We celebrated our one year anniversary yesterday and spent time reflecting on our first year of marriage. Of course, we spent the majority of our first year of marriage planning a wedding, which isn’t normal at all, but I still think we fell into the whole ‘married life’ thing pretty well. In honor of our first year of marriage, I want to share a few lessons that we have both learned since becoming husband and wife. There is a no shortage of marriage advice out there (or people willing to give out marriage advice), and we are certainly no experts one year in; however, I want to share some real advice, advice that you may not hear everyday.
Of course, tips like listen to each other and always remain honest are great marriage tips; in my first year of marriage, though, I realized that the secret to a successful marriage involves way more than that. Marriage has it’s ups and downs, happy days and sad days, days where you are both giving your all and days where neither of you want to give anything. But, I’ve found that with the twelve lessons below, we always come out of a ‘low’ a little stronger. Some of them are a bit funnier and some are total ‘millennial problems’, but I promise ALL of these have helped in some way over the last year.
1 // It’s okay to want space, but it’s important to be honest about it
‘Me time’ was a hard thing to communicate in our first couple months of marriage; rather, I chose not to communicate it. I was so wrapped up in being married and wanting to be in the perfect marriage, that I was afraid to admit when I just wanted to be alone. The need for space is 100% natural and nothing to be ashamed of. However, it’s so important to communicate that desire with your partner. You don’t want to leave them in the dark, wondering what is going on. You also don’t want to be annoyed at them trying to get through to you when you really just need an hour or two alone. When you need space, verbalize that need and go find that space. Your transition back to “couple time” will be much easier if you’re honest from the get go.
2 // Never, ever neglect date night
People often say that date night gets neglected once kids are involved. I can’t tell you from first-hand experience if that one is true yet (though I imagine it is), but I can tell you that I found that date night became neglected even after we got married. Or, more accurately, after we moved in together. When you live with a significant other, it’s easy to fall into a routine. It’s also easy to become stressed about finances and go into money saving mode. However, it’s so important to get out of the house, just the two of you, every once in awhile. Conversations are more care free outside of the house, moods are usually lifted, and there’s a sense of adventure in the air. Believe me, that makes all the difference!
3 // Schedule important conversations
Okay, this one probably sounds bad, but I don’t mean it in a negative way! I don’t mean to schedule announcements of family emergencies or medical news. Those conversations can (and should) happen as soon as they can. In this case, ‘important’ refers to things that actually need a full, productive conversation – vacation planning, home renovations, adopting a dog, etc. When these conversations are scheduled, both parties come in ready to talk (and, more importantly, think). These conversations usually involve some sort of financial commitment, and often a change of daily routine (even if it’s temporary). Therefore, all involved parties need to be 100% present when they are happening.
As Sean and I planned our big wedding, I would bombard him with decisions he needed to make the moment he walked in the door; we never got anywhere with that! So, instead, we would decide in the morning that we were going to tick A, B, and C off the wedding planning list that evening; then, we’d sit down and we’d do it. It’s much easier when both parties are prepared for a conversation and know what the goal is.
4 // It’s okay to go to bed annoyed, but never angry
The whole concept of don’t go to bed angry is very true. There is emotion behind anger, and it’s better for it to get solved ASAP. However, annoyance is a completely different matter. Annoyance is (usually) petty and will often just disappear over time (i.e., your 8 hours of sleep). I can’t tell you the number of fights I’ve started by bringing up something ‘annoying’ that Sean did or said right before bed; I also can’t tell you the number of fights I’ve avoided by choosing to sleep on it. 9 times out of 10, I wake up without any recollection of what I was annoyed about!
5 // Create a ‘no work’ zone or time
One of the biggest lessons this past year has taught us is the importance of a work-life balance. Most of our time Monday-Friday is spent either working or asleep; the rest of the time is usually spent with each other. If we don’t separate out the work mindset, the time spent together is usually miserable. A person who is stressed about work is not a pleasant person to be around. Try creating either a ‘no work’ zone (for example, the bedroom) or a ‘no work’ time (for example, 8pm until bedtime) to set boundaries in the house. Otherwise, it’s too easy to let a quick check of the emails transition into a full-blown hour of working and then into annoyance about working after hours.
6 // Find something to do at home that you are both passionate about
This one piggybacks off of the ‘no work’ zone a bit. Since time together during the week is so limited, it’s important to find a way to spend it that pleases both parties. Sean and I discovered a love for cooking after we moved in together, so we almost always make dinner together. Cooking gives us a good hour of fun together before we let the exhaustion from the workday sink in.
Pursue joint passions on weekends as well. While couples shouldn’t do everything together, it’s nice to have a few joint hobbies, something that you can always do together. For us, a lot of the time that hobby is travel (as you can see from our travel blog, A Pair of Passports).
7 // Tone of voice matters – like really, really matters
Oh, the number of times I heard “Don’t use that tone of voice with me!” come out of my parents’ mouths when I was growing up. I was a brat, believe me, and 100% deserved to hear that. However, I thought the whole tone of voice issue would subside once I grew up. It did, for awhile – until I got married, that is. While spouses don’t usually give the tone of voice lecture, they are often effected by tone of voice. Tone of voice has the power to turn a conversation from good to bad; turn a joke into a fight; or, turn tears into laughter (it works for good, too!). Beware of your tone, and recognize it when it shifts.
