10 Things

10 Things

I was sitting on a plane a few weeks ago and as is common, the person next to me asked me what I do for work. I shared that I am a psychotherapist and relationship coach – primarily working with individual adults and couples. This person self-disclosed that he had been married 3 times and divorced 3 times, and that he no longer has a belief in relationships or marriage. He then asked me what I considered to be the most important relationship “advice” I would give to someone. I stumbled on my words – knowing that there is no easy way to sum up what it takes to be “successful” in relationships. But his question got me thinking about my younger self, and the things I wish I had known or had experience in before I got married.

I have compiled them for you, in hopes that my hard learned lessons can inform you somehow.

So here they are, the ten things I wish I had known before I got married…

  1. It takes more than love to make a marriage work. Love is the foundation, but in the healthiest relationships it takes a combination of self-awareness and self-connectedness, communication and problem solving skills, a window of tolerance for discomfort, the ability to self-regulate, the ability to navigate differences and manage the complexities and tensions that differing needs and desires creates. A toolbox with no tools in it does us no good. As it is with marriage. Love does us no good if we can’t resolve conflict or communicate effectively or give and receive in equal measure. But love in combination with all of these things paves the way to a life-giving and thriving relationship.
  2. At times, things will get hard in a way that is difficult to even imagine when you are desperately in love. And it’s hard to articulate until you experience it. You may be challenged in ways you never knew you needed. You may trigger the hell out of each other. You may have to wrestle with parts of yourself you’ve never wrestled with before. You may want to RUN. You may want to CLING. You may consciously or subconsciously push your partner away. You may consciously or subconsciously suffocate your partner. Or you may do a little of both. It is normal to wrestle with how complex the dynamics and feelings in this relationship can be. But the complexity and hardness don’t always mean you are in the wrong place. Steady yourself – or find someone to help you steady yourself. And do the emotional work – whatever that means in your particular relationship. You will not regret it – no matter the outcome.
  3. Having kids can dramatically shift the dynamics in a relationship. Needs change. Energy levels shift. Priorities and schedules change. The demands on your time, body, energy, and resources change. This can be a major transition for us individually (especially for women) and for the relationship. Be patient and give lots of space for how everything is changing and evolving during this phase.
  4. As the years roll on, your love may evolve from intensity and excitement into a warm, cozy, secure sort of feeling. It won’t continuously feel like the intense “I can’t stand to be away from you for one second” type of love or chemistry. While that stage of the relationship is amazing – and should be relished – it is not sustainable. It is normal and healthy that the feelings will mature and deepen. You will come to appreciate the familiarity and history you have with one another – and the rhythm you are in after working through differences and conflict. (PS – research tells us that the companionship type of love becomes more desirable as we get further into our lifespan – see The Science of Love and Attraction. In other words, nothing is wrong if you don’t want to jump each other’s bones all the time after some time in the relationship. And if you do, more power to you!)
  5. Staying connected to yourself is marriage saving. Your needs, preferences, hobbies, passions, friends, values, and goals all need to be nurtured. Your marriage will benefit from you having a rich internal world and other relationships and hobbies that fulfill and feed you. One relationship cannot support all of our needs.
  6. You and your partner will both change – allow plenty of room for this. Change is the nature of life. And in marriage – we are afforded the opportunity to grow and change and adapt together. It can be an exciting journey of continuing to get to know the different versions of ourselves, if we let it be. I once heard a man describing his marriage and he said “I’ve been married to 10 different women…”. And as he continued on, I realized he was referring to how his wife had grown and changed over the years – and that he had to continue to get to know each iteration of her. I loved this so much. He didn’t resent that she wasn’t the same person he married. He viewed it as an exciting journey and chose to flow with the changes. Partnering with someone who is growth minded, reflective, and open to change can make the work involved in marriage so much easier. And if your partner isn’t any of those things…it doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. One person can change their role in patterns and their role in cycles – forcing the whole system to adjust. I have seen beautiful things happen when just one partner is committed to personal growth and change.
  7. Marriage can expose you to your core attachment wounds and your core insecurities. And it can provide a mirror in regards to your blind spots, character flaws, deficits in your growth, struggles with intimacy and closeness, and more. It will be one of the biggest opportunities for you to grow and heal – if you choose to conceptualize and move through it in this way. Don’t resist the feedback – use it to make yourself better.
  8. It is very easy to let your relationship or yourself get lost in the busy, day to day responsibilities of life. Kids, house, work, yard, pets, errands, social events, extracurriculars, family responsibilities, etc. Sometimes time will just be given to you, but more often, you have to MAKE the time for the relationship and each other. Short term bursts of being too busy for a date night or connection are okay. But day after day, year after year of missed dates, lack of time together, no sex, pent up frustrations and misunderstandings can breed a canyon that is sometimes uncrossable. Don’t allow life to get so full that you forget to prioritize connecting with one another – regularly.
  9. The things you once loved about your partner will become the things that drive you crazy. For instance, you were so attracted to how carefree and spontaneous he was. Now you resent that he can happily nap during the day while you run around taking care of the kids and the house and all the things. Or you used to adore how meticulous she was with her self care. But now you resent that it takes 2 hours to get out of the house because of her routines. Remember that we are attracted to the things in someone else that we want more of for ourselves. So don’t lose sight of why those things were initially attractive…stay in touch with the beautiful side of those opposite traits or behaviors. You probably need more of them for yourself!
  10. In order to have a fulfilling relationship, you have to show up. This one may sound so obvious, but so many of us are conditioned to abandon ourselves and our needs in service of the relationship. (Sometimes, for certain temperaments and personality types, this works. But more often than not – this is a recipe for loneliness and misery). It is so important to be able to express yourself effectively, to ask for what you need, to say the hard but true things. Self-abandoning tricks us into feeling safe and secure, but ultimately sabotages the real love and connection we are craving.

Be well and be kind to yourselves. We are all still learning.

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