The cold, not-so-hard truth: my husband & I are not newlyweds anymore.
Hear me out on this ;).
We have a loooonng way to go before we hit a milestone of any significant kind (though, isn’t every day married, every kind word spoken and every loving action a milestone?) but, as we prepare to celebrate a year and a half of marriage, it’s dawning on me – we’re not newlyweds anymore. Not really.
In the last 18 months (the official date is in June) our lives have dramatically transformed. We started out in a tiny apartment, I had no job, we had limited experience in decision-making as a couple and almost everything in our lives was new; from our dishes, to our home address, to sex, to how we managed our time.
Last spring I was blessed with a full-time job and, a few months of scrimping and saving later (plus Tom taking on lots of overtime), we purchased, painted, tiled, repaired and installed a few appliances in our “new” (haha, new in 1981) mobile home. We found and joined our wonderful church, made the decision to start our family (God apparently agreed because five seconds later our family was started) and Tom was accepted into a Master’s program which he began in January.
At 5:30 this morning it dawned on me (no pun intended) that we’ve developed mutual symbiosis in the past year and half. If marriage is a dance all the hours we’ve spent rehearsing steps are paying off in the moments when life demands we freestyle. We’ve learned how to think on our feet and stay in synch in a significantly more consistent way than we knew how to do in December of 2011 after we said “I do”.
To explain why I realized that this morning I need to back up 7 1/2 hours to 10:30 the night before.
For only the second time in our marriage (not an exaggeration) I went to bed after Tom. Granted, it was by about ten minutes but, after six months of going to bed closer to dinnertime than any actual bedtime, I’ll make last night my claim to fame. I walked into the bedroom and saw Tom’s Bible study book on the floor near the bed (he leaves for men’s Bible study at 5:45 on Thursday mornings).
Instantly I knew two things:
1) He would forget the book the next day.
2) I was too tired to take the book into the living room and put it where he would see it.
The alarm went off at 5:30 and I heard him get up and gently close the door so I wouldn’t be too disturbed (he needn’t have worried, Evie had been tap dancing on my bladder for at least 45 minutes). I rolled over to his side (no small feat at six months pregnant) and felt around on the floor for the book.
I know him well. He had indeed forgotten it.
In that moment, blind without my glasses and in the dark, I mustered all my upper body strength and spun the book under the closed, bedroom door and into the hallway where he would have to trip over it and therefore remember it.
Mutually working together to get life done.
To his credit Tom has plenty of symbiotic moments too.
Last week my favorite glass picture frame fell off the top of the refrigerator and shattered on the kitchen floor. Somewhere between my panicked gasp (as I saw it start to fall) and the crash when it splintered into pieces, Tom was already on his feet, in the kitchen with the dustpan, sweeping it all up.
He was there because he’s learned two things about me;
1) I get mad/sad when things break.
2) The best way to comfort me is to clean it up ASAP.
Mutually working together to get life done.
I have some dearly loved siblings getting married in the next few weeks. They’ve chosen (and been chosen by) future spouses who truly love them and are all committed to building a great marriage; it’s beautiful to see. Thinking about their weddings (and the many other beautiful weddings that have and are happening this time of year) sent me back to our first year (which, thankfully, wasn’t that far back to remember ;)).
I’ve very interested in relationships (always have been).
Not just the end result but the process – how they develop, why they develop, how they can be made stronger. I started thinking about this idea of symbiosis in marriage and how it began to develop in my own relationship (as well as things we did that well, temporarily killed it). If you’re just starting out here are a few ideas of what worked from a couple about two steps further down the road ( because really, in the whole scope of our married lives a year and a half is just the beginning).
1) Cry in front of each other.
If this is already easy for your that’s wonderful. It wasn’t for me.
I’m alright with crying when I’m happy or sad but, expressing through tears (or very honest words) when I’m hurt feels too vulnerable. Learning to cry in front of Tom when we’ve hurt each other acknowledges two things. First, our love for each other (which is why we have the ability to hurt each other in the first place) and two, our willingness to stick things out until we resolve.
For the first few months of our marriage I struggled to give him those gifts of vulnerability and commitment through conflict.
What I began to learn though was that hiding behind a locked door (my modus operandi) doesn’t accomplish anything; especially when paired with the words “I just want to be alone”. Sometimes that’s true but more often that not it’s a useless phrase hiding the question “do you care enough to come after me when I’m running away from you?”.
Tom has done a lot of coming after me (who knew that bobby pins had so many lock picking purposes?). His faithfulness to pursue me in very unlovely moments has been one of the single greatest gifts of our marriage.
I’m learning a new way.
A more vulnerable, less prideful way of conflict resolution. A way that includes tears, honestly acknowledging your hurts and, also, learning that tears and hurt are normal parts of marriage.
I’m also learning the healing power that comes when the one who caused the tears is also the one to dry the tears. That is redemption. That is marital vulnerability.
2) Acknowledge (and move towards accepting) each other’s quirks.
We all have them.
