Eight Years Down the Road to Old-and-Gray

Eight years later, and he still makes me profoundly happy.

Today Ryan and I have been married EIGHT whole years (and have been together a total of ELEVEN!). As far as anniversaries go, this one was rather quiet since Ryan is currently traveling, and life went about itself with complete normalcy and without pomp and circumstance. A few days ago we looked at one another in the midst of a stressful and consuming situation and confessed that neither of us had really thought about celebrating our anniversary this year, confessions that we both laughed at and then vowed to worry about post-anniversary. (Isn’t that how life gets after more than a decade together? :) )

And, now that the house is peacefully quiet with the baby asleep in her crib, the dogs snoring at my feet and Ryan exploring the West Coast, I’m left to my own thoughts. Eight years is a long time, and every day Ryan and I seem to be happier and happier–an unexpected outcome in today’s world. The idea of a honeymoon phase has never suited us; truthfully, Ryan and I love and appreciate one other more today than we did on this day eight years ago, and oftentimes we have a tinge of guilt because we are surrounded by and confided in by others who have deep wounds within their marriages. We, however, have seemed to weather the storms of life rather well, and for that I can only thank a loving God and a loving husband. I don’t say any of this to be obnoxious or to rub our happiness in anyone’s face, but rather my hope is that someone out there will regain faith that a happy, healthy marriage in today’s crazy world is actually possible; this I know from firsthand experience.

Okay, so now onto the older-wiser stuff. A successful marriage is the culmination of a million little moments working together to create a beautiful relationship, and over the past eight years, Ryan and I have learned a few things that have made our relationship stronger and better. These aren’t anything super profound or revolutionary, but they’ve seemed to work well for us. :)

Here are eight things that have helped make our road to old-and-gray a happy road:

1. Worry about the other’s needs, not your own. It’s pretty simple: Worry about the other person’s happiness and fulfillment more than your own, and they’ll feel loved and appreciate you in return. (Isn’t it easy to love someone who serves you selflessly?) At the same time, that person is looking out for you as well, meaning your needs are also being met. It’s a foreign concept in our modern world, but, man, does it make for a strong, long-lasting, trusting relationship!

2. Division of labor makes for less bickering. Ryan and I rarely fight, and, in fact, we’ve never had a true blow out complete with yelling, name calling and all that stuff. That’s not to say that we don’t get frustrated or exacerbated with each other, but overall we’re pretty agreeable. It occurred to us early in marriage that one of the most common subjects that married people argue over is the daily duties (e.g. who does the dishes–the person who used them or the stay-at-home-mom?). From the start we’ve had a clear-cut list of which responsibilities belong to whom, and although they’ve adjusted along with our lifestyle, having that division of labor has helped us avoid little fights along the way. Really, why waste energy on arguing over whose turn it is to take out the poopy diaper trash?

3. Have low expectations of one another. I know that this is counterintuitive; if we expect the best of ourselves, shouldn’t we expect the same of our partner in life? Nope. Ryan and I set the bar very low when it comes to one another. (Hence the laughter that neither of us had actually planned anything for our anniversary!) How lovely it is to be blown away by your spouse because you literally expected nothing of them! And, conversely, how disheartening it is to be disappointed by your spouse because they fell short of your expectations…

4. Love your spouse more than your children. All the husbands cheer, and all the wives cower in shame. This is a big one for a lot of people. Kids change the dynamic of the relationship forever, and a lot of people (women) struggle because they truly love their children more than they love their husbands. And the hardest part of it is that you can’t change or control whom you love more; the heart does what it wants. So, to all the husbands who “amen’d” this point, if you want your wife to love you more than she does your kids, you need to love her better than they love her. (Yup. You read right.) You need to love her unconditionally, hug her, snuggle her, be kind to her, need her, fill her needs…and she will love you back. Wives, as your husband loves you well, remember that he will be there when the children are gone–and for goodness’s sake, TELL HIM that you love him more than your kids! Men need obvious signs like that. ;)

5. People change at their own will, not at your will. I started off standing in the “Hell No” category when it came to having kids, and here we are, eight years later, and I’m baking Baby #2 while happily caring for Baby #1. No one could’ve ever predicted that this life, that parenthood, would make me so happy, but people DO change. (Time does that to us humans.) HOWEVER, you cannot force someone to change, and, in fact, in marriage, trying to force someone to change often has the opposite effect. You married your spouse, faults and all, and expecting them to change for you is unrealistic. (Although we sure can try. Right, my always-late husband? :) ) Your role is to grow with each other, change alongside one another and encourage the best outcome for the other.

6. Say thank you. Say thank you a lot. We’re typically very rude to those closest to us, aren’t we? (And no one wants to be treated like that!) Ryan and I always make a point of saying thank you to one another often. We do so in small situations (like saying thanks when he opens my car door) and in the grander scheme of things (like thanking him for working so hard to provide for our family). It helps to make each other feel appreciated, and it comes at such little cost.

7. Acknowledge the others’ hardship instead of trying to one-up them. Life is hard. It’s hard no matter what stage or situation you’re in, and sharing about our low points is part of processing life. When your’e on the listening end of that conversation, it’s natural to chime in about your own hardships; it makes for good bonding and commiserating. However, as much as misery loves company, sometimes misery just wants to vent. Ryan and I have adopted the practice of acknowledging the other’s hardships before venting ourselves. We say, “I know that your day was terrible, and I’m sorry for that. Here’s what’s going on in my sucky day as well…” and it helps us to not downplay the other’s misery. This simple phrase allows both people to vent freely without feeling like the other is trying to outdo the other.

8. “I do” is not a magic phrase. I have had so many people tell me how difficult their first year of marriage was, and Ryan and I can’t relate. In listening to dozens of couples lament about disappointment and struggles they went through in the early years of marriage, it occurred to us that the reason our first year was so great is that we had extremely realistic views of marriage. We both knew that saying “I do” didn’t change anything: There is no magic the morning you wake up from your wedding night; you both wake up with the same baggage and bad breath that you had the day before because you’re the same people that you were before. I’ve had so many friends who didn’t realize that problems in their dating relationship would spill over into (and be magnified by) their marriage, but your dating relationship really is a mini version of what life as Mr. and Mrs. will be like: If you fight all the time, you’ll fight all the time. If you’re loving and forgiving, you be loving and forgiving. It’s as simple as that. And the real kicker? Almost a decade later, and I can attest that you still wake up with the same baggage and bad breath on your eighth anniversary that you had on your honeymoon. :)

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