-Andy Stanley

-Andy Stanley

As of today, I’ve been married for 22 years. Double Deuces. Apparently, we’re supposed to exchange copper-theme gifts this year. Suggestions include copper mugs, pitchers or door knockers. Copper?

That’s not happening.

Yet, each wedding anniversary feels like a gold medal for me. I’m proud of every annual milestone. You see, our marriage is a bit like the old Shania Twain classic “Still The One.” Years ago, my parents told us that they figured our marriage would last about three years. Not because they wanted us to fail, but because we had so much NOT going our way. For instance, we were 20 and 19. We were an interracial couple making minimum wage and only halfway through college. Oh, and I was six months pregnant.  The deck was definitely stacked against us.

However, I’ve learned that our circumstances weren’t our greatest challenge. Our greatest challenge in staying married was us – our personalities, our choices and our flaws.

Yet, in spite of us, we’ve stayed together. God gets the credit for it, because I sure don’t. Furthermore, I’m so grateful for the guy who stuck beside me all of these years while I’ve had to figure some things out.

 I’m no expert on marriage, but I am wiser now. Mostly, because I’m learning from the mistakes I’ve made. So, to celebrate our 22nd anniversary, I thought I’d share some of the things that I’ve learned about myself, my husband and marriage.

What I’ve learned over the past 22 years of marriage…

1. Your wedding day should NOT be the best day of your marriage. My husband told me this on our wedding day and it’s the #1 advice I share with new brides. It’s okay to put lots of time and energy into planning a fantastic wedding. Just make sure that you put even more time and energy into making every day the best day of your marriage.

We married in a lilac preserve (that burned down the next year).

We married in a lilac preserve (that burned down the next year).

2. Smile.  Smiling goes a long ways, ladies. But, when we get busy or tired, our smiles are the first to go. Here’s a quick exercise: Take out a mirror and say your husband’s name in your annoyed or exasperated voice. Look at your face while you are talking. Not attractive, right? Now smile and say his name in the mirror. That’s the smile he fell in love with. Let him see it more often.

3. Marriage is hard.  Don’t forget that your flaws and struggles make your marriage hard. We are so quick to see the places where our husbands’ have failed us and blame them for our misery. What should you do? Instead of wanting your hubby to shape up or make your relationship better, step up and deal with your issues and let him handle his. (Even if he doesn’t deal with his issues, your relationship will be better just because you’ve dealt with yours.)

He still has that smile.

He still has that smile.

4. Let him decide on stuff. Wives don’t have the corner market on how stuff should get done. Husbands have good ideas, too. Different, but good. My hubby loves to grocery shop. For years, I didn’t want him to buy groceries because he didn’t do it my way. Then, I finally agreed to let him go grocery shopping. Sure, he does it his way. But, not my way. Yet,  the world still turns. Most importantly, I don’t have to go grocery shopping anymore. Score!

5. Laughing together can overcome many, many bad days. Laughing together can keep you together – especially when times are tough. My husband and I laugh like rockstars together.  Once, we watched all of the “Real Men of Genius” commercials in a row and laughed so hard that we drooled on each other. It was awesome.

6. You can be happy or right. Trust me, it’s not the same thing. You can’t be happy and right. Well, you can be, but your husband and marriage will suffer. Trying to be right will put you in the loser column every single time. Pick happy instead.

7. He isn’t saying everything he is thinking, so neither should you. This is pretty self-explanatory. Say less. Smile more. (I have to keep reminding myself of this.)

8. Be kind to your hubby and get some girlfriends. Your husband was not placed on this earth to fulfill all of your relational needs. Your guy loves you, but he doesn’t have enough bandwidth to cover all your emotional and relational needs. Girlfriends can. Kicking it with the girls can fill the needs that your husband isn’t equipped to fill.

9. Your husband already knows when he screws up. Seriously, you don’t have to tell him.  As my husband told me once, “I am not stupid. I know when I mess up. You don’t have to tell me.”  I think your husband would agree. If he blows it, he knows it. Pointing it out just makes things worse. A decent guy will handle his business without commentary or help from his wife.

10. Sometimes, he is having a bad day and it has nothing to do with you. You don’t have to be responsible for managing his feelings and you don’t have to try to fix his bad day.  Just leave him alone.

