8 years ago Chris and I stood before before each other, our God, and many of our friends and family and made some pretty big promises. We were babies then. Spray tanned babies.
I know that 8 years doesn’t exactly qualify me for vault of wisdom in all things matrimony. But it’s 8 years, and we’ve learned a lot. We’ve never once pretended to have it all together, you all know that that.
With that said, here are a few things I’ve learned after 8 years of wedded bliss… and not-so-bliss. I hope it encourages those about to get married, those just getting started, and maybe even those that have been married for decades and decades and need a little refresher/back to the basics.
Lesson #1: Kiss often and have lots of sex.
(If you are a family member, why don't you skip this lesson. Please and thank you.)
It always surprises me in the movies which the characters (guy or girl) frequently says this just before they get married, “I can’t believe this is the last person I’m going to ever have sex with! Can I really go the rest of my life having sex with the same person.” They say it with disgust like it must be a horrible idea.
Maybe they say this because married couples, especially those married for a while, don’t seem to be having much sex. Married women complain about having sex like they complain about doing the dishes or dusting.
I usually have the drive of a teenage boy (let’s assume that’s pretty high) and never really struggled with this issue most women tend to deal with… until the past couple of years. Much like you all, life got really busy. In the past 6 years (72 months) I’ve been pregnant for 30 months (most of which I’m sick the entire day), nursed for 15 months, had undiagnosed postpartum depression for 9 months, potty trained 2 very independent children (Lord. Help. Me.), moved 4 times, and started a ministry/business while being a full time stay at home mom. Soooooo to say that my drive has been hit a bit would be an understatement. Thankfully Chris stepped up to the plate as I was stepping away (sorry honey).
What I’ve learned about sex is it really can get better. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. You have to have sex for it to get better. When you are tired. When things are sore (hello after baby tightness… sorry if that’s TMI). You might have to make more of an effort: do whatever helps you get in the mood—bath, candles, music, etc. (guys, this will really help if you participate in this part). If you feel in a rut, get a book on positions and experiment or try different locations (in the house and outside of the house).
Lesson #2: Ask for help.
We’ve shared that the first 5 years of marriage weren’t awesome, and years 3-5 were really challenging. First, you should all know that this is common. Having issues in marriage is totally normal. It’s work, like any other relationship or venture it takes a lot of work.
So when, not if, you hit those rough patches, GET HELP.
By “get help” I mean find a professional that can really help you—a certified counselor or a really fantastic life coach, but I’d start with a counselor. If you need a good counselor email some good friends and ask if they know of any (you’d be surprised how many friends have been to counseling). As far as coaching goes, the only one I can recommend is Steve Knox with Orbiting Normal. His Couples Communication Intensive was a total game changer for us.
(Some things that aren’t helpful: venting to your friends/mom/co-workers, letting yourself get numb, settling for ok, thinking it will pass, thinking all you have to do is pray and forgive and it will get better (yes, pray, and yes forgive, but sometimes it requires a little more work than that), and don’t compare.)
Lesson #3: Have fun & Go on dates.
Because fun and laughter and dates and talking are all really good things.
As often as possible choose fun. Yes be grown ups and take care of your responsibilities. Then choose fun and choose time together.
For those of you without kiddos (or kiddos all grown and gone), this applies to you. Being home isn’t a date. It may feel like a date, but it’s not. Go and adventure your city together. Talk. Laugh. Drink. Get off the couch and look your spouse in the eye without any distractions.
For those of you with kiddos, you need this. You need time together without someone crawling on you or being put into time out or wanting to eat… just the two of you. Hold hands and dream and talk about the kids some (because you love them) but talk about you and others and dreams and life more.
Date nights can be/feel expensive, especially when childcare is involved. Two options: rework your budget and/or get creative with at home dates (if you need to stay home, make sure it feels different than a normal Friday night).
Lesson #4: Live off one income.
This was some of the best advice we were given before we got married. Even if you don’t think one of you will stay home one day, this is still a great idea. However if one of you wants or thinks you might want to stay home to raise kiddos one day, then this is a must.
For you non-Dave Ramsey people let me just tell you I get that this advice sounds horrible. Finally you have TWO incomes, it should be time to party!!!! So very womp-womp of me to say to pretend like one of those incomes doesn’t exist. I remember dealing with jealousy of friends—married and single—when we first got married. I saw all they could spend and we were living off of Chris’ 23 year-old just starting out at ExxonMobil salary plus we had bought a house right before we got married (see lesson #5), we had very little wiggle room. Very. Little. But you know what, in those 2 years pre-kids, we paid off a car, my student loans, my debt I had pre-marriage, and did some fun things to our house.
