Lucky 13: 13 things I’ve learned in 13 years of marriage

13 things I've learned in 13 years of marriage

Today’s my 13th anniversary. Some say 13 is unlucky, but I was born on the 13th and it’s been a favorite of mine ever since. So with a song and a prayer and a big knock on wood, I’m excited to see what our 13th year has in store for us.

And for our anniversary, I’m updating this old post to share 13 things I’ve learned in 13 years of marriage.

1. Marry Your Best Friend.

I’ve loved spending time with my husband from the beginning. 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–my tendency was to abandon all sense of proportion (say, after he put the empty Brita pitcher back in the fridge, again) and wonder if I’d made some epic mistake and married the wrong guy. I didn’t. He’s the one.

3. Marriage is hard, but not in the way I expected.

I married a really great guy. Which, oddly enough, made for a frequently painful first year of marriage. 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.

5. Sometimes I want to wage war. I need to get over it.

I have become blindingly infuriated with my husband over some pretty dumb stuff. It happens. I’ve learned how to deal with it…a little bit better than I used to.

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 perspective and potty talk brought me back to my senses.

6. The strangest things have been good for our marriage.

Example: our marriage benefited enormously when I first went back to work. I remember when it was new for my husband to watch the kids a few hours each week while I went to the office.

I never foresaw the positive effect this would have on our relationship. I learned what it’s like to come home from work to a waiting family; he experienced staying home with the kids. This deepened empathy for each others’ roles boosted our relationship, and navigating working parent logistics kept us attuned to the day-to-day flow of each others’ lives.

7. We will both change; so will our marriage. 

People evolve; so do relationships: we have constantly re-thought and re-engineered how we do things. Lisa McMinn’s pithy quote sums up our philosophy:  “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 one works for us. It’s our favorite time to talk, and good accountability to go to bed on time, which is tough for me

9.  Timing is everything.

This one took me a decade to even begin to learn. There’s not much you can’t talk about with your spouse–if you choose your timing with care.

10. Get (professional) help when you need it.

When our kid was diagnosed with something scary, our family therapist was a lifesaver. I found a counselor when I was 31 for my own junk, and I’ll schedule a check-up in a heartbeat if I feel like it’s time. Life is tough; so is marriage: I’ll take all the help I can get.

11. Marriage is a see-saw.

Life is lived in seasons. We’ve learned to shift responsibilities and priorities–at home and at work–to match the season we’re in. Finally.

12. “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

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).

(That quote? Eisenhower. It’s one of my favorites.)

13. Watch out for “should.”

I’m a rule-follower by nature and this one took me too long to learn: Within some broad parameters (which I’m sure nobody agrees on), my marriage doesn’t have to conform to anyone else’s standards or expectations. Marriage advice has helped us a ton, but now I’m careful to filter it–and take it with a grain of salt. And you should do the same for my list here!

What are your best relationship tips?

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Leave A Comment
  1. Linda says:

    You forgot one. Always hold hands. You can add that next year when you write up your list for your 14th anniversary 🙂 Happy today to you and your beloved! I hope you enjoy your day.

  2. Tina B says:

    Congratulations on the first 13 years and here’s to another 50. My parents made it to 62 years, so I’ve witnessed the love and perseverance that you and your husband must share. Best wishes for a wonderful future for your famiily.

  3. Leanne Penny says:

    Happy Anniversary to the Bogels! Forwarding this to Kel.

    I am partial to 8 and 12, probably because I believe in them and we aren’t currently doing them. OH the THE TENSION!

  4. Happy Anniversary!!!! This is such a great post! The first year was very hairy for me too…now this fourth year feels like some major growing pains are happening, but it’s still the greatest joy and blessing to have my best friend beside me each night. 🙂

  5. Oh! And I forgot, but I would love to hear you do a recap on choosing to get an iPhone. As an owner I really wonder if: a) technology is moving to smart phones, only and b) going back to a more simple (and less expensive) phone and plan is really worth the ~$25 of savings per line.

    • Anne says:

      I’ll try to pull something together on the iphone. I will say I’m happy to have mine and happy (enough) to pay for it, but it’s for convenience, not because I use money-saving apps or anything.

