A few things I have noted or learned in the last decade and a half.
This week, my best friend and I will celebrate 15 years of marriage. People now tell us, “That’s a long time.” It is, but it sure feels like a short long time. We both know how lucky we are to have found each other in the sea of humanity, and to still be happy after this long. Being happy together does not mean we have nothing to learn, however. In 15 years I have learned many things, some universal truths and some particular to our life. In honor of 15 years together, here are 15 things I have taken note on.
1. Say aloud, “I’m lucky.” Repeat at least daily.
No matter how happy you are, your partner needs to hear this or something like it on a daily basis. Not because they are insecure, but because you genuinely feel lucky that they are sharing your life. That is something that needs said. Never assume your partner knows you feel this way. There is a difference between knowing a thing, and hearing it for yourself. And the very best feeling is when you both say it, and you both honestly think that you are the luckiest of the pair. Acknowledging your gratitude daily is a great combatant against the risk of taking someone for granted.
2. Separate hobbies are good. Shared hobbies are good. Have some of each.
My husband and I are rare in that we can happily be together all the time. We do not tire of each other’s company and there are a lot of things we like to do as a couple. Even so, we each greatly value our alone time and keep our separate hobbies. I like to get in the garden and plant things in the dirt; he likes to ride dirt bikes. I like to write; he likes to play guitar. Separate activities do a lot for our relationship. We both require a feeling of autonomy in our lives to be happy; just something small that we can enjoy and call our own. Separate hobbies help with that. It also supplies us with quite a lot of conversation, since we are always eager to share our experiences and lessons.
3. Some picky eaters can reform. Somewhat.
Fifteen years ago I would have been floored to find out the things that my beloved will eat today. On our wedding day his food groups consisted of meat and potatoes. I worked around his culinary handicap for quite a long time, considering I am widely known to eat nearly anything and enjoy a variety of foods. It got boring and annoying after a few years, I admit. So I slowly changed things up. I began sneaking the occasional onion into my recipes. A couple times a week there would be an extra side dish on the table. Sometimes I just outright cooked whatever I wanted with no regard for anyone else. I haven’t always been successful. He only ever agreed to try Chinese food because our best friends offered it, but at least he will eat it now. I like to think I opened his mind to trying it. Or maybe he was just hungry. One way or another, fifteen years of small steps and good cooking has expanded his palette. He still refuses salad. I’m working on it.
4. Patience ain’t just a Guns N’ Roses song.
This seems like an obvious note to make in any relationship: patience is a must. But when most people refer to patience, I think they mean the sort that you have for the daily grievances that come up like a late mortgage payment or a crunched rear bumper. I am talking about a deeper kind of patience. The giving kind. The kind that evolves into empathy for your mate. The kind of patience that leads you to first understand before demanding. It is the purest form of patience, because it seeks only to give and expects nothing in return.
5. We have an exclusive language.
After this many years, nearly 18 all together, we have developed our own set of inside jokes, references, puns, callbacks, and quotes. Much of the time we will make the same remark at the same time, proving that we think alike often. It’s fun, and it makes us laugh and feel closer. What’s better than a secret language with your best friend?
6. We have our own traditions.
Every year our family throws a big Fourth of July party. It’s an all-day affair, with people coming and going, lots of good food, music, swimming, volleyball, and everything else you need for a truly American good time. We look forward to it all year and it never fails to be a fantastic day. We also look forward to Halloween, when the kids dress up and we take them trick-or-treating with our best friends, like we have done every October for years. On Christmas Eve, the kids are each allowed to open one gift, containing a new pair of pajamas. Obviously those pajamas are worn to bed, after faces are scrubbed and teeth are brushed and carrots are left out for the reindeer. Every Sunday we try to have a rest day. The kids are relieved of chores, and we try not to do a bunch of work around the house. It does not always work out that way, but we try. Thursday nights are jam sessions for my husband and writing nights for me. There is a certain security in having your own rhythms, patterns and traditions as a family, and ours is strong.
7. Who’s the Boss (of the remote)?
According to sitcoms and stand-up, fights over the remote are common in marriages. I have no idea because we don’t fuss over it. Sometimes he drives, sometimes I do. (That’s what we call running the remote: driving.) I do know the secret to not arguing over television, however. Just stop caring about it. The vast majority of tv is junk anyway, and the shows we care about number in the single digits. Anything we must watch (*cough* Game of Thrones *cough*) we can get online and watch at our leisure. So there’s really no need in anyone getting their knickers in a twist. Bonus: sometimes I end up watching a show with him that I might not have watched otherwise, and vice versa. That can be fun.