11. Take care of yourself. Women are famous for taking care of everyone else before taking care of themselves. But, we can’t give what we don’t got. If you aren’t emotionally, physically, spiritually or mentally healthy, then you will be operating from a deficit. Marriage requires too much for you to be operating from a negative. Figure out what you need to be whole and healthy. Then do it.

12. Marriage is hard. I know I already covered this, but it’s important enough for me to say it again.

Drawing by Gus Galvez (2011)

Drawing by Gus Galvez (2011)

13. Some of your marriage dreams won’t come true.  This is great!  If all of your marriage-related dreams came true, you’d  miss out on something that was even better than your dream. Over the years, I’ve forgotten about the houses I wanted to buy or the furniture I set my heart on. Wouldn’t it be a shame if I wrecked my relationship by getting upset about things (from the past) that I no longer cared about? In the past 22 years, we’ve share some amazing unplanned moments. These moments that were far better than any failed dreams.

14. Forgive. Sister, you gotta let go of stuff. Forgiveness gives you an opportunity to be the best spouse that you can be. Being angry or bitter is just as wrong as his bad behavior that hurt you. Holding a grudge won’t change his behavior, especially bad behavior. It just makes you miserable. Forgiveness keeps you healthy and whole, even if he’s having issues. You’ve messed up, too. Give what you someday want to receive.

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15. Never put the kids (even adult kids) before your relationship with your husband. If you love your kids, take care of your marriage first. Taking good care of your marriage will naturally overflow into taking good care of your kids.  (This also goes for women who still have a close relationship with Mom. Don’t make your husband compete with your mom.)

16. Date Night or Divorce. Your marriage has a high mortality rate without a regular date night. It’s cheaper to go out for regular date night and reconnect than pay financially and emotionally for divorce.

17. If your relationship falls apart, start over and make new beginning. We survived a traumatic event in our marriage years ago. It almost ended our relationship. The pain was crushing all around. It took a long time, a lot of forgiveness and individual work on both sides. Now, we have a different, but better marriage. We wouldn’t have gotten to this point if we would not have experienced such pain and hurt. We had to start over again and rebuild in a new direction. It’s possible. (Okay, I know you’re wondering what it is. No one was unfaithful or anything like that. Stuff happens and praise God, we got through it.)

18. Only You…This next one will ruffle some feathers. I don’t think a married woman should have dinner alone with another man who is not her husband. As a former business woman, I know that you have meetings with co-workers or the need to entertain clients. I’m just stating what has been a good boundary for me over the years. We all know co-workers who hooked up because meetings led to lunch. Then, multiple lunches led to dinners. In time, those dinners led to emotional attachments that wrecked a marriage.  I hope this one has created some tension for some of you. It’s one of those issues that can put a chink in the trust wall of your marriage relationship. Add a few other marriage stresses and those tiny chinks can turn into cracks. Cracks are bad. Say “no” to crack.

19. You’ll want to give up on your marriage at times. Don’t let the feeling of wanting to give up on your marriage scare or discourage you.  Just because you think “it’s over” doesn’t make it true. When that thought or feeling crops up, you’ll have to push through it. There’s no shortcut. You have to choose to stay it in. (This doesn’t apply to those of you who are being abused or with men who are unfaithful. You need to get somewhere safe and get help. NOW!)

20.  There’s a time and place for everything to say everything. If your hubby is way off base on an issue, instead of arguing him down, take a break from the drama. You don’t need to have the last word. Just calmly walk away. A smart guy who values his wife will take his cue from your self-control and seek out your opinion once tempers cool.

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21. Don’t compare. Theodore Roosevelt once said that “Comparison is the thief of joy”.  Don’t judge your relationship with your husband based on what you think someone else’s relationship with their spouse is like. Check out the Steven Furtick quote. Right?

22. Commitment is the path to the “win.”  Our goal should be to win in our marriage. What does the “win” look like?  A lifetime of growing, changing and learning from each other about what it means to love unconditionally.

I hope that a few things on this list were helpful for you. If you don’t agree with some of them, I’m okay with that. This is just the stuff I’ve learned over the years. Twenty-two years from now, I’ll have another list. Maybe it will be shorter. 

Share your thoughts with me – and share this post if you think that it might bless someone else.

Barb