The first time I saw my wife my heart stopped. OK, not literally, but I did feel like I couldn't breathe. I was 17 years old and we were both working at Burger King. She was a couple of years older and a manager. She hated me at first.
I admit that I was arrogant back then, but over time, my (now) wife and I developed a friendship. After spending 40 hours a week with each other our initially platonic feelings of affection toward one another grew. I remember the first time we kissed. I couldn't sleep that night and fell head-over-heels in love.
We were married six months after we met. We weren't planning on having a baby, and there were no pressing pragmatic concerns behind our decision. Put simply, we were in deeply love and wanted to make our union official. Just recently (December 4th, 2014), we celebrated 16 years of marriage.
But I'm not here to tell you about my storybook marriage. In fact, I wish I could tell you that we've had a storybook marriage, though that would be a big fat lie. My wife and I have gone to the edge and back in this marriage, and I have learned some valuable lessons along the way about how to make a marriage last.
1. Love is NOT a feeling.
We are taught to think that love is just a feeling that wells up within us organically. By extension, we are taught to believe that if you love someone, you do everyday, and always will. But actually the story is a bit more complicated than that.
It took years for me to realize, but I finally learned that all feelings come and go. Love is actually decision you make daily, sometimes multiple times a day. Everyday I wake up and look at the beautiful woman that I married, and I make a conscious commitment to honor my feelings of love for her every second of that day. It's easy to take others for granted, and when it comes to love, we need to be especially mindful.
When I decide I would rather die than betray my wife's trust, I'm making the decision to love. When I decide those annoying little habits aren't that big of a deal, I'm making the decision to love. Don't let "feelings" keep you from an incredible marriage.
2. Don't overthink sex.
Life would be amazing if every sexual experience was reminiscent of sex scenes in movies. But life gets busy. Period. Sometimes you're too tired. Sometimes work matters come up. Sometimes a friend needs to see you. But, sometimes, in unexpected moments, you and your partner will just need to take your clothes off and "get to know each other." Don't wait for a special moment necessarily. Don't overthink the situation, just have sex in the heat of the moment.
3. Kissing is different than a handshake.
When you've been with someone for years (or even months), kissing becomes a habit. You pause during a conversation while waiting to cross the street, so you kiss. This can be romantic, or feel like something you do simply out of habit.
But to keep a strong marriage, kissing can't be the same thing as shaking someone's hand, a cultural ritual you do simply because it's a habit. Every now and then, it's essential to take your partner by surprise and plant a deep passionate kiss smack dab on their lips. Remember that first kiss? You can make kissing feel special again!
4. Fighting is more than OK.
Every couple fights. There will be, however, those arguments that go beyond Why aren't you listening to me? There are fights that cause you both to go to bed angry. You wake up and that anger turns to bitterness. Left unchecked, that bitterness can fester and lead to more serious problems, that can turn into more than just fighting. Life is too short to hold it inside. Let it all out and make up with a kiss.
5. Talk until you annoy each other.
In the process of fighting, remember that you need to communicate with mindfulness and compassion. Of course, communication is key to a marriage but it has to go beyond that. You have to be brutally honest, and maybe even beat issues over the head. You have to talk about the things you think even most couple shy away from.
On another note, you also have to share the little moments that make each of you laugh. You have to be each other's best friend. Yes, you will have friends outside of each other, but your relationship has to be prioritized, and defined by a degree of emotional intimacy and trust that is unlike any other.
6. Learn how to parent from each other.
Fundamental differences in parenting styles is something that frequently leads to the end of many marriages. But the crazy thing is that your parenting will always be changing. Your kids, like you, are complex and dynamic beings who will grow, change and react to the things you say and do.
Every parent has that moment where he/she thinks, Wow, I thought I knew what I was doing until I actually had kids. That's why you and your partner should be open to each other's parenting styles — whether before having kids, or in the process of adapting your independent (and joint) parenting style(s) to suit your children and your family dynamic. You two will need to talk through those moments and figure it out together.
7. Ignore the haters.
There will be people who tell you not to get married or that your marriage won't last. There will be people that mock how you get along or the way you communicate. Those people are projecting their own fears and anxieties and you shouldn't fall victim to their trap.
8. Dream together.
Wherever you start your marriage shouldn't be where you're happy staying. A strong marriage grows and dreams big. Whether it's better job, moving to a new place, or traveling the world together, dream with each other and then take action on those dreams.
9. Never get complacent.
The reason many couples think about straying is because things get stale. Saying "I do" is just the first step. Getting to know each other and growing is next, but you should never settle. Continue to date your spouse, continue to surprise each other. Continue to challenge each other. When you think you have a "good enough" marriage, work harder to make it spectacular.
We've all seen the stats about how long marriages last these days, but I firmly believe any couple can beat the odds. Make the decision to honor your vows and be there through the good and bad times. Learn these lessons I learned the hard way.
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