Last week was my 10th wedding anniversary. Ten years and a few kilos ago, my husband and I stood before our loved ones and promised to love, honour, cherish and protect. I had no idea we’d go on to become parents to a daughter and a son, buy and sell three homes, move to another country -- and struggle with every single one of those vows. But even though our marriage is not perfect, I would do it again in a second.
Looking back on the last decade, I’ve learned so much about how to keep a relationship going and how easily it can be undermined. I don’t practice all of the below all the time or even most of the time (my husband is nodding in agreement), yet I believe it’s all worth striving for, even if you never quite get there.
1. Be on each other’s side no matter what. There’s no way someone you share a bathroom with isn’t going to get on your last nerve sometimes, but resist the urge to throw each other under the bus in front of other people. In order for real trust to grow, you need to know there’s someone in the world who always has your back, even at your most annoying or neurotic. This us-against-the-world mentality doesn’t mean you can never tell your spouse you think he’s wrong, but you can make sure you always do it in private, and always with kindness and the benefit of the doubt.
2. Forget the ledger. I have a terrible habit of keeping track of who’s doing more around the house (of course, me) and who’s owed a break from the little people (again, me. See? I’m terrible). Yet keeping mental track of the parenting ledger is a fool’s errand. First of all, in the big messy tally of life, can you ever really get to equal? We tell our kids all the time that things aren’t always equal and it’s true. Also, the martyr mindset taints every interaction with your spouse and can keep you from noticing the stuff he is doing, which is probably more than you think.
3. Marriage can make you feel like a bad person. If you’re like me, before you got married (and before you had kids, for that matter), you thought you pretty much had it all together. But having someone stuck with you means you can’t always be on your best behavior, and you will be astounded at your own pettiness and impatience. It’s grueling work, marriage, but it also forces you to evolve as a person in ways you’ve never been challenged to before. It might feel bad to be so acutely aware of your shortcomings, but you’re a better person for working on them.
4. Treat your husband like your child. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying use baby talk or give him time-outs, even if he leaves his coffee cup on the dresser every.single.day. What I mean is that we all want the good things we do to be noticed, and that’s why positive reinforcement works. Don’t you find your kids cooperate so much better when you catch them doing something right rather than nagging them for something they did wrong? When someone believes in the best version of you, you up your game.
5. Boring is okay. My husband and I used to go out all the time, travel to amazing places and socialize with a wide circle of interesting people. Now we pass out on the sofa at 9pm. It’s important to dabble outside your comfort zone, for your own as well as your partner’s happiness, but there’s something to be said for comforting routines and low drama. We'll have time to shake things up once the kids are older, but for now, raising kids provides plenty of ups and downs.