17 years! A lot for some, a drop in the bucket for others. Nonetheless, it is a milestone for us and deserves to be celebrated! It was a warm Saturday in October, 17 years ago that I walked down the aisle with tears of joy at my home church in Wetumpka, Alabama.
I still remember the moment my mom confirmed that Floyd was the one. Even though I knew it, once she said it, that sealed the deal. She and God had a direct connection and to me, it felt as if He would call her directly about super important things.
The day I graduated from college was also the day we became engaged. Even though we had talked about marriage, I had no idea that he was proposing that day, but judging by the number of people who were there when it happened, they all knew.
We originally met in middle school at a summer program at our alma mater, Alabama A & M University. The exact grade is debatable. Floyd says 6th or 7th but I say 7th or 8th. Either way, it was a long time ago. We remained friends since that time in the early to mid-90s through letters, long-distance calls periodically followed by the free calls after 9 on the early cell phone plans.
Now here we are 17 years later and we have gone through a lot along the way. I was discussing with Floyd that I wanted to do a blog post titled 17 years, 17 lessons to which he immediately agreed. We like to think of ourselves as purveyors of marriage. We know a lot but don’t know it all but what we do know we like to share and are huge supporters of marriage. So here are 17 lessons in honor of our 17 years of marriage. Now, obviously, this list will not be all-encompassing and may not apply to every situation but I am positive that you should glean something helpful from it.
1. Celebrate milestones. To have a great marriage, you have to commit to a great amount of work. Great marriages don’t just happen. Each year you thrive as a couple together deserves to be celebrated. It does not have to be an elaborate celebration but it does deserve some recognition and effort. In the early days when money was really tight, we rented a movie and ordered pizza that we shared on the floor. There was another time that we splurged on an overnight stay in a hotel room while I was in nursing school and I gave Floyd a bag of his favorite candies like sour gummy worms and Kit Kats. We still laugh about that until this day. Marriages are often attacked or compromised so each year you sustain a healthy one is something to celebrate!
2. Put each other first. This is after God of course. But this means that your spouse comes before your kids, your job, and your other family members. Yeah, it’s true too, so let it sink in. Think about it this way, Lord willing after your kids are grown and on their own and if your job lets you go tomorrow, you will still have your spouse. So in all of your considering, consider your spouse. Discuss all major decisions. Don’t let your kids come between you. Don’t let family members come between you. Your primary commitment is to your spouse. This was one of the first lessons we learned in pre-marital counseling and it has stuck with us. [A side note, if you are planning to get married- get good pre-marital counseling. If you are married and never had it- get it now. Some stuff will be trial and error but everything does not have to be.]
3. Argue fairly. You will not always agree. You will not always get along. But you can try to be fair. Listen to one another’s side but listen without the intent to dispute. Listen with understanding. Try to have arguments privately and to come to a mutual understanding because at the end of the day it’ll just be you two. Early in our relationship, I would get frustrated that Floyd would not put down the commode lid. I did not understand how he could do this and I thought “do you not care if I fall into the commode in the middle of the night?”. This was a source of contention for us. Eventually, we realized that the issue wasn’t really about the commode and we were able to work through it. I’m pleased to say that I haven’t fallen into a commode in at least sixteen years! LOL!
4. Embrace extended family and maintain boundaries. If you are fortunate enough to have in-laws, then it is to you and your spouse’s advantage to work to have a good relationship with them. We have been blessed in this department so I don’t really have any horror stories and for that I am thankful. I do encourage couples to have pre-established boundaries that you and your spouse agree upon and stick by them. I also say that if there is a particular issue then the direct spouse should address it with their parent or family member. For example, if my father is the offender in whatever the issue is, then I should talk to him because he is my father. I should not expect my husband to do it. Of course, this is all depending on the situation. And like I said, we have been blessed on both sides to have wonderful in-law relationships and our union and our family has been blessed because of this.
5. Nag not. Nagging leads to resentment. I admit this one took some time to learn. In my defense, I didn’t think I was nagging until he pointed it out to me. I thought that I was reminding him but apparently there is a difference. Ha!
6. Communicate clearly, concisely, and attentively. Be sure he is actively listening ladies, lol! Case in point, even as I have been writing this post as we travel from our anniversary/birthday trip listening struggles arise. We pull up to a gas station and he starts pumping gas. I ask, “Do you have cash?” He says, “yes”. I say, “Ok I think I want some chips so I’ll meet you in the store.” He says “Ok” after questioning my desire to have chips, lol. So after a few minutes of waiting in the store, I finally walk back out to the car to see him sitting there waiting to leave. He has clearly forgotten about my chips or he wasn’t listening or he just didn’t want me to have them and hoped that I had forgotten. Ha! Now, this is a silly example but this can be a serious issue with lasting consequences if you do not take heed. Marriages can fail because of a lack of communication. Start with talking and listen attentively. Do not expect your spouse to be a mind reader. Many relationships have crumbled due to failed expectations. There have been occasions when I have been working my butt off around the house and Floyd may be watching TV. In my head, I am letting him have it because in my mind he sees that I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off. “Why isn’t he helping me?” Instead of getting mad at the failed expectation because I did not properly communicate I should have talked to him and asked him to help me or figured out what was going on with him. Communication is the only way to prevent you from suffering from failed expectations. I can’t read minds so I shouldn’t expect him too. It is much easier to say, can you give me a hand for a moment.
7. Learn each other’s love language and communicate in it. You may have heard of The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Well, knowing this about your spouse will go a long way in your marriage because it helps you cater to his/her needs. In our case, we both have the same primary love language which is quality time. This is great because we also have a lot of the same interests so we are both fulfilled individually and together.