Plus, when we decided it was time for me stay home (once we were debt free), it wasn’t a burden, nothing changed. I've had so many friends who didn't think they wanted to stay home, so they didn't prepare for it. They got nicer cars, bigger houses, starting shopping at fancier stores... and then they had babies and realized they wanted to to try staying home with their littles, but they couldn't. I'm not saying those things are horrible, just that it would be wise to not get yourself stuck because you never know.
Note: If you haven’t done Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, I suggest that too. I don’t like it, but I do love it. You’ll get it after you start it. Dave Ramsey is a blessing and a curse word in our house.
Lesson #5: Don’t buy a house at first
This may just be us, but this was a big mistake.
We bought a house within our budget, so that wasn’t even the issue. We were technically paying less for rent and bills for the house than we would’ve an apartment, which is why we decided to go ahead and buy (made more sense in the Houston market at the time).
We bought a very simple house. I wish I had pictures when we showed it to our parents for the first time, their eyes were bug eyed… probably because of all the bugs. Yikes.
A couple of reasons why I/we wish we wouldn’t have bought:
- We watched too much HGTV and didn’t realistically get at the ages of 23 and 25 what home ownership actually required.
- Our lack of experience also affected our knowledge of how the housing market worked.
- When something breaks and you own it, you pay for it.
- When something needs to be done (like you don’t have grass or flooring or painted walls), you pay for it and/or do it yourself.
- Should’ve done a crime report and pedophile report. Didn’t even know those things existed.
- Leasing is easy. I often think what would our life have been like had we not had the burden of ownership those first couple of years. If our resources and our time was freed up to just live life together, instead of be so very responsible. But I don’t like living with regrets or what ifs, so that leads to…
To be fair a couple of reasons I don’t regret it:
- We had the best neighbors—Kaye & David Trickett who founded CHARM Prison Ministry. I can’t even tell you what a gift they were and are still today. Had we not moved there we would’ve never had the relationship with them that we have.
- We learned a lot about home buying and selling, which was very helpful when it came to future purchases and sells.
Lesson #6: Doing your own thing isn’t selfish.
When we first got married I thought we needed to do everything together all the time. Tricky since Chris is a morning person and an introvert and I am a night person and an extrovert.
Since then we’ve learned (and are still learning) that having our own time isn’t a bad thing.
Chris waking up early and having time with just his thoughts is a good thing. Since our early days of marriage he has kissed my sleeping head good bye as he walked out the door, often before the sun is even up. Me staying up late is a good thing for both of us. I get my best work done in those quiet hours and have some of the best insights from the Lord in the dark of night.
Not to mention that when I go out for a girls night, my introvert gets to stay home for a me, myself and I night.
This worked well and was good when we didn’t have kiddos and something we are still trying to figure out now that we have kiddos.
Lesson #7: Everything shouldn’t be your own thing.
With that said, don’t do everything alone. I mentioned that we are figuring this out currently. With 3 kiddos + Chris working hard at his job + me staying home and running sacred holidays, our hours are tapped. We often slide into the “Divide and Conquer” mode…. Which we both hate.
I don’t have a practical application for this because we are in the midst of figuring this one out. Feel free to share with me how you get things done with out constantly being apart. We like eachother and would like to do things together. Grin.
Lesson #8: Choose to enjoy it—gratitude is usually a choice.
I shared with you that years 3-5 were really challenging for us. One thing I did that was SO helpful for me was I gave Chris a stack of 365 Post Its for Christmas one year. I promised to write one thing encouraging each day for him. This was hard some days when I didn’t feel like saying something nice. So I had verses stocked up to share that would encourage him and also encouraging blurbs from others. I would get behind (days and sometimes weeks) but I would always catch up. Not a single day went by without encouraging him. This was good for him, but it was better for me. In a season of our marriage where I could’ve easily pulled back and grown numb, I leaned in and I looked for the good.
Everyone likes to be encouraged. Even if we don’t know how to receive praise, we all like to be told we are awesome. Be specific with your praise, not general, it always means more.
With that said, gratitude is great but so is joy. Life will always be crazy. What was crazy 5 years ago seems like it would be a breeze now. I remember when Karis was a baby and how hard that was a times, and now I look back and laugh at myself—how did I think that was so hard? Well, because that was all I knew then. It was hard!
A mantra we live by is this: “It’s not the end of the world.”
When your house doesn’t sell after 10 months on the market, it’s not the end of the world.
When you don’t get the raise you had hoped for, it’s not the end of the world.
When that trip didn’t go as planned, it’s not the end of the world.
When your kid(s) keeps you up all night, it’s not the end of the world.
When you over spend from that cash envelope at the grocery store, it’s not the end of the world.
When your kid colors all over your brand new couch with a sharpie, it’s not the end of the world. (Still repeating this one to ourselves after yesterday's incident by our little #toddlertornado.)