Today Mr. Great and I celebrate ten years of marriage. A decade ago, loved ones surrounded us as we declared our commitment to each other. "Together we are stronger," we said as part of our vows.
Our wedding photos were taken with FILM (that's how long ago it was).
This is the one and only digital image I can find.
We've been to several weddings recently, so I've been thinking about what it means to be married. I've learned a lot in the years since our day in the park. I've learned about myself, the man I married, and about marriage. If we wrote our vows today, knowing what we've learned, I think the words would be different. But one thing would not change: Together we are stronger.
So, ten years in, what do I know? I know that marriage is hard. It's really, really hard. It's hard to nurture and care for, and easy to neglect. It takes work. It takes perseverance and patience. It takes a lot of love and a steadfast desire to see it through. Most of all, it takes friendship.
Marriage isn't rainbows and canoe rides in the moonlight. It isn't bouquets, fancy cakes, and expensive dresses. What is it? I think it's the intersection of our lives in a chaotic collection of actions, moments, and opportunities. It's being your best and your worst, and loving someone who's doing the same. It's how we talk to each other, the little things we do each day, the way we approach life as a team. Together we are stronger.
I don't claim to have it all figured out. I'm certainly no expert on marriage, and I readily admit that there's work to be done on ours. But I have learned some things along the way that seem to have helped us get here. Here's what I hope to remember as we approach the next ten years.
Laugh. It's true that laughter is good medicine. Never underestimate the power of a tears-down-your-cheek, nearly-wet-your-pants belly laugh. Or even a silly pun or joke. Laughter is good for us individually, and laughing together can treat all sorts of marital ailments.
Accept/Respect/Forgive. Marriage brings to light all of our individual weaknesses and requires us to accept those weaknesses in ourselves and our partners. Don't dwell on it; instead choose to see it for what it is and get over it. Recognize that we are fundamentally different people who react and process differently, especially in times of great joy or difficulty.
Know when to talk and when to shut up and listen. This sounds so easy, but in reality it's a skill that takes a lifetime to develop. Figure out how to satisfy both partners' needs to talk and be heard. Watch out for interruptions. Give undivided attention.
Watch the How. How we say things matters as much as, and sometimes more than, what we say. So be careful about tone, timing, and presentation. It won't matter if you're right, if you say it wrong.
Be positive. Encourage your partner, build him up, be a welcome relief from life's outside stress and challenges. Be a source of light, and radiate positive energy. Not always, of course; that's unrealistic. It's equally important to recognize when not to blow sunshine up your partner's butt and instead join him in the darkness.
Express love and thanks. We all express love differently, and we seek different forms of expression from others. Use words, actions, touching, and romantic gestures. Mix it up. Try to recognize how your partner is most comfortable expressing love and be aware of those expressions. Look for expressions in the seemingly mundane. When your partner washes dishes, gives you a moment of peace and quiet, works long hours -- these can all be expressions of love, so say thank you.
Play. Get outside, go for a walk or hike, get dirty. Dance. Sing the most ridiculous song you can think of. Forget that you're a grown-up and do something silly.
Have pride and confidence. Believe in your self. Make decisions, take positions, stand up for what you believe in (while knowing when to let go, of course). Care about your appearance and make an effort to be healthy and attractive.
Touch. Physical connection is important. Hugs, kisses, holding hands, brushing up against each other, and more. It's good for us.
Fight fair. Fights happen. Serious and scary fights happen. Sometimes we go to bed angry, and sometimes we wake up angry. Sometimes we don't sleep at all. But during those tumultuous times, always keep the fight fair. No name calling, no underhanded attacks, never in front of the kids. Be careful when talking about patterns ("always" and "never" are usually trouble). Don't keep score.
Wait it out. There will be slumps. There will be times that you or your partner is exhausted, preoccupied, sick, stressed. It will feel like you have nothing left and can't even find energy for a kiss. Trust that it will pass.
Trust. Believe that your partner has your best interests at heart. Trust him to try, to care, to have good instincts and motives.
The piece of paper really does matter. I used to believe that a marriage certificate was a formality that didn't amount to anything. But there are moments -- fleeting, but powerful -- where that piece of paper seems like the most compelling reason to stick it out and stay. That paper can help us get over the hump and back to the other, more rosy side of marriage.
Children challenge us. Having children intensifies the challenges of marriage. There are more demands on us individually, less time, less energy. The balance of power shifts, and priorities change. It creates the perfect conditions under which a marriage can be neglected. Be mindful of this. Enjoy watching your partner grow in his role as a parent, and be reminded of the qualities you fell in love with.
Friendship is paramount. At the end of the day, friendship and the trust, respect, and basic connection that goes with it are the key. Enjoying each other's company, fundamentally liking each other, looking forward to conversation, wanting to be together through it all -- these are the foundation for a lasting marriage.
Together we are stronger. This is more true today than when we recited it ten years ago. Combine our talents, our strengths, and our love for each other, and you get one incredible partnership. As we grow together and experience life together, we grow stronger.
Our having made it ten years does not mean we're a big success story. Sure, we've outlasted plenty of other good people. But who knows why; it could be dumb luck. Whatever it is, I am incredibly thankful that I get to spend each day with my best friend, whose company I enjoy, who I genuinely like as a person, who I admire and respect, and who makes life a whole lot more fun.
Photo courtesy of Blue Lily Photography.
At our wedding, a dear friend read the lyrics to John Lennon's song, Grow Old With Me. As our crow's feet take hold and gray hairs multiply, I'm reminded that we're living the dream. We're growing old together. And, indeed, the best is yet to come.