by Chantal Bufe
They say that a successful marriage requires falling in love many times and always with the same person (M. Mc Laughlin). Would you agree? This year, my husband and I are celebrating our 13th wedding anniversary, and while we are nowhere close to our parent's achievements (40 and 48 years of marriage, respectively), we decided to take a look back at all the lessons we have learned over the past years...at all the DO's (and don'ts!) that have worked for us... so far!
1. Pick the right one - for you.
Make sure you are sure when you say 'yes.' This includes finding out as much about your spouse-to-be as you can. What are their values and beliefs? On life? On family? What are their goals, their hopes, and their dreams? Do they want children? And if so, what kind of parent do they want to be? While this may sound unromantic, it is the essential prerequisite for a happy marriage. When you find that yin to your yang and begin your journey with a deep-rooted, unwavering knowledge of having chosen the right life partner, you will be able to build a strong foundation from the very beginning. And when seeds of love, trust, and respect are planted (and tended to) from the start, it will be much easier to grow a love that not only carries the most beautiful blossoms, but that can also weather many of life's storms.
2. The benevolent heart.
When my husband and I got engaged, we received a letter from my mother-in-law in which she wished us well and encouraged us to always lean towards each other with a benevolent heart. Only with time have I come to understand how much wisdom these words carry: loving each other may be easy, but being kind to one another - every day, consistently - is much more complicated. But it makes all the difference! Every kind thought, word or gesture is a small act of love that contributes to building one big, beautiful whole. Just like Simone Signoret once said: "It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years."
3. We are one, not.
Despite the incredible magic of the 'we' within a marriage, never forget yourself. Being married does not change the fact that we are all individuals with our hopes and dreams of living this only life that we have been given. When we remember to regularly check in with our sense of self and reexamine our personal preferences once in a while, we are more likely to lead the life (and the marriage) we want. And when we are given the freedom and support to pursue our dreams, we are much more likely to want the same for our partner.
4. My happiness, my responsibility.
This one is wise to remember from the onset: your partner is not responsible for your happiness. You are. It is so easy (and frequently, oh, so tempting!) to look to the one(s) closest to us to relieve us from any feelings of discomfort, unhappiness, stress, or worry. Yet, all that does is create unrealistic expectations and feelings of disappointment (premeditated, of course), which usually result in...yes, you've guessed it... a whole lot of resentment and tension. Which none of us want. So practice self-awareness and self-care. Do the things that you know you need to feel fulfilled and happy. And then go and do them.
Talk to each other. As much and as openly as possible. Your words are your lifeline, and maintaining a strong connection is vital. First and foremost, honest communication allows for more transparency. Frequently it is our assumptions about our partner's feelings or behavior that lead to tension. When we share openly - and include our partner in our thinking process - we automatically lessen the chances of unrealistic expectations, unwanted surprises, or plain misunderstandings. Instead, we build trust, show respect, and encourage support. The more room you leave for open communication, the more potential for engaging in conversations and fulfilling exchanges. Talk about keeping it interesting!
6. Alone time. Together.
Make an effort to schedule regular alone time with your spouse. I am consciously saying effort since - once children enter the picture - even a night out (let alone a weekend/ week away) can involve organizational logistics similar to planning the Olympic Games. But it is always, always worth it, and all parties involve benefit: parents get the precious time and space they need to reconnect, and the kiddos get one of the greatest gifts a child can ever receive: happy parents - and comfortable home!
7. Don't sweat the small stuff.
Over the years, I have learned not to sweat the small stuff. This has taken me some time, but as I grow older (and hopefully wiser?), I realize that a) life has enough in store to keep me on my toes as it is and that b) my days are way too precious to waste any energy on anything that does not carry true meaning or importance for me. So, pick your battles and only fight for what truly matters to you. Otherwise: breathe, forgive (if need be), let go, and move on.
8. Carry your weight.
Chores are one of the primary sources of relationship tension, and I have always found it so annoying to get into a fight about something so... well, annoying! Over the years, what has worked for us is to remember that we are in a partnership and that we are therefore equally responsible for creating a set-up that works for us both. When chores cause distress in your relationship, sit down together, and figure out a system that (really) works for you both. Tensions arise not from the actual unfinished/incompleted task but from feeling let down and disappointed.
9. Remember the fun.
This is your only life, and it is your responsibility to make it as excellent, exciting, and fun as possible. Once you get married, this responsibilty does not fade away (or 'transfer' to your spouse, in case you've wondered). It is up to you to bring some humor and lightness, and plain fun to the table if you want to live within a happy marriage (and a comfortable home). Humour and laughter are not only incredibly sexy, great stress relievers and ways to connect. They are also one of the most useful tools to defuse potentially explosive situations... and there will be potentially explosive situations within a marriage. Yes. Really.
10. Don't take each other for granted.
Your time here on earth is finite, as is your time with your loved ones. If you keep remembering this (yes, every day, people), you will treat the precious time you have with your spouse as just that: a treasure that deserves both your attention and appreciation - every day.
So get out those sticky notes for some love messages to post around the house, send text messages telling your spouse how much you can't wait to see them tonight, or remember to say thank you more often (and by that, I mean out loud'!).
So, here you have it. These are the ten lessons we have learned over the past years, and we are humbly aware (and blissfully hopeful) that the future holds many more in store for us. And while our experiences may vary from yours, we are convinced that the ultimate lesson
- the universal truth - for us all to remember is this: Happily Ever After is not a fairy tale that requires a princess and a knight. Happily Ever After is a love story start begins and end with yourself.
(Photo: Mandy von Stahl/ Unsplash)