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. 

The Story of Nicholas's Proposal

Today is National Proposal Day. Due to the fact that Nicholas and I didn’t start our first blog until 2003, the story of Nicholas proposing to me in 2002 is one of the few facets of our lives together that hasn’t found its way on to the internet.

Well, no day like today!

I thought there is no better time than in the depths of caring for our brand new baby and THIRD child to remember how it all began.

Choosing to Love

Recently, I was listening to This American Life. For those of you who don’t listen to This American Life (no judgment but what is WRONG with you!??), every week they choose a theme and put together different stories on that theme. This episode’s theme was break ups. The first story revolved around the particular perfection that are breakup songs. It involved Phil Collins and was really everything that is wonderful about the type of storytelling on This American Life.

Specifically, I learned the story behind one of my favorite songs – breakup or otherwise – of all time Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me.

Why I went back to a cheater

My first love cheated on me. Repeatedly.

And I went back to him. Repeatedly.

He was my first real boyfriend and had followed me from high school to college. (Mind you, he did not attend the college - just moved to the same town.) I was head over heels in love with him, as only a teenager can be. I truly believed I was going to marry him. Then, I found a love note in his apartment from a sorority sister — not just any sorority sister but a close friend who had taken me under her wing and showered me with affection.

It is a betrayal that still stings eleven years later.

Amal Clooney and why I changed my name

The hard-charging international barrister Amal Alamuddin recently married a movie star and changed her name to Amal Clooney reigniting the age-old feminist debate over whether or not a woman should change her name upon marriage.

My decision to change my name came down to a simple majority vote conducted among my bridesmaids in the car on the way to my rehearsal dinner.

The Truth That Changed My Marriage

Nicholas and I have been married for eleven years. We work hard. We have two small children. We recently lost a baby. In theory, these should be tough times for our marriage, but they have been just the opposite.

These past two years have been our happiest and most fulfilling as a couple.

My husband is still the man he has always been. He is attentive and caring and intelligent, but he didn’t magically stop doing all the things that annoy me (leaving his shoes around the house, paying too much attention to his iPhone, giggling to his favorite podcasts, this is not a comprehensive list). We still fight and he still hurts my feelings from time to time.

No, Nicholas didn’t change. I did.

A Separation Saves A Marriage

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”

I found this quote one day while wasting time browsing on Pinterest. I pinned it immediately and thought: “YES!!” I definitely could relate.

Two years ago my husband and I separated. Our marriage had slowly fallen apart and we were nothing more than 2 roommates raising our two girls. We didn’t fight all the time, but we hardly spoke to each other either.

We had our two girls 17 months apart. I think we got so consumed with that, we forgot to communicate. We became parents and forgot what brought us together in the first place.

Over time, we talked less. I resented him for the lack of help me gave me around the house and with the girls. He resented me for the little time I wanted to spend as a family. Instead of talking about it, we each just let it brew internally until one day I woke up and realized I could not live like that for the rest of my life. The thought made me so sad.

I finally gathered up the courage to ask for a separation. It was shortly after Christmas and I was just tired of feeling so lonely. The final straw was him buying a new truck against my wishes. I finally spoke what I had been feeling - that I wasn’t happy at all and I wanted to move out. I was so unhappy at this point that I had no desire to even try counseling or try to work it out.

Telling the girls was horrible. They were almost 6 and 4. I sat down and told them that Mommy and Daddy were going to take a break but we loved them very very much. Looking back, it’s sort of a blur because it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.

I remember the day I moved out like it was yesterday - packing up my things while my oldest was crying. It was the hardest thing I ever did, but I knew I had to. I was slowly dying inside and knew that if I wanted to be a good example to my kids, I had to find myself again.

As relieved as I was to pull away from the house that night, things didn’t really get any easier. My husband was hurt and angry. He knew we were unhappy, but he had no idea just how much. When he is hurt or angered, he can be a bitter, vindictive man. He doesn’t think and just spews hurtful venom, trying to inflict pain. He pulled out all the stops when we were separated to hurt me whenever he could. Things got ugly. And messy.

Looking back on things, I think that this is when I realized what strength really is. I had to be strong to keep functioning at work. Most importantly, I had to be strong for my two little girls that needed me. They needed to be reminded all the time that they were loved so much. I wanted them to know that no matter what, everything would be ok.

Sometimes it didn’t seem like it, but I truly believed deep down it would be alright eventually. I was living with my mom during this and she was a great source of comfort at my low points. When I finally told my co-workers what was going on, they were also great, even buying me flowers to cheer me up.

Convincing the girls it would be ok wasn’t always the easiest, especially for my oldest. She is pretty sensitive and this all hurt her deeper than I realized. I tried to get them excited about little things sometimes like moving into an apartment but most of all, I just made sure that they felt loved.

I had my bad days and things weren’t always easy – especially when I didn’t have my girls. There were days I would come home from work and curl up on the bed, sobbing. I went through more boxes of tissues than I care to admit. I had more than a few sleepless nights. Sometimes I wasn’t sure I would make it and wondered if it would ever get better.

And it did get better.

We started communicating better for the sake of our girls. Our family was important to us and we wanted to save it. We even started going to counseling together and I went separately. We started working on the issues that made our marriage fall apart, such as lack of communication. I confronted my depression head on. I suffered depression on and off since the birth of my second daughter. It made me withdraw and not really want to do anything. I couldn’t take care of my marriage if I couldn’t take care of myself.

I never intended the counseling to save our marriage. I went so that we could be better co-parents. As we began talking more for the first time in the past four years of our marriage, I had hope we could work things out.

I remember the turning point very vividly. One day the counselor asked me if I wanted to save our family. I broke down in tears and realized that I wanted to try. We started spending time together, alone and with the girls. We would go to lunch, date nights, family trips out. I started to spend a few weekends back at the house to try it out. After doing this for a few months, I officially moved back in.

It would have been easy for us to just let our lawyers fight things out. To get divorced and become another statistic. I think it took incredible strength on both of our parts to admit our faults and open up to each other.

I hope that we set a good example for our two girls to never give up. I hope that we showed them not to settle. I hope we showed them how important it is to communicate. Most of all, I hope we taught them to be strong.

Things are good now, maybe better than they ever have been. While this was a hard time for our family, I don’t really regret it. I think it was a necessary stop on our journey through this life together and made us stronger than ever.

Laura is mom that loves to write, read, and have her morning coffee. She keeps busy with her husband, her two daughters, and her two dogs. You will usually find her out geocaching with the family, reading a book, or playing on her iPhone/iPad.  You can read more at Not Just 9 To 5.

This post originally appeared on Salt & Nectar.