On My Anniversary: My Best Advice for a Happy Marriage

On My Anniversary:  My Best Advice for a Happy Marriage

It’s my anniversary, and I’m feeling philosophical.

I love being married.  I think it’s because I chose the right guy.  So in honor of my 11th anniversary, I’m offering up my 11 best marriage tips.

1.  Marry Your Best Friend.

From the beginning, I have loved spending time with my husband.  I knew he was “the one” when I would rather go renew my car tags with him than go for a picnic with anyone else.

Turns out, this is a recipe for success. The most important factor for a good marriage is a strong friendship.

2.  He’s the One. Really.

When things are tough–especially in the first year–the tendency is to abandon all sense of proportion (say, after he’s put the empty milk jug in the fridge, again) and wonder if you’ve made some epic mistake and married the wrong person. You didn’t. He’s the one. Don’t waste your energy on this.

3.  Marriage is Hard.  But Not in the Way You Expect.

I married a really great guy. Which, oddly enough, made for a frequently painful first year of marriage for me.  It was a good year, but suddenly I was partnered with another human being–with his own needs, desires, plans and schedules. Living with my husband that first year made me realize for the first time how selfish I really was. Discovering your own glaring faults is not fun.

But, as my husband said repeatedly during Year 1, if this is what “hard” looks like–bring it on!

4.  It’s What You Do Every Day That Counts.

Before I actually got married, I thought that a relationship was defined by its Big Moments. The Romantic Proposal, the Night on the Town, the Major Crisis, the Big Fight.  I was wrong.

It turns out, a marriage is made of a million little moments, and comparatively few Big Moments. The everyday things matter more.  The kiss good morning, the smile hello, the what-can-I-get-you-dear, the casual touch on the arm.  Or the lack thereof.  It’s the mundane, day-to-day moments that set the tone for the relationship.

5.  Sometimes You Will Want to Wage War.  Learn To Get Over It.

I have become blindingly infuriated with my husband over things so petty I wouldn’t dream of enumerating them here.  It happens.  Learn to deal with it.

Last time my husband and I were gridlocked over an issue that was minor but loaded with significance all the same, I happened to sit down to sort through some old papers.  My pile held a poem I’d saved that my sweet friend had written me for a bridal shower way back when, complete with goofy rhymes and (mild) potty talk. And a sweet sentiment along the lines of “he’ll do really stupid things sometimes, but remember–he’s crazy about you.”  The combination of humor and perspective brought me back to my senses.

6.  The Strangest Things Will Be Wonderful for Your Marriage

An example:  our marriage has benefited enormously by my going back to work part-time. A few hours a week, my husband watches the kids while I go to the office.

I never foresaw the positive effect this would have on our relationship.  Now I know what it’s like to come home from work to a waiting family.  And he knows what it’s like to stay home with the kids.  This deepened empathy for each others’ roles has been great for our relationship.  And navigating the logistics of two working parents keep us attuned to the day-to-day flow of each others’ lives.

7.  People Change–So Will Your Marriage.

You both are living, breathing, evolving people. Your marriage will also evolve. Things may have to be constantly re-thought and re-engineered.  The important thing is that you do it together. I love Lisa McMinn’s pithy quote:  “A strong marriage is one in which the husband and wife say to each other, ‘I am highly committed to your growth as a person.'”

8.  Go to Bed at the Same Time.

This is our favorite time to talk, and it’s good accountability to go to bed on time. 

9.  Timing is everything.

This one took me the better part of a decade to even begin to learn. When we were dating, I thought my man immediately wanted to hear every fascinating thought that popped in my head. Reality check:  there’s not much you can’t talk about with your spouse–if you choose your timing with care.

10. Create Good Boundaries.

Your marriage is the most important relationship in your life. Protect it. Work, friends, parents, in-laws–these things are all good, but don’t let them crowd out your husband.

Your spouse needs to be the most important person in your life. And he needs to know it by your actions.

11. Plan–But Know You’re Not in Control.

My husband and I have had so much fun planning and dreaming about our future over the years. But it’s laughable to look back and compare our reality with those grand schemes!  Make the plans, dream the dreams–but you don’t know what’s coming next. You may get a great job offer; you may lose your job. You may carefully lay out your plans for starting a family–but you can’t force a pregnancy (and you can’t always prevent one, either).

You don’t know what surprises are in store for you, so you can save yourself a lot of frustration by tacking this caveat onto your grand schemes.  You are not in control.

What are your best marriage tips?

