12 Lessons I've Learned in 12 Years of Marriage

Nicholas and I celebrated twelve years of marriage yesterday. Every year we write in a vow album. The day of our wedding we wrote our vows in a journal and then every year we write a letter to one another on our anniversary. This year for the first time I went back and read all of Nicholas's letters to me over the past 12 years and started thinking about how far we've come and how much we've learned. 

1. My marriage is my life’s work.

One of my favorite song lyrics comes from Power of Two by the Indigo Girls. "And if we ever leave a legacy It's that we loved each other well” I hope Nicholas and I leave that legacy, not only for our kids but for ourselves. Continuing to build a strong relationship with this man with whom I’ve chosen to share my life is incredibly important to me and I take it very seriously.

2. That being said… my husband cannot meet every emotional need I have.

I owe it to him to take care of myself, to pursue my own interests, and deal with my own issues.

3. Don’t take the beauty of marriage for granted.

4. Spend time together.

When Nicholas and I were still dating, he moved to North Caroline for law school while I stayed in Kentucky and finished college. We vowed then to never go longer than three weeks without seeing each other. I have no doubt that is what made our long distance relationship successful. We still spend quality time together, especially now that caring for three young kids can sometimes feel like we’re ships passing in the night. The importance of time together - face to face - cannot be underestimated.

5. Spend time together ALONE.

I know the traditional advice is to go on a date once a week but SERIOUSLY that is both unrealistic with three kids and expensive. A local church hosts Parents’ Night Out once a month where we can drop all three kiddos off for 5 hours and we always sign up for that. We usually end up going out more than that but having the once-a-month night we’ve committed to doing helps keep one-on-one time on our calendar. 

6. Fight fair.

As newlyweds, Nicholas and I fought… A LOT. We yelled and called names and took cheap shots. It took us a long time to learn how to fight in a way that is fair and constructive. We don’t agree on everything but when we disagree, we try our best not to take it personally or treat each other with contempt.

7. My emotions are relevant but they are not reality.

8. Have sex.

No, seriously. Like my friend Emily says, if you’re not having sex, what’s to distinguish the relationship from any other close friendship or relationship.

9. Don’t try to change the other person.

I won’t lie and say I’ve perfected this one. There are things about Nicholas I would change if I could and, as an eternal optimist, I keep trying. However, the core of who he is I would never change. I fell in love with the way his brain works and it’s still my favorite thing about him 12 years later. 

10. Keep an eye on one another.

This is different than trying to change the person. It’s more about understanding what makes them tick and what makes them stressed. Nicholas and I are both very good at sensing stress in the other person and not taking any snippiness personally. Plus, we usually have a pretty good idea about what the other person might need to relieve that stress and sending them on their way for some self-care. 

11. Know your partner’s world.

Early in our marriage, I read Dr. John Gottman’s fabulous book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert . One of the principles that stuck with me was being deeply familiar with your partner’s world. I make it a point to understand Nicholas’s work, what projects might be stressing him out or what’s coming up. The same goes for his interests and hobbies. I’ll never love My Brother, My Brother, and Me as much as him but I do KNOW he loves it.

12. Be vulnerable.

After 12 years of marriage, there is no one I trust more than Nicholas. I tell him my deepest fears and insecurities. I tell him what I don’t tell anyone else. Knowing he sees me at my weakest and loves me anyway – his acceptance in the face of my vulnerability – goes to the very heart of our marriage.

What about you? What are some of the biggest lessons you've learned about marriage?