Do you ever come across elderly couples, walking hand in hand, radiating out their love for each other? That. That’s what I want. Now and forever. I’m a hopeless romantic – in fact, I’m basically Charlotte. I love happily-ever-afters, grand romantic gestures, and sappy love songs. While my pragmatic side recognizes real life just doesn’t work like this, I still want a love story that transcends decades. And while I fully admit I have zero qualifications (I’m not a marriage counselor, therapist, or psychologist), I do know that we are more in love today then we were 10 years ago. And that required work, understanding, and learning from our mistakes. As I reflect on what worked and didn’t work, I wanted to share 10 lessons in love I’ve learned in a decade of marriage.
Here are my 10 lessons in love:
Lesson 1: Don’t forget the magic.
There’s a line that I love from This Side of Paradise – “They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.” I have it written on a piece of paper and stuck to my wall. It makes me smile and remember the early days of our relationship. It’s so easy to forget the magic when most of your conversations revolve around who’s taking which kid to which activity, or who needs to start laundry and what needs to be picked up from the grocery store. Try to remember the magic of the early years and bring it up. “I can take her to dance class on Tuesday so you can work late. Hey – remember when we were at our friend’s wedding and you taught me how to waltz to Billy Joel’s ‘Just the way you are’? That was so much fun.”
Lesson 2: Shift Your Perspective.
You can easily come up with 3 things your spouse does that drives you crazy. Does he leave the toilet seat up? She crams dishes into the dishwasher so half of them are still dirty after the wash? He leaves wet towels on the bed? Here’s the thing, I bet you could just as easily come up with things that you love. Does he clean the litter box for you because you think it’s gross? She makes you the perfect cup of coffee every morning? Does he make silly voices when he’s reading bedtime stories to the kids? Why do we consistently focus on the things that drive us crazy? Who says we can’t focus on the things we love instead? It can be challenging to shift the perspective, and in fact, when I started consciously trying to do this, I would write lists of all the things I adored about my husband so whenever I started focusing on something annoying, I could quickly remind myself of all the reasons I was lucky to be with him.
Lesson 3: Compromise can be overrated.
If you’re always looking for the middle ground, you’re always left with two people who aren’t happy. Instead, take turns getting what you want. Obviously, life-altering decisions like taking a job across the country or having another child need to be talked through and compromised, but for the everyday stuff – take turns. Loving your spouse means sometimes eating hamburgers when you’d rather eat sushi. If an issue is REALLY important to my spouse, I let him have his way. If something is REALLY important to me, he does the same.
Lesson 4: Find a little grace.
I’ve long struggled with this. Somehow, I seem to find a little grace for just about anyone but my spouse. I can always muster up a bit of politeness for perfect strangers. Why is it so hard to do the same for my spouse? I think because we feel so safe around our loved ones, we often unleash on them the most. It’s taken me years but I’ve started to flip the script. I no longer take out my frustrations with the world on my spouse. He’s my favorite person and deserves my all my grace, not the stranger who annoyed me.
Lesson 5: Forget the golden rule.
It’s not about loving your spouse the way YOU want to be loved. It’s about loving your spouse the way THEY want to be loved. If you haven’t already read The 5 Love Languages I suggest you do ASAP. This book breaks down different ways that people express and experience love. Everyone I’ve talked to who has read it says it’s greatly helped their marriage. Read it. Seriously.
Lesson 6: When given the choice between being right and being kind, always choose to be kind.
Often, my need to be right feels like the most important thing in the world. But you know what’s more important? Being kind. When you find yourself in an argument, and all you want to do is prove how right you are – take a deep breath. Remind yourself you can always let it go and just choose to be kind.
Lesson 7: Take turns being the adult
No matter how hard you try, sometimes one of you is going to throw a tantrum. Or get a little snarky. Just accept that this is going to happen, and take turns being the adult. Whoever starts the tantrum gets dibs. The other spouse needs to be the adult. That could be as simple as just walking away for a minute to let the other one cool off. When your child throws a tantrum, you don’t throw one right back, you deal with it like an adult and talk it through when they’re calm. Show your spouse that same grace.
Lesson 8: Create a world all of your own.
Have a tradition, ritual, or activity that’s all your own. Maybe that means on Sunday nights you have family dinner, and nothing else ever gets scheduled. Or maybe you set aside time each day to work out together. Whatever the activity, make it exclusive to the both of you. This is sacred time. For us, we tend to watch one show at a time. Right now we’re totally nerding out on Game of Thrones. We make it a really big deal out of it and most of our family and friends think we’re totally weird. But it’s not about them, it’s about us and it’s totally awesome.
Lesson 9: Pursue excitement.
When I was a child, I always thought the opposite of happiness was sadness. It’s not. The opposite of happiness is boredom. Don’t let your relationship get boring. Learn what keeps you both awake with excitement and then pursue that. Together. For us, it’s world travel. Or starting a new business venture. Maybe for you, it’s getting into the best shape of your life. Or designing and building that dream house. Take time to figure it out, and then chase after it. Together.
Lesson 10: You don’t have to live your life the way others expect you to.
One of my favorite lessons in love is this – YOU are in control. YOU decide what works for you and your marriage. And YOU get to make the rules. Just because something is popular in our culture doesn’t mean that you have to blindly follow it. This could apply to anything – the division of household chores, who pays the bills, or even how you spend your money. Popular culture may dictate that you should sit around with your friends and share stories of all the annoying and stupid things your spouse does so you can all laugh and commiserate. Guess what? In my marriage, that’s something we just won’t do.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my 10 lessons in love. Do you have any to add?