In November this year my wife Jessie and I will celebrate five years of marriage.
I'm lucky to be able to say it really has been the most amazing five years. During these first few years of our life together, I've learned what I now consider the essential lessons of marriage. These are the things I wish I had known a long time ago. They've made all the difference in my relationship, so I wanted to share them with you.
1. Learning your love language (and your partner's) will change your relationship forever.
When Jessie and I started dating, I freaked out that I might wreck the great thing I'd gotten going, so I started researching how to "get good" at relationships. In the process, I came across Gary Chapman's The 5 Love Languages. Dr. Chapman says that each of us has two dominant love languages of the five: physical touch, receiving gifts, acts of service, quality time, and words of affirmation.
If you feel like your partner doesn't recognize all you do for them or how much you love them, it's probably because you have a different love language. It's an absolute must read! If you want to take the quiz to find out your own love languages, you can do it here.
2. Knowing each other's Enneagram type will help you understand and appreciate each other better.
The enneagram is one of the most profound, powerful guides to understanding your personality and how it works in relationships. Developing an understanding of your and your partner's strengths and weaknesses gives you a greater appreciation for each other. I'm a Type 7, which means I can be too busy, spontaneous, and scattered. Jessie is a Type 3, which means she's adaptable, excelling, driven, and image-conscious. Our personalities are so different, but they work together beautifully.
3. The notion that relationships are 50/50 is totally false.
When we get married, I thought the expectation was that each party had to put in 50 percent of the work. That is an absolute lie. Some days I'm tired, stressed, or grumpy, and I'm contributing about 10 percent to the marriage, and Jessie has to take the 90 percent. Other days Jessie is acting like an absolute—actually, it doesn't matter. You get the idea.
4. Placing blame during arguments is never constructive.
This is so hard. When you're frustrated, it's easy to want to highlight all the stuff your partner is doing wrong. The fact is, this just makes things worse. Focus on how you can improve what you have control over. If you both focus on how you can improve yourselves, you take steps toward progress. I wish I had already mastered this, but it's a work in progress.
5. It pays to always make time for quality time.
Date nights are a great way for you to remind yourself why you fell in love. Ours is on a Monday. Sometimes we go out for coffee or dinner; other nights we just chill out together. It's a big priority for us.
6. Even in marriage, sex is always a privilege, not a right. Seduction remains crucial.
I learned the hard way that you can't just come out of the bathroom playing Flight of The Conchords "Business Time" and expect to get lucky. I mean, it might work once or twice, but it shouldn't be your go-to move. If you want your partner to be in the mood for physical intimacy, be affectionate all day. Finding out your partner's love language will help you invest in actions that will have a meaningful effect on your partner. Is she a gift lover? Buy her flowers, chocolate, and wine—her favorite indulgences. Is she all about words of affirmation? Tell her why she is so special to you. Acts of service are more her vibe? Wash the dishes without being asked. You'll figure it out.
7. Your feelings toward each other will change over time (and that's OK).
When Jessie and I first got together, I blushed every time I saw her. I finally started to understand all the love songs, movies, and ridiculous things I'd seen my friends do for the people they loved. When we got married, people told me that these feelings wouldn't always be there. I didn't really believe them. Here's the thing: I love Jessie more than I ever have, but I don't blush when I think about her anymore. I don't get nervous holding her hand or kissing her. Sometimes I get annoyed at her and vice versa. Don't rely on feelings to prove that you love something. Commit to it and watch how your behavior drives your emotion to follow.
8. Showing and telling your partner all the things about them you appreciate breathes new life into your relationship.
A few weeks ago, Jessie told me she thought I might have a photographic memory. Ever since, I've been convinced I do, and my ability to remember things has improved dramatically. Tell the person you love what you love about them and watch that area of their life flourish.
9. Sometimes listening is more helpful than fixing.
Every time Jessie brings up a problem, I'm immediately convinced I have the solution. I am slowly learning that she doesn't need my genius input on what she's venting all the time. She just wants me to listen. Guys, trust me. If you're single or have just entered a relationship, this is a GOLDEN rule.
10. Take time to actively consider what you love about your partner.
Don't let familiarity stop you from appreciating the person you fell in love with. After a while, when the hormones stabilize, it can be easy to focus on the negative and only mention the things that frustrate you. Take a couple of minutes each day to think about what you love most about your partner. It's amazing how quickly our emotions toward a person can shift when we just give them a little nudge.
11. Don't joke about "that time of the month."
It's never funny. Period.
12. Your wedding won't be the best day of your life.
Yeah, it's a nice day. Hopefully, it's an amazing day. But it's sad to think that so many of us label that first day of being married as the best day of our lives. Find out what you're both passionate about and do it together. Travel. Exercise. Write. Paint. Sing. Drink coffee. Go to movies. Make your best days after the wedding. It shouldn't all be downhill after "I do."
13. Fighting about something ridiculous? Change the rules.
Have you and your partner ever found yourselves arguing over something absolutely ridiculous? Most of us have. If you can't stop yourself arguing over dumb stuff, try doing a handstand and then continue the argument. If the issue is more important than how ridiculous you look at that moment, write it down and come back to it later.
14. Sharing your passions only brings you closer.
What do you both love? Do it together.
15. Be present.
Give each other the time you deserve. Set boundaries on phone, laptop, and iPad usage for the evening. Put them in airplane mode and don't touch them until the next day. This forces you to take the time to actually chat with each other and not be so distracted. Maybe you leave everything that can distract you at home and go out for a coffee together? Sometimes these dates can be awkward when there's nothing to talk about. If you don't have time, maybe you need to create a more simple life.
16. It will be hard. Have each other's backs.
Yeah, there will be a few difficulties ahead. What great relationships haven't suffered their own pitfalls? Being around anyone as much as we often are with our spouses, our ugly side is bound to come out at some point, and so is theirs. Work through this stuff together. You'll be much stronger for it.
Tyson Popplestone is a freelance writer and podcast host based in Melbourne, Australia. He writes about how to live an intentional life in a world obsessed with more. He hosts the Intention podcast and has his bachelor's in education from Federation University Australia. Popplestone is passionate about doing more of the things he loves with the people he loves, and invites you to do the same.