After 20 years of marriage, Angela Keck has learned a thing or two…or thirteen. Here she shares what she would tell herself if she could talk to the 25-year-old bride she was on her wedding day. Find more from Angela on her blog, Writer Mom’s Blog
Today, my husband and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. Looking back over the last twenty years, I have a mixture of emotions. On one hand, it feels like I literally blinked and twenty years flew by. It feels like we are still young newlyweds waiting for or real life to start.
On the other hand, I look around our home and see that is obviously not the case! We are definitely twenty years older, and sometimes we may feel twenty years wiser! Our marriage has produced two amazing children and if we both leave this earth tomorrow and they are our only legacy then we did okay by this world.
I was twenty-five years old when I got married, and I remember realizing that I would be 50 years old before I had been married for as long as I had been a single woman in this world. I don’t think that I was really prepared for the journey that marriage has been over the last twenty years. I don’t think I was prepared for how much we would change and grow, and I was definitely not prepared for dealing with in-laws, job changes, job loss, figuring out how to be parents together and all the other changes that life had in store for us over the last twenty years.
If I could go back in time twenty years, plus one day, and give myself the benefit of the wisdom I have earned over the years, what would I tell myself?
First, I’d tell myself that puffy sleeves is not a wedding dress style that is made to last, so I probably should have made another fashion choice. But if I’m only giving myself one day, that’s probably not enough time to fix that issue so let’s move on, shall we?
1. The wedding is just one day, the marriage is what is for a lifetime. That may seem like a “duh” type of comment, but I think sometimes the bride-to-be gets so focused on creating the perfect wedding day that we can lose sight of the fact that the wedding is just a celebration of the marriage that comes after. The dress, the flowers, the photographer, the reception – those are all just there to celebrate the start of a marriage and the marriage is supposed to last a lifetime. Focus on the lifetime, and let the day take care of itself.
2. Some day you’ll look back on those early years, the ones you struggled through financially, and think of them as “the good ole days.” It might seem hard to believe, but one day when the kids have come into the mix, and you spend Saturday nights watching animated movies instead of hitting the nearest bar to drink & dance the night away, you will look back on those early days when you watched basic cable on a 13-inch television set and think, “Wow, those were the good ole days.” Enjoy them while you can. When life is simple and less hectic, get to know each other, and build memories and a solid foundation that will carry you through the next twenty years.
3. Don’t keep score. Nobody wins if you’re keeping score in any type of relationship, but this is especially true for marriage. If you’re keeping track of who won the last argument, who took out the trash last, or who said they were sorry first, then you’re focusing on the wrong thing. You will both make mistakes, you will both say things you regret, and you will both have days where you feel like you did more than your share of the workload.
4. Say you’re sorry, admit when you’re wrong, and forgive your partner when they do the same. Look, saying you were sorry and admitting that you were wrong is not easy. It just isn’t! But we need to do it! If you screwed up, say so! If you are sorry, say so! And maybe even more importantly, when your spouse says they were wrong, and that they’re sorry accept their apology graciously. See the point above: Stop keeping score!
5. Your spouse isn’t responsible for your happiness, and you are not responsible for theirs. In order to have a happy marriage, you need to be a happy person. Being married to a great person will definitely make being happy easier, and if you’re married to the wrong person you will most likely be less happy than you could be…but guess what? Your spouse isn’t responsible for making you happy!
6. Don’t lose your own identity. Now, this point isn’t about keeping your last name or not. This is about remaining true to who you are. Don’t get lost in the relationship to the point that you don’t have any separate interests, friendships, hobbies, and even space. It’s okay to have time alone! It’s okay to meet a friend for lunch! It’s okay to spend the day shopping with friends, or even alone. Don’t lose who you are because who you are before you are married is part of who he fell in love with to begin with. Make sure to keep her in the relationship.
7. Always remember to laugh. Laughter is an amazing thing! Having a spouse you can laugh with, laugh at, and who makes you laugh is a magical thing. Keep your sense of humor, have little inside jokes that don’t mean anything to anyone else and enjoy your life together!
8. Don’t let anyone else into your relationship. This one probably does not mean what you immediately think of when you read it. I mean, don’t let your friends, your family, or heaven forbid, your in-laws get in the middle of your relationship. The only two people who matter in the decisions made in your relationship are you and your spouse. If you’re happy, that’s all that counts. Other people LOVE to share their opinions with you on how things should be done, how relationships should work, and what you should be doing, but their opinion doesn’t count anywhere but in their own marriage. What works or doesn’t work in their marriage is their business, and what does or does not work in yours is your business and no one else’s.
9. Pay attention to your gut instincts. If there’s a friend of your spouse that your gut tells you isn’t a good influence for them, or doesn’t have the best of intentions towards your marriage you should absolutely trust that instinct. Share your concerns with your spouse but then trust them to make the right decisions for your relationship. If your instincts are right the friend will show their true colors and your spouse will see them for who they really are.
10. Learn to make decisions as a couple. Sometimes this one can be tricky. If you’ve been living on your own for a while, managing your own money, and making your own decisions, it can be hard to start letting another person be a part of that process. It’s absolutely okay to have your own money and to make your own financial decisions to some extent but only after you’ve made that decision together as a couple. Figure out how you want to handle the money, the bills, the household expenses, and then work from that plan.
11. You can’t make it work if you’re looking for the exit. In today’s world, getting a divorce is a common event and I am definitely not a person who advocates staying in a relationship that isn’t healthy or isn’t working. However, if you’re always looking for the escape hatch or the nearest exit to get out of the relationship, then you’re using your energy in the wrong direction. If you’re not all the way in, then you might as well be all the way out because you’re not working on making it work.
12. Decide each and every day that this is where you want to be. One time when my husband and I were going through a rough patch, a friend gave me some great advice. She said that it wasn’t a matter of deciding to stay together forever, it was a matter of deciding to stay together for that day, and then getting up tomorrow and making the same decision over again. If we made that same decision every day and worked on making it work together then that was the ticket to having long, successful and happy marriage. Turns out she was exactly right.
13. Marriage is hard work. Marriage is not a movie of the week. It isn’t a Disney fairytale. It isn’t a romantic comedy made by Hollywood to end with “and they lived happily ever after.” Marriage is work. Marriage is finding compromise when you’d rather just throw in the towel. Marriage is accepting another person complete with their flaws and imperfections and helping them to be the best person, the best spouse, and the best them that they can possibly be. Marriage is praying for husband when you want to scream. Marriage is messy and marriage is imperfect.