My wife and I celebrated our 14 year anniversary a couple weeks ago. For a lot of people that means the obligatory flowers, date and end-of-the-night sex. But because I’m a marriage counselor it also means that I looked back at our fourteen years together and tried to learn what I could from it. The things that I’ve learned about marriage the last 14 years have been irreplaceable. They’ve helped me to become a better person, husband, and father. But that doesn’t mean they’ve been easy. And I hope they can help you as much as they’ve helped me.
14 Things I’ve learned from 14 Years of Marriage
1) You’re your own person. And so is your spouse. I tried being the person that I thought I should be for a long time. I put away interests and even personality traits that I thought were not conducive to a happy marriage. These were usually based on some perception of what a “good” marriage looks like that I was taught in church or from my parents or from others who I viewed as having a good marriage. True happiness came when I threw out all these ‘shoulds’ and did what I wanted because it was what I thought was right. My actions were me, purely me. And when I took off my facade and was unashamedly me I was scared. But it turns out, I’m actually still a good guy. That said, my wife does things that I don’t think are necessarily the ideal for a good marriage. We both deal with them. We’re still good people and we are still happy.
2) Your partner changes – for good and for bad. Now this one is a no-brainer and for anyone who’s read my stuff or seen me as a counselor. I am a HUGE proponent that people should change. You should constantly be looking inward for improvement. I also firmly believe that you should not act like you’re 20 years old when you’re 50. The journey of life is also a journey of self-exploration. That said, when your partner changes on their journey the road isn’t always smooth – or fun.
3) Getting married is like playing the lottery; You never know if you’re getting a winning ticket. Like I mentioned above, people change. And there’s no possible way to predict how they’re going to change. When you got married you loved the outlook your partner had on life but after having children for example, they might become super religious or nonreligious. You just don’t know. And they don’t always change in ways that you like.
4) Sex is absolutely vital for a happy marriage. Sex is the one thing you share with your partner that you don’t share with anyone else. As such, it becomes a unique form of expression between you and your spouse. If you’re not having it, you’re not sharing that unique expression. And if you’re not getting that unique expression from your spouse, you’re not feeling completely loved. You may as well be roommates – because you liked your roommates a lot and weren’t having sex with them, either.
5) Just because they’re your spouse doesn’t mean they’ll always act in your best interest. When you get married, you believe you’ve married someone who has your back no matter what. And you’re going to be together through thick and thin helping each other through each other’s worst moments. Well, the truth is that you screw up sometimes. And there’s only one person who can fix your screw up: you. And it’d be nice if your partner was there for you no matter what, but you gotta own up and fix your mistakes. The same goes for your partner. Sometimes they screw up and as much as you’d like to help them, you can’t. They gotta do it for themselves.
6) Your partner’s actions have a real affect on you. When I got married I was a much different person. I was young, ambitious, and I used the word “should” a lot. My wife and I surrounded ourselves with friends who had my similar ambitions and beliefs about how the world “should” operate. Now that I’m older, I have a much different worldview. It causes me to participate in different activities than I used to. I also stopped participating in certain activities. Unfortunately, this means my wife has lost friends because they don’t agree with my new activism or because we don’t spend as much time with them as we used to when we had more in common. And she’s meeting new people who she doesn’t always agree with.
7) There’s a reason there are so many jokes about in-laws. I’m a guy who is actually very fortunate to have great in-laws. They’re honest, hard working, and down to earth folks who are good to talk to. And we’ve never had any big blow ups. That said, it was still a big contention between me and my wife for probably the first 4 years of our marriage. I had to tell my wife that “I’m not a Barker” (my wife’s maiden name) on so many occasions I lost count. There were expectations on me that I’d do certain things or that I’d go to certain events that her family goes to. It wasn’t even asked. It was just expected. Like I should just know. And if I didn’t then I was somehow breaking some rules that I didn’t even know existed. I learned that our worldview is colored a lot based on how we were raised and it creates a lot of misunderstandings, fights and confusion.
8) Kids are the greatest thing for your marriage – and the worst. I love my kids with all my heart. but sometimes all I can do is just shake my head. How do they even come up with the stuff they do? They make me feel so close to my wife, especially when I see her being a great mom and how they’re turning into great kids in large part because of her. At the same time we disagree on a lot of things about how to parent (yes, we still disagree even though I’m the professional) and it can really drive a wedge between us.
9) There’s no time or place for “shell” relationships. Where I live in Denver there’s a station on the radio that has nothing but stand-up comedy skits. One night on the way home, I was listening to one comedian who was joking that dating is like being a salesman trying to sell a flawed product: yourself. When you go on your first date, you can’t come right out and say all the flaws because that would put off the potential buyer. So you try spiff up the product a little (or a lot). You dress it up, you show all the great things about it, etc. Sure, you might mention some of the flaws but you try to twist them in a positive light. You’re anticipating what the potential buyer wants and you’re trying to present the product so that the buyer will want it. In other words, there are parts of you that you try to hide so that you’ll be liked. This results in you putting on a ‘shell’.
But when you’re in a relationship, you gotta be you. Otherwise you’ll drive yourself and your partner crazy. Everyone worries that they’ll disappoint their partner, or their partner won’t like them. But all I can say is, really?! You’d rather put on a shell the rest of your life? Who is that helping? You change over time. And so does your partner. Your partner agreed to love you until death do you part. So be you. Even if you’ve changed. Give your partner a chance, you might be surprised. And the result is usually pretty awesome.
10) Marriage can be the source of some of your deepest joys – and deepest sadness. There’s nothing better than feeling cared about so much by someone who you think so highly of. There’s nothing worse than seeing the withdraw, anger and disappointment of someone you think so highly of.
11) I’m replaceable. As much as everyone’s been told how unique you are and that there’s nobody else in the world like you, you’re still replaceable. There are 6 billion people in the world and approximately half of them are men. if I “let myself go” or become a complete asshole there’s no reason my wife wouldn’t (shouldn’t) leave me. There are also literally millions of men who have better traits than me (more chisled, funnier, make more money, etc.) It’s humbling and empowering at the same time to think that I’m replaceable and she still chooses me.
12) My wife is replaceable. Yes, there are women who are better looking, funnier, etc. And if it ever gets to the point that she lets herself go or becomes a complete bitch there’s no reason I wouldn’t (shouldn’t) leave her. But we know this. I don’t pressure her and she doesn’t pressure me to be someone else. We don’t stay fit or behave certain ways because that’s what our partner wants. I do it because that’s who I want to be. And so does she. And when you’re being genuinely you and your spouse loves you for it, there’s no better feeling in the world.
13) Even as a marriage counselor, I still get surprised by the power of marriage. I don’t know who invented marriage, but I think they were either evil or they were a genius. Marriage has the power to transform. I see it everyday on my couch. It also has the power to ruin. I see that every day on my couch, too. Personally, marriage makes me a better man. It makes me accountable. But I’m not held accountable through my partner’s criticism or through her judgment (just ask her, I never listen anyway!). I hold myself accountable through my love for her. I strive to be a better man for myself and for her because we both deserve someone great.
14) There’s nothing better than having a witness to your life. When you get married, you marry for love and commitment. But after a while you realize that you stay married because you want a witness to your life. You want someone who says “you matter to me” and there’s no feeling in the world better than that.
About the Author
Aaron Anderson is the Director and Lead Therapist at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, Colorado. He’s an avid father, husband and youth soccer coach. He doesn’t have time to write clever bios because he’s way too busy doing one of those things.