We have several wedding photos that have hung in our house since we tied the knot ten years ago. Each time we've moved, the pictures have always had a place. Sure, newborn and school portraits of our children have slowly taken prominence, but the wedding pictures are still there.
I see those pictures and I can’t help but reflect on our first year of marriage. It was the year we learned to adopt new identities as “husband” and “wife,” to merge our households, and to become a unified couple. It was the year that established what our married relationship was going to be. It was the year we were learning what forever really meant.
While there isn’t anything about our journey I would change, I do wonder how much stronger we would be if we had gone into our first year of marriage knowing what we know now. After ten years of marriage, here is what I wish I had known in year one.
01. It actually is okay to go to bed angry.
Pop psychology advises couples not to go to bed angry. My husband and I believed back then that every issue, fight, and disagreement should be resolved before going to sleep. But years of experience have taught me that this isn’t the best advice.
It's best to avoid potential arguments before bed, but when they can't be avoided, it is far better to go to bed with the issue unresolved than to push one another to talk before you are ready. As fights escalate and tempers flare, spouses can be goaded into making statements they never would have said, or, at the least, that they would have said in a different way. Spouses get more exhausted throughout the fight and communication skills suffer.
Taking the time to think rather than forcing each other to immediately resolve an issue is what Dr. John Gottman calls “time-outs.” Feel free to put a pin in an argument if it is becoming too heated. Sleep it off, and revisit it the next day with more clarity.
This is not a permission slip to avoid hard or tough conversations, but don't push each other too much at the wrong time just because you “don’t want to go to bed angry.” Be well-rested and communicate lovingly with each other instead of pushing through a late-night fight.
02. You can’t change your partner, but you have to allow them to change.
Rationally, everyone knows they can’t change their partner. But I will say it again: You cannot change your partner. As a marriage grows, there will be things about your spouse that irritate you. You will think, “If they would just change this one thing, then I would be happy.” But you must remember to love your spouse for who they are. Trying to change them hurts everyone.
On the flip side, your partner will certainly change during the course of your relationship. They will grow, discover new interests, make new friends, and, especially if they become a parent, have new priorities. You must allow them space to evolve, and you should be open with them about giving you the same courtesy.
03. Watch your social media posts.
Social media is not the place to complain, vent, or otherwise share intimate facts about your spouse. Period. If you feel confusion, anger, or frustration with your spouse, meet up with a trusted friend who is an advocate for your marriage and air your grievances. But when it comes to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media platform, be positive and supportive of your partner.
After all, they can see your social media posts, and it is incredibly hurtful to see yourself complained about publicly by the person who is supposed to love you the most.
04. Money matters, so know your relationship with it.
Even when spouses don’t have to account for every dime, how money is spent can create a wedge between partners. That first year, we learned a lot about each other's spending habits that we didn't necessarily see when we were just dating.
Before getting married, make sure you understand each other’s financial priorities. But, more importantly, make sure you know your own relationship with money. This is what certified Gottman therapist Zach Brittle recommends, too! Ask yourself, is there a maximum dollar amount your spouse can spend without discussing it with you first? What is your comfort level with grocery bills, clothing expenses, alcohol, dining out, entertainment, car payments, etc.? What is most important to you financially?
It is worth spending time with a financial advisor as well as a financial counselor to understand how you feel about money. Frequently, individuals don’t know their own attitude toward spending until their spouse does something they wildly disagree with. Then it’s a shock to everyone and, over time, these attitudes become more entrenched, not less.
05. Usually your spouse wants someone to listen, not give solutions.
While we all desperately want to make our spouse’s life happier, every individual must discover their own path and journey. Your spouse will make their own decisions about what they want and how they get there. Do not make the mistake of trying to fix every problem your spouse brings to you. Often, your spouse just needs someone to listen and support them. Telling your partner what they should do can be toxic and, ultimately, dissuade them from sharing their feelings in the future.
Obviously, this is not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes you can and should share solutions, especially if you can help. But learn to really listen to your partner. If they are open to suggestions, provide them. But if all they need is a hug, offer that (and only that).
I love being married and I can’t imagine being married to anyone else for the past ten years. I wonder what the next ten years will teach us.
Photo Credit: Cathrine Taylor Photography