7 Unsexy Lessons I’ve Learned After 22 Years Of Marriage
I got married relatively young (I was 24, she was 22), without really knowing my wife that well in hindsight. 3 kids and 22 years later we’re still going strong.
A friend asked me over the Christmas holidays how we’ve managed to make it look so easy. It’s been anything but easy, and I was at a loss to give him any amazing nuggets of wisdom. He seemed underwhelmed that I’m not some Marriage Yoda.
You see, it feels like we’ve been winging it all along. But I’ve had some time to think about what I’ve learned. I don’t feel qualified to dish out advice to others per se, but I hope these 7 lessons I’ve learned will help you.
Here are 7 unsexy lessons I learned after 22 years of marriage:
1. You can’t be 100% sure
We didn’t know everything about one another or live together before we got married. But I knew enough.
30 minutes into our first date (at a Burger King in East Berlin for all you romance lovers out there!) if Doc Brown from Back To The Future had blasted in and told me we’d be married with 3 kids… I wouldn’t have been surprised.
I just thought she was awesome. You can’t be 100% convinced about whether a marriage will work, but your gut is a good barometer.
2. It’s a team game
- She can’t cook, I can.
- I am disorganized, she isn’t.
- I am chilled out, she worries.
- She is a planner, but I’m not.
The list goes on. You can say we’re complete opposites, or flip it and say that we make a great team, filling in each other’s gaps. We play to our strengths and we’ve done well to not force each other to be just as good at the things we excel at. It works.
3. “I’m doing more” is the root cause of most arguments
- I’m being better with money than you.
- I’m doing more around the house than you.
- I do X with the kids more than you.
- I take more of an interest in your career than you do in mine.
You know the drill. I’d say 99% of our arguments over the years are due to one of us having our noses put out of joint by the other not pulling their weight in some way. Eventually, you learn — to recognize when there’s a mismatch in effort (and suck it up if you’re at fault!) and fix it.
4. Daily hugs fix a lot
My parents and I are huggers. My wife was not. She is still traumatized by the time she first met my family and was hugged within an inch of her life. But hugs are such an easy way to remind one another you’re there and you care.
As you get older it’s easy to move away from the levels of affection you had before. You settle into your new roles as Joint Household Managers. Regular daily hugs are a quick and easy reminder that you’re still husband and wife.
p.s. She likes hugs now.
5. Reasons to stay together should increase not decrease
Thankfully we trusted our guts when we got married. We had no idea:
- what we’d be like as parents
- how we’d cope with having no money sometimes
- how we’d deal with one of our parents dying
- what we’d do if one of us lost their job
All these challenges can break a relationship. They can put a strain on something that already isn’t that strong.
Luckily I now have even more reasons to love my Mrs having gone through those tough times. If you can stick together as a team when life gets hard, you’ll be a bulletproof couple.
6. Kids are great, but…
…they won’t be living with us forever.
Ours are 11, 15, and 16. It seems like they were 2, 6, and 7 just yesterday. They’ll be moving onto their own adventures in the coming years, and it’ll be just me and my wife bouncing around our house.
I once had a client who was a divorce lawyer. She told me that the early 50s is the age that many couples get divorced. The kids move out and the couples realize they have nothing in common anymore.
My wife now works from home full-time, and my job means I’m around every afternoon. I make us lunch every day (see Wife Can’t Cook in #2) and we hang out and chat, with no kids around.
It doesn’t have to be some Date Night thing necessarily. Just finding ways to continue hanging out together, as we did in our 20s, has been a real Relationship Strengthener.
7. Be a number 1 supporter, but with strings
You can be too supportive I think. Because we all come up with dumb ideas sometimes. If you’re a cheerleader no matter what because you’re not secure enough in your relationship to say “Yeah but…” then it can create problems down the line.
For example, in 2015 I wanted to move from being a mobile personal trainer to having my own facility. I was super-pumped, and gung-ho, and started to make it happen.
My wife was supportive, but she had her Yeah Buts:
- how would I cover the new fixed costs if I had cr*ppy months?
- how would I transition from mobile to location-based?
- how long would I give it to be successful?
I needed this sensible voice in my ear. It’s been vital to ask one another the questions we’ve possibly been avoiding asking ourselves. You can be a cheerleader yet still protect one another from future stresses the other can’t/won’t see.
The main lesson I’ve learned: we’re a team of two.
That’s the bond that acts as the basis for everything else in our lives. Kids have added to the team, but the relationship between my wife and me is just as important to nurture as those with our kids.
Many people seem to forget this Team of Two needs work, as life starts to get crazy in our 30s and 40s. By making time and taking the effort to remain a tight team, we have been able to thrive as parents, as friends to others, and in our jobs.
So if you’ve found someone who your gut tells you is right for your Team of Two, I say jump in with both feet and enjoy the ride together.