It’s hard to believe that we’ve been married for 7 years this November. Sometimes it feels like just yesterday morning I was getting ready at my family’s house in Charleston, eating Chic-Fil-A, and writing my vows on the porch to prepare for the ceremony. We had the most magical day and for awhile, things stayed really magical.
Not too long after, we welcomed our first daughter, Edith Mae, into the world. And let me tell you, there’s no better way to get to know someone then to go through a career change, move, and becoming a parent together all at the same time. But we got lucky. Edith was a dream baby and we fell into our new roles rather well. A year in, we decided to have our second child. When Lilah came along, it was a whole other story. She had problems eating/sleeping/generally existing in life without crying. At the same time, Aaron was going through another career change that culminated with us moving across the country to NYC when Lilah was only 3 months old. I was in the throws of PPD, so there we were, year 3 of marriage and shit was starting to hit the fan.
Without getting into too much detail, I’m going to tell you that the next the next two years were really dark.I lost about 10 pounds and Aaron was doing everything he could to be present but also as distant as possible at the same time. We talked about divorce all the time. We threatened it when we were fighting, we stayed up late at night talking and fighting about what life would be like divorced, and there were two times that Aaron looked at me and said honestly and truthfully that he was done and wanted out. So I finally around year 5 of marriage I said, “Okay, let’s get divorced”. And for whatever reason, living together over the next few weeks between the “when do we tell the kids” and “should we get lawyers” conversation, we fell back in love. I know that sounds really crazy, but it’s what happened.
We made the decision at that point to go to marriage counseling and it saved us. We saw a few different people before settling on this woman who called us both out on our shit and made sure we were taking the time to really hear, not just listen, to what the other person was saying. There were days when I walked out crying, days where we walked out fighting on the streets of NYC, and days where we held hands in the elevator looking at each other full of hope.
So today, almost two years from that breaking point, we find ourselves doing better than we ever were (maybe even better than newlyweds). So, as vulnerable as this post is, I wanted to share it in hopes of helping anyone who is struggling or looking for answers or hope, the same way I did back then. I also wanted you guys to know that life isn’t always picture perfect. You never know how people are struggling despite what you see happening on the outside.
Anyways, here it goes! My tips for having a healthy, successful marriage:
have relationships outside your marriage
And no, I’m not talking about going out and getting a boyfriend/girlfriend. I mean, have meaningful relationships with friends that you can rely on, trust, and have experiences with. There are a lot of things that Aaron and I like to do together, but we are super different and have a ton of hobbies that no matter how much we try, just can’t get into. For example, if I had a day to myself in the city I would want to go to the latest brunch place, shop for a few hours, and walk around the West Village taking photos. Aaron on the other hand would go for a 10 mile run, mediate in the park for an hour, and then plop down at a coffee shop with a book for a few hours. That’s why we find people to do those things with. I have some close girl friends that I’ve started to travel with and others that I can call for a good dinner date and gossip, while he’s got his friends who love to go backpacking for 5 days with no cell service and freeze-dried dinners.
give each other space
To piggyback on my point above, and one of the benefits of having those exterior relationships is giving each other a little space. When we were first married we did everything together. When the kids came along, we did everything together. And since I was home with the kids, I was staring at the clock counting down until 6pm when he would come home and give me a taste of the outside world. Now that the kids are older and I have the blog, I’m not just sitting at home waiting around for him anymore. I go on trips around the world (solo or with friends), Once I had this life outside of him and the family at home, Aaron found that much more attractive. You have to have some space to allow the feeling of “missing someone” or him wanting to know what’s going on in my life.
It’s not always easy to look at the person you love and say, “Hey, I’m having these difficult feelings and I want to talk to you about it”. In fact, it’s the scariest thing to tell someone what you really need, to be that vulnerable. And if you can’t do it with your partner, who can you do it with? Therapy was really helpful in creating the space for us to say the hard things to say which created a path to us being able to be honest with each other in the future. I need to feel safe to tell Aaron, this behavior is making me nuts or I feel scared/hurt/angry when you do _____ and he needs to feel safe to do the same.
it’s an ocean, not a lake
Marriage is not going to be still and steady, especially if it’s going to last long-term. You’re going to have periods of calm seas where the water is crystal blue, clear enough for you to see the bottom. And then there are going to be periods where the waves are so high, you may drown. The important thing to remember is that no state, calm or stormy, will be constant. While it may feel rough right now, it’s not forever (if you put in the work). Marriage should be more of a middle ground. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, nor is it slamming doors and screaming fights.
One of the biggest changes has been in the effort we’ve put in to be kind to each other. At the end of the day, do I feel like picking up that extra toy off the floor? No. Do I always feel like listening to the latest news in the tech world? No, most of the time I can barely follow what he’s saying. But I make an effort. I ask questions. I read the article he was telling me about. I try and make plans that I know he would be really excited about (like a family camping trip). I look for ways to say “yes” to him more. Do I always love that he’s going on a run and I have to deal with the kids alone? No. But if I say, “How can I make my partner happy this morning” I find that I get the same effort in return. These acts of kindness do not go unnoticed and I believe it sets the tone for a lasting, loving relationship.
It usually goes something like this: Meet, do lots of amazing things together, create memories of new experiences, get married, go to work, pay bills, do chores, have kids, go out less….you get the picture. But it’s so important that you don’t forget to do the things that you helped you fall in love in the first place! Were you always going to concerts together? Trekking out on new hikes? Sharing favorite books? Cooking new recipes? Go back and find those passions and ways you initially connected and try and do them at least once a month. And maybe after some time you find you’re different people now. Both of you can sit down and make a list of things you want to try and see if you have any matches on each other’s lists.
live in the present
As humans, I think it’s natural for us to live in two mental places – what’s going to happen and what has happened. Fear of repeating past mistakes robs the present moment of so much joy. By living in nostalgia of what your relationship “used to be” you may find yourself scrambling to re-create a certain feeling where you felt everything was perfect but that keeps you perpetually yo-yoing between the past and future – keeping you out of present day. Try making a gratitude list of your relationship. Write down what it is that you appreciate currently and talk with your partner about all of the things going right. Focus more on “being” than “doing”. By being curious, discussing what’s coming up for you, or redesigning the relationship all together you are able to be present for your partner.
I hope you found this helpful! I’d love to have a discussion in the comments if you have any questions about my marriage, marriage in general, or advice that has worked well for you! What keeps your relationship happy and healthy? I’m going to share some of my favorite answers on my Instagram.
Photos by McKenzie Shea