  6. Jeannie says:

    Happy Anniversary! I like your rules a lot (though I’m afraid we break the bedtime one frequently — I ilke to read & fall asleep in bed, not nap on the couch while a hockey game is on… ) I note that several of them have to do with putting things in perspective and proportion, which I agree is very important. Drama may be essential to good TV, but in real life it’s usually counterproductive.

  7. Ruthanne says:

    Hi Anne – Thanks again for such a thoughtful post. It seems like a short time ago I remember your list of twelve for twelve years married. Happy Anniversary!

    I have another thing to share that reminds me of you and your blog every time I read something.

    “Darling” articles are so enjoyable and so NOT the everyday women’s magazine type. The blog is delightful (in my opinion) and I wanted to share it with you. Please let me know what you think after you peruse it a little. I am always sharing articles with my two nearly grown daughters (21 and 23). A thoughtful place to spend time, as MMD is!

    Thank you.

  8. Happy Anniversary! So true for us on #8 and #4.

    I think one of the best things for our marriage has been not having TV. (We have Netflix and iTunes, but no official TV with channels). I am at home and my husband works from home too…so we are together all day. We still flirt on iChat from the other room. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      We don’t have a TV either (but yes to Netflix and hulu), so I can’t argue with that one. Although we’re open to reconsidering after a decade without one as my kids blossom into little sports fans. Streaming college basketball is no fun and streaming baseball is impossible!

      I think it would be fun to work from home together–so glad that works for you two!

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Happy Anniversary to the both of you!

    And yes – I’ve found that those little moments in the everyday are *absolutely* my favorite in my relationship. And even with friendships and family relationships too. There’s just something so freeing about slowing down and feeling those ordinary moments that feel extraordinary.

  10. Meg Evans says:

    Happy Anniversary, Anne. My husband and I were married on June 13, and we just celebrated our 15th anniversary last week. About once a month (or every 28 days or so…), #5 is so true for me, but now that he and I both know this, we can usually laugh about it. #9 has been one that I have really been working on. And we almost always go up to bed at the same time–except for football season Saturdays.

    Great post!

    • Anne says:

      Congrats on your 15th!

      It’s always so interesting to me to hear the circumstances that create the exceptions for married couples who usually go to bed at the same time. Football season Saturdays made me smile. 🙂

  11. I like that you said to take things with a grain of salt. One of the biggest pieces of marriage advice is to go to bed at the same time. This just doesn’t really work for us. My husband is often at work at four or five am. I am happily sleeping. He has to go to bed early to make this happen, like as soon as we have eaten dinner. I’ve basically just gotten home from work.

    It works for us though, because I get a chance to clean up or watch shows I like that he hates. I’ve felt guilty for the past couple of years that this has been going on, but I’m going to (hopefully) get rid of my guilt about it.

    Congratulationson thirteen years! We are working on five.

    • Anne says:

      Congrats on going-on-five! And thanks for sharing your story. That routine sounds familiar: my husband used to go to work super-early, too. The ONLY reason it worked for us is I need more sleep than him. If he needed a full 8 hours like I do, we would have had to go to bed before our kids do in order to wake up for him to be at work. That wasn’t going to happen. 🙂

  12. Kara says:

    Yay for June 17th weddings! That is our anniversary date as well. 🙂 We are coming up on our 6th year though. Lovely lessons you have found in your time together. Here’s to your 14th year being a great one!

    • Anne says:

      Oh, how fun! Wishing you wonderful things as you enter your 7th year. 7 is the symbolic number of perfection: I hope that turns out to be fitting for you two this next year. 🙂

  13. anthony says:

    Congrats on 13 yrs. I love to hear a woman’s views on marriage, helps me grow as a person& husband. I always make it a clear to stop her as she is putting my plate down for dinner, grabbing her hand looking her and letting her know that I appreciate everything she did for me today. ” And MEN ” this is important I go down the list in my head of all the little things she did for me, making a lunch for work, having clean clothes for work ect… has made marriage wonderful. …

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