This applies to text messages, as well. In fact, because it is hard to communicate emotion over text, it probably applies even more when it comes to text messages. Short, one word answers do not imply a positive tone. Unless they are followed by a million exclamation points and some happy emojis, that is. All caps responses tend to mean either anger or enthusiasm. Again, the number of exclamation points can help guide that one. Most importantly, your spouse will see right through you when you end your “OK” response with a period. I think that’s the most dreaded response of all!
8 // Try to keep responsibilities/chores evenly distributed
In marriage, there will be days when you feel like you do all the chores – tidying up, washing dishes, folding laundry, etc. There will also be days when your partner clears your hair out of the shower drain, fixes a plumbing issue, and mops all of the floors in the house. Chores do not need to be done all at the same time, but they should be evenly distributed. For example, Sean takes Giorgio on almost all of his walks. However, I feed him all of his meals and get him to any vet/grooming appointment he has.
Chores also don’t need to be assigned. Sometimes I wake up and do all of the dishes from dinner the night before. Other times, I can’t be bothered and Sean does them all when he gets home from work. Neither of us is responsible for doing the dishes; we take turns and, above all, just make sure it gets done. When the scale tips and suddenly one person feels like they are doing everything, the stress and, often times annoyance, comes into play, and might even transition into anger (see lesson #4!). N.B. I’m totally putting off dish duty by writing this post.
9 // Make existing friends joint friends
It’s important for both parties in a relationship to have individual friends, and to spend time with those friends. However, it’s awkward when one of those friends swings by the house and the spouse barely knows who they are. Make existing individual friends joint friends so that everyone can spend time together. When we have barbecues or wine nights, we usually invite friends from multiple friend groups. They don’t all know each other, but they all know both of us well enough to feel comfortable in our home. This makes introducing them to the others so much easier, and brings everyone together in a much more natural way.
Along with making existing friends joint friends, seek out ‘couple friends’. There are some things that are better done with another couple than with a bunch of random friends – travel, dinner parties, etc. If one of you has a friend that has a significant other that has not really become part of the ‘group’, make sure they’re welcome. It’s great to have other couples that are on the same wavelength as you around.
10 // Laughter is more important than you think
Almost anything can be solved by laughing. And wine. Seriously. Laugh whenever you can – even if it’s a fake laugh; laughter catches on and it lightens the mood. Laugh at the stupid puns and the dad jokes. More importantly, be the one to make stupid puns and dad jokes! Then laugh at yourself (that’s what I do!). Make light of a wine spill or a puppy accident. When you have the choice to laugh or get angry/be embarrassed, choose laughter! Some of my fondest memories from our first year of marriage involved us sitting on the couch, sharing a bottle of wine, and laughing at something random.
11 // Avoid the word “sure”
Is my relationship the only one where this is really important? I have a feeling it might be. This may be an American thing, or it may just be a Kelly thing, but I use the word “sure” a lot. At any time, it can be used to replace “yes”, “okay”, and “fine, I guess, but I’d really rather you not” (see rule #7). I’m pretty sure Sean thinks I only use it for that latter option, which is why he hates it so much, but, regardless, I now try to avoid the word “sure” as much as possible.
I suppose the real lesson in this rule is to be willing to adapt, but that sounded way too 15 Steps to a Successful Marriage or How to Get your Marriage Back on Track and I am not a relationship novelist, believe it or not! Vocabulary is an odd thing, and not one you imagine would be that important in a marriage. After all, as long as you speak the same marriage and can communicate with one another, it should be pretty easy! However, words and phrases mean different things to different people. Learn what things mean to your partner; and, in turn, be honest about what things mean to you. Then, as long as you are both willing to adapt, you’ll eventually develop a common language.
12 // Be gentle when teaching Instagram techniques
I couldn’t write an entire post on my blog about marriage advice without mentioning Sean’s role as a blogger husband. First and foremost, your blogger/Instagram/whatever husband/wife is your husband/wife. They are not a personal assistant. Marriage trumps Instagram and you need to keep that in mind ALL THE TIME.
When you do ask your spouse to take photos of you, be gentle when directing them. Do not stand on a street corner shouting at them to get a better angle; likewise, do not tell them they are rubbish and storm away when they don’t get the best angle. Tell your partner what you are trying to achieve with the photo and why it’s important that you get one; help them understand where you’re coming from and the photos will most likely turn out better. Also, give them time (Sean’s photography game has gone from nothing to equal with mine in the past year). Maybe even ask your partner’s thoughts on a photo or a decision you are making for your Instagram/blog. Make them feel like a spouse, not a personal assistant. If all else fails, ask someone else to take your photos.
BONUS: ENJOY your first year of marriage!
You’ll never get it back, so savor every moment of newlywed status before you turn into an old, married couple.
If you’re rolling your eyes at that Instagram one, I don’t blame you! However, there have been harsh words over photos before in our relationship (usually when I’m behind the camera and Sean is making funny faces and won’t let me take a real photo of him!). Also, it may not be Instagram in your relationship – it could be watching sports, or helping in the kitchen. There is going to be something that one person takes seriously and the other just doesn’t get; in that case, be gentle and provide guidance.
That goes for most of the tips above. They may not apply directly to your marriage, but hopefully they will at least have a slight resemblance to something that does apply in your marriage. Each and every marriage is unique, and so are the “rules” that keep it afloat.
p.s. You’ll notice that I did not include any tips on ‘how not to kill each other while on a car journey’ and that’s because, well, we haven’t quite figured that one out yet. Let me know if you have!