I married Gabe 10 years ago. It was a hot, sunny day in Santa Barbara. Eighty of our closest friends and family were gathered on a lawn in front of a beautiful garden. The mountains were in front of us, the ocean behind us. As I turned the corner on the arm of my stepdad and saw Gabe and the priest standing in front of an arch of flowers that served as our alter, I lost it. I started crying like an idiot. In front of everyone. It was mortifying.
I was crying because I was incredibly happy. I felt incredibly lucky. And I was scared. Scared of the unknown. Of what this thing called “marriage” would look like. I came from a broken home. I had never had an example of what a good marriage looked like. How on earth could I create one of my own?
Since that day, Gabe and I have been through a lot. We’ve created a family. We’ve (I’ve) given birth to two amazing kids. We’ve been through sleepless nights and health problems. We’ve moved nine times. We’ve traveled. We’ve changed jobs. We’ve fought. We’ve made up. We’ve loved and lived and done our very best to make things work.
And while our marriage is far from perfect, it works. It works better than I ever imagined it would on that hot day in Santa Barbara. And over the years we’ve learned so much about how to make it work.
Here are 10 things I’ve learned in 10 years of marriage:
- You have to support each other’s dreams: A few years ago, Gabe quit his job. He called me 20 minutes after he got to work, and told me he’d thrown in the towel. We had a 3-year-old and a newborn at the time. I was working as a writer making squat. I was nervous, but I supported him. Gabe had always wanted to start his own company. He hated working for “the man.” And who was I to tell him he couldn’t follow his bliss? Gabe struggled that year to start his own thing. Money was tight. Stress was high. But I stood by my man just as he did years later when I quit my job and started this blog. Gabe’s company didn’t work out, and he ended up returning to Corporate America. But he has no regrets. He swung for the fences, with his family cheering him on, and regardless of the outcome, he’s happy he did. And so am I.
- You have to do it: I don’t know about you, but often the last thing I want to do at the end of an exhausting day of working/parenting/cleaning/cooking is hop in the sack and make sweet love. Or any love. But I’ve learned that if you want your man (or woman) to eat at home, you have to cook.
- You have to admit when you’re wrong: Gabe is always right. And so am I. Which is a tad bit problematic. But over the years we’ve learned to say one of the most powerful things a person can say, “I was wrong.” We’ve learned to say it and really mean it. Because as much as we both want to believe we’re 100% infallible, the truth is, we both mess up. Often. And admitting you are wrong is a powerful, marriage-saving thing.
- You have to give each other compliments: One day this summer, Gabe walked into the room and said, “You look … clean.” I had showered for the first time in days, so it was true, I looked clean. It wasn’t much of a compliment. In fact, it was a terrible compliment. But it was a start. When you’ve been married for a long time, it’s so easy to look right past the other person. But when you stop and look, really stop and SEE your partner, it can be a beautiful thing. When Gabe gives me a compliment, not a “you look clean” compliment, but a real, kind compliment, it makes my day. Because being told you’re beautiful when you haven’t slept in years, when your shirt is covered in spit up, when your body is a distorted version of what it once was, is amazing. Knowing that your partner still thinks you’re beautiful—with all of your wrinkles and stretch marks and grey hairs—is a wonderful thing.
- You have to laugh: Life is hard. Life is crazy. And if you don’t laugh at life, you’re screwed. In our toughest moments, when we were sleep deprived and angry and lonely and scared, Gabe and I have done the unexpected. We’ve laughed. We’ve laughed at each other. We’ve laughed at ourselves. And we’ve laughed at the insanity that is our lives. Sometimes I think that laughter is the only thing that gets us through. It really is the best medicine.
- You have to respect one another: When you’ve smelled someone’s poop, seen them cry and watched them at their worst, it can be easy to lose respect. But in order for your marriage to last, you have to hold on to that “wow” factor that drew you to the person in the first place. You have to maintain that respect and remind yourself of all the things you love and admire about your partner.
- You have to give the benefit of the doubt: There have been times in my marriage when everything Gabe did drove me crazy. Times when I was convinced he was doing things just to piss me off. “Why don’t you give me the benefit of the doubt?” he said to me one day. “I’m not trying to piss you off.” Those were marriage-transforming words for us. Believing someone is coming from a good place, is doing their best and not intentionally trying to piss you off by dumping their clothes on the floor instead of in the hamper, is hugely important.
- You have to make time for the “we” in the “family”: Throughout our 10 years, Gabe and I have vacillated between being really good at making time for us, and being really crappy at it. When my kids were babies, I didn’t want to leave them. Ever. And our marriage took a major backseat. But I’ve learned over the years that when we do take time for us, when we have date nights or steal moments to connect, our marriage is so much stronger. And the kids only benefit from that.
- You have to make time for the “me” in the “we”: I’ll admit that I’m a tad bit codependent. As the child of an alcoholic who moved around constantly as a kid, I’ve got all sorts of abandonment issues. So this was a tough one for me. Whenever Gabe wanted to do something without me early on, I felt threatened. Abandoned. Alone. But I’ve learned over the years that if you love someone, you have to set them free. You have to let them pursue their hobbies. Keep their friends. Maintain a little of the “me” in the “we.” And you have to do it as well. I was terrible at taking time for myself early on in our marriage. Especially after I became a mom. But I’ve learned that if I don’t take a moment for me, I’m nothing but a big, cranky, mean mess. And that’s not good for anyone.
- You have to say “I love you”: It’s so easy to forget to utter those three little words. Those three words that made you want to tie your life to this other person’s for all of you living days. But when you say them, really say them, it can remind you why you tethered your life to his. And his to yours. Forever.
I love you, Gabe. Here’s to 10 more amazing years!
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