order to have a good fight. Agree to have disagreements and establish ground rules. Don’t bring the past into the present. Deal with the issues, facts and feelings at hand. Don’t use the words like always and never. Watch out for accusations because they will drive you apart. Turn accusations around and share why you think and feel the way you do. Allow each person to share without interruption. Make sure each person is fully understood. People say you shouldn’t go to bed angry. However, we found some conflicts happened simply because we were so tired and exhausted. Sometimes a good night’s sleep gave us new perspective on things. We also learned early in our marriage to not bring up big issues late at night. Make a commitment to work out your problems. In time solutions will come. Always reaffirm your love for each other even though you might not agree on everything. You need your spouse and your spouse needs you.
- Manage Your Expectations. We found that when our expectations were not aligned with reality, it always created conflicts. Letting go of expectations about what marriage is and what it means to have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship is the first step to building a lasting marriage. I am not saying that we should not have expectations. I am saying we need to be willing to let go and modify them to make things work. The expectations set in your parent’s relationship (if adopted) will not work in your new and unique relationship. Be flexible and don’t get stuck in expectations that leave you disappointed. Talk with one another to get aligned on what is realistic.
- Remember you are on the Same Team: Early in our marriage we found ourselves irritated by things the other did. We thought that the other person was doing these things to intentionally torment us! What we found out that we were just being ourselves in ways that we were different from each other. Our personality differences, preferences, and habits created this wrong perception. We resolved this by making a joke- by saying humorously, “you are just doing that to torment me”. This key phrase made us laugh, disarming the negative energy in our relationship and adjusting our expectations and perceptions to get on the right track.
- Feelings Come and Go. In early part of any marriage, there is a rocket booster effect that comes from an emotional high called “being in love”. If this “feeling” as the barometer of whether you are “in love” or not, you will be on an emotional roller coaster ride all your marriage. Feelings are affected by your day at work, interactions with family and the kids, hormones and much more. Your love will grow and go through many different phases as it matures. Don’t get stuck in one view on what love looks like. If you treat each other with love, honor, respect and with the goal to seek the best for your spouse as a dear friend, the emotions will follow. Commitment precedes feelings for the most part.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Get help if you need it. It is worth it.