I (internally) freak out if the couch cushions are crooked (I’m working on it). I strongly prefer the bed made (because, duh, it makes the house feel different). Tom likes the strawberries in his lunch cut in half not whole and prefers to keep his flip-flops by the coat rack not on the porch.
I could go on and on.
We’re learning to adapt where we can and accept each other where we can’t. Now? I try to remember to put the armrest down if I’m the one to drive the van last and, a few mornings ago, Tom headed back down the hallway before work to make the bed because he knows it matters to me.
I think a lot of couples either pretend they’re not bothered by little things their spouse does (in a false attempt at keeping the peace) or assume they have the right to demand their spouse change everything that offends them. At different times Tom & I have tried both.
After a year and a half of living with each other we’re finding the road to peace is somewhere in the middle. When we expect perfection and smooth sailing is when we’re disappointed, when we train ourselves to expect occasional frustration, to be embarrassed, to have to pick up each other’s slack in various areas – that’s when we’re able to proceed far more smoothly.
Realistic expectations are build when you acknowledge and accept the quirks and work with what you can.
3) Take time to be together.
I’ve written about this before but it’s too important in the first year or marriage not to mention again.
Prioritize your marriage.
I was shocked how quickly our calendar threatened to fill up with overtime at work, church commitments, time with friends and family, small group etc.
Time may be the single greatest gift (on top of stalwart commitment) that you can give your marriage.
The reality is that learning conflict resolution takes time, building a satisfying sexual relationship takes time, combing over the budget so your both on the same page about finances? Time. Researching graduate schools? Time. In-depth discussions about when to start your family, where to live, what car to buy? Time.
Let yourself be home together in the first months of evenings in your marriage. That gives you the space to let a disagreement over dinner flow into a heart-to-heart about what words you need to hear when you’re upset, how you grew up seeing conflict handled, ways you can grow and more.
If it sounds like a lot of work that’s because it can be.
Make yourselves some coffee (or chocolate pudding…or apple slices) and lay a solid foundation for the rest of your marriage. You won’t always have the time or need to spend three hours hashing through the small things but the ability to do so quickly (between dinner and church on a Wednesday night) is built when you spend the time practicing in the early days of your marriage.
4) Assess your relationship.
Tom & I ask each other and ourselves a lot of questions about our relationship.
Why does that hurt me?
How can I fix it?
Why do we keep getting stuck here?
How can I serve you better?
Keep two fingers on the pulse of your marriage. Don’t choke the life out of it with interrogations and comparisons but regularly evaluate the pro’s and con’s, up’s and down’s of life together.
Stagnant water mildews, stagnant relationships become routine. Mix it up – ask tough questions that you don’t know how to answer and explore solutions, together.
5) Choose contentment.
Choose each other. Over and over again choose each other.
There are a lot of reasons to be discontent in a marriage – some valid. There are reasons of abuse and infidelity to leave a marriage. However, most of us don’t leave and don’t gripe at our spouse for those reasons. Most of us get fed up with the day-to-day realities of living with another person.
We burn out on the underwear on the floor, late dinners, stolen blankets during the night. Those are normal part of marriage but they can get wearisome. Choosing to press through and balance them out with rose petals on the floor, late brunch on a lazy Saturday and stolen kisses under the blankets helps in choosing contentment during the dry seasons of extra work hours, exam weeks, early bedtime from pregnancy fatigue.
Contentment is always a choice. Always.
6) Celebrate each other.
You guys, this is probably my favorite point.
Tom & I love to celebrate things. Our cat turned one? Small party. Tom got a sale at work? We’ll light a special candle at dinner. It’s Thursday? Back rubs on the living room floor (which temporarily becomes a spa). Know your spouse’s favorite meal, snack, ice cream store, color and flower. Bonus: know their least favorite chore to do around the house (and occasionally surprise them by doing it – otherwise your knowledge works against you ;)).
Sometimes the celebration is simple as standing in the card aisle of Wal*Mart and picking out the card we would buy each other – you can read it, feel celebrated and put it back without spending a dime (true story: Tom has chased me down in the store multiple times with a card he picked out just for me, than we drop it back off on our way to the checkout line). Sometimes the celebration is as elaborate as Mexico for our first anniversary.
Our week there was seriously one of the best weeks of my life. Planning and saving for the trip was something we did together, anticipating it and counting down the days was something we did together, packing and boarding a plane? Together. The togetherness leading up to it culminated in a week of celebrating each other.
Just thinking about the spring sunshine, the balcony in our room, the secret of Evie Claire that we knew about but kept to ourselves, the nights spent barefoot on the beach, evening dinner reservations, card games in the coffee shop, books we got to read, devotions and prayer times overlooking the ocean – mmm, absolutely wonderful and irreplaceable memories.
The time and money (which is sometimes $0.00) spent on preparing a celebration of any size is always worth it. Make sure your spouse knows you see them and appreciate all they do.
So, the moral of this lengthy post is: your first year of marriage, get used to vulnerability, accept each other’s quirks, take time to be together and tackle hard things, assess the strengths and weaknesses you have as a couple that make your marriage unique, be content with your choice of spouse and, at the end of every day, celebrate them like crazy.