To all you married ladies out there–especially if you have more happily married years under your belt than I do–what’s your best tip for a happy marriage?

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  1. Kim says:

    I know I’m late to post, but I had to add some GREAT practical advice that we received. If you know (or even if you’re unsure) that one of you would like to stay home with kids eventually, live on one income. The other income can be used build up a substantial savings account to be used for big extra expenses (student loans, car, furniture, down payment on a house) or for emergencies. When I decided to stay home with our baby, I had a lot of people tell me they wished they could do the same, but they couldn’t make it work financially. Now, living on one income meant we had to make frugal decisions and couldn’t have the newest toys or go out to eat regularly, but it’s been so worth it to have a nest egg and to be able to stay home with our little one.
    The other advice is to make sure you really understand what the other person is saying. It took us 3 years to realize that my husband and I meant different things by the word “leave.” When he said he wanted to leave by a certain time, it meant he wanted to be in the car ready to drive away. To me, “leave” meant grabbing my things and getting ready to go out the door. It took us almost 3 years of frustration (him being irritated and me being defensive) before we realized that we didn’t understand each other!

    • Anne says:

      I couldn’t agree more about the one income thing. Even if you don’t want to have kids or aren’t sure you do, living well within your means brings so much flexibility and freedom–to escape a bad job or accept a dream job, to switch cities or neighborhoods, to weather seasons of illness or stress or other kinds of crazy.

      I love your story about the word “leave.” It’s a little thing, but I can imagine how that made a HUGE difference in your family dynamics.

  2. 'Becca says:

    Great advice! I’ve been happily unmarried for 18 years now, and it’s not the most conventional relationship, but this is good advice for any relationship, and so is this poem that my grandmother had on her bulletin board:

    To keep your marriage brimming
    With love from the loving cup,
    Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
    Whenever you’re right, SHUT UP!

    It’s hard to stick to that, but when I do, it really works wonders.

  3. Sarah A. Nichols says:

    Hello Anne,

    Perhaps you can help me. I’ve bee married to my high school sweetheart for nearly 6 years (living together about 3 before that) and overall, it has been a good marriage. However, there has been one charachteristic that has truly gotten on my nerves; his arrogance. Now while this does not present any danger to me or my kids, it feels dismissive to what I think is important.

    For example, when comes to politics, he is conservative and often domainates the conversation. So to prevent further outbursts, I just let him go on and try to look more into the political issue before I present my argument. I also tell myself that America has gone through other changes that weren’t easy for some (e.g. Civil rights and of Jim Crow laws) so the LGBT has been a sore spot as well. Not that it’s my personal choice but it is happening. Other times I feel as though this task wasn’t done soon enough, or more questions answered, etc.

    This does not happen with every issue and I have raised it with him before. I’ve also become very quiet so he knows I am frustrated an for a while he does make an effort to truly listen but then we are sliding back to where it was before. There is another reason behind it; he was raised by a single mother with two older brothers so the loudest voice won (being Sicilian by descent is likely to be a part of it) and I was raised in a family where you let the person finish talking. To be consider him, I try to be concise.

    I try to not take this out on anyone and so far have been successful. However, it is really causing a strain on me to the point where I am thinking of escaping for a short while but don’t know where. I feel as though I am screaming inside, “LISTEN!” He does sense when I am upset and has tried to break the ice but I have the feeling he is fighting against himself as well.

    What to do as I could really use some help. I almost feel paralyzed.
    Thanks for listening. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Sarah, it sounds like this is a big deal to you, and I would strongly recommend you find a local counselor you can see either on your own or together. I’m a big fan of counseling personally, and even one session can help you process what’s going on and give you insight and possibly strategies to apply in your daily life. A counselor will also have insight into what’s a “big deal” issue and what’s a personality clash that can feel like a huge deal but requires understanding more than intervention.

      I’m wishing you well.

  4. Jane says:

    Going to bed at the same time is nice, but not necessarily because you will talk. Some people feel that bedtime is sleep time, and have a strong rule against talking in bed, and there’s nothing a partner can do about it, so let it go. Here’s one that I figured out, though–do get up at different times. Some people are just not morning people, and you can waste a lot of energy worrying why your partner is angry at you just because they scowl and won’t talk in the morning. Of course, trying to force them to engage in conversation will actually make them angry–a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you can slip out of bed earlier, or stay in bed later, it avoids this tension. And if you can’t–keep to yourself! Don’t talk! Let them wake up in their own sweet time.

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