8. Forget so-called societal norms and gender roles. We are a team. Do what works best for your household. We both have demanding careers and roles in the workplace. However, his role often affords more flexibility than mine which is a huge blessing. Nevertheless, who does what at our house is whoever can. I may be cooking while he is being sure the children are getting their baths followed by us cleaning up the kitchen together while a load of laundry that I have washed is now being folded by him while I prepare school lunches. Working together is what works best for us. You are not married to society; you are married to each other.
9. Accept each other’s differences. If it is a crime documentary, a chef show, or music without words (jazz and easy listening) then sign him up. Just leave me off the list. Now you can sign me up for action and suspense movies, or shows, great books, and a plethora of gospel, R & B, and hip-hop music. My music must have words otherwise it is for sleeping or the elevator lol! Though we have a lot in common, we have many differences but instead of letting it frustrate us, we have learned to accept it and sometimes embrace each other’s tastes and preferences. The key is to find a middle ground and work with what you have.
10. Work through grief and tragedies together. When our baby died, we did not think life could get any worse. Then my mom died nine months later. This was a rough and traumatic time for our marriage but we chose to hold each other closer rather than continually push each other away. Through that period, we have developed a healthy resilience and I shudder to think what could have happened had we not leaned into each other for strength and support.
11. Travel, travel, travel. I know that I said quality time is our primary love language but I should add that in our opinions that quality time should be spent traveling!!! Or whatever it is that you and your spouse enjoy doing together. In our case, we love traveling together! There is nothing like dedicated quality time with your spouse experiencing new things in new places. We have created a tradition in our marriage and that is to travel in some capacity, large or small, for our anniversary (and his birthday which is the day before our anniversary) every year. We have only missed a time or two due to things we couldn’t help. We also enjoy family travel that includes the kids but this post isn’t about that, lol.
12. Discuss parenting styles and differences. This has been the biggest challenge in our marriage. So as it turns out I am more of a softy than I thought I would be in the parenting department. However, where I’m soft, he makes up for it in being not so soft. He possesses the superpower of being an excellent disciplinarian but also the playful parent who will wrestle and throw you up to the ceiling and catch you. I on the other hand seem to possess the patience that borders on frustrating in my husband’s opinion as I frequently give more chances for correction and am more lenient in discipline. As a result, Floyd and I often butt heads about parenting. This is an ongoing work in progress. Heart to heart conversations about parenting styles with each other should be had, preferably not in front of the children. Whatever, you decide, you do want to present a united front to your children.
13. Have sex and have it often. Sex should be a top priority in marriage and when it wanes the marriage wanes in some capacity. Ask me how I know? Experience. Now, I’m not a sex therapist and I have not done any studies on the subject lately but I believe that a healthy sexual relationship within a marriage makes the marriage stronger and makes whatever problems or obstacles you are facing as a couple or individually better. If you don’t believe me. Try it for yourself. Withholding sex is not the key to solving marital woes. Having sex may not fix them but it sure can help. Special note to my ladies who may struggle in this department as we tend to be more emotional and may not view sex as a top priority because of everything else we are bogged down within our lives. The sooner you learn to make it a priority and to make enjoying it a priority for you, the better off you and your marriage will be. Trust me.
14. Review your goals and objectives periodically to update and reflect. The goals and objectives that we had 17 years ago are not the same goals and objectives that we have now. Many things have been marked off the list or were taken off the list entirely as needs and desires changed. Make it a point to discuss your personal as well as collective goals with each other so that you can continue to grow together as a couple. This includes financial, educational, family life, career, and EVERYTHING.
15. Hold each other accountable in health. In the words of my beloved father in law, “Don’t you let yourself go!” Now when you hear that statement you may think of looks or aesthetics immediately but I have learned along the way that though those things may be important they are not the most important. When I think of not letting myself go, I am thinking of trying to be as healthy as I can in hopes that I can live as long as I can and that we can continue to make all the happy and wonderful memories that we can. The same goes for him. So when I see that the pork intake is getting a little too high, I mention it and we cut back. When he notices that I’m indulging in peanut M & Ms a bit too frequently, he’ll bring it to my attention. Not that either of us wants to hear it all the time but we each want to do our part to keep the other here as long as we can. As a matter of fact, a running joke between us is that “You are not going to leave me here with all these kids!” Longevity is the goal. Control what you can.
16. Have marriage mentors. These are people who you believe are a reflection of what marriage should or could be. These could also be people who you trust to help you should you need it. These could be other married friends who you could confide in but who you know won’t hold it against you later. Use your parents’ marriage or lack thereof to be an example of what you want or don’t want your marriage to look like. Do marriage building activities. Attend marriage conferences. We have found that oftentimes involvement in these sorts of activities re-ignites us, helps us grow closer, and or teaches us more about ourselves or each other.
17. Protect your marriage. You worked hard for it and it’s yours. Your marriage is a result of a covenant you and your spouse made before God and witnesses. It should be treated as such. Set boundaries in your marriage and maintain them. Having boundaries protects each person and the marriage as a whole. This is also a sign of respect for your spouse and your union. Sometimes, Floyd gets on my nerves and I know that I get on his but you will not find me bad-mouthing him to the world. Likewise, I will not allow you to bash my husband without some consequences and I expect that you will be respectful of our union.
So here is to 17 years of marriage! I hope that you have found these 17 lessons beneficial! I am so thankful to have experienced 17 rich and bountiful years with Floyd. There is no one else I would rather do life with and I am praying and believing God that we will have many more years together.
What lessons have you learned in marriage? What lessons are you continuing to learn in marriage? What additional advice do you have for those who aspire to be married?