8. Who’s the Boss (of the finances)?
Every couple has their own way of handling finances. Some don’t handle them at all and live in a constant state of near-collapse. We have our own way of dividing up expenses and household needs, and we spend a lot of time talking about money matters. It’s a joint effort, but we each spearhead different parts. He makes sure the bills get paid. I make sure we have food in the house, take care of family needs, and things like school pictures and the state fair. It’s a system that works for us, and we help each other out as we can. We both know it’s our money, but we are both just independent enough to want to hold on to our own income and determine how it is spent. The partnership and team effort involved mean a lot to us.
9. Endless laundry taught me something.
I despise folding laundry. I don’t mind the washing and drying so much, but the hanging up, folding and putting away…no. One day a few years back I was performing the hated task of folding sheets and it occurred to me that I did not strictly have to do every step of my least favorite household chore. The family could at least put their own stuff away. It didn’t take me long to further realize that I don’t really owe them the meticulous folding of underwear and socks that I was spending extra time on, so I stopped doing that too. These days I make a half-hearted attempt to fold anything that can’t be hung up, pile their socks into a leaning tower, and holler at the kids to come get their stuff and to actually put it away this time. The only things I put away are my own clothes and household items like towels and sheets. My family did not even register the change when I stopped matching their socks. The kids moaned and groaned about Minecrafting time getting interrupted, but they put away their laundry when I asked them to. It was a lot less work for me, only a little work for them, and I stopped feeling so annoyed with the process of laundry. It’s a pretty good lesson for how small, simple changes can make a big impact.
10. Spoons taught me something, too.
For a long time, opening my silverware drawer in the kitchen meant I had to exercise some of the patience I mentioned in #6. The spoons are always a jumbled mess in there you see, which violates my whackadoodle need for things to go in their designated places. I now resign myself to the fact that the spoons always will be a jumbled mess because I am the only one that notices or cares. The soup spoons will always be hidden in a pile of serving spoons, with the occasional long-handled tea spoon making an appearance. Embracing the fact that there’s nothing I can do to change it went a long way toward making peace with the jumble. I’ve gotten pretty good at mumbling, “At least they’re clean and in the drawer” at myself to dispel my disdain, which is proof that telling yourself something often enough will make you believe it. I know it’s a silly thing to be hung-up on. Sometimes I rearrange them to the right spots, but lately I have been leaving them alone. I think that’s progress.
11. Cuddling all night is overrated.
Cuddles are great. It’s my favorite part of the day. But when it’s time to sleep, we agree it’s time to retreat to our own side of the bed. It works for us. I know there are couples out there that sleep in a tangled pile of limbs, and that’s pretty amazing actually. I have no idea how that can happen. I always end up with a sore back and a crick in my neck, and bad sleep. Kudos to you, Pile People. It’s not us.
12. Jerry was a race car driver.
Another area of life where I have control issues is the driver’s seat. I am not a fan of being a passenger. It’s never anything personal against whomever I may be riding with. I just prefer the control. Plus I admit that I risk car sickness when I’m not driving, especially in the back seat. This is a tough thing to contend with when your true love has the heart of a racer. In truth, I stomp the imaginary brake for everyone I ride with, and he’s got a lot more of my trust than anyone else on the road, no matter how much of a backseat driver I can be.
13. Thirteen is a lucky number.
The number 13 comes up too often for it to be coincidence, not that we are particularly superstitious. It’s more of an interesting phenomenon. One of the particular family traditions we have that I referred to in #6 involves the number 13. My birthday is July 13, and I have a knack for checking the clock at 7:13 every day. My family caught on to how often I was catching the same time, and now whenever any of us sees that time on the clock we yell out, “7:13!” to be echoed by the rest of the family. Most evenings one of us will announce the time this way.Thirteen has always been our favorite number, and now it’s become a family tradition.
14. Some of that mushy stuff is true.
I can honestly say that after 15 years, I really do love him more now than I did then. On our wedding day I thought there was no way I could love him more. And on that day I was right. But now we have 15 years of fun memories, two kids, vacations, hard times, storms, illnesses, car accidents, and everything else that makes up the fabric of our lives. I love the tapestry we have now more than I loved the shining threads we had then.
15. Mushy stuff aside, speak your mind.
No matter how much you think alike, nobody is a mind reader. The best way to avoid little things piling up and becoming big things is to speak up and talk it over. Don’t pick fights. There is a difference. Respect when you are wrong, and be gracious when you are right. Stand your ground, but be willing to let go.
These are only a few of the things I have learned in 15 years of marriage. I have no doubt the next 15 will be just as instructive. The kids will grow up and move out. We just might get the house paid off. Retirement will be on the horizon. I am beyond blessed to be celebrating this special day with my favorite person ever, and I hope we see many more together.